aravistarkheena: (Comics: Sleepy Zatara)
[personal profile] aravistarkheena
Title: The Jewel of Sakar
Series: Sir Zachary
Part: 2/6
Author: Aravis Tarkheena
Pairing: Tim Drake (Red Robin)/Zachary Zatara
Rating: over all R
Warnings: Angst, violence and Zat's temper
Disclaimer: Not Mine, everyone's more than legal.
Word Count: 6,000w this chapter
Author's Notes: Read this side story first! Thanks to [personal profile] shananagin for the beta. You were a great help. <3

Part 1

Part Two

Monday Janurary 7, 2011
Toulouse, France 4:39 PM

Zatara shivered as a cold wind gusted past him. It seemed to cut through his heavy wool coat and he reached up to adjust his scarf, hoping it would help keep out the worst of the wind. He nuzzled his chilled pink nose into the thick fabric, trying to warm it as he stuffed his gloved hands back into his pockets.

He glanced desperately at the street signs around him, looking for one of the names on the directions he had gotten from his GPS. Zatara suspected he was lost. The combination of jet lag and cold made it hard for him to focus. He mentally cursed himself for not wearing thicker socks before he huffed a sigh into his ineffectual scarf and looked around for someone of whom he could ask directions. He could have just said a locator spell, but he was tired and the last thing he wanted was to be weakened in a strange city at night.

He finally settled on a middle aged woman who was rushing towards him down the street. She was bundled up against the cold and her shoes were dark and sensible. Probably an office worker in one of the law offices he had seen scattered around. She was clearly a local.

Zatara hoped desperately that she spoke English.

“Excuse me! I’m lost. Could you help me?” Zatara called to her in terrible French and she examined him with reluctance. “Do you speak any English?” he asked with what he hoped was a suitable about of chagrin and she sighed deeply before nodding.

He told her where he was going and she gave him directions in decent, but heavily accented English. Zatara thanked her profusely before waving good bye. They both hurried off into the winter twilight.

Zatara had been relieved to learn that he was only a few blocks from his destination. No more than five minutes walk and now that he knew where he was going, he could increase his pace.

He was practically jogging when he turned the corner to the street where the small shop was located. It quickly came into view. The awning was old and shabby. The cloth was filthy and littered with rents and holes. The store front was a large glass window filled with bits of jewelry and ticking clocks. The lettering on the old sign that announced the name and hours of the shop was faded to almost illegibility. A beat up ‘Closed’ sign hung lopsidedly in the glass door.

Zatara took no notice of it as he hurriedly pushed the door open. He let out an involuntary sigh of relief as a blast of warm air hit him. He closed the door rapidly behind him and stood for several moments just basking in the warmth. He wiggled his toes in his shoes, hoping the friction against his socks would dispel the chill.

“We’re closed,” a voice called to him in French, it was hoarse from too many years smoking too many cigarettes.

Zatara walked further into the shop, moving past cluttered shelves of knickknacks and oddities until a counter with a cash register came into the view. The man behind the counter was larger than Zatara had expected. He was well built and solid even though he was well past middle age. Thin white hair stuck up around his head and bushy eyebrows hung low over a pair of shrewd grey eyes.

“I have an appointment with Mr. Leourx,” Zatara informed the man who eyed Zatara speculatively. Zatara permitted this for a few moments before making direct eye contact. “Are you Mr. Leourx?”

“No,” the man informed him, his accent heavy and his eyes wary. “I’m his friend, Mr. Pane.”

“Where is Mr. Leourx?” Zatara kept his face and voice neutral.

Pane tilted his head back in the direction of a small curtain that clearly lead to the back of the store. Zatara walked up to the counter Pane stood behind and leaned against it.

“May I speak to him?” he asked patiently.

“How do I know you are who you say you are,” Pane asked him evenly.

Zatara fought the urge to sigh and reached into his pocket. He pulled out the silver case that held his business cards. He picked one out and handed it to Pane.

Pane looked down at it and fought a surprised expression when words began to materialize on the card.

Zachary Zatara
Magician Extraordinaire

As letters emblazoned themselves on the center of the card, the small buzz of magic from the charm skittered lightly across Zatara’s nerves.

Bushy eyebrows glowered at Zatara critically before pocketing the card.

“Anyone could have a business card made with someone else’s name on it,” Pane pointed out.

Zatara quirked his mouth in annoyance. “Yet very few could charm them like that,” he shot back.

The man regarded him thoughtfully for a few long moments before shaking his head decisively.

“No, you’ll have to do better than that, or leave,” he said firmly and set his jaw stubbornly.

Zatara’s frayed temper was in danger of snapping. He clenched his teeth and braced his hands on the counter between himself and the old man, leaning in menacingly and glaring.

“I have flown half way around the world today. I am tired, I am hungry, I am cold, I am almost certain I have frost bite on my toes. I have called ahead, I have introduced myself. I have made an appointment. I have asked nicely and I have done magic for you. What more could you possibly want?” Zatara gritted out.

Pane crossed his beefy arms across his chest and leaned back, distancing himself from Zatara. Pane looked down at him, unimpressed.

“I’m waiting for the guy who is going to vouch for you,” he said simply.

“Who is this guy?” Zatara asked, his frustration clear in his voice.

Pane shrugged nonchalantly.

“Don’t know his name. Met him a few years ago on a job in Quimper.”

Zatara resisted the urge to bang his head against the counter top until he was unconscious. He opened his mouth wide, not entirely sure what he planned to say but absolutely certain it would have plenty of expletives, when a jingle sounded from the direction of the door and a cold gust of wind took Zatara by surprise.

Pane’s eyes focused on the area behind Zatara and Zatara spun around to see who had come in.

Pane drawled something in French with a smile in his voice. A familiar voice called back to him in slow French and Pane laughed.

The voice had given Zatara enough of a warning that he should have been able to school his expression into one of neutrality or ennui when Timothy Drake walked around a shelf of ticking clocks but he couldn’t manage it. Zatara’s breath caught in his throat and he was sure his eyes went wide. He clenched his fingers against the counter top he was leaning against, more for support now, than menace.

Tim looked good.

Damn good.

He looked better than he had any right to look in a dark shop full of old tea pots and dusty furniture. Tim’s cheeks and nose were pink from the cold and his dark hair was wind blown. He was wearing a brown leather jacket, a dark red scarf and thread bare jeans that fit him a little too well. A red motorcycle helmet dangled casually from one hand and a beat up, tan canvas bag hung from his shoulders.

It was his face that took Zatara aback, though. It had lost most of the gauntness that had characterized it last time Zatara had seen him. His eyes were a clear deep blue full of a familiar confidence and a spark of curiosity. They looked almost normal, except for the slight shadow of worry Zatara could see in them.

Tim smiled a polite ‘hello’ to Pane before turning it on Zatara.

“What are you doing here?” Zatara choked out and felt a pang of regret when that shadow in Tim’s eyes darkened. He quickly quashed it. Zatara had every right to be furious with Tim and he would not be made to feel badly for it.

“Pane asked me to come to the meet as a sort of liaison/bodyguard,” Tim answered easily.

Zatara opened his mouth to inform Tim that he didn’t want him to be a liaison/anything when Pane cut in.

“This is the guy?” he asked in French.

Tim nodded and assured Pane that Zatara was, in fact, who he claimed to be.

“And he’s ok?” Pane asked again.

Tim nodded again, not even looking at Zatara. He resisted the urge to kick Tim but only just barely.

Violence doesn’t solve anything, he told himself. He focused on keeping his temper. All he wanted right now was to get the jewel and leave.

Pane twisted around and called to the dark curtain covering the doorway that lead to the back room. Zatara’s French wasn’t nearly good enough to translate it but Tim just rocked back on his heels and watched the curtain benignly so Zatara assumed Pane hadn’t just called to a large troop of angry men to come and kill them both.

Zatara was still glowering and watching Tim out of the corner of his eye when the curtain was pushed aside. Zatara focused his attention on the doorway as a man stepped out.

Leroux was short and stout and slightly balding. His hair still had most of its color but it was streaked here and there with grey, it was combed over the top of his head in a futile attempt to hide his bald spot. Nervous hands tugged at oversized sleeves that were dirty around the cuffs.

Leroux had a short conversation with Pane in French before Pane turned to Zatara and spoke.

“You come for the jewel, no?” he asked. “The green one that…” Pane trailed off as if uncertain how to explain what he meant in English. He turned to Tim, cocking a questioning brow and said a word. Tim looked thoughtful for a moment before turning to Zatara.

“Vibrates?” he said the word as a question rather than a statement. “Does it vibrate?”

“Buzzes,” Zatara replied absently.

Most humans couldn’t detect magic unless large quantities of magical energy were being used all at once. For magicians being around magic was a little like drinking too much coffee. It made them jittery and nervy.

Given that the Jewel of Sakar was meant to store energy, its buzzing, even around humans, made sense. Large quantities of magical energy were detectable to humans but it felt vaguely like being shocked by an electric toothbrush. It was more of a low buzz than anything intense and painful. It probably made both Leroux and Pane feel more than a little uncomfortable to be around it but they couldn’t use it or be harmed by it.

“That does sound like what I’m looking for,” Zatara told them. “May I see it?”

Pane and the other man looked at each other nervously. Tim didn’t move a muscle from the casual pose he had taken but Zatara noticed that his eyes sharpened with suspicion.

“We don’t have it,” Pane said eventually, his voice apologetic.

Tim pursed his lips and gave Pane a cold stare.

“I was worried,” Pane went on hurriedly, not meeting Tim’s eyes. “After what you said about it maybe being dangerous I didn’t want to keep it here. I gave it to a friend. He has a safe, one with the un-pickable locks.”

Zatara could practically hear Tim trying not to roll his eyes and fought back a smile despite his frustration.

The Bats and their egos, some things never changed.

“Directions,” Tim demanded in French. “Then call the man and tell him we’re on our way.”

Both men nodded and Pane reached for a piece of paper to write the directions on while Leroux slipped into the back room, presumably to call their friend. It took less than five minutes to get the information they needed and before Zatara was completely ready for it, he was back out on the side walk in the cold.

The sun had set but the lamps on the street were lit. Large shadows lurked on the cold stone pavement. The windows of the shops that lined the streets were fogged with the heat from the rooms inside. It was a quiet neighborhood except for the intermittent barking of a dog some way off.

Zatara shivered and wondered, briefly, how long he would have to walk before he could find a cab. The streets in this district were mostly empty.

Tim walked to the end of the block and slipped into a darkened alleyway. He stepped back out a few seconds later, walking a bright red motorcycle. Zatara didn’t know a thing about motorcycles, or cars, or any motor vehicle for that matter. All he knew was that the bike Tim had looked terrible. It had a big scratch down one side and the tail lights didn’t match.

“Clearly, you are not trying for subtlety. How is it that no one has found you yet?” Zatara asked acidly.

Tim smiled at him and his blue eyes glinted with amusement in the lamplight. Zatara felt something clench in his gut, like he had tripped and just forgotten to fall.

“I’m very good at what I do,” Tim husked before straddling his bike. “Hop on. If we take a few back roads to avoid traffic we should get there before seven.”

“We?” Zatara asked in a very prim tone of voice. “We aren’t going anywhere. I am going to get my jewel.”

Tim gave him an amused look and reached into one of the saddle bags on the bike. He pulled out a black helmet and held it out to Zatara.

“Do you know how much cabs to Montabun cost at rush hour on a weekday?” he asked.

Zatara thought for a moment about walking all the way to the center of town in the cold. Then he thought about the chance of finding a cab at this hour. Then he thought about the daunting task of explaining to the cabbie, in French, where he needed to go.

Zatara snatched the helmet from Tim’s hands and angrily pulled it over his head, silently relieved he hadn’t worn his top hat.

“Who rides a motorcycle in winter anyway?” Zatara grumbled into the helmet before climbing into the bike.

Tim glanced back at him and while Zatara couldn’t see his mouth there was a wicked glint in his eyes.

“Scared?” Tim asked teasingly and flicked his wrist.

The bike roared to life under Zatara and he could feel the vibrations from the engine in every cell of his body. Tim revved the engine twice and lifted his feet off the ground. Zatara followed suit.

“Hold on tight,” Tim called back to him.

Zatara did.

For dear life.

He fully intended to spend the entire ride to Montabun figuring out new and inventive ways to curse Timothy Drake.

Monday Janurary 7, 2011
Montabun, France 5:53 PM

Tim brought the Ducati to an easy stop a few blocks from the address Pane had given him. He studied the front of the house where the jewel was being stored for a few moments, politely ignoring the breathy sigh of relief Zatara made as he peeled himself from Tim’s back.

The ride had been short and easy, with little traffic. It had felt nice to Tim to be out on the open road again after an evening of driving through a city. Zatara had clearly not shared his sentiments. He had spent the entire ride in white knuckled silence. He held onto Tim so tight that Tim could feel his ribs bend with the strain. Tim would have sworn he could hear the creak of Zatara’s jaw as he clenched his teeth.

“Is this the place?” Zatara asked irritably. He pulled the helmet from his head to reveal his scowling face and Tim’s mouth quirked in a slight smile.

“There,” he said, pointing three houses down. “I want to watch it a little before we head in.”

Zatara nodded and wrapped his arms around his middle for warmth. He was wearing a black wool pea coat that looked pretty thick but probably didn’t do much to keep out the wind during the ride. His jaw was tight and Tim wondered if it was clenched from the cold or from anger.

A healthy bit of both, he decided absently and turned his attention back to the house.

The windows on the top floor were all dark but three on the bottom floor were lit. There was one car parked in front of the house and two more parked down further along the block. There was no noise emanating from the place, or any of the houses on the block for that matter.

Tim sat back and settled in to wait. Hardly five minutes had passed before Zatara nudged him with his shoulder.

“If we’re going to go in, let’s get to it. There’s no sign of ambush and he knows to expect us. Sitting out here will just look suspicious and possibly give us frost bite,” Zatara said irritably.

Tim was wearing long underwear, thermal socks, heavy boots and his lined leather jacket. He was warm enough but it was clear that Zatara was not even remotely dressed for the weather. He gave Zatara what he hoped was a sympathetic look and got off the bike. Zatara followed suit.

Tim reached into one of his saddle bags to grab his bo and a few gas bombs, just in case things went bad. He tucked his collapsible bo into the waist band of his jeans, just under his jacket and deposited the gas bombs in his pocket before nodding to Zatara.

“Let me go first. If there’s an attack it will probably be physical, not magical. Besides,” he added at Zatara’s reproachful look, “you’re probably too frozen to manage much of anything useful at this point.”

He could feel Zatara glaring at his back as they walked towards the house.

“My hero,” Zatara muttered grumpily under his breath and Tim fought a smile.

They made their way cautiously down the block with no sign of trouble. Tim took the steps up to the front door slowly, motioning Zatara to stay back behind him on the sidewalk. He reached his right hand behind his back to grasp his bo and rapped firmly on the door with his left.

He waited several moments for a response and none came. He looked back down at Zatara who shrugged up at him. Tim turned back to the door and knocked again. There was still no answer.

Tim was debating whether or not to knock a third time when he heard Zatara muttering behind him. Tim turned back to look at him and Zatara’s face was set in a mask of concentration.

It always amazed Tim how easily Zatara could focus his mind and energy so keenly under any circumstances. No matter how many crazed villains were coming at them or what was about to fall on his head, Zatara was always calm enough to do his magic.

He had explained to Tim once that the main reason he had never been able to do magic on living things was that he was worried he would mess up and hurt them. That worry made it hard for him to focus properly. He had worked hard to overcome that anxiety and now, theoretically, there wasn’t much of anything Zatara couldn’t perform magic on.

Zatara blinked his eyes open and looked at Tim sharply.

“There’s… There’s no one in there but something’s going on. Something happened inside and high levels of energy were expended,” Zatara explained, stumbling a little over the words as if unsure how to express what he meant.

“A fight you mean?” Tim asked.

Zatara pursed his lips and looked at Tim worriedly.

“I hope that’s all it was,” he said ominously and started up the stairs after Tim.

Tim took a deep breath and reached for the door knob. He was surprised when it opened easily in his hand. He twisted it until it unlatched fully and glanced back to Zatara. He nodded his readiness and Tim pulled out his bo before pushing the door open.

The entranceway was a narrow hallway. There was a coat stand and an umbrella stand to his right and a table with a bowl holding assorted sets of keys to his left. A pair of large black loafers were kicked under the table.

Tim followed a worn rug down the hall. There were two closed doors, one on his left and one on his right, but Tim was intent on a third door. It was several feet in front of Tim and it stood open. Light from the room poured out of the door way and illuminated the dim hallway.

Tim crept slowly towards the light, keeping himself close against the wall and gesturing silently for Zatara to do the same. He peered around the door frame and took several long minutes to take in the scene before stepping through the door for a better look.

The first thing that Tim noticed were the two bodies

The first was laying sprawled out on the floor. There was a gun on the floor near his hip and his hand was open. He had probably been holding the gun when he was shot. There was a small caliber bullet hole in the back of his head, just behind his left ear. Tim couldn’t see the exit wound as the man was laying on his face.

The other body was slumped over onto the desk. His hand was reaching for the telephone off to his left. He had also been shot with a small caliber bullet. Almost certainly by the same shooter. The angle of the entrance wound in the man’s head was consistent with the angle of the entrance wound in the head of the man on the floor.

The man on the floor had probably been shot first, then the man at the desk.

The room was still neat and orderly, probably a library of some sort. Books lined the walls, placed carefully on built in shelving. There were two comfortable arm chairs and a coffee table off to one side. In the center of the room was a large cherry wood desk. It gleamed a well polished brownish red in the bright lights of the room.

A picture had been removed from its wall hanging and was propped against the side of the desk. The safe behind it where the picture had been hung open and mostly empty from what Tim could see. There were a few file folders visible but not much else.

Tim could hear Zatara behind him, breathing deeply and evenly, in through his nose and out through his mouth. The rhythm of his breathing was familiar to Tim. It was a pattern used in most simple meditations. Zatara was trying to control himself.

Tim wasn’t about to impose.

He walked around the room, examining it further for any sort of clues. There was no sign of struggle, which struck Tim as slightly odd. It was as if the men had just stood there waiting for the bullets.

He heard Zatara’s breathing shift slightly and Zatara began to mutter softly to himself. Tim couldn’t understand the words and didn’t even try. Zatara was speaking a language only he knew.

Tim picked through the safe while Zatara whispered to himself. He found little of interest. A deed to the house, a birth certificate and a few death certificates, art authentications, a few bonds and some more paper work Tim didn’t bother to read. He moved away from the safe with a sigh and picked his way over to the desk.

It was clean and neat except for the dark green blotter, stained with blood. Tim tried not to look at it and reached for the phone.

“Whoever killed these people and took the stone didn’t use magic. In fact, he wasn’t even a magic user,” Zatara said, his voice was clear and crisp but Tim could hear the underlying tiredness in it.

He picked a small device off the side of the phone and held it up for Zatara to see.

“They didn’t need magic,” he said and slipped the small bug into his pocket.

Zatara sighed heavily.

“They knew he was expecting us…” Zatara said tiredly.

“And pretended to be you and me,” Tim finished and nodded. “They probably had one on Pane’s phone too.”

Zatara ran a hand over his face and shut his eyes for several long moments.

Tim reached into his pocket and pulled out his PDA. He flicked it over to the IAFIS page, the finger print data base, and scanned the fingers of the man laying on the floor. He let the program run while he moved to the other man.

Tim examined the wound on his head for several long moments before walking back to the man on the floor, theories formulating in his head. He was just about ask Zatara’s opinion when his PDA beeped.

Tim looked at the screen.

The man’s name was Peter Dodgeson. He was an American and had been arrested several times for breaking and entering, larceny and burglary in the United States and abroad. Tim flicked though the man’s list of known associates but didn’t see any names he recognized.

“This man,” Tim said, gesturing to Dodgeson, “was half of a partnership. The guy he came in with probably killed him and Pane’s friend, took the thing and left. He used a silencer and neither of them expected a double cross.”

Tim looked up at Zatara to find him nodding mutely, pointedly not looking at the bodies.

“What is he after and why does he want it?” Tim asked Zatara.

Zatara just shook his head.

“Can we discuss this someplace else?” he asked, and his voice had a pleading edge to it.

Tim nodded and they left the house. Zatara showed much less reluctance to get on the bike this time around and Tim drove halfway back to Toulouse before he pulled the bike over in a small roadside park. It was almost a rest area, with picnic tables and trash cans.

Tim grabbed a disposable track phone out of his pack and called the murders into the police. Then he called Pane and told him what had happened to his friend. After he disconnected he tossed the phone into a nearby trash can before turning to Zatara and asking for the address of his hotel.

Tim knew of it and had driven past it a few times. Tim took the drive back to Toulouse slowly and it was almost an hour later when Tim pulled into an alleyway next to Zatara’s hotel.

Tim turned off the bike and pulled his helmet off before shifting backwards to face Zatara.

“I can follow the lead on the dead guy, but I doubt it’ll get us anywhere,” he told Zatara. “Is this thing you’re looking for important?”

Zatara nodded, getting off the bike. Then he and explained to Tim about the Jewel of Sakar and what it did. Zat had clearly been looking for more than a year now. His frustration was growing more and more apparent as he spoke about his efforts to find the jewel.

“I’m always one step behind!” Zatara raged, waving his hands and pacing back and forth on the small gravel lined alleyway.

“I’m sorry, I know how frustrating that can get,” Tim said soothingly as he stepped forward to put a comforting hand on Zatara’s shoulder.

“Don’t touch me!” Zatara spat and pulled sharply away from him. His eyes were blazing with anger and frustration as stared Tim down.

“I’m sorry,” Tim said softly and let his hand drop to his sides.

Zatara snorted out a derisive laugh. “Sorry?” Zatara repeated and shook his head disbelievingly. “You’re sorry?”

“I am,” Tim insisted and crossed his arms over his chest. The gesture was a defensive one and Tim had learned, as a rule, it was unwise to go on the defensive in a verbal battle. However, he couldn’t possibly see how going on the offensive in this particular case would win him anything. He didn’t really have a leg to stand on in this fight. All he could hope to do was wait Zatara’s anger out.

He knew Zatara had been worried about him. He had tried to get in touch with Tim several times over the past two years and Tim had pointedly ignored his calls and emails. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Zatara, it was more that he didn’t want Zatara to see him the way he was.

Tim remembered the look in Zatara’s eyes the night of the fire in Gotham City almost two years ago. It had been the last time Tim had seen Zatara.

Tim remembered how worried and scared Zatara had been as Tim lay motionless on the bed next to him as Zatara tried hard to coax some sort of response from him.

Tim swallowed hard and blinked his eyes to dispel the memory.

“Do you have any idea—“ Zatara began furiously but Tim cut him off.

“I do. I know what it’s like to have someone you care about disappear. I know what it’s like to wait and worry and wonder. I know what it’s like not to know. I know how hard it is,” Tim said evenly and Zatara’s scowl deepened.

“Then why did you do it?” Zatara hissed. “Would it have killed you to pick up a phone?”

Tim let out a bitter, self deprecating laugh.

“I asked Steph that once. You know what she said to me?” Tim asked and Zatara shook his head. “She said, ‘no but it would have killed you.’ I didn’t know what that meant until…”

“Until what?” Zatara snapped when Tim trailed off.

“Until the night of the fire,” Tim told him regretfully.

“I’m not that bad of a kisser, Drake,” Zatara snorted and Tim smiled sadly. “I wasn’t upset because you didn’t kiss me back. I was upset because of the look on your face. I could see how messed up you were. I could see it. I couldn’t get that look on your face out of my head. When they told me you were gone all I could see was that dull hopelessness in your eyes.”

Zatara paused and Tim could hear him swallow hard. Tim clenched his own fists in memory.

“I wasn’t sure if, left alone, you wouldn’t kill yourself.” When Tim snorted in protest, Zatara added, “or just let yourself die, anyway.”

“Do you really think I don’t remember that night too? You have no idea how often I’ve sat there wishing that I had taken you in my arms and kissed you back. I wish I had told you how much I appreciated everything you were doing for me and for Gotham and for my stupid messed up family. It killed me to see you getting hurt and driving yourself past exhaustion because of someone else’s mistakes.” Tim sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He closed his eyes and let the cold January wind hit him full in the face, hoping it would help him clear the thoughts in his head.

Zatara was quiet and very still. He wouldn’t look at Tim, and Tim was grateful for that at least. He wasn’t sure he could face Zatara right now either.

”I just didn’t know how to say it. I was paralyzed by pain and grief and exhaustion. I know it’s not an excuse. I know there’s not one good enough to make what I did right but I am sorry, Zat. I really am,” Tim said with a heavy sigh and slumped back onto his bike. He took comfort in the sleek edges and familiar feel of his Ducati under his hands and between his legs. It was the one constant in his life over the past two years.

“I’m not angry that you left without talking to me first. I’m not angry that you didn’t call when you did leave. I’m not even angry that you just showed up out of the blue today with no explanation. I’m angry that you left at all. You shouldn’t have. If you were so messed up you couldn’t even figure out how to say ‘thank you’. What were you going to do against a bad guy with a gun?” Zatara raged, raising his voice and shouting at Tim.

“Fighting isn’t always about thinking,” Tim answered in a placating tone, “and sometimes ‘thank you’ means more than just ‘thank you.’ Sometimes it means things that are hard for anyone to express let alone someone as screwed up as I was.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” Zatara shouted at him, his voice going shrill and disbelieving.

“No,” Tim said uncertainly. “I just wanted to try to make you understand.”

“Well I don’t understand and I’m still pissed. So now what Boy Genius?” Zatara spat at him.

“I guess that leaves us back at ‘thank you’,” Tim answered.

He rocked up off the seat of his bike and reached for the bow tied knotted at Zatara’s throat. He fisted it and used it to pull Zatara down into a kiss.

Thunder didn’t boom, the earth didn’t shake under their feet and no stars fell from the sky. The kiss was closed mouthed and chaste, very much like a kiss an uncertain teenager would give but it still made Tim’s heart pound with nervous energy as the feel of Zatara’s mouth against his zinged across his nerves.

They were both panting slightly when Tim pulled back and they locked eyes. Tim licked his lips and stared at Zatara for several long moments.

“Thank you, Zachary Zatara,” Tim said a little breathlessly. He keyed his bike on and drove off before Zatara had time to recover and respond.

Tim wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to hear what Zatara had to say. He was too afraid that it was much too little, much too late.

Part Three: Tim gets a lead and grows a beard.

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