fic: some sort of truth / young justice
title: some sort of truth
fandom: young justice
character/pairing: Zatanna, Robin, Red Tornado
summary: Zatanna copes, or doesn’t, with the absence of her father. Robin tries to comfort her; Red Tornado actually does.
“The League is sorry for your loss,” Batman intones while the other kids pack your whole life into cardboard boxes. “Rest assured that your father made provisions for your future.”
“We’ll help you in any way we can,” Black Canary says, and she might have kicked Batman, but despite the outfit—one day, when you grow up, you want boobs like that—you can’t tell, Black Canary is pretty discreet. Somehow that does help, even if it isn’t Batman’s fault he’s a terminal stick-in-the-mud. After all, it is Batman, in his overwhelming generosity, who allows you to finish the semester at your old school. The paperwork must be obscene, and you’re pretty sure that come spring, you’ll get a transfer notice for Happy Harbor or for one of those fancy boarding schools out in Connecticut. In the meantime, you get put on the performance of a lifetime for the kids at school.
It’s exhausting; as soon as you get back to the cave, you shut down. There is no point in putting on a happy face when your new housemate can read your mind and everyone knows how badly Fate fucked up your life.
Megan has perfect teeth. You notice this through the off-hand, honey-slow shock that’s settled over you; it’s one of two things you notice as the two of you forage for breakfast in the mornings. One: the cave is always freezing, two: Megan has perfect teeth, white and straight and even, so that when she smiles—and Megan smiles all the time, especially at you, usually with this pleading, sympathetic little—when Megan smiles, it’s almost like looking at a magazine ad or at someone with dental implants. A little unreal, but so, so beautiful. Two weeks ago, you, free of your braces for a grand total of eighteen months, might have joked with Megan about it, said, God, I hate you! I would kill for your teeth, or maybe gone online and found a bunch of pictures of gross British teeth for Megan to imitate, and it would have been hilarious. Now you just look at her perfect teeth and think about how you refused to wear your retainer until two weeks ago. Dad was always nagging you about it, because money didn’t grow on trees and if you thought he had a spell for that, you should remember that Harry Potter is only a child’s book.
Now you remember to take your stupid retainer out of its glittery purple case and bite it into alignment every night. You even went to the drugstore and bought a box of denture cleaner so you can disinfect it every week, exactly like the orthodontist told you.
At home, you were supposed to wash the dishes when it was Dad’s turn to cook, you were supposed to keep up with your homework, and you were supposed to make your bed. You don’t have any assigned chores around the cave, or you’d do them now; as it is,
your bed the bed you sleep in gets made up with hospital corners every morning. Which is stupid. You know you are being stupid. None of this will bring you father back.
(But maybe if you’re good enough—)
Things you do not do, two weeks and counting from when Dad went away:
-Sneak out at night
-Forget to finish your homework until the passing period before you’re supposed to hand it in
-Practice spells beyond your level of comprehension
Robin comes to the cave one night, way late. He doesn’t try to talk to you—he just shows you how to climb up through the tunnels, onto an overlook of the mountain that you can pretend is a roof, and he sits with you for most of the night. Actually, Robin falls asleep somewhere around four a.m., his skinny shoulder slumped up close to yours, and you don’t wake him; you’re not that much older than him but you feel absolutely ancient, and he’s only thirteen. He needs his rest.
He wakes up a little around seven, rubbing at his dark glasses and rolling every joint like an animal on the nature channel; the sky’s just going light and it’s a cold morning. Maybe someone else would pull away from you and respect your space, but even after he’s woken up, Robin keeps his shoulder even with yours, and pretty soon you can feel your unsteady heartbeat slow down and match his. Biology is funny like that; you remember reading in health class last year that if you stay next to someone long enough, your bodies start to match rhythms. It reminds you of how you used to play on the swings at the park with other kids in the neighborhood, that one time you and David DeLuca synchronized your kicks until you both hit the same highs and lows. David DeLuca told you that it meant you were married and you pushed him down and ran home, hoping he’d chase you.
You know, or have a feeling, that Robin likes you—likes you a lot, painful and earnest, and under the ache in your heart that just makes you tired. A month ago, maybe, you would have nudged his shoulder with your own, or told a joke that you were sure he’d find funny. Dad
likes liked Robin a lot, always said he was good people. And he is; he’s good and smart and just awkward enough to be cute. This is just really bad timing, and you hope, as he leans close to you, that he’ll just let you be.
Prescience is apparently his thing, though, because he doesn’t try to hug you or talk to you about Dad, and he certainly doesn’t say anything about liking you. He just sits close, maybe for warmth, and the two of you watch the morning haze resolve itself over the shoreline until his watch cheeps at him to go home. Then he’s gone, like everyone else in your life, so maybe you can deal with it.
It’s kind of a relief that Megan and Conner are as into each other as they are, because you have a feeling that if they weren’t exploring their sexualities, thanks Heath 101, Megan would be constantly available, in case you need anything, which you do not.
Well. You still need a little alone time. You try to rationalize your sadness, because. It’s not like Dad’s dead or anything. But the weight of his absence settles over you and won’t be shrugged off.
To be fair, you don’t really try to get past it, because it is your own fault and you deserve to suffer. All Megan can offer are platitudes, because what could Megan possibly know about stupid heroic fathers? Besides, you can tell it makes Conner uncomfortable when you cry. It’s better for everyone if you just stay in your new room.
Finishing your homework right away only takes up so many minutes—Dad was right, it’s way faster to just get it done, God—so you fill hours digging through the cartons stacked kind of dangerously throughout the room, looking for a sweater or a hat or something. (It’s crazy, how you don’t have any recent photos of Dad.) And you still have too much time to kill, because Megan keeps making 1970s comfort food, so it’s not like you need to make dinner. Nothing tastes good these days, so you don’t really notice the stuff Megan adds to Jell-o and calls salad.
There isn’t a funeral or a memorial service or anything for Zatara, because your father is not dead. You still feel like there needs to be something to mark the occasion, something to underscore that Dad’s gone and no one knows how to bring him back.
Artemis drops by one day after school and slouches in the doorway of your room, not looking at you, exactly, before asking if you want to run around the city for old time’s sake, or something. When you don’t feel like doing anything she just kind of nods to herself and leaves, but she keeps coming back, like clockwork, every weekday. Sometimes Robin comes with her, sometimes Wally follows along and makes terrible jokes that Artemis pretends she’s not laughing at. Pretty soon Megan and Conner join in, and all of a sudden Wednesdays are like an after-school special: everyone shows up and sits in your room, just hanging out and acting like you’re going to be okay. Wally brings snacks and Megan always takes it upon herself to bring cookies, so there’s usually food to go with the old movies Kaldur likes to play. (Kaldur has the same taste in movies as your dad, black-and-white romantic comedies starring Audrey Hepburn. Dad always said Audrey looked exactly like your mother, with her huge eyes and beautiful bones.)
Artemis sits next to you on the bed with her boots off and lets Megan paint her toenails bright yellow. Robin sits on your other side, and even though neither one says anything to you—Robin and Wally keep discussing exchange rates and gas mileage—you get that they’re helping you the only way they know you’ll accept.
Still, you cry an awful lot. You’ve never been an attractive crier, you get all snotty and red-faced, and you don’t fell any better when you finish, but there it is. Black Canary keeps trying to schedule grief-counseling sessions, but the first time she tried to talk about Dad putting on the Helmet of Fate she asked if you needed to be medicated and you flat-out told her you were allergic to the ferns in her office. You haven’t seen her since; you notice that Black Canary doesn’t bother you as long as you stay in the main part of the caves, near Red Tornado. You’ve never known anyone else, human or not, with the same ability to emanate such clear back the fuck off vibes, and the part of you that wakes up every morning and pretends you’re fine envies the ability.
It takes a couple days, but it dawns on you that Red Tornado is looking out for you. Unlike Black Canary and Batman and even maybe Robin, he doesn’t pity you. He’s just there, all obnoxious red and solid and present, maybe even immoveable. After the sixth day you spend around him, you ask if he minds babysitting you, or if he’s sick of you crying all the time. (You might be trying to pick a fight—Megan is literally the nicest girl you’ve ever met, you don’t think she’d understand how much you want to scream and hit someone.)
“Negative,” he says, the clip of his voice unaffected and safe. “You are grieving. It is appropriate for a human female of your age to experience emotional trauma at the loss of a primary parent.”
“It’s not even like he’s really dead,” you snap, but you can feel your face getting hot and ugly again. Your heart feels like it’s about to beat its way out of your chest. For the first time, your sadness feels sharp and brittle.
“You are still in mourning,” Red Tornado says, and when you throw your book at him, and then launch yourself at him, pushing hard, he doesn’t move or flinch; he takes the hit.
“It isn’t fair,” you keep saying, over and over again. “I want my father back.” Red Tornado sets one mechanical palm between your shoulder blades and you cling to him; he’s steady as a tree, steadier than a rock. He still doesn’t flinch, and he pats your back in time with your sobs, gently, as though he’s never comforted someone before and he’s worried you’ll break.
“What happened to you was not right,” Red Tornado says. “I am sorry.” Your tears and snot smear his metal chest, and you cry until you are hoarse and bonelessly tired. He doesn’t move during the whole ordeal, just keeps patting your back. He doesn’t even have a heartbeat, and for once your body isn’t tricked into calming down before it’s ready.
When you finally finish, you’re thirsty and gritty-eyed and raw; it’s still cleaner than you’ve felt since Dad took that helmet out of your hands.
You haven’t cast a single spell since Fate took your father away from you. You keep remembering the feel of Dad’s lips against your forehead and the way his hands settled on your shoulders, heavy with responsibility and with love.
Twenty-five days later, you finally manage to look at yourself in the mirror. The girl in your reflection looks exactly the same as she did back in November, before she put that helmet on, as if nothing has changed.
Netsil pu, you say, looking your reflection in the eye. Ti lliw teg retteb.
You’re not sure you can trust yourself. But Red Tornado promised you that you could survive this, and you believe him.