Slade fell into step beside Joey as they headed back to the house. "Nice moves," he said, dropping a hand on his shoulder, and Joey jumped a little.
Thanks, he signed, looking a little hesitant. It's been a while since I trained seriously, I'm not very good. I… He looked nervous, his hands hanging in midair. I used to be better, he signed, and Slade could have sworn that Joey was bracing himself for a strike, his shoulders tense under Slade's hand. Slade felt a familiar surge of rage towards his counterpart and smothered it with what was becoming expert thoroughness. He made sure his grip stayed soft, giving nothing away.
"You landed a solid hit on Batman," Slade pointed out, "and anyone else would have been on the ropes from it. Jason's just got a high pain tolerance, which you couldn't know. You did great."
Joey smiled hesitantly, and signed Thanks again. His shoulders loosened, just a bit. Next time I'll do better, though. I promise. Fuck.
"Do better if you want to," Slade said, and very gently shook Joey by the shoulder, trying to push his point home. "I don't care how good a fighter you are, you don't have to promise me shit." He waited a second, made sure Joey was looking at his face. He was going to nip this shit in the bud. "As long as you're happy, that's all I give a damn about."
Joey shivered a little and Slade ached at the look in his eyes. He nodded after a beat, and for a moment his body pressed up against Slade's as they walked. Slade dropped his arm around Joey's shoulders and hugged him, then let him go.
"I'm so glad you're here, kid," he said, as they stepped inside, letting the transition from bright sunshine to dark house allow Joey a moment of privacy to wipe his face. "And I don't care if you never win a fight again. You're my son."