Series: Sir Zachary
Author: Aravis Tarkheena
Pairing: Tim Drake (Robin III)/Zachary Zatara (HE NEEDS NO SUPERHERO HANDLE! >:O)
Warnings: Violence, angst
Disclaimer: Not mine, everyone's legal
Word Count: 3,500ish
Author's Notes: This is a short but critical scene in the evolution of Tim and Zat's relationship. It happens after A Gentleman Never Tells but before Jewel of Sakar. You need to read this before you read chapter two of Sakar or it will not make sense.
What's that you say? I'm a jerk who should just POST things rather than letting them languish on her hard drive? You are probably right.
In His Eyes
Zachary Zatara was standing a good fifteen feet from the edge of the burning building but the heat of the blaze still made his face prickle. He wondered, idly, as he motioned the coughing civilians though the debris to the firemen waiting for them at a safe distance, if he would come out of this ordeal with his eyebrows in tact.
He suspected not.
There was soot and dirt all over his tux and his shoes were scuffed and covered in mud. He tried hard not to think about the state of his hair, or the fact that he hadn’t shaved in almost two days. His jaw itched, sweat soaked though his dress shirt and his eyes stung with a combination of the air pollution and lack of sleep. He resisted the urge to cough all the smoke out of his lungs as he mentally cursed himself for being unable to resist perpetually fucked-over boys.
Wonder Girl had told the Titans a few weeks ago, and Eddie had subsequently passed the info on to him, that Gotham was seriously short handed these days. She insisted that, if Robin called a person in for back up, that person went. No questions asked.
It wasn’t just Wonder Girl that was worried, either. Zatanna had given him a call a few days ago and mentioned something similar. She said that Robin would very probably be a little more reluctant to ask some of the older guard for help, so Zatara had to be sure to step in if the guy called.
So when Robin called, Zatara stepped in.
He had been in performing a show in New Jersey when Tim had called and he had been more than happy to head for Gotham City. It wasn’t just because he was eager to help Tim either. No one liked performing in Jersey. No one.
He had been in Gotham for a few days. The issue Robin had called him in to help resolve had been resolved long ago, but it seemed like the minute that problem had been dealt with, another popped up. Then another, and another, and another until nearly a week had passed and Zatara could hardly remember the last time he had slept for more than three hours at a time.
He was exhausted. Weariness tugged at his eyes and the magical energy he could usually feel buzzing at the tips of his fingers during times of danger was terrifyingly absent. Or, at least it would be terrifying if Zatara had the energy left to be terrified.
He and Tim had been trying to eat a little dinner when the call had come in on Tim’s com link. A large apartment building had been set on fire. The building had been used for Section Eight housing and had been located just outside the ghetto on the north end of Gotham City. According to Tim the area had been disputed territory. Two gangs had claimed it and both were fighting for it. However, drive bys and fist fights had just escalated into arson and Tim had insisted they leave to check out the fire right away.
Tim had hoped to catch sight of the perpetrators either lingering or fleeing the scene. Unfortunately, when they got there they realized their priority was to get the people out of the burning building. The Fire Marshall had determined that the fire escape was far too rusty to be of any use and had insisted, over his loudspeaker, that all tenants use the stairs inside the building to get out. The tenants had all complied but as a result there was a great deal of congestion as they all tried to get out of the building at once.
Zatara could see Tim scanning the crowd as he directed evacuating tenants. Zatara had attempted to keep an eye out for suspicious faces but as he had no idea what to look for he had given up. There were so many gangs in Gotham City, Zatara didn’t even try to keep their colors or signs straight.
Zatara was wiping sweat off his forehead with his dirty sleeve when a loud noise off to his left caught his attention and he tore his eyes away from the fleeing crowd. He blinked hard to clear his vision as he tried to locate the source of the noise but a sudden burst of pain flashed through him. It was intense and his mouth went dry as he reached a hand up to touch the spot on his head from which the pain was emanating.
He pulled back his hand and came away with blood. His vision was clearing and he cast his eyes around the area by his feet, looking for what had hit him. He spotted it two feet away from him. It was a piece of wrought iron, curved like a semicircle with two holes in either end. It was clearly used to keep something anchored to a wall or ceiling.
Zatara immediately swung his gaze back towards the building and the instant he did the sound came again. It was loud creaking groan that was almost drowned out by the crackling of the fire and the roar of the crowd but Zatara knew exactly what it was.
It was the sound of the large, six story tall fire escape pulling free from it’s anchoring.
A brief surge of panic shot through Zatara but he quashed it. There were still dozens of people attempting to exit the building. There was no way they could all make it clear in time. More and more of the rivets were popping free with each passing second and the bystanders were starting to notice the fire escape about to fall on the evacuees. It was only a matter of moments before the fire escape fell and panic hit the crowd.
Zatara spun around to face the fire escape, he closed his eyes and tried hard to steady his breathing and slow his heart beat. He turned all his attention inward for a few calming seconds before shifting his focus on the fire escape. He pictured it in his mind, the dark color, the rusty bars, the heavy metal and rickety ladders.
Zatara felt his focus sharpen and the light buzzing of his magic leapt to the surface of his skin. Zatara furrowed his brow and concentrated as hard as he could, drawing all the bits of energy he had left as focused on the magic inside of himself. As he began to force it out he thought of the fire escape, hard and heavy and deadly converting into something light and airy and fluffy.
He could feel the exhaustion tugging at him and pushed past it, refusing to lose his focus.
As Zatara drew himself up, straightening his posture and taking in a deep breath, he kept the image of the light airy fire escape in his mind. He mentally began to convert it. He felt the drain on himself as his magic left his body to twist and tangle itself around the rusty wrought iron.
“Emoceb swollamhsram!” Zatara heard himself shout and felt his magic snapping into place and converting the iron as his consciousness faded.
His shoulder jolted painfully as he hit the ground and as his spotty vision faded to black, Zatara felt himself being pummeled by small, soft objects.
Zatara woke to something sickly sweet sliding down the back of his throat and he gagged. He sat up and pushed aside the hand that was hovering over his mouth. Zatara’s eyes watered as he coughed and he blinked them opened to find Tim’s tired face watching him.
“Just swallow it. It’s protein gel, you need some nutrients back in your system. You over extended yourself, back there,” Tim’s voice was weary but Zatara got the impression that if he had even a little more energy left his tone would have been accusatory and disapproving.
“I take it everyone is ok?” Zatara asked, gingerly taking the small foil packet from Tim’s hand. Some of the gel had oozed out and it had left a sticky orange coating on Tim’s fingers.
“There were no reports of death either by fire or marshmallow, you’ll be pleased to know,” he told Zatara as he licked at the gel on his fingers.
Zatara nodded at looked at the packet intently for a few seconds.
“It tastes awful,” Zatara gave one last lame protest and Tim pulled a wry face.
“I am well aware of that but it’s the fastest way to get your energy levels back up without force feeding you steak and pixie sticks,” Tim informed him coolly.
Zatara gave Tim an ‘if you say so’ look and took the small packet of gel from him. He put the small opening between his lips and sucked. He grimaced as the sweet substance hit his palate. He swallowed it all quickly, trying hard not to taste it.
“Who voluntarily eats this stuff?” he asked after he had finished and Tim shrugged.
“Cyclists and backpackers?” Tim suggested offhandedly and stood up.
“Masochists, the lot of them,” Zatara stated firmly before levering himself up off the floor.
He went a little dizzy around the eyes for a few seconds but it didn’t take long for his vision to clear again. When it did he looked around and found that he was back in the safe house he had been sleeping in for the past four days. He didn’t want to think too hard about how Tim had gotten him here. I was probably embarrassing and more than a little inelegant for both of them.
The safe house Tim had put him up in was a small studio apartment with a little kitchen off to one side. There was a small bathroom with an even smaller shower and only one window. The apartment was relatively sparse, with few furnishings. It was neat except for their abandoned dinner dishes on the counter in the kitchen.
The bed was off in the corner furthest from the window. It was small, just a twin, with dark blue sheets that probably hid more than a few blood stains.
Zatara stared at it from across the room, it was only a few yards away but his exhausted body balked at the notion of walking even that distance before he could rest. Tim must have seen the expression on his face because he crossed the room again and put his arm around Zatara’s shoulders.
Zatara gave him a thankful smile before slumping against him and making his slow way across the room. It felt like forever before Tim deposited him on the bed, but they finally made it. Zatara’s fingers, clumsy from fatigue, fumbled at the buttons of his shirt. He finally shrugged it off and tossed it to the floor before toeing off his shoes and shucking his pants.
He felt filthy and disgusting, he was covered in soot and mud and sweat. He watched Tim disappear into the bathroom but Zatara couldn’t even contemplate the idea of following suit. He pulled his sweaty undershirt off with a sigh and tossed it over the side of the bed before lying back on the mattress and pulling the covers up to his chest.
Zatara’s body ached with exhaustion, it felt like an effort even to breath. His eyes stung and his head pounded painfully where the metal anchor had hit him. His limbs felt wooden and vaguely numb as he relaxed the muscles in them for the first time in what seemed like ages.
While Zatara’s body was more than ready for sleep, his mind wasn’t even remotely there. He had always been high strung, even as a child, and things only seemed to be getting worse the older he became. Stress, tension, fear and worry all flittered about in his head as he listened to the spray of the shower coming from the other room.
He could very well have died today. If he had even slightly less focus or slightly less energy, he could be dead or horribly maimed. That was not even taking into consideration all the civilians that could have died because he didn’t know his limits.
Zatara took a deep breath and closed his eyes against the wave shame and self deprecation that flowed through him.
It wasn’t the civilians he was really worried about. It would have been terrible if they had died because he had been too drained to save them but Zatara’s main concern was Tim.
He had come to Gotham to be Tim’s back up and he could have easily let him die tonight.
It was a terrifying thought.
A terrifying thought that Zatara couldn’t get out of his head. He tried hard to focus his mind elsewhere. He did a few of the simple meditation techniques that his grandfather had taught him but none of them seemed to be able to process or quiet his mental turmoil.
Zatara was contemplating several deeper forms of meditation when the bathroom door swung open and Tim strode out, followed by a cloud of steam. All he wore was pair of grey boxer briefs and several bandages. Zatara winced at the sight of them and the bruises that littered Tim’s chest and thighs.
Tim draped his wet towel over the footboard of the bed and looked down at Zatara. He made a little ‘move’ gesture with his hands and collapsed onto the bed when Zatara made room for him.
Tim immediately grabbed for one of the pillows and wrapped his arms around it before curling up on his side and sighing tiredly.
Tim’s eyes were closed and he wasn’t wearing a mask. It made the dark circles that ringed his eyes all the more dramatic. They were sunken deep in his face and the area around them looked almost as dark as the fresh bruise on his left cheek bone. His skin, under the bruises, was sallow and lacked even the slightest flush of pink. His cheek bones jutted out from his face much more sharply than they had a few months ago and Zatara wondered, with a jolt of concern, just how much weight Tim had lost.
Zatara had known Tim Drake for years, since they were both about fourteen. The Zatara and the Wayne families were very close and Zatara had met Tim both in an out of costume several times over the years before he joined the Titans. They had both gotten along reasonably well. Tim was nice to Zatara and didn’t seem to mind too terribly much when he lost his temper.
In point of fact, getting to know Tim a little better was one of the reasons that Zatara had joined the Titans in the first place. Even he could see how much Tim needed a friend after Superboy had died. Zatara had figured since they could both tolerate each other at that point, half the battle was already won.
He hadn’t anticipated his inability to tolerate any of the other Titans. With the exception of Eddie of course.
When Tim got back, Zatara had worried that he would hold that against him, but he hadn’t. Tim had invited him out on a team up and acted as if pissing off, and figuratively pissing on, his team mates hadn’t affected their relationship at all.
Zatara had found out that it wasn’t just an act and it hadn’t affected their relationship. He had been more relieved that he thought he would be.
The more often they teamed up the more Zatara liked working with Tim. It was nice to have someone to depend on and who depended on him. It was like a validation Zatara hadn’t gotten before, at least not from anyone else outside of his family. It was nice to know that someone trusted him enough to work with him time and time again and Zatara appreciated that.
It was clear that Tim thought nothing of the team ups. He was used to trusting and being trusted but it meant something to Zatara. Something he wasn’t sure he would ever be able to properly explain to Tim.
“I’m sorry,” Zatara murmured to Tim and Tim blinked his eyes sleepily open and raised one eyebrow in inquiry. “You were right. I did over extend myself. I wasn’t fit to be out tonight. I could have gotten us both killed.”
Tim rolled his eyes and buried his face in his pillow.
“I swear to God, you’re secretly Catholic, Zat,” he said tiredly, his voice muffled by the pillow.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Zatara asked, feeling slightly offended that Tim wasn’t taking his apology seriously. He really did feel bad about what had happened tonight.
“It means,” Tim began and then turned his face so it wasn’t pressed into the pillow anymore before taking a deep breath and starting again. “It means you’re feeling guilty about something that you couldn’t have predicted and wasn’t even remotely your fault. Yes, you went out there with me today exhausted and run down. Yes, that was more than a little dangerous given your area of expertise. But I’m exhausted too and it effects me just as much. My reflexes are slower, my mind doesn’t work as fast my kicks and throws aren’t nearly what they should be but I can’t help that any more than you could help fainting today.”
Tim sighed and rubbed his hands over his face tiredly.
“We went out there to help people, Zat. And we did. You saved dozens of lives tonight. And if you had been just a little more tired those people would have died and we would have been hurt but you weren’t. You saved us. All of us. That’s what you should be thinking about right now.”
Zatara closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He knew he wouldn’t be able to follow Tim’s advice. He would never forget how close he had come to letting all those people, and Tim, die. He appreciated it nonetheless. Mostly because Tim really did believe everything he had said and he didn’t resent Zatara for what had happened.
Zatara opened his eyes again to find Tim watching him. His face was unguarded for once and everything Tim was feeling was written clearly on his features. Grief, exhaustion, worry and despair were all there in full force and Zatara swallowed hard in an effort to keep back a sound of dismay.
His protective instincts came back to the fore and all he wanted to do was pull Tim into his arms and apologize for not being able to keep him safe. He wanted to tell Tim how much he meant to Zatara and how hard it was to see him this tired and in this much pain.
He wanted to tell Tim that even if he lost everyone else that Zatara would be there for him. No matter what happened.
Zatara reached out instinctively, pulling Tim to him. He closed his eyes and pressed his mouth to Tim’s. Tim’s lips were soft and he didn’t kiss back as his body went stiff in Zatara’s arms.
“I know…” Zatara started, his voice low and his eyes still closed. “I know that I shouldn’t be doing this right now." He wasn't even sure what he was trying to say. His mind didn't seem to be synced up to his mouth anymore and every word that passed through his lips was as much a surprise to him as it probably was to Tim. "I know that right now we both need to be focused on what we’re doing here but…” Zatara opened his eyes slowly. “But maybe, in the future…”
Zatara trailed off as he focused his gaze on Tim’s face. Tim’s mouth was set in a firm line and his eyes were dark and bleak. The expression on his face said a great deal, far more than Tim probably would have been able to choke out at this point.
Out of everything that had happened that day, out of all the dangers they had faced and near misses they had managed to overcome, the look in Tim’s eyes at that moment terrified Zatara the most.
It was the look of a man who didn’t think he had a future to look forward to.
The Jewel of Sakar
I really need to make an index post for this...