With A Little Help From Her Friends

September 29, 2017:

Peter Parker and Zatanna Zatara catch up on the serious business of ignoring the fact that they're college students with normal problems on top of their atypical ones.

Random Park - Manhattan - New York City

It's a park. With ducks and stuff

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: John Constantine, Red Robin, Bucky Barnes, Jessica Jones, Azalea Kingston, Captain America, Groot, Rocket, Star-Lord, Gwen Stacy, Cindy Moon, The General, The Bat-Family, The Titans

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

Normally, she would do such things herself, but certain circumstances and a slight touch of guilt had prompted her to text Peter Parker, instead, to meet her in a park close to Titans Tower in New York. While she has no qualms chatting about everything they need to talk about and missed in the last few months in the space Tim Drake had painstakingly set aside for their new superhero team, she knows that his identity is largely a secret, still, to the rest of the group and…

…well…

There are times when it's difficult for her to talk to Peter in his full superhero get up. Namely the way his mask's lenses distract her when they narrow, widen and shift at every mood. As if they were real eyes. How the hell did it even do that? Why did it do that? She has never asked, nor had she the opportunity to ask, and now that she thinks about it, it's god damn weird.

She'll have to ask later.

Fall has finally arrived in New York City, though the leaves have yet to change color on the trees dominating the parkland space that she has chosen for the meet. Sitting on a bench with a paper bag of something in her lap, she waits with an egg carton set with a couple of cups of coffee as per their tradition, in a way. Most of their past meet-ups involved some kind of food, and it was often a race as to who fed the other first. She's determined to beat him to it this time around while she waits. Definitely no pumpkin spice anything for her, though after a couple of days in Wakanda, she has missed the kind of over-sugared brew that Americans liked to consume in their day-to-day.

She's dressed in her signature blacks; a fashionable jacket, torn black jeans with her fishnets worn underneath and a pair of boots that made her seem taller than her actual five-foot-seven. Her long raven hair is pulled in a loose twist, ice-blue eyes watching ripples roll over the man-made lake ahead of her, as if by magic; the breeze is barely felt, but when it makes itself known, it carries with it a touch of frost already.

How time flies, she thinks. In another month, it'd be a year since she returned to the United States.

—-

In continuing the running theme that is Peter Parker's Life:

Things haven't been great.

At the very least, speaking relatively, 'haven't been great' this time around is relatively mild. The world isn't ending, he's not being transported to horrible parallel worlds or being accused of abusing children OR jumping up some weird unliving spider-entity's extradimensional sphincter SO

there's that, at least.

No — Peter's problems of late are an entirely personal nature and one brought perhaps entirely on himself. The problems of ghosts of a figurative and literal nature rearing their heads in his life as he had finally started to (kind of) grapple with and accept their loss. Opening old, great wounds. Brought face to face with his greatest regret brought back to life, but not the one he knew. Not really. Which just makes it hurt all the more. And now they're going to be working together.

So, you know. That kind of thing.

Suffice it to say, Peter Parker has been eager for a distraction, which makes the text he receives from Zatanna exactly the kind of balm he needs exactly when he needs it. Which is why, when he gets that text, it doesn't really matter where the location is, or the context, or anything else. Peter's there. In record time for the perennially late college student.

Cool winds straddling that line between summer and fall brush across Peter Parker's cheek as he stands at the edge of the park. Summer — never lasts long enough, the young man thinks to himself, pulling his blue windbreaker a bit tighter over his shoulders. It's peaceful here, for given values of peaceful; the bustle of people going to and fro is more of a background noise to the people who've lived here their whole lives. Everything else? The calm breeze, the slight ripple along the lake, the occasional sound of a bird chirping its way past? It all paints a perfect picture of serenity that he doesn't really feel.

"It's been a while, huh?"

The question comes, easy and light, at Zatanna's back. And there stands Peter, dressed in that blue windbreaker, blue jeans, well-worn off-brand sneakers, and a black shirt with a pie and imaginary symbol units on the front, with text bubbles over each reading (Get real!) and (Be rational!), respectively.

Because he knows no shame when it comes to taste and not having any of it.

A fact proven incontrovertibly by the pair of pastel-pink unicorn frappuccinos the student dangles in either of his hands with a lopsided smile to go with it.

"Uh, y'know — if you're in the mood to hate yourself a little bit. I know I am."

—-

It's been a while, huh?

Everyone she knows is a god damn ninja.

Zatanna's head snaps sideways in a start, nearly dropping her warm bag of foodstuffs when Peter finally makes his presence known somewhere behind her. Out of the signature reds and blues that he favors for his superhero persona, he hasn't changed much after close to a year since she has met him - the same style of clothes, which often reflected his brand of sense of humor, the perpetual look of friendliness mingled with omnipresent fatigue. She is off the bench, leaving the things she brought there, treading lightly over the grass and her arms out to envelope him in a tight hug.

It has been months since they've sat down to have one of their conversations. Months since that night on the apartment building and the evening he told her about the reasons why he wears the mask and puts on the tights whenever it's called for. But the raven-haired witch seems determined to pick up right where they left off. She does not revisit the offer she made before, of giving him the opportunity to talk to Ben Parker one last time - but she is certain that he has not forgotten and should he take her up on it, she will deliver.

She doesn't know that other ghosts have managed to manifest back in his life, haunting the Titans Tower with their presence.

"I feel like it's been twenty years since we've met up like this!" she tells him, pulling away. But his words cause her lips to tilt downward in a frown. "What? Already? Come on, Pete, I just got— "

Ice-blue eyes drop on those super sugary unicorn frappuccinos. They widen. "No. No!"

There's a laugh, plucking one from his grasp so she could inspect it. "What, really? Really?? I thought these things were a myth! I mean, go figure, right? They're aptly named! I read something about how every single Starbucks barrista hates making these. Did you know there's enough sugar in here to maybe kill a small horse? Or at least make it diabetic? Three hershey's bars worth of sugar, Pete. That's not just hating yourself, that is true blue masochism you're proposing."

And despite her words, she takes a sip anyway. "….oh god, it's good, though," she says around the straw, flashing him a thumbs-up. "You really know how to make someone's day, thanks Pete!"

She takes a step sideways, falling in line with him as she starts moving back towards the bench. "I have something for you, too. Honestly I've been popping around all over the place." She wiggles her fingers, wordlessly denoting how - Teleportation, as usual. "Germany, Somalia…" She looks around furtively before lowering her voice. "Wakanda. Speaking of something that practically doesn't exist. But while I was there, Jess introduced me to something and…"

She presents the paper bag to him. It's still warm.

"Coconut donuts. They're amazing. I brought an entire box to take with me to put in the Titans kitchen but then I remembered Impulse pretty much eats everything and I smuggled some away for you before he could."

Inclining her head and watching him sidelong, a gentler smile tugs on the corners of her mouth. "How have you been?" she asks. "Leave nothing out, yeah?"

—-

No. No!

"Yep," declares Peter, wiggling his freed pinky fingers in a way most ominous for what is wiggling pinky fingers. "The frappuccino that shall not be named!"

He doesn't apologize for that, either.

Those tired lines under his eyes, the muss of his hair, the slouch of his stature — they are all, at least, not quite as bad as they were that time o the roof so many months ago. That was the look of someone working themselves to death. This… isn't much better. But it is better. Back to normal.

For given values of normal, anyway.

Which includes the friendly awkwardness of that hug from someone who isn't quite used to giving or receiving them. A little less stiff than it could be, he eventually returns that hug maybe a second and a half after it's given; with a pat to the back, Peter pulls away, and confectionary nightmares are offered up.

"And I looked, and beheld a pink horse; and his name that that sat on him was Death, and diabetes followed with him," quotes Peter Parker most solemnly in answer to Zatanna's wonderment as she plucks one from his hands, "or, uh, y'know. Whatever."

And with that, he takes his own sip. And as Zatanna gives her glowing approval of that sugary armageddon, Peter mirrors that thumbs up with one of his own. "I know! I get it right, like, twenty five percent of the time. That's a pretty good success rate, I think?"

The questioning inflection just sells the certainty of it all, really.

"Oh god it's like I'm replacing my bloodstream with sugar."

Really.

Despite his inevitable sugar-based doom, though, Peter still makes his way towards that bench besides Zatanna as she starts to move. His freshly freed hand hiding in the comfort of his windbreaker's pockets, staying there as he flops back into the comfort of that park seating. He settles in with a slouch, one leg resting over the other as he turns a questioning hazel stare Zatanna's way, brows inching up his forehead in curiosity and confusion. "Something? Like a souvenir?" he wonders, head cocking towards the left. "Wow, you've been doing just a world tour vacation, huh? That's just — I wish -I- could teleport. Why couldn't the spider given me portal powers proportional to that of a spider?" He throws his head back, heaving a sigh to the heavens, but his gaze is light enough — he knows full well her trips have been very far from a vacation. "Uh, wow, Wakanda? Don't you just get, like, automatically ejected the second you step into that place? Like… just a giant panel on a spring launches you off like Team Rocket?"

Peter Parker's cultural awareness is vast.

"Or something. That's how I like to picture it. Shut up. Nevermind. And — wait what donuts?"

Paper bag presented, Peter blinks in surprise. He takes it, peers inside, and takes in the smell of sweet, warm pastries.

"So like, I'm just, forever in your debt, just so you know." Truly. Donuts: the bonds of friendship.

And so, setting his drink aside, he does what is surely ill advised and combines his frappuccino cataclysm with coconut pastry goodness, taking a bite of one and letting out a prolonged sigh of relief like someone who'd died and gone to heaven. "Thank you, thank you," he begins, "… for not letting Impulse Pac-Man all the donuts." It's good to know exactly what to be grateful for.

And, with a mumbles "these are so good oh my god" Peter chows down; when Zatanna speaks up again, he looks up, blinking as coconut crumbles from the corners of his lips. "Uh," he begins, eloquently. No Peter — swallow first.

Gulp.

There you go.

"It's been fine, it's… same old same old, y'know?" he says, with the commitment of someone who's used that line so many times it's practically become rote. "There's like… a thing, but it's not — like, it's not a… it's a thing." Well said. "Just, one of those things I kinda have to figure out myself, y'know?" His head shakes. He turns his attention Zatanna's way.

"But what about you? All those places you've been going, like, all Russel Crowe Fightin' 'Round the World at, how's — how's all that going for you? How's…"

'How's Bucky,' he starts to say, but it never quite leaves his lips.

"… everything?"

—-

His deliberate satirical take on certain infamous passages from the Book of Revelations has her grinning broadly. "Didn't take you for the Sunday school type, Pete," Zatanna ribs him, nudging his shoulder against her own in a friendly fashion as the two of them find the bench that the magician has claimed for them. "Then again, if it was legit, I wouldn't be surprised either. I heard it from someone who knows that God might actually be certifiably crazy, so who knows? Maybe way back when there were pink unicorns frolicking around the Garden of Eden."

Oh god, I feel like I'm replacing my bloodstream with sugar.

"Yep. That is exactly what it feels like."

With them situated on the bench, and her friend bemoaning his lack of teleportation powers, she rolls her eyes skyward. "Yeah well, I wish I had your reflexes and your superhuman metabolism. You're eating all of this and it probably wouldn't even register on the weighing scale tomorrow." She emphasizes this with a demonstrative poke on Peter's very flat stomach. "Not to mention the entire zipping through an entire city on sticky web-things and beating every super bike courier out there ten times out of ten." Her grin returns. "But yeah, teleportation is definitely handy. I wish I could say all the recent globetrotting has been for something fun, but it's been…you know. The Work. I mean, I did go to Tahiti recently for vacation, but I ended up getting Groundhog Day'd on a ghost ship. A fuckin' ghost ship, Peter, living the same day over and over again, looking like Archie. Red hair, freckles, rabbit teeth. This is the kind of life I lead without you."

She takes another sip of her unicorn frappuccino. For all of their earlier words on it, the jokes, the quips…it's ridiculously good, and for all she knows could be dangerously addicting.

"Thankfully we're part of the Titans now, with the schedule Red keeps us on. Otherwise I'm going to be so fat." She glances at the very pink cup, before taking another draw from her straw. "So, so, so fat."

His words on Wakanda has her swallowing another laugh. "It's surprisingly really high-tech over there," she informs him. "Kind of like….a really pretty mix of super-futuristic urban and prehistoric rural. It's gorgeous, but you definitely feel like a stranger in a strange land there. Besides, if there were any automatic ejection platforms, it'd probably have booster rockets and…I don't know. Artificial intelligence, making sure you land exactly where the Wakandans want you to land."

She winks at him at his gratitude for the donuts. "Hey, I'm only just starting to get to know Impulse. You, we've seen some shit together. That at least entitles you to…I dunno. Five. Five delicious, fresh-baked Wakandan coconut donuts."

She reaches out and offers him a napkin for the crumbs.

But the 'same old' for Peter Parker could mean plenty of things, and she furrows her brows a little at him. "You know, the last time you told me you were fine, you weren't," she tells him, as usual bulling forward in her typical way of hers, somehow finding her way into the path of emotional mines. "So is it really fine or more like the time you told me you were fine, but weren't fine?" Her expression softens. "It's me, Pete. If you need to vent or…you know. Right?"

How's that going for you?

"That's going, still. And hasn't really stopped. It really all started when John and Bucky decided to track down the nazi sorceror that made all that mess in the antiquities gala close to a year ago. The guy who took my blood. And then it kind of just snowballed from there, just one thing after another." She tilts her head back to look at the sky. "We ran into that copy of Daddy again, the one you guys found in Switzerland." Her expression is more unreadable there, as always when it comes to her father. "And Tahiti. Before we left, though….remember that day when we met up for lunch at that taco place? When I told you to keep an eye out on weird shit in New York?"

—-

"Uh, yeah, I'm super devout," proclaims Peter Parker, boy of science, "kinda. I mean. I went to church a couple times. When I was little. I recently looked in the general direction of a church once. Does that count? That counts, right? Like, I mean — it has to count for something?"

Compelling argument.

"I'm almost, like, one hundred percent positive this thing is making my spider-sense buzz like crazy," he continues on off-handedly as he takes another sip of that addiction in frappuccino form. "That or a nuke's about to land on us. Either way, uh, it was nice knowing you." Another sip. Long and guilt-free because, asforementioned, supermetabolism rules. Something he gets called out on with the poke to his gutless gut, sending hazel eyes on a blinking path downward to squint at his abdomen. "-Look-, okay, just — listen, and I'm being totally, one-hundred-percent serious here, so just, believe me when I say this — I'd happily weigh three hundred pounds if I could just teleport to Starbucks and back. That's… that's ruining my life with convenience. I'd die happy!"

But, he's smiling that awkward smile of his as he jokes, the laughter that follows coming easily as he rubs at the back of his neck with his free hand.

"I'm not making a great case for myself as a person, am I??"

Still, she relates her horrors on a Groundhog's Day Ghost Ship, and his brows lift in tandem at the news. "What," is his first declaration with regards to this news, as if trying to wrap his head around the entire concept, "I mean…" he searches for the right word and finds it in, "What?" Lifting his right hand, he waves a donut around, most-emphatically. "Look, like… I mean, uh… at least you got to see a ghost ship?" Look for the silver lining, Peter, that's the winning strategy here.

Still. His expression sobers up as she continues. As she goes on to relate… "Wow," he utters. He rests a heavy hand on Zatanna's shoulder. Dourly.

"I am so, so, so sorry you had to have anything to do with Archie."

… …

"I mean, though, I would've had you pegged more as a Sabrina. … y'know. Just… saying."

Yes.

Just saying.

With that, his attention drifts back towards the surface of the lake in the distance, the man-made body of water calming its ripples before the next disturbance of wind winds its way through across its surface. "Man, now I'm super jealous," mumbles the former-and-current science dweeb, heaving out a sigh as he bites off a chunk of donut. "You know, that's like… where they discovered -vibranium-? The stuff Cap's shield is made of? Like — holy crap! Just… wow. I wanna go there. I think it'd be great. Maybe if I mask up…?"

And that's the story of how the Black Panther gutted Spider-Man in record time.

Still, with all they're talking about their double lives (well, some more double than others), Peter takes a slow sweep of the area around them for a moment with wary, hazel eyes as Zatanna speaks. He's probably done this a few times by now. It just comes with the territory. It's as he is that she speaks on just how fine he really is, and the fingers holding on to that bag of donuts curl inward just a bit, filling the space between them with the slight sound of crinkling paper.

"I mean, some things have come up, yeah. It's…" he begins, but how does he even go about talking about it? "… it's not just something to do with my secrets." And that is true enough. "Just… you can't ever really escape the past, you know? Your mistakes. And I… I always kind of thought that was more like a metaphor or figurative or something, but, it sure has been really literal for me lately." He squeezes his eyes shut. "Later. Okay? It's just…"

Too fresh.

Too painful.

Showcases how much of a failure I truly am.

"… not the right place."

It might be part of why he's so eager to move on to Zatanna's news of her current events and the progress on those problems that have been plaguing them — looming over all of this city, and likely further still — that he only really became aware of thanks to her. The other part, the more significant part, is just the part that wants to know — and wants to help. Bringing his frappuccino up, he captures the straw between his lips, slurping up an unconscionable amount of sugar as he listens with gradually furrowing eyebrows. "The guy with the super fake mustache?" he wonders. He doesn't really know if it's fake. It just makes sense. Evil doppleganger. Fake mustache. That's a thing, right? "What happened, there? Is it… if you don't wanna talk about it here, that's fine, but like… I dunno. It's me, too." An echo of her own sentiment. "If you need to vent or… whatever."

Cup set aside, though, he's about to pluck up another donut when she brings up that request. Pausing, pastry hovering just inches from his opened mouth like he was turned into a statue, Peter just sort of… blinks. "Yeah, of course," he begins, slowly. "Why? Did something happen? … Crap. Something happened, didn't it? Crap crap crappity crap crap." And already his mind is spiraling through possibilities, for with there is only one summary,

"Craaaaaapy what happened crap!"

That. The summary is that.

—-

I'd happily weigh three hundred pounds if I could teleport to Starbucks and back.

"No you wouldn't!" Zatanna cries, another laugh slipping out. "You say that now but when you…" There's a pause. Ice-blue eyes widen when that overactive imagination exerts itself, laden with nefarious purposes. He would see it on her face because now, she is imagining him three hundred pounds, replacing Ben Stiller in the post-credits scenes in Dodgeball, eating KFC straight from the tub and singing the milkshake song.

She suddenly recoils, a hand up and waving up and down. "Argghhh! I can't unsee! I can't unsee!"

A few joggers pause, staring at two young college kids causing their own small racket on a bench, before they shrug to one another and continue jogging past.

The Archie remark has her groaning, her shoulder sagging under the weight of his sympathetic hand. "Right? The whole nine yards. The moment I looked at myself in the mirror, I wanted out. And you won't believe what John and I had to do to get out of it. But…that's…a really long story. Like, really long. And I bet you once I'm done, you're just gonna stare at me and wonder whether I'm high, or just because I'm literally magic that I have carte blanche to exaggerate. I'm totally not exaggerating."

Alright, maybe she is. Slightly. Very slightly.

But to give context to the enormity of what happened in Tahiti would force her to backtrack to the dreadful Valentines Day where she got shoved into Hell with John Constantine because of a dragon's pearl, and she already half-suspects that Peter Parker thinks she spends half her life in a mind so insane that she talks about such things as if they are normal. Admittedly, it isn't as if he can boast about the mundanity of his life, either, but there is such a thing as pushing the term.

"Well, if you want to go there, I can provide," she tells him. "It's…the state of affairs in Wakanda is pretty messy, and Bucky's in trouble there - you heard about him being extradited over there, right? So now there's a crew trying to get him out of it. I can ask Jess, she's running the task force. John and I are coming in a little late to that party, also since there was another thing that we had to take care of here, also." She scrubs the back of her head. "We were delayed in helping out because a friend of mine got saddled with an Aztec god that tends to go crazy, so we were trying to stabilize her and the only way we could do that is retrieve the god's heart from the goddess who stole it. Honestly, Pete, I was there, and even I can't figure out what the hell happened. One minute we were in a magic circle, and then suddenly I was in the astral plane alone with this crazy deity, and everyone was gone, and before I know it I was in a world that she created, and John's shoving this crystal heart in the hole in Azalea's chest."

Which may or may not be an Infinity Stone. Which will certainly not come back to haunt all of them later.

Turning back to the wheels of Peter's own life, her pale gaze finds the way the bag crinkles under the way his fingers grip it, and the elusive way he attempts to explain what else is troubling him. The fact that it has absolutely nothing to do with his other life eases the bands of tension within her chest; at least he isn't in any danger of being discovered there, but the fact that the issue is clearly emotional has her reaching out a hand to rest on his forearm, squeezing once.

"Okay," she tells him, gently - but also quietly and seriously. "Later."

It is a scene they've had before - a conversation they've had before, in the tail-end of a very confusing road trip to Albany when most of her soul had been stolen. Everything else could be set aside. Important things. But not, and never, forever.

Easing her hand away, his own offer has her smiling. "It's…there some things about that trip that I wasn't proud of." She glances down at her fingers. "But like you said. Not the right place. Later, yeah? We'll trade."

Moving on to the cryptic warning she had left him about New York, she scrubs her face with one hand. "Well, before we left for Germany, some really weird stuff started happening in New York. You heard of the iDol app, right? Gonna supposedy replace Facebook, Twitter, etcetera? We found out it was pulling data and…it's too early to figure out how it works, but some kid ended up summoning demons with it in a music venue out here and that's how I got involved. You heard of the Devil of Hell's Kitchen? He was there, for some reason, brought a bunch of info to Jess, and since Jess knew a couple of magic types, she called John and me and I ended up coming with her to this office space and….oh, Pete. It was weird. Weird even for me." Her skin crawls at the remembrance of it, shivering once and burrowing deeper into her jacket. "One of the developers of the app was just…butterflied into the wall with printer cables sticking out of him. And he was still alive. And his business partner…I think she's dead, but she's not decomposing. Red's trying to figure out the tech side of it based on the hard drives we managed to collect from the crime scene, but it's gone now because…"

And he would see it on her face, too. That this is the part where it becomes ridiculous.

"….hey, you know I was ribbing you earlier about the Sunday school thing, but what do you remember about how the Book of Genesis started? Do you at least remember the first part? In the beginning, there was darkness, and so on?"

—-

"I," Peter Parker begins, very slowly, as Zatanna waves her hands as if she were trying to ward away the devil that has clearly possessed her mind. His eyes squint. His lips purse.

"… am, like, totally positive I never want to know what you were just picturing.

"Ever. Okay? Just so we're clear.

"Ever."

And so, with that sage warning delivered, Peter returns to his food, chewing away at a donut as Zatanna relates her harrowing experiences on her actual vacation. His hand slips away, scratching at the side of his head as his brows furrow in mild thought. "Uh, I'd say nothing can beat the craziness I've been inflicted with ever since you came into my life, but that's kinda, like, just asking for worse, so I'm just gonna — not jinx myself. And just, I dunno, assume whatever happened to you there is going to have me making this kind of face."

And here, his cheeks puff like a squirrel, his eyes go cross-eyed, and his shoulders lift in absolute, hopeless confusion.

"… um. Like that," he declares, around the deflation of air from his cheeks.

Something that will have to wait until later, probably, if Zatanna is to be believed; still, if anything, the part-time vigilante offers his show of support with a roundabout, "So, like, whenever you wanna see that face, just lay it on me. … Again. Since I guess you already saw it. Shut up. Ugh!"

Because he's always willing to listen. And make stupid faces.

Stupid faces that are wiped clean when Bucky's situation is brought up, a fact that seems to more legitimately sober Peter in a way that he can't quite hide within those expressive features of his. "… Yeah. I, uh… yeah. I heard about it," he mentions, voice slightly quiet, because of course he did. He'd been keeping up with the entirety of the trial that came before it. And now this? As with most things related to the man known as Bucky Barnes, Peter Parker's thoughts on it are… complicated, to say the least. And yet…

"Maybe. Yeah. Maybe I ought to help, y'know, because — he's… he looks like he needs it." … and yet, whatever his own issues, Bucky's still someone clearly in trouble. In so many different senses of the word. "Don't know what excuse I could come up with for my teachers, though. Or Aunt May. … Maybe Mr. Stark can think of something."

Because trusting Tony to be anywhere near his aunt is always a great idea.

"… and have one of his assistants relay the message or something yeah that'd be good that'd be preferable maybe definitely something like that."

Not that this trouble even remotely compares to the ordeal of — "What? You put a crystal in a flower's chest? Flowers don't have chests-" No Peter, don't assume your first nerdy thought is the right one without the rest of the context- "… oh. It's your friend's name. … oh. Uh. Right. That. That makes more sense, that's — okay, yeah, because — it's a — I'll shut up now."

And with that, he pits all his considerable attention on drinking more unicorn blood to hide his shame.

Still, though, after a time, he manages:

"Is she okay now? Your friend?" He'd comment on the rest of that craziness, but.

He's already been put through too many ringers to try to grapple with another one like gods riding bodies like a person suit.

A hand settles on his forearm. Later, she says. And Peter's response is a simple, silent nod of assent. Later. It might be difficult to navigate through, for so many reasons, not the least of which being protecting the secret identity of a girl he can barely wrap his head around being alive, but…

Who else can he really talk to, about this?

It's ironic, then, how it's so much easier to talk about potentially cataclysmic things. "iDol? Yeah, I've heard about it. Like, the miracle app, or something, right? I haven't, like, tried it, but it sure was getting just… a -ton- of hype, and, wait what demons what seriously holy crap! What — what kinda wonder app does that! That's what I wonder!" Making terrible puns in the face of cataclysm: also easier. He heaves a sigh, shoulders sinking as he slumps backwards in his seat. "Ugh. This is… ugh. I should have… caught on to this sooner. Should've seen something was wrong or… something. Demons. Great! An app for opening portals to hell or something, that's totally cool!" His hands fly up, skywards, in frustration. "Argh! Technology is the worst sometimes!" A second passes. "When it's not, like, super cool, but…" But, someone is dead. Probably more. A frown creases at his lips as Peter contemplates the donut in his hand, before tucking it back in the bag. He's lost more than a bit of his appetite. "… Can you loop me in on this, and what you've got? I'll…" What?

"… I'll see what I can do to help."

Because he can't not.

Her sentence trails, though, just as he's about to offer his assistance towards Red Robin's endeavors; and as he sees that look on her, his face scrunches up, just a bit. "That look. That's not a good look. That's never, ever, in the history of ever, been a good look."

Because her follow up really isn't inspiring confidence in anything other than the fact that his assessment is absolutely, always, spot-on.

"Yeeeeaaah…? Like… let there be light, and all that, and God created… whatever, the universe, when there was nothing." His brows knit inward. "… why?"

"I feel like I'm not gonna like the answer to that."

—-

The squirrel-face has her puffing out her own cheeks in an attempt to swallow the laughter that she can't quite quell. Finding it useless to fight against it, Zatanna tilts her head back instead, slouching on the bench, a hand resting on her stomach as she laughs. " 'Nothing can beat the craziness I've been inflicted with ever since you came into my life'," she repeats, in a surprisingly accurate tone and pitch that matches Peter's own; she was a theatre major, after all. "Thanks a lot! You make it sound like it's all elder gods, alien trees and talking raccoons." There's a pause. "…er…speaking of that, if you ever decided to visit Shadowcrest, let me know in advance so I can prepare you. Okay?" Her eyes shift suspiciously to the side.

With the conversation shifting to Bucky's plight, the magician watches Peter's expression quietly before she gives him a small, reassuring smile. "It'll work out," she tells him. "I know it's…after Ozone Park it must be a little weird, but he's just like everyone else, you know? Trying to do the best with the cards he's been dealt. Or the cards he has left. I have a friend who pulls strings for me all the time in Gotham U so I don't get kicked out every time I have to go out there and do my thing…but it's Gotham U also. It's nothing like…you know. Columbia. So getting Tony— " Did she just call him on a first name basis? "— to help you out on that so you don't kicked out is probably a good idea. Imagine what your aunt would say if you did."

Is she okay now? Your friend?

There is a pause at that, apprehension tightening the look on her eyes. Taking up her pink unicorn drink again, Zatanna takes a quiet sip of it. "…honestly…things have moved so fast that I haven't had a lot of time to process her changes afterward," she confesses to Peter quietly. "None of this…what John and I did for her. None of it was ever done before, even with the likes of us. I mean, I think she's okay now - she's much better than she was before. At least a crazy goddess isn't making her lose control and rampaging the city like she almost did the last time, but it's still…you know. It's still her living with a bloodthirsty deity in her body. And they have an understanding now but…"

Her voice trails off.

"Anyway. One thing at a time, yeah?" An enduring philosophy from the raven-haired witch.

Her smile returns when Peter unleashes a small rant about how technology can be the worst when it's not being the best, but at the request to loop him in, she nods. "Red's got the hard drives and I know you're pretty tech-savvy yourself, the three of us can work on that together while John finagles the…" She sweats a little, because the words she's about to utter sound incredibly wrong. "…non-decomposing corpse in his flat. He can probably tell you a lot more than I could, since I'm not exactly as technologically savvy as you guys. But I think…when I told you back in the taco place, the thing that I was starting to feel everywhere. I think it's started. It's started here."

Zoht. Ahn. Nah.

The remembered whisper makes her skin crawl, and she quietly rubs at the goosebumps breaking out from the backs of her hands.

"John thinks it's the nothing," she says.

What.

"In the magical vernacular, we call it the Primordial Darkness," she continues, girding herself, because she knows it sounds absolutely batshit insane. "The nothing that came before creation. It's less of an entity and more of a force - anti-creation, the opposite of it. So…if you or anyone or anything ever touched it, you're just gone. And nothing can stop it either. Even light can only hold it at bay for so long until it eats it too. Anyway, to make a long story short, there's an ancient cult called the Brujeria…and these guys are old, Pete. From Daddy's books, they're saying this cult existed even before Noah's flood, which everyone in the community suspects God unleashed specifically to wipe out these guys because they really are just that bad. Anyway…we think they're back and they're trying to let it loose and if that happens…"

Nothing.

There'll be nothing. No earthquakes to break the earth's crust, no massive hurricane to re-zone whole parts of the world. No lightning, no thunder, no trumpets to herald doom or salvation. No screams or throes of the dying, no corpses lying on the street. Everything will simply cease to exist, leaving no trace of humanity.

"It can't be controlled. It can only be unleashed. If that happens though, I'm guessing that…you know. The Brujeria has a back-up plan so they don't get taken out with the rest of everything. And I know it sounds crazy. I'm not making it up. The Primordial Darkness….bits of it were there. In the offices of iDol's data developers. That's why the building isn't there anymore, I had to transport it away from everything before it spread. Of course that means that….we've got nothing but what we managed to salvage before things went to shit. Just the body and the hard drives and whatever Jess was able to pull out of the computer. And before that…"

That look returns.

"There was another incident in New York. There was a being made of Primordial Darkness running around and John and I tracked it to the High Line, and all the while, we were confused because…it's fucking impossible. Like I said, it's a force, not an entity. I used light - really bright light, that was how I knew it could at least hold it at bay and give us some time, but when the Darkness sloughed off it was an angel. As in…wings, halo. Those kinds of angels. Agents of the Host. And it explained everything because something that holy would require time to consume by just that little bit of Darkness. And even then…" Her fingers tighten on her lap. "Pete, it…he. He didn't survive. So if something that powerful, that sacred, that blessed didn't have a chance…"

She sighs. "I'm still reeling as to how crazy all of that sounds. The only other person I told the whole story to was Red, and he thankfully believed me. So true to form…" Her lips lift in a smile, exasperation and affection in equal measure. "…he started trying to develop some really bright lights. Like…beyond spotlight bright. He started working on them while we were in Berlin together." After a pause, she nudges him lightly with an elbow. "Maybe you can help with that too, yeah?"

Finishing her frapuccino, she sets the empty cup to the side. "Speaking of Red, he's in trouble, too. He doesn't say anything to the rest of the Titans because of his position and because it's just the way he is, and I'm sure it's just buried in our huge to-do list somewhere, but someone's out for him in a bad way."

—-

Elder gods, alien trees and talking raccoons.

"Hey! I saw those! I think! The raccoon guy was like, throwing shade at me! I think. It was a little hectic." What with Bucky Barnes going all Rune Arm Soldier on everyone. It was a bad time all around. Parker's brows furrow, a frown drawing its thoughtful way down the corners of his lips. "Wait. What? Prepare me? Why? What, do you have a talking raccoon of your own that's gonna make me feel bad?"

Sometimes, it takes Peter a while to get from point A to point B.

As much as it can take him some time to forgive, let alone forget. Of course, he knows what Zatanna's saying is objectively true, as she speaks about Bucky. And of course, he knows, and has told himself, that the man's situation was not his fault — that he's just as much a victim as anyone else was. But logic can only do so much to rein in emotion. So the student-slash-vigilante just remains silent, for a time, as Zatanna gives her reassurances, choosing instead the solace of chewing on a chunk of coconut donut. He swallows it down with a simple, "I know," to punctuate it; because he -does- know. And that means he -will- help, because Bucky is someone in need of it, like anyone else.

But can he really say he's come to terms with it all? The fact that he's not sure of that answer is probably as telling as anything else.

Which makes the rest of her words that much easier to focus on. Even if she calls Tony by his first name (-everyone- does it! and every time Peter does it, it just sounds weird! he hates it!) "Yeah, uh. I'll talk to Mr. Stark. And try to delay impending May murders." As if they were inevitable.

Which they probably are.

Easier then, to focus on people possessed by gods. Definitely easier. "Right. Uh. I guess I can keep an eye on her, too. Azalea? Is that her name?" Not that hard to find someone with a name like that, he figures. Maybe. "Make sure she doesn't, like… go all 'there is no Azalea, there is only Zuul!!' on everyone or something." You never know. He watched Ghostbusters as a kid and he's still convinced New York City being attacked by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is a very real possibility. … Probably even moreso now. Still…

"Yeah. One thing at a time. Plenty of insanity going around."

For example:

John thinks it's the nothing.

"Oh, cool, the nothing, sure, that makes sense."

The living darkness before the start of all things.

Peter Parker pauses mid-frappuccino sip.

"Wait, what?"

And so, Peter Parker listens. And so, Peter Parker squints as he listens. And so, Peter Parker frowns as he squints as he listens. It's a progressive thing, the way the incredulity slowly sketches itself across his features, until his hazel eyes are just slivers, and his frown is practically Muppet-grade in its severity. He slowly pulls his straw into his mouth with his lips. And slowly. S l o w l y. Sips.

And he doesn't stop until the straw makes empty sputters.

"Welp," he begins, eloquently, once he's done sucking on that empty drink. It takes a while. He's convinced he can mine some sanity-proofing sugar compound still out of that empty cup.

"… At least now when someone says 'it's probably nothing' it's blatantly about something really super awful about to happen instead of just, like, I dunno, ironically implying it."

And then he half-considers going back to his straw, before he heaves a sigh and sets that cup aside.

"Right. Okay. Bible stuff. Angels. And we're gonna build the night light to end all night lights. Cool. Go technology!" Where's those donuts he needs those donuts oh thank god don't mind him he's just going to stuff his face a little.

And so, once he's done trying to scarf down those donuts, he manages a little, "Yeah I'll help with that, it sounds easier than making another flood or something," in response to building said nightlight, scratching the back of his head. "So I guess first thing is, uh… trying to deal with this iDol thing before it gets worse, huh? Alright. I can-"

Speaking of Red, he's in trouble, too.

"Oh god what crazy thing is trying to kill him, the Primordial Abstract Concept of Trademark Infringement??"

He's taking this all seriously. He is.

But jokes are the sanctuary of his already precarious grasp on sanity in these situations.

—-

Hey, I saw those!

Zatanna looks at him with a start. "Wait, you know Groot and Rocket— ?"

The raccoon was like, throwing shade at me!

Her expression flattens immediately, though it brings with it no small measure of amusement. "Yeah. That sounds like Rocket. Him and Groot are sort of boarding in my house. With Peter Quill. He calls himself Star-Lord. Wow, I mean, compared to other parts of the country, the tri-cities area is small, but I guess I never realized how small it really is until someone you know is playing the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon thing with you."

As Peter grows quiet on the subject of Bucky, she watches him sidelong, though she doesn't offer any additional thoughts to that - it isn't as if she doesn't understand; Bucky Barnes was a complicated subject for anyone, a connection that anyone can't whittle down to basic concepts or even simpler terms. War hero, traitor, freedom fighter, assassin. He has pinged and ponged between the lines for decades, and now that some of his past has returned, he struggles in the very gray and lonely area that he has managed to find himself. It is a life experience not many people share, let alone anyone can relate to, no matter how empathetic or sympathetic someone is.

But she knows he will help, in spite of his conflicted feelings. Peter will offer, because of course he would. Like Tim, that was just the kind of guy he was.

The inquiry regarding Azalea has her nodding. "Azalea Kingston, she lived with Jess for a while…I think after all of this is over, she might keep living with Jess, but it can't hurt to have another extra set of eyes looking in on her now and then. Thanks, Pete. You're the best. I mean…I can pop by New York no problem, but Gotham's still technically my home, you know?"

The bulk of the conversation turns to the Primordial Darkness and as Peter's expressive face reflects basically everything she has been expecting once she has opened her mouth about this, a resigned look falls over her own - she's a magician and even she thinks its ludicrous when one hears a fraction of the problem. But a small glimmer of amusement returns when the friendly neighborhood arachnid nods, acknowledges a large, glaring problem casually, and proceeds to decimate the rest of his coconut donuts.

She pauses.

"Oh, wow," she tells him. "I didn't know you were a stress eater, too!"

She has no more frapuccino, so she tucks both of her hands in the pockets of her jacket. "Anyway, yeah, definitely the iDol thing is something we can look into and deal with now. I think it helped that all that shook out in the former Auspex International offices, if nothing else I think poking around drove the guys responsible underground? That means we have the time to look into it and try to make sense out of everything." She rolls her head back and exhales, loose raven tresses dangling off the back of the bench. "All this reality bending magic and I can't create more time," she mutters.

Oh god what crazy thing is trying to kill him?

The jokes help. She laughs, eyebrows lifting as she glances over at him. "Some guy named Ulysses Armstrong, calls himself the General. Kind of an obvious alias, considering his entire name is made up of other names from some of history's greatest generals, but that kind of hints as to what he can do. He's some kind of beefy super genius that tried to blow me and Red up in a warehouse somewhere in Gotham. It all started because….Red's helped me a lot, ever since I came back to the States, so I told him I'd help him out with one of his excursions as a Bat-person. So we go, we find some Eastern bloc gangsters trying to traffic girls out of Gotham, but by the time we got there, a bunch of the thugs were already dead. We end up saving the girls, chasing the killer, while getting shot at by gangsters and it turns out…"

There's a pause. "You know, Red's got a knack for guessing other people's identities outside of the mask, while keeping his own secret." She winks at Peter. "Better be careful around him before he figures you out."

Warning dispensed, she continues on - but the pause is lengthy, and from her profile, he could see it, something more solemn and serious dawning over her features.

"He has it in for Red because he thinks he's responsible for his little brother and sister getting killed, and Red's not all that forgiving of himself about what happened either. You know…what you told me? About what happened to your Uncle? What happened to Red then was kind of the opposite of that - he tried to do something and…that happened. I thought of you, actually, when he told me the story." She shakes her head once. "I said to him then that the Work is pretty damned if you do, damned if you don't and that in those cases, the only question you need to ask yourself is if you're a person who would rather do something or a person who would rather do nothing."

—-

"Groot. Right. I remember him saying that."

… Actually, that's all Peter remembers him saying. He'd find that perplexing, maybe, except —

"Star-Lord? … Star-Lord?"

Wait for it —

"Pffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffft."

There it is.

"Oh my god that sounds like a really bad name for a really bad Star Wars fan fic character oh my god — no wait I think it seriously is, hold on, I'm gonna-"

And that's the story of how Peter Parker got out his phone to start looking up Star-Lord fanfiction in the middle of a serious conversation about the biblical cataclysmic Time Before Time.

It's incredibly important.

He's still tapping away at his phone when Zatanna explains about Azalea. His brows furrow, just a bit, as she mentions the fact that she's lived with — potentially going to still -be- living — with Jessica Jones, a fact he tucks away for later with a single nod. It might be good to let Cindy know, he tells himself, or at the very least, keep an eye on her, too.

"Don't worry," he says with a lopsided grin, "I've got you covered. Kinda my thing, with all the — like — y'know." He makes a vague 'thwippy' gesture. Then immediately looks around to make sure no one was looking. Smooth, Peter. Smooth like butter.

Shut up, Other Peter.

"… uh, all the that."

Not that 'all that' is much good when you're talking about strange, cosmological concepts like the Thing Before Things Were a Thing (seriously, you can come up with a million and one names for this Darkness stuff). And so, Peter just takes solace in gobbling up the remainder of his donuts, digging in for another only to heave another, Charlie Brown-grade sigh when he finds the bag to be empty. "What? No way! I totally had one more!!" No he didn't not even close. "Aw mannnnnnnnnn."

Still, hands shoving into the pockets of his own windbreaker once he's stuffed his empty cup inside his equally empty bag and set them both aside, Peter's hazel eyes look out to the lake — towards the stray sign of life, here and there, from the rustle of trees to the faint chirp of birds. And he tries to just imagine all of it… not. Not being here. Not -being-. That, at least, gives him something coherent to focus on. He might be new to all this cosmic stuff (and thrust into it way more abruptly than he'd like) — but Peter is, if nothing else, a quick study. "So, we've got a bit of time, huh? But I don't get it. Like — if this thing is so big and bad and stuff, why, like… focus on some phone app? Why even bother with like, summoning demons, or whatever? Why not just go to the grand finale? That's kinda, I dunno, not super efficient." There has to be a reason for it, but Peter sure does not have the means or the context to even remotely guess.

"Maybe they're just really good sports."

Somehow, he doubts that.

Still, he listens to her, listens to what she has to say about slightly more sane topics. Relatively speaking. Ulysses Armstrong. The General. "Sure, that's not on the nose or anything," is his first, wry comment, scratching the side of his head. "Guess I don't really have room to talk, though." But — the explanation is about as standard as it can get for Spider-Man, as horrible as the premise is. Does he have an easier time digesting human beings doing horrible things? Probably not. But it's a little easier for him to wrap his head around.

So he remains silent, and listens, until that warning. He blinks. His lips purse. "You know, I am like, -really good- at hiding my identity!" insists the young man with the balls to sell overglorified selfies to a guy who hates him. "You're, like — you're a fluke! Not everyone's gonna have some, I dunno, weird magic freakout every time they touch me because they're all amped up on weird cursey goofy juice or something!" His hands, once more, throw up skywards. "God!"

All these people finding out who he is by cheating.

It's completely ruining his reputation!

But if there's anything capable of sobering him up, it's what Zatanna says next. He tried to do something, and…

And those words resonate. Perhaps too close to home, perhaps too fresh.

Because he's had -that- happen, too.

And the evidence has come over from another world to haunt him.

"… Yeah," he manages, after a moment. "Bad things happen. Sometimes even when we mean well. But you gotta… you gotta keep moving forward." He feels like a hypocrite. He tries his best to ignore it. "I'll — I'll help him out." His brows furrow together. "Whatever happened… I'm sure Red's paying for it already." Because he know he would be, too.

And yet, he can't bring himself to condemn this General, either.

"Anyway. Yeah, uh. I'll help look into it. See if we can't find this guy, or… something."

—-

His lopsided smile has her nodding, replying with a grin of her own. "I'll leave Az to you, then. I mean, it is your thing and all." She flashes him a thumbs-up.

Peter's lament about the donuts has her wiggling her fingers. "I can get more, after I get back from Wakanda," she tells him. "Promise. If I had any idea you liked coconut so much, I would've got you an entire box. Wow, those things really vanished on you, huh? I'll have to tell Impulse he's got some competition."

The most surefire way to make certain that New York will be on the brink of famine within the next few days, she's sure.

He asks all the right questions, and Zatanna falls quiet, ruminating on them as she watches a mother duck and her brood alight on the nearby pond, sending successive ripples in their wake as they move. Her face sinks into the loose wrap of her scarf, lashes hooding over her ice-blue eyes until only slivers of it are visible. She is quiet for so long that Peter can't be blamed if he thinks that she has fallen asleep, just taking a nap in broad daylight at the park. Then again, aren't goth girls like vampires? Maybe the sun makes her sleepy.

"It might have something to do with their back-up plan," she tells Peter, finally. "I mean, if you're unleashing the end of days where everything could just wink out at the blink of an eye, you're going to make sure that your bunker is stocked with everything you need, right? So they can't just rush it. I mean, I'm assuming they're not just doing this just so they can join everyone as victims of the unmaking of the whole of existence. And that most definitely takes time. I'm just not sure how, because like you said, everything seems disjointed. Why mess with technology when they have magic? Why summon demons? That sort of thing. Honestly, I wish the angel hadn't…if he survived, maybe we could have asked him what he was doing poking around with the Darkness."

She tilts her head back again, her stare following the drift of white clouds. It is a remarkably clear day, the better to watch the changing colors of the season with all of its autumnal vibrance.

"So the only way to figure it out is to pick apart what they're doing in New York, and hope that it paints a coherent enough picture that we can stop it before the Eternity Sludge is loose."

She takes his protests about his secret identity in stride, and she laughs, lifting her hands up. "Hey, don't look at me, this kind of shit just happens to me." Lips pull in an easy, affectionate smile, tilting her head at him sidelong. "Not regretting it in the slightest though," she tells him. "You're pretty great. Everyone else I know is either super serious, super cynical, or saturday morning cartoon crazy." Speaking of the current denizens of Shadowcrest. "I'm glad I was able to branch out, being able to meet people more like me. I was alone for…a lot. Just me and Daddy on the road all the time. I didn't really have a lot of room to make friends, let alone friends my age, let alone friends my age who have things in common with me."

Zatanna falls quiet at that, her attention moving back to Red Robin's general problem, and at Peter's words, about how he is already paying for it, spoken in a way that hints at personal experience, she nods once.

"He'd be easy to find, I think, but not that easy to take down. Whatever he didn't get from any formal training, he made up with…ferocity. Ruthlessness. Probably hours in the gym bulking up and stuffing himself with protein powder every chance he gets, because he's our age and he looks…I dunno. Thirty. He's huge. I mean, did he even have a neck? I don't remember, I was busy trying not to die. But yeah from what I understand, he comes at people sideways. He already threatened the people Red cares about….which inevitably means the Titans, you know? So you know…eye for an eye. I guess he feels it's the only way he could make things square, if he took from Red what he thinks Red took from him."

—-

"Yeah. Just like, totally up and vanished. I have -no- idea what" burp "happened to them."

"Um. Ignore that burp, okay? — H-hey, wait, I don't — I'm not that bad, I mean — ugh!"

Compared to Impulse.

What a terrible time to be alive.

Silence, however, follows after. Peter initially thinks that Zatanna is just ruminating over his obviously very intelligent and thought-provoking words because he's a total Avengers-material superhero (nevermind the fact that they never return his calls or the 'LET ME BE AN AVENGER' signs he slaps in front of Stark Towers ever other week) so of COURSE his ideas are great. But then more time passes. And he starts to worry that maybe his ideas were really dumb and she's silently judging him for it and OH GOD is THIS why they don't accept him into the Avengers?? HE ACTUALLY HAS TERRIBLE IDEAS NO WONDER CAPTAIN AMERICA NEVER GIVES HIM THE TIME OF DAY —

And then more time passes. And he looks sidelong. And it looks remarkably like she's just kind of… napping, is she napping, she's definitely napping, his ideas were so boring they put her to sleep, wow, way to go, Peter. His dark brown brows knit. He leans to the side. Reeeeaches out.

"He— "It might have something to do with their back-up plan. "Oh. Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh."

And so Peter Parker stays paused like a statue, like, one inch from poking Zatanna Zatara in the face.

"Nevermind cool back-up plans got it ignore the finger."

And he's a very attentive listener after he's snatched his hand back and stuffed it into his windbreaker's pocket, whistling as he looks up towards the sky because he definitely did not just think Zatanna was some sort of strange vampire that gets tired in sunlight instead of combusting, definitely not. "Yeah, but… hm. Maybe. This whole thing is just…" What's a good word for it? "… like… ultra-wonky."

Ultra-wonky. Great word.

"Maybe we should find one of those Brujeria guys and give them the runaround. I'm pretty good at interrogating people!"

Says the guy who wears red and blue spandex and is generally known for being the least intimidating superhero, ever, when he's not the horrifying spider-menace.

He literally can't have it both ways. It's awful.

Still, as she turns the conversation around to -complimenting- him, meek Peter Parker (when not wearing the mask) just rubs the back of his head and laughs that humble, bashful kind of laugh of his he gets in these situations. "Uh, aw shucks, I think," he says awkwardly, eyes firmly affixed to the sky. "I think you're just swell too" who the hell says just swell anymore Peter come on "or uh, yeah, pretend I said something cooler than that, like, the bee's knees or I'm just making this worse aren't I? Cat's pajamas?"

But even so — he still manages to smile a genuine smile when those hazel eyes fall back down to his friend and he expresses the sentiment much more simply, but sincerely:

"Yeah. Me too."

And with that, Peter slowly pushes back up onto his feet. He stretches out his legs, hands rising over his head as a mighty yawn spills past his opened lips. Even with all that sugar, sleep deprivation can be a hell of a thing, when you let yourself remember it exists. He looks back Zatanna's way, listening to her description with a more serious, thoughtful expression. Threatened people close to Red. Titans, obviously. But… "You should tell him to be careful, too," he says after a moment. "Usually when they mean that…"

They don't mean other superheroes. People after revenge aren't going to take on whole teams of superpowered people normally, no matter how smart they are, unless they have -some- kind of way to even the playing field. Normally, what they mean is…

"… they mean family. He… I'm just saying. Even for people careful like us…"

A girl with blonde hair, a bridge. Peter shakes it out of his memory, shoves it back down deep.

"… just tell him to watch himself, okay?" He looks at his phone, still stuffed to the gills with Star Wars fanfiction. A project for another time.

"I've gotta get to class, but… anything I can do, I will, okay? I'll talk to Red, and see what's going on on his end. People like that… whatever his reasons, he's gotta be stopped."

—-

When she finally looks up, she sees that finger right at her face. "….wha…" Zatanna begins, when he quickly tells her to ignore it. "…okay…"

I'm pretty good at interrogating people.

"God, if we even find one, I'll let you interrogate him as much as you like," said almost brashly, oblivious to the fact that this is probably The Worst Idea Ever.

She has always been that way, able to say what she feels without batting an eye, nevermind that it makes her present companion bashful and awkward, always so willing to open herself up to anyone who would allow her to, and sometimes, they even reciprocate. Peter does, though he goes about it in the roundabout way he typically does when his mouth runs faster than his brain; an oppposite problem to Tim's, really, whose brain often runs faster than his mouth, hence why it's like pulling difficult teeth, to get him to talk about much of anything. Still, she can't help but rib him, because that is what friends do under these circumstances.

"Did you come from the forties?" she asks, voice as dry as the Sahara. "I mean, I know you idolize Cap, but…"

The more sincere response has her grinning faintly at him, broadly enough that her normally hidden dimples crease her cheeks.

When he pushes up to his feet, with the intent to return to the crush of humanity in Manhattan's heart, she remains seated, fingers linked together. His words regarding Red Robin culls a resigned expression, more than anything, because telling Tim Drake to be careful is like telling Peter Parker to slow down his conversations, it does not and will never happen. But the smile returns and she nods her head. "Not promising anything about him listening, but I'll tell him."

Usually when they mean that, they mean family.

She falls silent at that, watching her friend, her head tilted back to meet his eyes and watching him shake his head. It is a quiet born from many reasons, the most paramount being that everyone that matters in Tim's life is some kind of super-something, for starters. His adoptive father, his foster brothers - as far as she knows, even the youngest is some kind of super-ninja - his ex-girlfriend, his best friends….even his best friend's dog was super. Hell, Alfred was some kind of super-butler also, she's heard stories from her father! But it also leads to the distressing fact that everyone who wasn't, his birth parents, his stepmother, were all…

The second reason is the way this friend, the one standing before her, is clearly struggling with something personal that he can't quite articulate.

"Yeah, I get it," she says instead. "I'll see you soon, Pete, and I'll keep in touch. Good luck out there, okay?" A hand lifts in a wave, remaining where she is when he departs.

And when he does, her hand lowers, expression pensive.

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