The Easiest Thing
Roleplaying Log: The Easiest Thing
Participants
IC Details
Synopsis:

Zatanna makes a choice.

Other Characters Referenced:
IC Date: July 05, 2019
IC Location: A dingy alleyway and an equally dingy rooftop, Gotham City
OOC Notes & Details
Posted On: 07 Jul 2019 01:21
Rating & Warnings:
NPC & GM Credits:
Associated Plots

DID YOU KNOW that Gotham City basically only has three seasons?

Fall and early spring are basically identically cold, wet and grey. Winter, of course, blankets the city in freezing ice and snow no matter what the weather anywhere else is like. And the summer? It's hot. It's humid. Is it any wonder that anyone with the means to do so invests in the best air conditioning they can get? Or that those without the means don't really stir until the relative cool of night?

Of course, at nighttime there's other problems. It's Gotham City, after all.

The sounds of violence fill a dimly lit alleyway, but that's nothing new around here: A group of the city's less savoury denizens were, in fact, in the midst of mugging a little old lady when a caped and cowled figure dropped from the rooftops on them. They were, momentarily, relieved to discover it wasn't the Bat Himself. After that moment, though, Red Robin was hitting them with his staff.

Who knows how he managed to convince Zatanna to come along on one of his patrols again, given her general lack of involvement with this end of the capes and tights culture, or the fact that she'd probably rather be somewhere with air conditioning. Maybe because he saw it as part of her ongoing training, something a bit more practical than their sparring sessions or whatever weird exercise he comes up with.

Either way, it's likely for the best, because one of the goons is creeping up behind the vigilante while he's busily engaged fighting two more, looking to crack him in the back of the head with a wrench.

It's a big wrench, too.

Probably gonna hurt.

It's probably going to hurt, but the wrench suddenly isn't there anymore, transformed by a whispered word into a giant rubber duck. And when said criminal denizen decides to bring it down on the former Boy Wonder's head, it only lets out a small, agitated squeak - and leaves the man staring at it in absolute disbelief.

Zatanna Zatara is somewhere behind him, clad in her blacks, though she is wearing the domino mask that he had made for her. Even after a few years having it, she is still trying to get accustomed to the read-outs that the lenses spit out at her.

She either enjoys watching him perform feats of incredible skill in moments like these, or she just wanted to see what his reaction would be if he got rubber-duckied on his hood. Who knows? But there's a smile on her face that suggests that she's finding some manner of enjoyment in tonight's excursion.

To the rest? She finally moves, and with a sweep of her hand sends them flying in knock-out speeds towards the nearest wall.

*squeak*

The goon who'd thought he was going to have bragging rights about getting the drop on one of Gotham's masked vigilantes is left staring in disbelief at the rubber ducky that used to be his favourite head smashin' wrench. The other still-standing goons also stare in disbelief. Red Robin looks back over his shoulder, and even with his cowl hiding all of his face but his mouth and the area around it, it's clear that he's not sure if he should be annoyed or start laughing.

It doesn't really matter, though, because a moment later Zatanna uses a bare trickle of her power to send the remaining goons flying into walls, each of them crumpling in a heap. Distantly, the sound of sirens can be heard, drawing closer.

"Magic's cheating, you know," the vigilante chides lightly - though he doesn't mean a word of it. The Princess of Prestidigitation know him well enough to know that if there's anything Red Robin doesn't believe in, it's a fair fight.

The little old lady, meanwhile, whacks one of the unconscious muggers with her purse. "They're just lucky my hands aren't as steady as they used to be," she says, with a certain gleeful menace. "My son took my .38 away because of the shakes, otherwise they would've gotten capped!" She whacks the unconscious man again.

Magic's cheating, you know.

"Yeah well. If you got it," Zatanna says, flashing him a smile that cuts through the dark, downright incandescent in the shadows of the evening. To the old lady, she winks at her, though it's a challenge to see through the mask and its featureless white lenses.

"Will you be alright, ma'am?" she asks. "Because the cops are about to show up and if we ought to take you someplace away from here, now would be the time to tell us."

There's an amused glance at Red Robin when the old lady gives the fallen body some much needed comeuppance, though she makes no move to stop her. They deserved it, honestly.

"You know, you'd think they'd know better by now not to go after children or the seniors in Gotham," she murmurs to the vigilante. "It's almost as effective as a giant bat signal, calling you and your brethren down from the shadows."
<Pose Tracker> Tim Drake has posed.
"Oh, no, dear," the old lady says, switching almost immediately into Grandma Mode when she's addressed directly by Zatanna. "You two enjoy the rest of your night. The po-po won't bother little old me, though these young men are making me reconsider my policy on snitching."

It's weird, coming from what otherwise seems like a perfectly normal senior citizen. Like she's been watching The Wire too much.

Red Robin doesn't seem like he's inclined to argue with the old woman, in any case, instead pulling back to the shadows and lingering long enough that they can make sure the police get to the woman rather than any of the muggers waking up to try getting their revenge on her brittle old lady bones.

"I wish it worked like that," the vigilante replies quietly to the witch. "We can't be everywhere, no matter how hard we try to make it seem like we can." It wears on him, like it always does. The inability to be everywhere, do everything. But that's the value of a symbol like the Bat - it's a deterrent. Nobody knows just which alleyway he might show up in, which crime in progress he might bust.

"So… Why a rubber duck, though?"

She doesn't do it as well as he does - without magic, this attempt to shroud herself in the darkness is not as flawless as his. And it never ceases to amaze her, how he can do all of these things without superhuman talents or abilities. Observing him askance through the lenses of her domino mask, she can't help but smile.

Her face leans in, to press her mouth lightly against his cheek.

"You do what you can," Zatanna assures him quietly. "You take in the bad with the good, right? Besides, maybe this is just the world telling you that none of you are meant to do this alone. And you're not."

She straightens up and waits for the police lights to disappear, before rocking back on her heels, her boots clicking faintly on the pavement. "So where to now?" she wonders. "I'm actually surprised you just didn't grab me and swing away. Then again, that wouldn't be the stealthiest getaway, because I'd probably scream."

As for the rubber duck?

She grins. "No reason, other than to see your reaction. You should have seen your face."

If he was asked, he would have a pretty straightforward answer: Practice. Once you can become invisible in the shadows while wearing a costume coloured green, red and yellow, you can hide under pretty much any circumstances. But don't worry, because whatever training he might put Zatanna through to help her own sneaky skills, he's not nearly foolhardy enough to try and get her into those colours.

But what she does say is accompanied by a gentle press of her lips against part of his face that isn't covered by his cowl, a physical sign of affection against the one part of him his costume leaves vulnerable and visibly human, even as she offers her own insight as a reassurance. Not wanting to let him get stuck inside his own head, as he so easily does.

"It's funny, I remember a kid too smart for his own good telling Batman that, years ago. If Nightwing had just listened to me then, I never would've wound up doing all this."

His life would certainly be different, in any case. Though whether it would be worse or better would take a wiser head than his to discern.

"You really project your voice, too," he adds, when she says she'd probably scream if he'd just swung away with her. "They'd probably hear you in New York. But we could loop around a few more times before we head home. Just make sure everybody's behaving themselves." Of course, he knows they aren't. The mysterious arms deals in Queens were a sure sign of that, and the last thing anybody needs is Black Mask or Penguin outfitting their men with space guns.

You should have seen your face.

"Well," Red Robin says, looping an arm around the witch's waist while the other lifts to aim his grapple gun at a likely bit of wall. "I hope it was everything it's quacked up to be."

He might be surprised; after all, she had threatened him once to wear the original Robin costume just to see who wears it better. But considering the fact that she didn't know that he has had to hide in the shadow with those garish colors on him, she'd probably laugh and marvel at it at the same time - Bruce certainly had strange methods. And to think she thought he dressed him that way so he could be the distraction while Batman swooped in from the shadows to dole out the punching.

His confession regarding those bygone years earns him a small smile, and a slight incline of her head. "I guess you'd have a simpler life, be on your way to becoming a doctor or a lawyer," she says. But after a moment, a more serious look falls over the visible part of her face. "Would you change anything now?" she wonders. "I mean, if Nightwing had listened to you, your life would be nothing like this, I don't think."

Though when he teases her about her screaming, she swats his shoulder with a laugh. "Yeah, well. I can't help it if the buildings here carry sound." Which makes sneaking around in the higher portions of Gotham an even more challenging prospect. "But sure, we can do that before we head home."

Snagged around the waist, her arms come around him in readiness, though she groans and makes a big show of dropping them when he makes that pun. "Why do I subject myself to this again?" she wonders, before she yelps as the grappling gun yanks them off the ground and sends both of them airborne.

"I'm never going to get used to thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis……."

Would you change anything now?

It was a good question: Would he?

His mother, surely, would've died either way. The Obeah Man's kidnapping of the Drakes had nothing to do with their son and everything to do with their fortune. Perhaps if it weren't for the identity of his new Boy Wonder, Batman might not have even gotten involved, and Jack Drake would've died there with his wife. Tim had lost so many things over the years, but could he really say for sure he wouldn't have lost them in another, more 'normal' version of his life?

What about the things he never would've gotten in the first place, if he'd just been a normal - albeit rich and brilliant - kid? The friends he never would've made, the lives he never would've saved?

"No," the vigilante answers, finally. Maybe he was too much like Bruce: Never able to really shake the idea that other people might mess it up if he didn't keep a hand in things. And, like Bruce, that there was a part of him, deep down, that enjoyed this life. Needed it. Maybe Zatanna had been right, that conversation in her father's library a bare handful of years before. Maybe it was fate, or destiny. Maybe he was always meant to be who and what he is, for better or worse. "For one thing, I never would've met you."

It's not the real answer, but it is a real answer.

So he gives her the terrible pun, and a grin of his own to meet her groan and her theatrics, before reeling them into the muggy sky, streetlights fuzzy in the late night haze of humidity.

Honestly, he doesn't see why she has such a problem with swinging through the air on a thin line. It beats the hell out of teleportation!

That's the thing about life - sometimes the choices made are so drastic that nobody could ever go back and take that road again. Like landslides and cave-ins, that path is sealed from them forever.

Even while they swing between buildings, the wind whistling against her ears and tousling her hair, Zatanna pays close attention; not just for his reply, but the silence that prefaces it. All she sees is his hard, handsome profile, cowled and masked as it is while they swing, as their entwined forms find light and shadow in dizzying speeds as they're launched in the air, with nothing but a thin tether to keep them alive - a literal lifeline, separating them from death below.

He can keep his thoughts in his head and prevent them from leaking - he's always been good at hiding what he thinks and feels.

But unlike before in the early years of their friendship, he answers her straightforwardly, truthfully. Though when he tacks on that very end, she can't help but laugh, the sound of it nearly lost by the rush. "I hope I'm not the only thing you don't regret," she tells him simply, her mouth finding his cheek again as they move.

And she will still take teleportation than the line any day.

"I was just trying to sound cool," he admits, ruefully; with her mouth pressed against him again, she's certainly close enough to hear the words, to feel the tone in them as much as hear it. Even with his costume so carefully obliviating anything that could be perceived as merely human about him, their time together - and Zatanna's own keen eye for observing people, a necessity in her chosen career - has given the witch insight into his tells, to see through the more fearsome mien of the Red Knight to the familiar young man underneath.

"Plus I thought you liked being flattered, have I been buttering you up all this time for nothing?" he wonders, finding the space to joke around even as they swing perilously close to the facade of an old apartment building, and up higher, towards the rooftops. The days when he wouldn't have, when he would've been all business once the costume was on, were still recent enough to be vivid memory.

Loose stones kick up as they land on one of those rooftops, its maintenance probably long since overdue. The moon was nothing but a bare sliver, the light pollution of a city like Gotham far too strong for there to be any stars in the sky overhead… But the view of the city itself had its own curious beauty, with its lights and its life.

"But no, there's the others, too. And besides… If my life had taken that much different of a path, I wouldn't really be who I am now. I'd be… I dunno, someone else. Probably not a ninja."

"Puns aren't cool," Zatanna points out, ever quick to club him with the blunt end of the truth from her perspective. But he'd be able to feel her smile against his cheek.

The rooftop swings closer until they land on it; like a pair of birds finally coming home to roost. From this vantage point, she can see the flawed beauty of Gotham's nighttime cityscape, clouds rendered luminous by plumes of smoke and the distant lights of flashing signs, promising all the vices and debauchery anyone could ever want - but always for a price.

She walks over to the edge of the building without fear, folding her arms on top of the concrete boundary and looking out. "Summer nights here aren't so bad," she tells him. "Here in the City of Yesterday." It's unforgivably humid during the day, but in the darker hours, it's much more bearable.

She glances over her shoulder at him, lips tilting upwards ruefully at his last words. "Well, between you and me, I don't know what the world would do without you being a super-ninja," she teases him, propping her cheek on one hand as she regards him. "It's safer, because you are. I wouldn't want to see you trade that for anything, either. Even if…" And her smile sobers faintly, here. "…even if it's cost you a lot."

Though Zatanna makes terrible aspersions about wordplay, the vigilante doesn't say anything. Relationships are about compromise after all, and sometimes that means enduring slings and arrows like those.

On the rooftop, he watches her as she moves to the edge, as she leans against the brick and concrete parapet that surrounds the roof, as she looks out over the city and remarks that the night isn't so bad - with the sun down, it's a bit cooler, after all, though the city does hold a lot of that heat still. Gotham was a greedy place, down to the pavement.

He walks closer as she looks back at him, one hand propping up her pale cheek. His gauntleted hands lift as he gets closer, pushing back the cowl, white lenses giving way to dark blue eyes, black leather and kevlar revealing instead those familiar features, that mop of dark hair that isn't nearly as sweat-matted as it should be given how heavy that suit looks and what the weather is like.

That's because it's climate-controlled, of course, a network of tubing carrying coolant throughout to regulate his temperature.

It must be nice to be that rich.

"Hey," he says quietly, gently, as Zatanna's smile turns more sober at the thought of costs. "There'd be costs either way, right? Out there, there's kids who still have their parents because of what we do. And if I didn't…" His would still be gone. A price paid either way. It was never about keeping score, about knowing how many lives you'd saved or changed for the better, but surely if he'd gone down another road there would've been other people who paid for it. "It's cost a lot, but it's given me a lot, too. Seems like what you do and what I do aren't all that different, once you get down to it, huh?"

She'll cast as many aspersions as she likes. She does what she wants!

There are costs, either way, and if Tim had his way, he would pay them gladly - there's a part of her that admires that, but frustrates her also, in the end. It is certainly better than it used to be, back in the years when he kept himself isolated, putting other lives before his own. A team would do that, she decides. A family - being surrounded by people you had to look after, and people who looked after you, tended to recalibrate a person's viewpoint. The last year or so have planted changes on him, too, and not just physically. While he would never consider himself as a natural born leader in the way that Nightwing is, he steps up, and manages to do with what he's given. If nothing else, he knows how to adapt seamlessly to his life's unique challenges - and he wouldn't have learned that, either, without his past.

Her own fingers lift; Zatanna removes the domino mask from her own face when he shifts closer and she turns fully to face him, her hip braced against the concrete boundary preventing her from falling. Tilting her head back to look at his taller form, she smiles faintly.

"I don't think it ever was different - I mean, we're two different people, and we operate in different spheres - different layers on the world around us. But the give-and-take is similar. The Work's always expensive in the way, but these are costs worth paying and you and I must think so, otherwise we wouldn't be here."

She falls quiet for a heartbeat or two, simply watching him, before fingers lift and she reaches up to touch the side of his face, her thumb sweeping over the high arch of his cheek.

"And I'm glad we are, here I mean." Her expression softens, examining the way light and shadow sharpens his features. Lashes pull low over those ice-blue eyes. "Our lives could have gone a hundred different ways, but it intersected this way. I'm glad for it, too. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Those long, pale digits spread out, arranging themselves in a loose array against his jaw, her voice growing soft, barely audible - it's only because he's near that she's able to hear her.

"I love you, Tim."

In the end, one of the hardest truths to grasp was how much of an individual's self was the result of all those things that had happened to them before. It was human vanity that made the conscious mind rebel at that, to try to hold itself aloof - as though one were just the product of their own choices, of who they decided to be, or were wholly formed from some ephemeral, essential platonic version of themselves.

It didn't make the bad things that had happened less bad, it didn't mean it was wrong to wish they hadn't happened, and it certainly didn't mean that suffering was somehow inherently ennobling, but…

One had to accept that: Without the tragedies and hurts, you would be someone else. Maybe someone weaker, less able to thrive in a dangerous world. Maybe someone stronger, whose sense of self hadn't taken so many crippling hits. But someone different.

They were both different, now, than they had been when they first met. When she'd swept into their shared class, making a sharp first impression from her outfit to her choice to introduce herself to the class with a magic trick. It wasn't just the years, time inexorably pushing them both closer to proper adulthood… It was the choices they'd made, and the choices others had. The things they'd lost and gained.

It makes him think of the first time they'd been on a rooftop like this, him in his costume. He'd worked himself to near exhaustion trying to find some thread to pull on to save her, but she'd been nearly gone, her life nearly spent. Like this night, he'd pulled his cowl down, revealing a truth that perhaps he shouldn't have, and then another as they huddled together in that stairwell.

But it's different, now. She was lush and full of life, watching him with those ice blue eyes of hers as her fingertips, cool despite the warmth around them, brush against his cheek. A smile plays across his face when she says she wouldn't trade the way their lives had come together for anything. When she says, so quietly…

I love you, Tim.

There's a difference between wanting to hear something and expecting you ever will. Zatanna, after all, was less than a year out from a fierce and tempestuous relationship - it could be that her feelings for him, while more than simply friendly, would have never crossed that line. But it doesn't mean he didn't want to hear it, hadn't wanted to hear it for some time. He wasn't a saint, of course he wanted her to love him back. Wanted it like a drowning man wants air. Like a starving man wants food.

Hearing it, hearing it said so quietly it could almost be his imagination, makes his heart lurch, skip a beat. Makes the pit of his stomach fall out. Makes his eyes sting. Makes his hand reach for her, catching her by the waist, by the hip not leaning against the wall, leaning his face closer to hers. He'd told her once, and only once, in that hotel in Metropolis. But with her saying that…

"I love you," Tim answers her, speaking the words for a second time. "And I wouldn't trade it for anything, either."

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