The Things He Cannot Say

January 11, 2018:

Backscene to December. Tim Drake and Zatanna Zatara catch up on latest case developments as well as revisit lingering personal issues that will probably not go away any time soon.

The Nest - Gotham

Red Robin's personal headquarters.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: John Constantine, Jessica Jones, Jane Foster, Bucky Barnes

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…


Astral jaunts are all fun and games until somebody comes back with another person's soul riding shotgun, and then discover that an unspeakable horror wriggled its way into their secret base.

Understandably, Tim needed somebody of a magical persuasion to have a look at the Nest: He might've blown up the astral terror, but that didn't mean everything was good, especially given what had been left behind… And just as understandably, the only person of a magical persuasion he really trusted with access to his secret hideout was Zatanna Zatara.

In the time since he unsealed the Nest and discovered the goo monster lurking within, he's kept his profile understandably fairly low, focusing instead on more research-oriented tasks, as well as repairing his base: Most of the damage done in the fight has been repaired entirely, and the disarray in the motor pool dealt with until it would be difficult to tell anyone had fought a tentacled shadow monster there. Even the damaged tool drawer had been replaced, the one that had gotten holed through by one of the creature's tendrils having been torn down and used as scrap metal. Everything was neat and tidy, though a portion of the crime lab was cordoned off from the rest - the bricked microscope where Emily Montrose's blood sample had previously been under observation and some of the surrounding workspace. Not because he was really worried about it, but because it was fundamentally a crime scene, and he wasn't about to disturb it any more than he had to until somebody with magical senses had taken a look.

One thing, though, was very different.

In an isolated corner of the Nest, there is now a magnetically sealed, lead-lined safe, with a palm print scanner attached to it, of all things. The safe was easy enough to get - once you reach a certain threshold of 'rich', some types of strange requests don't attract any attention, especially ones involving privacy and security - but getting its contents into place was… A trial.

He's pretty sure he lost about five hours on the first attempt, just staring at his own hand.

"Gross and weird," Tim Drake remarks out loud, sitting at the computer chair in front of the bank of screens, the hand-built supercomputer that functions as the very heart of the Nest. Chemical analysis information scrawls by seemingly endlessly, a parade of data that might as well be gibberish to most human beings. The deep winter cold doesn't penetrate into the Nest (or his residence outside, obviously, there's no point in being rich if you're just going to skimp on climate control) so he sits there in jeans and a black t-shirt with the famous 'HOPE' portrait… Except it's Super Mario's face. At least he's wearing a zip-up hoodie over it.

"And given my life, that's really saying something," the detective muses further, scrubbing a hand through his dark hair. The real question is: What does any of it mean? Does any of this information really matter, or is it just junk data, like all that seemingly random DNA…?


Somewhere behind Tim Drake, a wormhole opens, swirling with familiar coruscating colors of white and pale blue, with those new additions - scarlet sparks, threading around the circumference and flitting about like fireflies. The cold that has set in Gotham would force anyone to bundle up, being the most susceptible out of the three cities to reflect precipitous dips in temperature, but considering that she can open these shortcuts from anywhere in the world barring exigent circumstances, there is no need for her to do so here.

Zatanna Zatara arrives in her usual blacks - a longsleeved shirt wrought from black lace pulled over a black tanktop, paired with ripped jeans and fishnets layered underneath the denim, these days have taken her to wearing some other colors, drawn even more to dark and fiery reds ever since her soul-rending battle against Herself. Her black manicure has been replaced with the color of mulled wine, matching the shade she chooses to wear on her lips. Winters always make her appear paler than even her usual wont, and what she chooses to wear often does not help; her skin looks downright alabaster under the harsh lights of the supercomputer, and whatever else Tim uses for illumination in the nest.

She comes bearing gifts: two cardboard cups of Deathwish Coffee, the most potent stuff of its kind on Earth, his plain and unsweetened, hers with cream and sugar. The scent of it would be enough to herald her arrival, but her best friend is a trained ninja - he probably sensed the portal opening up first before she actually stepped through.

Booted feet take her to his side, setting the egg crate down with their cups of coffee. Pale fingers lower on the top of his head, rustling the unruly black strands.

"What's gross and weird?" she wonders, plucking her cup of coffee and taking a seat next to him. "Don't tell me Impulse brought something back through time again."

That is not beyond the realm of possibility with the Titans.

Lips purse around the lid of her cup, taking a quiet sip.

She seems to remember something after that, and while she waits for an explanation, she digs around the pockets of her jeans to produce a small box, with she rests on top of Tim's workspace. Made out of white cardboard, it is set with nothing but a string of red and green ribbon.

"You know the rules," she tells him, smiling faintly around her cup. "You can't open it until Christmas."


Tim's verdict on the addition of more red into Zatanna's colour palette is already on record.

The lighting in the Nest is all highly efficient LEDs, of course, set up on a complicated motion tracking system that allows the base to focus its illumination where it's needed: Generally, wherever the owner of the place is. The rest of the interior is mostly left dim, then, but at least it means the lighting isn't too harsh, it doesn't have the washing-out effect of fluorescents or the heat of a traditional incandescent bulb.

Plus they last for ages, unless they get broken, by say some kind of terror from beyond.

The shift in the air caused by the portal tickles at Tim's awareness immediately, even if the actual magic of it is beyond his perception: The sudden, subtle different in pressure isn't quite as noticeable as an outright teleportation (suddenly removing or adding a physical object the size of a person does displace a surprising amount of air) but it's enough, and it make the short hairs on the back of his neck stand up, a moment of wary tension before he smells the coffee, before he hears the distinctive sound of Zatanna's footsteps. It's been more than a year, now, since he memorised the sound of her footfalls. He'd recognise them anywhere.

Not that he'd ever say so. For one thing, it's never good to give away your tricks, and for another it's difficult to guess whether she'd find it more endearing than creepy.

That it's her relaxes him, mostly - whatever might've changed about her, Zatanna was still Zatanna, and she was one of the handful of people he trusted implicitly… But he was never going to get used to portals opening suddenly in his secret base - as does the gentle touch, those pale red-tipped fingers brushing through his ink-dark hair.

"No, not this time. This is an analysis of the composition of the shoggoth or whatever that came through Miss Montrose's blood sample." He's just glad to know that the lights worked… Although he did have to rebuild a good chunk of the Redbird's front end, putting in a new power supply. "Most of it melted when I flooded the Nest with light, but there was some stuck in the… Crevices. Stress hormones, a lot of them, massive amounts of cortisol… A grab-bag of human DNA, I don't think I'd be able to count how many individual genomes it came from. The gross part is this, though," he says, indicating a screen while Zatanna produes a small box. "The closest match I can get is umbilical cord blood."

His eyes, their dark blue nearly black in the lighting of the computer area, turn towards the small gift box, and then towards Zatanna, as she gives him that faint smile. His brow furrows. He didn't really forget that it was nearly Christmas, did he? Got so wrapped up in trying to figure things out that he neglected the passage of time into the holidays?

"You didn't have to get me anything," Tim tells her. He lets the moment drag out, lets the pause gain a mass and life of its own, before:

"Yours is over there."

He points at one of the other tables, on which sits two gifts wrapped (extremely precisely) in black paper with silver snowflakes. One is a softer-looking bundle, and the other clearly a box, tied with a dark puple ribbon.


It might be better that he prevent himself to become accustomed to such things. She would rather Tim retain his usual, ingrained wariness to his surroundings than not. His life was dangerous enough, ever since he was fourteen, meeting her, throwing him facefirst in a world where his background in science has been completely tossed out the window, introduced to threats greater than the persistent criminal elements in Gotham and beyond, it has only become moreso. There had been a time when she felt constantly guilty about it, but Zatanna knows him well, doesn't miss the fervent look in his eyes whenever he's placed in the middle of something extremely dangerous and puzzling. Simply put, the more oppressive a situation is, the more he thrives in it. That is something that they've always had in common.

"I still can't believe all of that came out of a few drops of blood," Zatanna remarks, scooting closer to the screen to peer at the data scrolling up. Scientific analysis is more Tim's realm of expertise than hers, she can scarcely parse the meaning of stress hormones or the presence of cortisol, but the gross factor intensifies when he introduces the most macabre part of the equation. Brows furrow in thought at the presence of umbilical cord blood.

"Hope you don't intend to have dinner anytime soon," the witch remarks. "The byproducts of labor are said to have huge amounts of mystical power - like mana battteries. Not just the umbilical cord, but everything else - placentas, aborted fetuses. It's grim, but it's true. There's a lot of theory on it, but life and innocence have always been staples in the workings of magic…dark magic, especially, because it can't help but seek the corruption of such things. If we ever doubted that a cult like the Brujeria is behind something like this, that's enough proof in the pudding."

She nudges her coffee towards him, pulling her legs up on the seat. She is less restless than she was before, but the old habit stays - how she never sits properly when she is in a place in which she feels safe.

''You didn't have to get me anything.''

The furrowed brows he lances her way has her rolling her eyes playfully. "What?" she wonders. "I love Christmas. You should love it as much as me. Food, loot, being with your family and loved ones, celebrating what you still have, looking back on the ups and downs of the last year." One would think Halloween would be her holiday of choice, given what she wears and the arts that she practices, but that cannot be further from the truth. "It's a grand tradition, people who get too cynical about it ought to be ashamed."

''Yours is over there.''

She laughs, leaning in to peck his cheek lightly. "Thanks," she says, glancing at the boxes, though she doesn't go over to inspect the goods just yet, though the softer-looking bundle gets a wary eye. "If that's a costume, I hope it doesn't have a red cape with dishwasher gloves, or our friendship is over."

A hand moves to set her cup aside. "So tell me about this shoggoth and how it ended up in your Nest. You said it came out of Miss Montrose's blood, yeah? Then what?"


"I should've known something would come through," Tim says, about what came out of a few drops of blood. "I saw it, when you were opening the doorway in the body… The visible energy of your magic." And the red, which had been a new wrinkle, a worrying change along with Zatanna's more aloof, more detached manner. "It makes sense, right? Like a voodoo doll, but backwards. You did something to a big part, and it happened to the small part even though it was somewhere else. Still, it's lucky it was only a few drops of blood. The thing Spoiler and I destroyed was a lot smaller than the one we saw."

Of course, he blames himself for not already knowing everything, for not seeing every permutation, every possibility. Of course, he holds himself to impossibly, punishingly high standards.

But maybe that's part of what makes him who he is, someone who flourishes in the middle of a hurricane, trying to forge some kind of order out of chaos.

"Pregnancy correlates with an increased production of stress hormones, in humans they're actually generated by the placenta. Initially to suppress the mother's immune system to prevent it from attacking the fetus, and later it helps to regulate blood flow through the placenta, and they also influence development in the second trimester, as well as birth timing," Tim explains, sounding less surprised than he would be in an ideal world about the usefulness of the 'byproducts of labor' in the workings of darker magic.

Still, though Zatanna confirms his worst suspicions, he probably won't have any trouble eating. He got over that a long time ago, operating in a world with the likes of Professor Pyg, and who knows how many other gore-stained maniacs.

He does take the coffee, too, finding it to be pretty much how he prefers it (his own coffee doubles as an excellent degreaser for engine parts) and once he gives up his little impromptu game about having 'forgotten' Christmas, earning himself a light peck on the cheek, he can't help but grin boyishly, a faint chuff of something akin to amusement escaping him.

"I wouldn't get you a costume for Christmas, though, Zee. Besides, yellow would look terrible on you."

He has very definite ideas about costumes; admittedly, so does Zatanna, but his aren't 'not if I can help it!!'.

But then the conversation turns back to something more serious. Tim turns his chair, rising up from it and walking over to the railing that overlooks the interior, that lets them see all the way down to the bottom, where the Redbird and his motorcycle sit patiently.

"I locked the place down. All the exits sealed, Faraday cage activated to prevent any signals in or out. Once I came back to Gotham," he'd spent several days - including Thanksgiving, which had gotten him some extremely guilt-tripping messages from Alfred Pennyworth - in New York, before making the venture back in here. "Spoiler and I had to manually open the motor pool entry from outside. The shoggoth," he supposes it's as useful a term for it as any, "was waiting. It was trying to communicate with the outside. It managed something, pinging the iDol server in Argentina, but I think everything else was blocked. As far as I can tell from the mess, it knew what it needed to do, it was just having trouble managing it with its goo body. Once it detected us, it attacked. The lights hurt it, and it did something to Spoiler. It showed her something, the group of us in Astral Space. Showed her me ingesting the tyet, and said that two of us were going to die… I'm not really sure why it did that. There were faces in the mass, but I couldn't tell if they were being formed, or if they were… Dissolving."

He sighs, faintly. He's basically certain it was the latter. Other souls like Emily Montrose's, but not lucky enough to have hidden.

"Anyway, I'd modified the headlights on the Redbird, so I gave it a blast from those, and I think it blew up, but I couldn't really see." As such, he didn't see the rest of it. The souls freed, or the winged, dark-faced figure, but…

"It left something behind. Besides the goo in my communications equipment, I mean."


Aloof and detached, but out of necessity - as open as Zatanna is, she has already explained just why she keeps this specific outcome private, especially with what it entails. The battle of the self is as personal of a journey as it gets, especially in their world. It feels wrong, somehow, to tell anyone about it. Even Tim. Even John. However, by increments, she seems to be returning to her old self, falling back into some old habits, including her unfettered dispensation of affection, though the other signs remain - the presence of those crimson sparks being the most overt of these.

I should have known something would come through.

"So you're beating yourself up over the fact that you somehow, surprisingly, didn't foresee an Elder God-like thing springing out of a few drops of blood from a dead person," the young woman repeats, her expression flattening. "Your foresight is already ridiculous, Tim, but I didn't think you had any ambitions being a clairvoyant or a precog. Seriously, I was born in this kind of environment and even that would surprise me." Retaking her cup of coffee, she sinks further into the comfortable chair, slumping against it. "I think you should cut yourself some slack on this one. It won't hurt, I promise."

He explains the effects of pregnancy on the human body, though in greater depth - anyone, a woman especially, would at least know the basics, but as he goes into detail about the elevated levels of cortisol. "All that's telling me is that there's definitely a pregnancy involved." She chews on her bottom lip. "But what's pregnant, though? And you seem pretty sure it's all human. Does that mean Montrose was pregnant before she died?" Or was it something else entirely - does that explain her state of weird existence when they found her?

It's something to bring to John, for certain.

As he rises from his chair, she follows him with her eyes, up until they rest somewhere between their shoulderblades as he looks down at his car and gives his best recollection. Falling silent, she gives him the room to talk as she quietly takes a sip of her coffee, occasionally darting glances at the packages he has left for her on the table. There's curiosity, there; she's never outgrown the tendency to wonder what was inside her Christmas presents, the luster of the holiday remaining even now. She was not exaggerating at all when she had told him that she loves Christmas.

The portents that Spoiler received earns a furrowing of her brows. "Two people in the group that went in were going to die?" she wonders. "Wonder if that's already happened…"

Should Tim glance at her or prompt an explanation: "Bucky and Jane lost their souls recently," she tells him. "It's…completely unrelated to what we're doing, I'll explain later, but that can count as a death since their souls have left the body. It's convenient for the purposes of the shoggoth's predictions but I can't help but wonder."

But one thing at a time: "Were you able to figure out what it was trying to do when it pinged the server in Argentina?"

It left something behind.

The expression on her face is indescribable. In her experience, that's never good.

"Yeah? What was it?"


The not unfamiliar admonishment from Zatanna doesn't produce much more than a faint frown from Tim. He knows, of course, that she's right - he is, after all, only human - but he simply can't allow himself the luxury of cutting himself slack. Probably the witch would know that, too. Was it something he learned from the Batman, one of those ways in which he's more like his mentor than he's entirely comfortable admitting? Or is it something about Tim that exists independent of the Dark Knight, perhaps even before he ever joined the war in the shadows?

The only answers to that lie down paths not taken, though. Maybe some other reality out in that broad multiverse where he was just a normal, everyday perfectionist.


"I could ask her, the next time she wakes up," Tim says, of Emily Montrose and any potential pregnancy on her part. "It was difficult to get any reliable medical information from her body. But this DNA… It's not from one subject. It's from a lot of them. What if they're harvesting?" It speaks to the kind of terrors he's faced, as the Boy Wonder and since he struck out on his own, that he would consider such a possibility. What if the faces he saw were the unborn? Miscarriages, abortions, newborns who didn't survive… It wasn't as though there were a lack of those sorts of things in the world, or as though the Brujeria were the types to balk at something like that.

What were they going to find down in Argentina?

"You can open one, if you want," Tim says, without even looking back, having apparently noticed the glances she was shooting at the packages. "One of them was supposed to be for your birthday anyway, but it didn't arrive in time and there was all the… You know." Mayhem, destruction, violence. "I won't tell Santa."

It's a small thing, an oasis of something lighter, brighter in the midst of heavy and dark topics. Topics they can't stray from for too long, because of the vision and the 'prophecy' Spoiler was given by the astral horror. He does look over his shoulder at her when Zatanna wonders if it had already happened, but when she explains he shakes his head faintly.

"I know. Miss Jones told me. She suggested that was why Miss Montrose thought they were suitable to hide her soul in… Because there was nothing there."

He remembers, of course, everything they went through not even a year ago, when Zatanna's soul was rent asunder. There was no point in actually bringing it up - it wasn't like she was liable to forget - but there was something darky poetic about the year being bookended like that. "I don't know enough about the rules to say if it would count or not, but the phrasing was specific. I asked, and Spoiler wouldn't make an elementary mistake like that: Two of them will die. But maybe Miss Jones is wrong, and it hadn't happened by then…"

The question about what it was trying to do with the server, at least, he can give an easy response to.

"It was trying to call for help. E.T. phone home. There doesn't seem to have been an attempt to trace the ping back, but I've been keeping an eye on it. Not wanting them kicking down my front door is why I haven't gone snooping around in their systems yet, so it'd kinda suck to have them just show up because a goo ghost called them."

It's not often that Tim gets to see a look like that on Zatanna's face. She might not be as open and expressive as she was before her quest that yielded the tyet, but this wasn't a stoic, inscrutable look. This was something else entirely.

"A feather. Too big to be from any mundane bird, and it, um…" He frowns, his gaze sliding to the side and away from Zatanna. "…Well, it had some psychotropic effects. I mean, I've been on some stuff," mostly for training purposes, because his life is weird, "but this really messed me up."


I could ask her, the next time she wakes up.

"If you could, that at least eliminates one possibility off the list," Zatanna tells Tim, furrowing her brows a little bit in thought. "I'll take that back to John also, maybe he has some other ideas. I've never come across anything like this before, but he might have." The harvesting speculation has her chewing on her bottom lip. That's not exactly unheard of in her side of the world, either, and is actually distressingly common. In the world of magic, body parts will always have a market.

When told that she can open one, there's a grin. "You spoil me," she teases him, lifting her fingers and letting the softer package drift towards her - it's smaller, anyway. Impeccably, meticulously wrapped, she starts to carefully peel away the careful packaging, unknotting the ribbon first before fingernails slip through the tape.

With the news that Jessica Jones has updated Tim on Jane and Bucky's predicament has her lifting her eyes to look at him, before lowering them again to the gift in her hands. "Yeah, it's a huge problem and one John and I are trying to help fix," she tells him. "No solutions yet, but we're getting there."

The fact that she knows what it's like, losing her soul until scraps only remain - enough to power a few weeks' worth of life and no further - had not even come into her personal calculus of the situation. It is enough that Bucky and Jane need help and had circumstances been different, she knows they would have done the same for her. She can't do anything less, now, and she has seen how the fact has affected John - who had brought Jane into the world of magic, and who holds a relationship with Bucky that is extremely rare for the acerbic Englishman.

News about the Argentinian server has her nodding, though traces of concern remain. "Are you being careful about that? I mean…of course you are but these people aren't exactly ordinary. If anything weird shows up, let me know right away, okay?" The last thing she wants is for the Brujeria to pay Tim Drake a personal visit. Not that he won't be able to handle himself…but she can't help but worry. These people are dangerous and not only that, there isn't much that is actually known about them.

Though the last question has her flicking her eyes back to Tim. "What…do you mean?" she wonders, curious at the way he avoids looking at her. "What did it do to you?"

And after a pause:

"Can I see it? The feather?"


It's a reminder of the revelation Tim had when dealing with the Cult of the Cold Flame in Germany: People were people, no matter if they were from the spooky side of the street or not. The Cult operated much like an organised criminal gang without magic, to a great extent… The men they fought at the Union Jack, at Adelaide Weir's place, even in Brandenburg, were soldatos, even if they used lightning bolts and fireballs instead of guns and knives. The cruelties and indulgences of the wicked were alike, whether they wielded power through sorcery, through metahuman abilities, or simple fear and madness.

In the end, it was a difference of degrees, of methodology, not of kind or scope.

It was curiously comforting, to Tim Drake.

Because he can understand that, he can fight that. He can deal with criminal outfits, with those who seek to gain at the expense of others, with organleggers. He can even deal with cults, with ninjas. Even if he doesn't know all the rules - though, thanks to Zatanna, and her father's library, he knows more than he did before - the idea that there was some fundamental difference that made them incomprehensible was one of his own creation. A limitation imposed on him by no one but himself.

You spoil me, she teases him, and Tim can't do much but shrug. He'd deny it, but he's been trying to avoid lying to her, even innocuously.

The package was a soft one, far lighter than whatever was in the box: The careful, precise wrapping was almost certainly the detective's own work, particularly given his well-known aversion to leaving tasks to other people (also could you imagine the guff he'd get from Alfred if he'd asked the butler for help?) but the contents would turn out to be a black t-shirt of high quality cotton, with the words RESTING WITCH FACE across the front in silvery glitter and a kind of spiderwebbed font. There's even a similarly glittery witch's hat beside the words.

It's in exactly her size, too.

He's very good at his job.

"Demonic bears eating people's souls does seem like a big problem," he agrees. "If there's anything I can do, just let me know." There probably isn't, but that's not the point. The offer is made for the simplest and most important of reasons: Someone needs help.

"Believe me, you'll be the first to know if anything weird shows up," Tim assures her. Whether it's because he contacts her, or because he ends up having to use the spell she'd carved on his arm to escape and possibly get pieced back together by her vast magical abilities, well, that's one of those things that depends entirely on how things go.

The issue of the feather is less risky than it is personally embarrassing. He'd been trained to deal with various psychotropic and hallucinogenic substances - resulting in things like a partial immunity to Scarecrow's fear toxin, among others - and in the more esoteric parts of his training abroad he'd been dosed with things, but this was… Different. Entirely so.

So Zatanna gets the opportunity to see Tim genuinely abashed about something, which leads to a silence when she asks what he means, and what it did to him, a silence that stretches out into her pause… And then she asks to see it. Tim frowns, looking over the railing again, then at Zatanna, and he scrubs both of his hands through his hair, pushing the longer dark locks back out of his face.

"Well, you're the expert on this stuff," he says, shrugging a little and beckoning her to follow him. He leads the way down, into the sub-basement, through the motor pool and past the Redbird, the car's black finish and metallic-red canopy gleaming like they were just polished. Into a disused corner, an area set aside for further use or equipment storage: Even as they get close to the safe, they'd start to feel it, the beginnings of the high that radiates off of the feather. As he gets closer, Tim's misgivings feel weaker, less relevant. It's not like it's going to hurt either of them, right?

"As near as I can tell, it's, um, more potent if you look at it, and even more if you actually touch it," he explains, crouching down to put his hand on the palm reader. There's a hum, then a beep, the magnetic lock releasing with a dull click. Once he turns the handle and opens the door, Zatanna would see the only contents of the safe: The too-large feather of an angel.

It feels pretty good.


The Resting Witch Face shirt and what it depicts on black fabric lets loose a bright, unfettered laugh from Zatanna, grinning at him broadly from where she sits. "Awesome," she tells him, approvingly, reaching down to work the lace hem of her outer shirt off and fold it neatly on his work space. She unfolds her birthday present and tugs it down over her underlying tank top. "There, what do you think? Witchy enough? Or do I need a bigger nose?"

She doesn't even question how he got her size so accurately. It's Tim. He may not have superpowers but he's made up for the lack in spades.

Talk of the Demon Bear has her nodding once. "Yeah, I will," she says. "Chances are we probably will, but I'll definitely keep you posted."

Other subjects fall quickly on the wayside, though, at the talk of the feather and Tim's almost embarrassed reaction to the feather, and curiosity drips white hot in her veins when ice-blue eyes tick over the countless, but indecipherable expressions that pass over eyes darker than her own, and the words that he doesn't tell her. It can't help but draw a pang of worry, too. "You're not getting addicted to the thing, are you?" she asks, ever so straightforward, and willing to throw herself on volatile minefields, no matter how many she prompts to explode.

An expert, he says, on this stuff.

Zatanna rises at that, to follow him with light, quick steps, metal ringing at every one when she descends down the sub-basement with him, knowing where it leads. Plenty of his supplies and equipment are housed deep in the underbellies of the nest - spare costumes, weapons, gadgets. Though as they venture deeper into his secret hideout, she can't help but wonder even more about the nature of the feather, now, when he has clearly decided to house it in the most hidden and secure parts of his personal headquarters.

Did the effects extend so far?

She starts to feel it the closer they get to his vault. It feels familiar, and when it opens…

She has never seen an angel's feather before. For her age, her exposure to magic is extensive, but to say that she has encountered even half of what is out there would be a blatant exaggeration. But she has tastes something like this before; circumstances have forced her in the past to be injected with tears of the seraphim, effects of which Tim has experienced before, when she had walked in their study room radiant and luminous for inexplicable reasons. Again, when a soulless Bucky had nearly chewed her in half in wolf form. It's definitely not the same angel, but the signatures are similar.

Unhesitatingly, she reaches out to touch the tip of her finger against a downy strand and its effects are instantaneous. He'd be able to see her stare grow completely unfocused, lips parting and seized with a sudden and incredible euphoria. A tremor thrums along her spine and her heartbeat slows - colors that she did not know exist burst in kaleidoscopic patterns behind her lids and for a few blissful moments, she feels like she can do anything.

It's only with a herculean force of will that she's able to tear herself away from the feather, taking several steps back. "Shut…shut the door, Tim," she breathes, shaking her head hard, turning away from him. Arms curl about herself, palms rubbing up and down vigorously over her skin in an attempt to quell the rise of goosebumps.


Whatever tension Tim might've been carrying still about Zatanna's nature after their conversation in New York, whatever worries he might've been keeping locked away about whether or not she was still her in any meaningful sense, it all melts away when she laughs like that, when she flashes him that broad grin that lights up the room, surely enough by itself to banish the Primordial Darkness. So many of them have been darkened, hardened by the things they've gone through. The last thing he ever wanted was to see it happen to her, too.

It was good, in his mind. Soothing to see that she was still there, the bright and vibrantly alive person who'd sauntered into his life a little more than a year before. Time and tide had added new shades to her, but that core hadn't been somehow wildly altered by whatever she'd gone through.

"What?" he asks, when she moves straight to the question of whether he'd been getting addicted to the presence of the mysterious feather. "No. I put it in a lead-lined, magnetically sealed safe in the most remote part of the Nest I could manage. I only handled it twice, once to move it out of the way, and the second to actually put it in the safe." Both times had taken longer than he'd care to admit, having lost time in a euphoric haze. He'd debated dosing himself with something else to provide an opposite effect first, but eventually decided against messing around with psychopharmacology too much. Especially since it might not work, since the effect was clearly supernatural in origin.

Despite what he'd said, of course, Zatanna does indeed reach out to touch the feather. It's difficult for him to really offer up an objection, difficult to focus like he knows he should. He himself called her an expert after all, right? So he watches her hand with a kind of fascination, his dark blue eyes moving up along her arm towards her face, driven by the subconscious urge to see how she reacts, to learn something new… And, well, because she's beautiful.

It's something he tries not to think about, something he locks away in the mental equivalent of the place he'd stored the feather: A small, difficult to open safe hidden in the dark corners of his mind. The same cellars where he crams all his unnecessary thoughts and feelings, the things that would intrude or distract when he needs to work, when he needs to fight. He watches the way her expression changes as that supernal euphoria washes over her, those ice blue eyes losing all focus, her pupils shrinking the way they would under the effects of a narcotic… The way her lips part, a kind of terrible ecstasy that wasn't meant for humans settling over her. It was fascinating, riveting, like nothing else in the world. He wanted to do nothing but sit there and watch her face, just like that.

Part of him, of course, rebels. A different little corner of his mind, its boundaries carefully plotted, its contents a wary, sleepless watchman inside his own head. He was not unfamiliar with having his mind toyed with, after all: How many of Batman's enemies liked to subvert the will, twist thoughts? Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Hugo Strange… And so, the thought intrudes, nagging at him, that he shouldn't just let it wash over him. He shouldn't give the euphoria control.

When Zatanna manages to exert her self-control, when she tells him, breathily, shakily to shut the door after stepping away from the safe, he does so. He has to force himself to do it, to be sure: He puts force behind it, slamming the safe shut, a whirr and a click as the magnetic lock seals itself, and then he too is moving away from it.

"So yeah, that's why I hid it down here," Tim manages after a minute or two. It's still there, faintly. Like a distant echo of a quiet whisper. "You okay, Zee?"


She keeps her back turned, tension strung over her shoulders like wire, because she is not immune to the effects of the thing and she doesn't even have Tim's experience with drugs. Because what floods along her synapses along with that beautiful, perfect euphoria isn't just the soaring sensation of being able to do anything, but also the power to have anything. Still struggling with the effects of the Labyrinth of the Self that she has been forced into out of necessity, she has slowly reclaimed parts of her old self the more she has become accustomed to her new - rediscovering the aspects of her that are good and vital to other people's understanding of her. She is evolving, remembering more of the things that she loves about herself every day as time passes, for those are always the first things to die when one battles the parts of oneself that she doesn't like or fails to acknowledge - refuses to, in many ways.

All she needs is the time. The time to breathe and adjust and quietly deal with something so private that she has to rely on herself.

But remembering all of it has its consequences, and within the effects of the feather, it comes flooding back - encountering him in the maze of Her, looking him right in the eye and what she had to admit to. To anyone, it would be a simple thing, an understandable thing, but it has lurked within those corridors and alcoves like a phantasm and shakes her to the core, because her devotion has always been a significant aspect of her, one of the bedrock foundations upon which she has built her self worth. To be so unshakeable in such a way that she can reassure herself that while she can sometimes be too much for someone, hers is a heart worth having.

And in those terrible, beautiful seconds, Zatanna believes it. That she can have it all. That she has the power to have it all.

The power to even explore what she couldn't let herself have before with Tim Drake.

You okay, Zee?

His quiet voice whispers over her senses and she shuts her eyes, curls her fingers tighter around her forearms. She doesn't look at him, forcing herself to take deep, deliberate breaths, to struggle out of the tangle brought forth by the feather she had touched, reminded suddenly of that, too - demons, agents of temptation, had once been angels, too. She can't help but feel, somehow, that whoever the feather belonged to had been a very bad boy…

And the blood of Isis has always been sensitive to the mistakes and arrogance of men.

She swallows, but she doesn't answer - to say she is fine would be lying to him, but to say what is actually going on inside of her, riotous, utterly calamitous, would be a disaster of enormous proportions. She can't.

"It's from an angel," she tells him; the back of her throat feels like cotton. "…I've never seen one so pristine before. But that's what it is. I'm sure of it. Never touched one before, either but…I've had their tears injected in me, before. It's similar…but different. When tears are in your system, they…purge the filth out of you. All of it. Not just wounds or drugs, all sorts of impurities. This is…it's different."

After a few moments of heavy silence.

"…like temptation." Her arms band around herself even tighter, almost defensively. "…we should…probably leave it alone."


In a way it was concern they each had about themselves - about being 'too much'.

Tim had seen the evidence of it firsthand, how the choices he made and his very nature drove people out of his life. Violence had claimed more than a few, to be sure, but simply dealing with him had nearly destroyed Ariana Dzerchenko at the tender age of fifteen, whittled away his civilian friends until there was just Sebastian Ives, who had bigger things to worry about. It had driven Stephanie to fake her own death; there had been other reasons behind that, to be sure, but he'd asked her straight out: Had it been so bad, being with him?

Yes, she'd answered.

Tim knows, sooner or later, his behaviour will alienate others. Conner, Bart, Cassie. Zatanna. He tries to forestall it, to mitigate it where he can, but he knows, one day he'll do something. Something eminently necessary, something for the Work. Something that the gods he surrounds himself with won't be able to get past.

But right now is not that 'one day'. Right now, as the fog of euphoria retreats from his mind, as his thoughts and perceptions return to the clarity and control he requires of them, he stops focusing on the thought of how beautiful the witch is, and instead sees. Sees how shaken the Princess of Prestidigitation is, curled onto herself, seemingly rocked to the very core by the experience of the influence of the feather… And now those thoughts seem worse than foolish, a sour burning spike of guilt and shame piercing through his guts, and he pushes them away, ruthlessly relentlessly crushes them and forces them into that dark, hidden safe inside his mind.

And he asks, unaware of what's going through her head, the dangerous, disastrous truth, if she's okay.

His whole being is keyed to this, now, because what if the feather had some deleterious effect on her because of her abilities? What if it was some kind of a trap, or if it simply affected her differently because of her magical nature - that whatever-it-was about herself that made her unlike her father, unlike Constantine, unlike the other magic-users she knew who were drained by wielding the powers she could with such ease that it terrified her?

So he observes, but he waits. He gives her room to breathe, and time to collect herself, studying every reaction. Acutely aware that she doesn't look at him, that she keeps her back to him. He waits, and she speaks… And it would be foolish to assume that Tim Drake doesn't notice that her response is not, strictly speaking, an answer to his question. He was an old hand at that sort of thing, too, but he keeps the 'do as I say, not as I do' impulse at bay, keeps himself from pressing her for a direct answer to his question.

When she tells him what she does, he initially balks at the idea of an actual angel, for all that Zatanna had told him about her encounter with one early in the dealings with the Brujeria. For all that he'd seen since then. When she elaborates, and talks about how the feather feels 'like temptation', he takes a noticeable step away from the safe.

"So, what, there was some kind of angel inside that monster? And when I blew it up, it… Left? But dropped a feather?" Tim shakes his head slowly, sighing a little. "Figure they'd have better manners. I'm not gonna argue about leaving it alone, though."


So, what, there was some kind of angel inside of that monster?

"It wouldn't be the first time."

After one vehement shake of her head, Zatanna squares her shoulders and turns around to look at him, lips pressed together. "It isn't as if we haven't known that members of the Host are involved in this Brujeria business - as victims. If you're going to keep it, though, I'd…be very careful with it. I don't have to tell you that but it bears saying. I don't know what to tell you about the monster, I wasn't there…" After a few moments of hesitation, she continues. "They're only visible when they want to be visible. Not even psychics can see them, unless they want to be seen. So the angel might not be inside of the monster, either. He could have just….been here."

Watching you.

The thought of it puts a visible frown on the young witch's face.

With one final and wary glance to the vault, with its euphoric effects dwindling away thanks to the lead-lined and whatever augmentations Tim had built inside of it, she sighs, pulling her fingers through her hair. "I wouldn't be surprised, honestly, if they started monitoring our progress. Nobody wants the Primordial Darkness to be let loose unless it's the Brujeria. It's world ending, nobody is exempt, unless you sign onto their apocalypse bunker or whatever plan they have."

Which they still can only guess the shape of.

Finally, and almost reluctantly, she forces herself to turn, to make her way towards the stairs.

"Anyway, let's go back up and finish our coffee," she suggests. "Take a little break. I feel like if I don't make you now and then, you wouldn't."


It wouldn't be the first time, she says.

It was a thought which had occurred to Tim as well, when she explained to him about the source of the feather: What if that's how those horrors were made? An angel - or, he thinks, as someone who is close friends with a daughter of Zeus and who has met the Norse god of Thunder, something that a bunch of bronze age humans would've conceived of as being angelic because they had no other frame of reference for it - slathered in some kind of mix of Primordial Darkness and dead babies?

Maybe the thing that Zatanna and Constantine dealt with before, on the day when she learned that the Brujeria knew her name, was some kind of prototype. A test run. With the euphoric fog of the feather almost completely gone, Tim's mind is back to working a mile a minute, seeking possible connections, hunting for ways the puzzle pieces might fit together. For the enjoyment of it, yes - for good or for ill, part of what kept Tim in the game was that he liked it, on a fundamental level. He liked solving problems, he liked figuring things out. It was exciting, satisfying.

But also, the hope that if he figures something out sooner, he can save more people. Like he couldn't last year, during Kazinsky's murder spree.

Those dark blue eyes are in the here and now, though, focusing on Zatanna as she makes herself turn to look at him. She tells him, perhaps more for her own peace of mind than anything else, to be careful with the angel's feather if he was going to keep it. He isn't sure what else he'd do with it, though. Putting it out in the world seems far more dangerous, and seeing how Zatanna reacted to his presence rules out the idea of giving it to her, or Constantine, or even the Sorceror Supreme. Which leaves this isolated little corner of the Nest.

Should've dug deeper, he thinks to himself. Below the tunnels. Room for dangerous items, maybe too close to Old Gotham…

Zatanna distracts him from that line of thought, though, with what she says about the angel. The idea that it might not have been inside the shoggoth, or whatever it was… That it might simply have been present, observing, undetectable.

Might even still be there, even.

The short hairs on the back of Tim's neck stick up again, the unsettling feeling of being watched creeping its way along his spine. Bad enough when it might be some kind of mundane form of observation, something he could detect, subvert, deal with. But the idea of some entity just… Lurking…

"Cool, okay, yeah. You know what, I already don't sleep much anyway."

Now he's the one rubbing his forearm, trying to banish the sense of chill, the presence of goosebumps, glancing around as though he were going to see a cherub peeking around the corner of some equipment, or maybe a burning wheel or six wings and a whole lot of eyes peeking out from under the Redbird. That does leave him wondering why the feather was left behind, though. Always more questions than answers.

Distressingly, just how he likes it.

"Maybe I just let you think that so you'll hang out with me," Tim suggests of the witch's ability to get him to take breaks, and the idea that he wouldn't if she didn't make him. It's easier for him, it seems, to put the feather out of mind for now, following Zatanna towards the stairs up.


Cool, okay, yeah. You know what, I already don't sleep much anyway.

"That doesn't mean you shouldn't try," Zatanna points out with a frown.

But it is a concern - at the same time, there isn't much anyone can do about it. Walking up the stairs, she proceeds to the main terminal where she can gather her lace overshirt and her remaining package, making her way up another flight of stairs towards the condominium's living spaces. The wall opens up, booted feet taking her within and as usual, whenever she is in his place, she goes to the kitchen first. With no Alfred, she doesn't really know how he manages to acquire sustenance, but given his on-the-go nature and the fact that he's rich, he either has a private chef or eats out all the time, like most bachelors in their twenties. Items set aside, she proceeds to do a daily inspection of his fridge.

The lack of any substantial contents within it is distressing, at least to her. Whether in Shadowcrest or John's flat, she has no shortage of homecooked meals.

There is at least fresh fruit, and she takes a few as well as a carton of almond milk, nudging her hip against the door so she can make her way towards Tim's high-tech blender. With an almost unconscious precision, she pulls out a chopping board and a knife, proceeding to cut up what she has managed to collect.

"Anyway, you don't need to con me so that I'll hang out with you. I know things have been busy, but I'm here every week! …almost every week, I mean, it's not like the Work doesn't take me to other places sometimes." Like London, or Wakanda, or even up in Westchester where she nearly got bit in half - the Bucky and Jane problem lurks in the back of her head like a persistent shadow, rising now and then periodically as it often does whenever something important remains unresolved. She shakes her head once, and looks over her shoulder at him.

"How have you been?" she asks; at least in this, she can trust him to be honest. Ever since their confrontation about his secret identity, he has been doing his best not to subject her to any more falsehoods and while she hasn't addressed it out loud, she has noticed. She appreciates it; Tim is at least one of the few people in her life in which she doesn't have to guess, no matter how anathema it is to his overall nature. He has several commonalities with the other less emotionally accessible people in her life - Jessica Jones, Bucky Barnes, John Constantine, were it not for the tether that binds her to him. The latter is especially hard to parse without it, often relying on what she knows of him and her own observations in the first months of their reacquaintance. Much of the early days of their friendship were like that also - Tim was friendly enough, but there was often something about him that remained out of her reach.

Not anymore. At least, not these days.

She's clearly making him a smoothie, judging by the care she arranges the ingredients and places them inside the blender.


Even with the dreamcatcher Zatanna had brought months gone, it was a rare night that Tim got more than four, maybe five hours of sleep. The things that haunted him were inside his own memories, after all, memories rendered indelible by practice and esoteric techniques passed down by the Bat: The horrors and cruelties people visited upon one another, sometimes for no more reason than simple amusement. The names, faces, last moments of people he'd failed. His mother, his father, his stepmother. Others. So many. Too many, for someone barely an adult. Ghosts rattled around the endless halls of his memoriae regis, the mentral construct patterned after his childhood home. Perhaps that was part of why his mind was always racing.

If he slowed down too long, those unquiet spirits might catch up with him.

"I wonder if they give off some kind of electromagnetic radiation…" the detective wonders quietly, talking to himself out loud with furrowed brow, apparently not noticing the frown and the very sensible admonishment offered his way by Zatanna. "Nothing's completely undetectable, maybe it's like neutrinos… But then I'd need a particle accelerator…"

He's already got a woman in his head, which has made several formerly mundane tasks extremely awkward. The last thing he needs to worry about is an angel watching him pee.

He continues on in that vein, though, as he follows Zatanna out from the Nest and into his condominium, stopping long enough to take the present the witch had brought him as well.

Being as he is a young adult who has more than one place of residence, Tim doesn't really do groceries in large amounts. After all, he never knows when he might be spending time in the Tower, or in his NYC penthouse, or in a Tibetan monastery fighting ninja assassins or something. He doesn't eat out as much as one might think, since he tries to hold to the nutrition and diet plan devised by the Dark Knight as much as possible (though Zatanna has surely eaten with him at the retro-style diner on Gotham University's campus on several occasions) but there's also always the option of having dinner at the Manor.

Otherwise, shockingly, he does cook for himself.

It's just that he's not going to offer up any complaints about a pretty girl doing it for him, whether she's leaving a frankly ridiculous amount of pasta in his freezer, or just making herself at home in his kitchen. Everything there is exactly where Zatanna had come to expect it to be; Tim Drake was the kind of guy who preferred things to be just so, but it seemed like he was fine with letting her decide what 'just so' meant as far as the placement of kitchen equipment.

"Hey, you don't need to tell me that," Tim says, on the way their jobs can drag them to all sorts of places. "One time I thought what was going to be a quick mission to Paris wound up taking me to Venice, then all over the place. Maybe I should just never go to Paris again, I always end up halfway around the world after I do."

He sighs a bit, settling himself on one of the bar stools at the island countertop between the kitchen and the living area.

"And anyway, you don't owe me anything, Zee. I mean sure, your presence always makes me feel better, even if we just sat there both reading silently in the same room, but you know me, I'm used to being alone."

He's definitely doing it entirely on purpose. Teasing her, being playful in a way he would never have let himself ten months ago. It wasn't just the difference of trust that had come in the aftermath of shedding the lie and letting her know who he was: It was an effect she'd had on him, too gradual at first to notice it until it was too late to stop. Bringing back something of the Tim Drake that used to be.

Whatever else happened, he'd never be able to repay her for that.

"Well," Tim says, at the question. "No new scars. I don't really notice the tyet anymore, most of the time anyway… Miss Montrose sleeps a lot. Oh, Bart got a job. Like, a normal one. Normal-ish, anyway, he's working at a bar in Harlem, run by a friend of Miss Jones' named Luke." That's not what she asked though, not really. She asked how he's been.

Honestly, for somebody like him, that's one of the most difficult questions in the world to answer.

"I've been okay, Zee. Worried about you, but, uh, worrying about people is pretty much my default setting. But you seem…" Don't say better, Tim. You're a genius, you've been trained to study and manipulate people, do not be an idiot and say she seems better. "…A bit more your old self. A bit more 'here', you know?"


"That's not a bad idea. Any being emits some kind of energy and usually the more powerful the entity, the bigger the output. It's just that you know me and science, I'm not even sure if the technology to detect angel juice has been invented yet."

Fruit, milk and ice dumped into the blender, she covers it up securely and presses blend, letting the blade whirr within the machine while she retrieves a couple of glasses from the nearby cupboard. Smoothies will never replace an actual meal in her eyes, but they're quick and easy, and it isn't long until she's pouring the liquid within the crystalline receptacles and garnishes each with what remains of the fruit - a person eats first with his eyes, after all. Picking up both, she moves towards where Tim has parked himself, setting one in front of him and taking up the other, a hip bracing against the corner of the island's granite counter.

He mentions the tendency of Paris to send him haring off to other places and it leaves her lowering her eyes to her drink as she takes a sip. The French city holds different meanings for her, but significant ones, deeper threads of memory associated with her still-incommunicado father. It may mean differently for Tim, already on his way to being an international man of mystery from when he was a young teen, but all she remembers is the sound of rain spattering on windows, an angry roar and glass shattering - a hint of pain on her cheek.

It remains one of the handful of things that Zatanna never talks about, usually so open with her life, eager to share it with others so long as they have the interest and enthusiasm to try. But Giovanni Zatara has always been her personal minefield. Not even John Constantine has been exempt from the devastation that occurs when those devices are triggered.

"Your work's solitary enough," she tells him lightly with a quick grin, leaving the subject of Paris behind with a few words. "Besides, I don't exactly like the idea of you being lonely. Though I'm glad to see that you're not really like that, these days. The Titans have been doing you some good, too, as far as that goes." She can't take all the credit in bringing Tim back to the self that he used to be - Connor, Cassie, Bart, she was certain that their return into his life has been instrumental also.

But the teasing is well-meant, and well received. She shoots him a look from where she stands, enough of an indicator that she recognizes it for what it is, before taking a drink of her smoothie.

At his confession - that he's worried about her, has her turning a rueful smile towards him. "Yeah, I know. I'm sorry about that but…I just needed the time, you know? You know me, I never have any problems talking about what goes inside of my head to anyone, no matter what happens with that, but I already told you the reasons why I can't this time. I wish I could, maybe it would be easier….I know it would make the adjustment easier, and I thought I could, once enough time has passed but it still feels wrong…"

Her fingers link around her glass.

"And it's not like I could tell you everything even if it didn't feel wrong," she confesses quietly. "It wouldn't be fair to you."

After a pause: "I wondered why that was…the only explanation I could think of is that…when you're forced to do battle with yourself, trying to parse out what the bits inside of you mean, I think maybe seeing all the parts of me that I didn't want to accept made me, on some level, not like myself anymore. Not in the way I did. I thought I would have to…I dunno, reinvent myself, to fit this new…everything." Lips quirk upwards. "And then I decided I didn't need to do all of that, I think. I miss being me. When I accepted that, it was easier to breathe."

Lifting her eyes to meet his, her expression gentles. "I don't mean to worry you. You shouldn't, too much. You know me, I always bounce back." She is not nor has she ever been a stranger to tragedy, and she has never been ruled by it, either.


For Tim, the City of Light meant killers.

Perhaps it was inevitable, given the different spheres in which they operated: For Zatanna, the nature of a city was closely tied to its magic, its arcane denizens, and in at least one case to a personal tragedy she was not one to share. For Tim, the character of a city was written in its more 'mundane' shadows. Its criminals, its gangs, the people who killed for money or pride. It was rare that he went anywhere for a vacation after all, despite the jet-setting lifestyle that comes with being so wealthy.

But, in both of their cases, Paris was connected to missing fathers. The first time he went, he left behind the catatonic Jack Drake. The second time, he went to seek the trail of the vanished Bruce Wayne.

The smoothie is probably better for him than the coffee Zatanna had brought with her, so of course he lifts the drink, taking a sip. There was something different about it, about having something she'd made for him… Different in ways that existed purely inside of his own head, in ways that were dangerous, but as excellent of a cook as Alfred Pennyworth was, nothing he'd served up had ever given Tim Drake quite the pang of excitement/nervousness as even the simplest thing Zatanna prepared.

It was foolish, and childish.

But it was also the truth.

"Hopefully, the Titans have been good for all of us," he says. "I know you don't lack for friends, Zee, but it's different when it's people your own age. Surround yourself with nothing but old people and pretty soon you're getting to bed by nine at night and watching three hours of Wheel of Fortune every day."

Sure, they're not that kind of old people… Yet.

There's a faint shake of Tim's head when Zatanna apologises for making him worry, for needing the time to sort herself out after going through such a paradigm shifting encounter as the one she'd described (extremely vaguely) to him before. What he'd said then still held true: That there were things that you simply could not share with another person while remaining a distinct individual. That there were experiences so fundamental to oneself that there was no way to explain them to someone else if that person wasn't also you. He shakes his head to forestall the very idea that she needed to explain herself, or what she went through, to him.

For all his hunger for knowledge and understanding, the selfish desire to know everything - and the even more selfish desire to have something of her shared with him and no one else - it was something he couldn't ask of her.

The quieter confession has his brow furrowing, a subtle ratcheting up of his worry, his concern. What wouldn't be fair to him, he wants to ask, and if he looked she'd see the question clearly in his dark blue eyes - a blue like the deep sea, that hid a whole world beneath a seemingly placid surface. But actually asking would defeat the point of putting his trust in her. It would put the lie to everything else he'd said.

So instead, he worries. He files it away.

You know me, I always bounce back.

"It's an enviable trait," he says, with a wry, reluctant smile. "Honestly… I was scared. Scared that you wouldn't be you, anymore, that there'd be somebody else in your place. That she'd look like you, and sound like you, and have all your memories, but that the things that mattered to you wouldn't, to her. I meant what I said, Zee: You don't owe me anything. Not answers, not your time. I was terrified of being left behind, you know? Of not mattering anymore, because what am I? I'm not a wizard, I'm a guy who can do a lot of chin-ups."

Headblind sidekicks. Thrown to the wolves. They'll keep taking until you have nothing left to give.

Dark, cynical words. The words of the proprietress of a magic shop far less pleasant than Gerry Craft's. But still, they do worm their way into his thoughts, from time to time.

"But… I'm glad. Glad that you didn't have to reinvent yourself, glad that you miss being you. If you did need to change, if you did need to move on and leave me behind, I wouldn't begrudge you, you know? I never want to see you make yourself less. I want to see you be happy, and be amazing."

He turns his attention to his smoothie - not drinking it, but to the surface of it, staring into the glass as though it contained all the secrets of the universe. The admission was vulnerability, and vulnerability was something he'd been trained to abhor. That if she so chose Zatanna could destroy him with magic was something he couldn't do much about, a fact you just had to accept when most of the people in your life were essentially gods and you were not. But showing that proverbial underbelly to her, showing her just where to sink the knife in if she ever wanted to truly annihilate him…

"But the truth is," he says, in defiance of all remaining instincts towards self-preservation, "that I need you in my life, Zatanna."

He's still staring into the smoothie, though.


"Yeah, it has been," Zatanna affirms without hesitation. "I mean, it's been great to hang out with Spidey more often, too. I was worried about him after Ozone Park and after the talk I had with him immediately after, I didn't manage to get to see him as frequently as I used to. I'm really attached to the guy, you know. He and I are super similar, it can't just be up to me to balance out you stoic ones, you know."

Though the Titans help with that, also - with Conner, Cassie and especially Bart around.

The question in his eyes is so palpable that she can sense it without seeing it. Pale blue eyes lift from the counter to meet them, but no matter how pointedly he asks by not asking, she says nothing - not yet, if ever at all, electing to take another quiet sip of her smoothie and remaining completely unaware as to what psychological pleasures he associates with her making the things she does for him. It probably wouldn't make it easier, if she did know, but save for the initial few months in which they were just starting to get to know one another, nothing was ever truly simple about their friendship. Not since Bruce.

But when he confesses his worry about her changes…

It's the talk about being left behind that gets her, that for all of his abilities and his keen, brilliant mind, he is vulnerable there, too. That any contemplated departures on her part would be in some ways devastating, and something twists inside her at hearing it. Her stare watches the wake of his lowered head, to stare into the smoothie before him, to pry the answers he needs out of it to no avail. Tension coalesces in the back of her throat and renders it difficult to swallow.

I need you in my life, Zatanna.

"For a while there, I thought it would have been easier if I wasn't," she tells him softly. "I gave you a choice, a long time ago, after I realized what you felt about me. I thought I was just trying to be kind, because I don't want to hurt you, or cause you pain. I just wanted you to be happy, even if it meant…even if it meant leaving you alone. Even if it meant never seeing you or talking to you ever again. Even if it meant going away. But I never wanted that, Tim. It would have been devastating for me, if you told me to go. You've been nothing but kind to me, you've been so good to me…and even now, you say these things but I know it can't be easy for you to be the same room as me."

It gets harder to suppress, then; the remembered corners of their study room that isn't a study room, his hand on hers, the look in his eyes.

If you don't say it, you'll never get out of here.

The phantom touch of his mouth on her forehead.

Moisture fills her eyes, unable to help it from spilling over at seeing the expression on his face as he looks away from her.

"And I know it's not fair." The words leave her in a pained whisper. "It's not. But I need you in my life, too, and I know it's selfish. If I came away with anything from that entire horrible encounter in my own head, it's that. That I can be selfish too. When it comes to people, I can be selfish, too. No matter how hard I try to be anything but….no matter…"

She lowers her head, gravity pulling them down, scattered, sparkling drops of water and salt staining his expensive tiles.

"If you asked me to, I would. After everything you've done for me, if you asked me to let you go today, I would. But if you're leaving it up to me…I wouldn't. I can't. Even if it hurts you. I can't…and I'm sorry…"

Her eyes squeeze shut.

"I'm sorry."


They say that love hurts.

There are songs about it, more poems than anyone could ever begin to count. Stories, plays, tales of the agonies that come with being in love with another person… And here's the thing: They're all full of shit.

Because love doesn't hurt. Longing hurts. Rejection hurts. Envy hurts. Jealousy hurts. Betrayal hurts. Abandonment hurts. These things are not love. Though they often attend it thanks to the numerous frailties of human existence, they aren't necessary conditions of love. Love, in all its many forms - romantic, platonic, familial, simple human empathy - is the only thing in all the world that does not hurt.

So Tim, for all that it is anathema to him, makes himself vulnerable to Zatanna. Telling her that he 'liked her more than he should' all those months ago didn't leave him this open. Even if he said the words - words he has no right to say, words he doesn't realise that she already knows describe how he feels about her - he couldn't have more clearly shown her where to drive in the knife, if she was so inclined.

Because if he can't tell her that, he can at least tell her this. That he, who has been trained to be self-reliant, who has systematically had the people he should've been able to rely on stripped from his life in violence and tragedy, needs her. In whatever way he could get.

But the words, the admission, are the first rumbles in the breaking of a dam: The things she'd had to confront inside of herself, that she couldn't share with him - and wouldn't, even if she could, because she saw some of the revelations as unfair to him if they were given voice. Things she'd thought, but hadn't said, since that day standing in almost this exact spot months ago, when she'd offered to give him space.

Her own selfishness. The admission that relationships cannot be entirely about giving, they cannot be solely about surrendering up parts of yourself until the other person got what they needed and moved on. That she knew she couldn't just cut him out of her life either. And then there were apologies, and tears.

He feels a gnawing, gaping abyss at the pit of his stomach at that.

Way to go, Tim, making her cry.

He moves, shifts off of the bar stool he was sitting on, moving to where the witch stands with her head bowed, her eyes squeezed shut. Hands, cold and slightly damp with the condensation from the smoothie glass, brush against the sides of her face, threading into her dark hair, even darker than Tim's own, and he pulls her lightly closer without guiding her head up, resting his face against the crown of her head, against the soft midnight curls.

"Everyone needs to be selfish sometimes, Zee," he breathes against her hair, inhaling the scent of her when he draws in air. "I told you, I'm not going anywhere, and I'm not going to push you away either." Tim Drake was someone who battled the evils of the world, be they supernatural or mundane. He was someone who threw himself off of buildings with nothing for support but a narrow wire, or a flimsy set of wings and a jetpack. But this, for him, was an act of pure self-destruction.

"Because you're wrong about something, Zatanna Zatara. It is easy for me to be in the same room as you."

Too easy, sometimes, whispers a deeper, darker, colder part of his mind.

"It's the easiest thing in the whole world."


All of that is hardly his fault; he may find it within himself, but her tears are largely a product of her own frustration - of being the cause of some kind of misery that either of them can't help.

But she doesn't resist when he comes up to her, lingering chill from his glass falling on her heated cheeks and giving them some semblance of relief, jolting her senses from the tumultuous haze they have been in and pulling her back into the present. Drawn into the circle he makes, heavy lashes fall once more when his face finds those raven waves, carrying with them the distant notes of the city - he would be able to detect Gotham from those inky tresses and whatever else she used to bathe in the morning, something sweet but floral. Both sets of fingers and the indulgent-but-pained way he sinks himself into her presence washes over her, tender ache from his reassurances mingling with a fresh wave of guilt.

He deserves better than this.

She does nothing to help with this act of self destruction when she winds her arms around his middle, nails and their red lacquer hooking into the back of his shirt. If he lets her, her head drops to rest against his shoulder, unsure why he chooses to subject himself to this anyway, no matter how much it hurts. But that jagged shard wars with the relief at hearing him reaffirm his choice, no matter how unfair she thinks it is.

She doesn't know why it's easy to be in the same room as her, either, in his position.

Zatanna says nothing for a long moment. She may not agree, or may think that he all too easily absolves her of the crimes she has inflicted on his heart, however inadvertently, but she accepts what he gives and finds some comfort in the fact that in spite of her confessions, her friendship with him remains intact. That it can even stay how it is despite its underlay of numerous complicated things.

Her arms tighten around him, squeezing him against her.

"Okay," she whispers, her voice muffled against his shoulder. "Okay."


There were days when it was difficult, but he'd never tell her that.

Not being around her, just… Days when he wished he could blame her, even a little bit. When part of him wanted to put the blame for his situation on someone else, if only for just a moment. To hate her, or Constantine, or anything to find somewhere else to put the burden.

But he couldn't. It just wasn't who Timothy Jackson Drake was: Frank self-assessment was written into the base code of his personality, even before those tendencies had been heightened, refined by his training under the Dark Knight.

It was his fault. He put himself in this situation by not quashing his feelings sooner.

He knew that she'd never look at him like that, that she'd never think of him in that way, not how he wanted, no matter how much part of him clung to the hope - a dark, self-tormenting side to his seeming inability to give up and surrender. At least, mercifully, she hadn't done anything so savage as comparing him to a brother.

He feels her arms curl around him, feels her red-tipped fingers grasp at the back of his shirt, and of course he does nothing to dissuade her, the feeling her closeness putting nerves alight, mingling the relief of close human contact with the sour ache of guilt and shame, a curious parallel to the feelings churning inside of Zatanna at the same time. When her head moves, he doesn't stop her there either, one of his arms shifting from his grip on her head to curl around her in turn, his other gently stroking her raven hair as she stays there, close, in silence.

In truth, he didn't really understand either. Didn't understand why she'd never told him to get lost, why she didn't find his feelings for her a nuisance, didn't view his actions with suspicion that they were attempts to win her over.

But maybe it didn't matter. Maybe this was what he deserved anyway.

Dick would have something cool to say, he reflected as the silence continued. Silence didn't bother him, at least, but he knew other people found it awkward. Dick would say something, and she'd laugh, and everything would be okay. Conner knew how to talk to girls, too. He'd always just gotten by on what he assumed was luck, when he managed to not put his foot directly into his own mouth.

What Tim really wants to say to her, though, he can't. He has no right to, even as she squeezes him with her arms, clinging tighter. She was happy, and that was what mattered, not how he felt or what he wanted.

Maybe if he kept telling himself that, he'd eventually believe it.

But he didn't make any move to let go of her, either.

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