Jason frowned down at the file in his hands as he wandered through the halls of the compound. Faint shouts drew his attention to one of the windows. Down in the central courtyard, trucks of supplies were being unloaded. His eyes wandered past them, past the walls of the compound, and out to the desert stretching in all directions. The only break from the rolling dunes was a line of mountains on the horizon.
A sharp pang of longing tore through his chest and he jerked away from the window, striding down the hall with renewed vigor and flipping rapidly through the sheaf of paper. He had made his decision. He had a family here, a purpose. And sure, it sucked sometimes -- Ra’s was a rat bastard with no morals who couldn’t take no for an answer -- but he was learning from some of the best teachers around. Once he completed basic and was allowed out of the compound, he could help people. Really help them, not just delay their trauma. If sometimes his lungs burned for the smog he grew up in and his eyes ached for skyscrapers and his ears rang from the lack of horns and sirens and shouting, he just had to remember that.
By the time the remembered chill of Gotham winter had left his bones, burned away by the rising desert sun, Jason had reached Talia’s quarters. He wasn’t worried about waking her up, Talia was always up by five. He knocked perfunctorily as he pushed the door open, still glaring at the error-ridden report. “Hey Talia, I need you to take a look at-” He looked up and trailed off, brain screeching to a halt.
Slade Wilson was half-sitting, half-sprawled in Talia’s bed. They stared at each other, the only noise the dripping of the water clock in the corner. Jason blinked. A smirk slowly spread over Slade’s face. Jason could feel himself turning red.
The door to Talia’s ensuite opened and she came out, wrapped in a bathrobe. “Ah, Jason. Are those the financial reports?”
Jason dragged his eyes away from his horrified staring contest with Slade and gaped at her. Talia raised an eyebrow. “Jason? Are you well?”
Jason wasn’t sure what he would say if he tried to talk, but he was sure it wouldn’t be anything good. He placed the report in Talia’s waiting hand and then turned on his heel and left. He did not ‘flee’ thank you very much. It was just a very fast walk. His feet led him to the training rooms, where he came out of his daze long enough to notice who was currently slicing a dummy to bits.
“Rose,” he said, voice faint.
The girl paused, raising an eyebrow at him. “What’s wrong, Zombie? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Jason’s brain was now fully comprehending the horror of what he had seen. “Your dad is fucking my mom,” he blurted out.
“Yeah, he does that. How do you think I happened?”
“Why are you so calm?!”
Rose sheathed her sword, looking bored. “Why aren’t you? They’re fucking, who cares?”
“She’s my mom!” Normally he was a little more reserved about calling her that, especially where anyone could hear, but this was a special situation.
Jason spluttered, unable to adequately express with words why Talia fucking Slade Wilson was a catastrophic event. “He’s my trainer,” he finally forced out. “How am I supposed to-” He was cut off when a sword hit him in the face.
“Shut the fuck up, Zombie.” Rose grabbed her own training sword and moved to the middle of the room. “You’re overreacting.”
Jason scowled and kicked off his shoes, standing across from her. “How would you know?”
“Because it’s my dad we’re talking about. I have just as much a stake in this as you do. More, maybe, since I’ve known him longer than, what, a year? Less that you remember?”
Jason growled. Their swords clacked together as she blocked his lunge and twisted to slash his leg. He kicked her in the stomach and they circled each other, swords at the ready. “I thought you didn’t care.”
“Because they’re adults and can fuck who they please? It’s not like it means anything.” She charged at him, sending a sweep at his legs and then trying to jab him in the ribs. He parried and stabbed at her back but she dodged, regaining her feet easily. Rose grinned. “Didn’t take you for the prissy type, Todd.”
Jason scoffed and attacked again. He got a solid hit to the femur for his trouble, but Rose got the crosspiece of his sword to the face so he figured he could live with it. “I’m not being prissy.”
“You kind of are.”
After that words were lost in panting and rustling clothes and the clack of wood on wood. Jason hit her on the arm and she got him in the stomach. He locked an arm around her throat and she tangled their legs together and brought him crashing to the ground. For someone two years younger and thirty pounds lighter, Rose could pack a punch. Fifteen minutes later saw them both sitting against the wall, swords discarded by their feet and a water bottle passing between them.
“That was a low blow,” Rose said abruptly. Jason glanced at her. She was staring straight ahead. “The bit about you not knowing Talia for long.”
Jason knew that was as close to an apology as he was going to get. He took a swig from the bottle and handed it over. “How’s your tit?”
She scowled at him as she took a drink, jabbing a finger at him. “Now that was a low blow.”
“You gotta learn to defend then,” he laughed.
“Not my fault my dad won’t let me learn from anyone else. He doesn’t have to worry about it.”
“Maybe Talia could give you some tips,” Jason said, tucking his hands behind his head. Rose hummed noncommittally.
The companionable silence was broken a few minutes later when a familiar figure appeared in the doorway. Jason scrambled to his feet. Rose didn’t bother, raising a lazy hand from her place on the floor. “Hey dad.”
“Rose.” Slade nodded at her and then fixed his eye on Jason. “Jason.”
“Slade,” he replied tersely.
Slade just looked amused. “Your mother is looking for you. She was concerned after your...abrupt exit earlier.”
Jason could feel his ears start to burn but he didn’t let himself look away. “Right. Seeya later, Rose.”
Jason brushed past Slade, every muscle wound tightly, and hurried to Talia’s quarters. The only person there was a servant stripping the bed.
He eventually found her in her office on the other side of the compound, near the rest of the ‘normal’ parts of the League -- accountants and investors and other paper-pushers. He waited for her to acknowledge his knock before opening the door.
“There you are,” she said, putting down a pen. “Where did you run off to?”
“I wasn’t running,” he muttered.
She raised an eyebrow. “Where did you walk off to, then?”
“If I recall correctly, you are supposed to be working with numbers today, not a sword.” She shuffled the papers on her desk pointedly.
“I gave you the file.”
“Yes, you did. I hope you didn’t think it was in acceptable condition.”
“No. That’s why I needed you to look at it.”
“And yet you left.” Talia studied him for a moment before pointing at the chair opposite her desk. “Sit.” He sat, folding his arms and trying to ignore the way his face was still red. Talia steepled her fingers, eyeing him “What is wrong, my son?”
Jason couldn’t help the surge of joy that went through him at the title. It hadn’t been so long ago that she had said it for the first time, that he could remember anyway. According to Damian, it had been a common occurrence before the Pit. The subject matter stifled that joy a little. “Uh...it was just….” He devolved into muttering, shrinking down in the chair, face burning hotter.
Talia raised an eyebrow. “What was that?”
“It- you- I-...you’re fucking Slade?!” he blurted.
Talia’s eyes narrowed a little. She sat back in her chair, nails tapping on the desk. “Whether and with whom I am having intercourse is none of your concern. But yes, I thought as much would be obvious.”
Jason spluttered helplessly. “I’m not- that’s-...why Slade?”
Talia scoffed lightly, picking up her pen again. “I did not think I would have to explain the nature of physical attraction to you, Jason.”
His eyeballs were literally going to melt out of his head at this rate. He made a high-pitched sound before burying his face in his hands.
Talia was unconcerned, nails clacking as she typed an email. “I do not see why you are having such a strong reaction, abn. It is not as though he is going to be your step-father.” Jason made a strangled noise at the idea. “What about this is bothering you? Surely you must know how your brother was created?”
“It’s not that. It’s just...you’re my mom and he’s…” Jason waved his arms around, trying to find the right words to show her how wrong this was, “... Slade.”
Talia frowned at him. “Our relationship is strictly casual, Jason.”
“He’s my teacher”, Jason complained, “and now I gotta train with him knowing that he’s fucking my mom -”
“You will curb your tongue,” she said sharply. “I have told you many times that such crude behavior is not acceptable. As for your concerns, I am sure you shall get used to it. After all, this is not a new development, I imagine you will continue on just the same as before once you get over these...hangups.”
Jason gaped at her. “This has been going on for a while? No wonder he’s always so smug, the fu-” he stopped at the look in her eye. “Uh.”
Talia leaned forward a little and Jason automatically pulled back. “Let me make one thing very clear, abn,” she said softly. Jason swallowed. “You are to show him the same respect you did before you knew of our...agreement.” Her eyes narrowed. “As little as that was. Or I will be very displeased. Am I understood?”
Jason fidgeted in his seat. “Yes,” he muttered.
“Good.” Talia sat back up, signing a final sheet of paper and fitting the stack into a folder. “Take this to Aditya.”
Jason took the file and left the room. As soon as the door clicked behind him he hit himself on the forehead with the heel of his hand. “Fucking moron,” he hissed.
“I would not disagree but I do find myself curious to know what brought you to this discovery,” a familiar voice said.
Jason rolled his eyes. “Thanks, Azadeh.”
The woman stopped in front of him, a small smile on her face. “Of course, my prince.”
“She’s fucking Slade Wilson.” Jason gestured helplessly with the file. “And I...don’t know what to do with that.”
Azadeh hummed. “A dilemma.”
Jason narrowed his eyes at her. “You think I’m overreacting too,” he accused.
“Yes,” she said bluntly. “Regardless of whether you like the man, Mistress Talia finds some benefit from their agreement. You would do well to accept that.” She patted him on the shoulder and knocked on the door. “Run along, Jason,” she said, not looking back. “Those papers won’t deliver themselves.”
Jason huffed and did as he was told.
Jason scuffed his bare foot along the floor. It was 6:08 a.m. and Slade was late. If Jason ever overslept he had to do ten pushups for every minute he made Slade wait. He scowled and paced around the room. He had spent two hours last night laying in bed and staring at the ceiling, thinking. He had resigned himself to the fact that Talia, for some inexplicable reason, liked Slade, or at least liked having sex with him, and it didn’t matter how he felt about it. That didn’t mean he was any less...nervous, if he was being honest, about seeing the man. Slade was insufferable on a good day, and now he had leverage. A lot of leverage. And since Jason had been so obviously bothered by it, he couldn’t even pretend that it wasn’t affecting him.
Jason ran a hand down his face. He just had to roll with the punches, accept that Slade was going to be even more obnoxious than usual, and not fly off the handle. Talia had been dead serious when she warned him to be respectful, and he had only made the mistake of outright defying her once, back when the Pit still raged louder than his own thoughts most of the time. That had been a bad week.
Jason’s head snapped up as Slade came strolling in. “Jason.”
“Finally,” he muttered.
“Eager to begin?” Slade pulled two bo staffs off their stands.
Jason caught the bo and spun it into ready position. “More like bored waiting.”
Slade smiled, actually, honest-to-God smiled and this did not bode well for Jason. He tightened his grip on the bo. “Well,” Slade said, “I guess we’d better get on with it.”
Jason blocked his first hit, feet sliding back a little on the mats from the force of it, and swung at Slade’s ribs. The man blocked easily and sent a whistling strike at Jason’s head. They battled back and forth across the mats, Jason collecting a variety of new bruises and Slade getting a grand total of two. It was better than before, Jason reminded himself, gritting his teeth as the staff slammed into his ribs. Before he hadn’t even been able to stay on his feet more than a minute. He staggered back a step and then lunged forward, swinging a brutal strike at Slade’s knee. It didn’t land.
Slade chuckled. “Feeling feisty today, are we?”
Jason growled, blocking a few more strikes and then following up with his own flurry of blows. He grinned as he landed a hit on Slade’s arm. He paid for his moment of victory when Slade swept his feet out from under him. He hit the ground hard and rolled to the side but couldn’t avoid the strike to the elbow that numbed his entire right arm, making him lose the staff as he staggered to his feet. “Mother fucker,” he yelped, dodging another blow.
Slade grinned lazily as he followed Jason. “Yes, I suppose I am.”
Jason stopped dead, staring at him. “What -” He gasped as the end of Slade’s staff buried itself in his stomach. A few more hits and he was on the ground, wheezing.
Slade poked him in the head to illustrate just how dead Jason would be in a real fight and pulled the staff away. “That was pathetic.”
“What the fuck,” Jason hissed, “did you say that for?”
Slade raised one eyebrow. “Your performance was pathetic and I called it pathetic. Get up.”
Jason struggled to his feet. “Not that, the- the other thing you said!”
“Oh, that.” Jason couldn’t decide if the innocent tone was worse than Slade’s normal sarcastic one. “You’re the one that brought it up.”
“That’s not- you-” Jason forced himself to stop spluttering and scowled. “Fuck off, Slade.”
The bo staff hit him hard in the leg and he bit back a yelp. “Manners.” Slade watched him, staff slung carelessly over his shoulder. “Pick up your bo.”
Jason eyed him before slowly stepping forward and bending down to scoop up the weapon. Slade’s staff cracked against his back and he jerked away. “What the hell?!”
“If you lose your weapon in battle your opponent is not going to just sit back and let you retrieve it.” Slade gestured at the staff lying between them. “Go ahead.”
Jason snarled. Slade didn’t even have the decency to get into a fighting stance, standing there casually, as if he didn’t pose a threat at all. Jason slowly started circling the man.
“Ooh, are we going to be creative today?” Slade asked, not bothering to follow him, leaving his back wide open. Jason crept closer. The bo staff was in front of Slade, but if he could manage to trip the man, throw him off balance for just a second, he could grab it.
Jason lashed out at the back of Slade’s knee. He didn’t bother holding back; in the unlikely case he broke something, Slade would heal in a few minutes. Jason made contact -- though Slade twisted to minimize the damage -- and dove around Slade in a roll. His fingers brushed wood. Slade kicked him the ribs. Jason gritted his teeth as several of them shifted but he managed to grab the bo. He rolled to his feet, pointing the staff at Slade, chest heaving.
“Better,” Slade said. He attacked against, aiming at Jason’s side. Jason defended as quickly as possible. The League didn’t take breaks for little things like broken ribs; if Slade got another hit in Jason would be miserable for days.
“You’re distracted,” Slade lectured, jabbing him in the shoulder. “Focus.” Jason barely managed to block a swipe at his head.
“I am focusing,” he growled.
Slade scoffed, spinning the bo and finally sneaking past Jason’s defense. Jason bit back a gasp but couldn’t stop the way he staggered back as a rib finally gave way. “Please. You can’t get over yesterday.” His one eye gleamed. “Fortunate you arrived when you did, actually. Any earlier and-” He was cut off when Jason charged at him, eyes blazing green.
By the time Jason could think clearly again, he was pinned to the floor with Slade’s bo to his throat. “Are you done?” Slade sounded bored and Jason growled, trying to squirm out of the pin. It was no use, Slade just pushed harder against his windpipe.
“If you hurt her,” Jason snarled. “I’ll break your knee caps.”
A smirk slid over Slade’s face. “You’re certainly welcome to try. Now are you going to tap out or do I have to choke you?”
Jason ground his teeth but tapped out. Slade climbed off him and Jason sat up, gingerly poking at his rib. Definitely broken. Damn.
“Alright, that’s enough of that.” Slade ran a cloth down his bo and put it away. Jason hauled himself to his feet and did the same, though considerably slower. He could feel Slade’s eyes tracking his movements.
“What?” Jason snapped.
“Watch the attitude, kid, or I might change my mind about our next activity.”
Jason narrowed his eyes. “Our next activity?” he repeated cautiously.
Slade’s smirk widened.
Jason frowned in concentration at the gun in his hands, carefully dismantling it. “Slide, spring, barrel,” he muttered, placing each piece on the towel in front of him. “Barrel, spring, slide.” He racked the slide and looked up at Slade, who was cleaning his own gun across the table.
Slade’s eye flicked up. “Why’d you stop?”
“Am I gonna get to fire it?” Jason tried to keep the eagerness out of his voice.
Slade looked back down. “Once you’ve gotten used to the mechanics.”
“There’s like four parts.”
“Yes, four very important parts. You’re not nearly fast enough kid. Dismantle and assemble it in less than five minutes and then we’ll see.”
Jason scowled and pulled the slide off again.
“You didn’t check if it was unloaded.”
“I know it’s not unloaded, I just took it apart.”
Slade glanced up again, eyeing him coldly. “You can either follow the rules or we can go back to sparring.”
Jason huffed but double-checked the chamber.
He’d lost track of how many times he took the gun apart by the time Slade moved. Jason looked up hopefully, automatically racking the slide before putting the gun down. Slade reached into his bag and pulled out a strip of cloth.
“What’s that for?” Jason turned in his seat but Slade grabbed the top of his head and made him face forward again. The cloth fell across his eyes and tightened as Slade tied a knot. Jason groaned. “Seriously?”
“Yes. Keep going.”
Jason grumbled to himself as he reached blindly for the gun. Slide, spring, barrel. Barrel spr- He yelped as the spring caught his finger instead of its notch. He could head Slade chuckle from across the table. Jason scowled and felt around, trying to find the piece. His face was burning by the time he found the spring and inserted it in the body of the gun.
After what felt like another eternity, the blindfold was tugged off his head. “Bullets,” Slade said, dropping a few on the table. “How do they work?”
“They’ve got gunpowder inside,” Jason said impatiently. “Firing the gun sets it off and they explode out the barrel.”
“Pull the trigger, hammer hits the bullet, bullet fires.”
“Hammer hits firing pin which hits the bullet,” Slade corrected. “What part of the bullet does the firing pin hit?”
“The back of it?” Jason tried.
Slade snorted and picked up one of the bullets. “Three parts: projectile or bullet, cartridge, primer. Firing pin hits the primer, gunpowder inside cartridge ignites and fires the bullet. Caliber is the width of the bullet, not the cartridge.” He put it down. “Surprised Bats didn’t teach you any of this stuff.”
“Yeah well…” Jason shrugged. He wasn’t about to admit that he couldn’t remember whether or not Bruce had ever trained him in guns. Slade didn’t need to know about the gaps in his memory.
Slade watched him for a second before placing a magazine on the table. “Load it.”
After a torturous amount of time spent on hand placement and the mechanics of loading a bullet and Slade ensuring Jason knew exactly how much shit he’d be in if he was ever caught messing around with a gun unsupervised, the man finally stood up. “Come on.”
Jason scrambled to his feet and followed him out of the armory. They ended up at the range, a line of targets against the back wall of the compound usually used for archery and knife-throwing. Jason couldn’t stop himself from grinning as Slade corrected his stance and showed him how to aim.
“Okay,” Slade said, stepping back. “Rules, go.”
Jason groaned, throwing his head back. “Slade.” The man just waited. “Don’t point the gun at anything I don’t want to kill,” Jason grumbled. “Don’t put my finger on the trigger until I’m ready to kill something. Both eyes open, focus on the front sight, press the trigger smoothly and don’t jerk, can I please fire it now?”
For a moment, Jason worried Slade wouldn’t let him, but he gestured at the target. “Go ahead.”
Jason aimed the gun. He took a deep breath, checked the positioning of his arms, and pulled the trigger. The recoil made him jerk a little and he lowered the gun, flicking the safety on, and peered at the target. A fresh hole marked the corner. “I hit it!”
Slade snorted. “Yes, barely.”
Jason was practically vibrating with excitement. “I betchya I can get closer.” He went to raise the gun again but Slade pushed it down.
“Why not?” Jason complained.
Slade glanced at the sun. “We’re almost out of time and I still have to show you how to clean it. Come on.” He headed back inside and Jason hesitated, looking longingly at the target. “Jason.” He looked over. Slade was holding the door open; he raised a challenging eyebrow. Jason sighed and jogged over. Twenty minutes later that gun and several others were cleaned within an inch of their lives and disappeared back into Slade’s bag.
“See you tomorrow, kid,” Slade said, slinging the duffle over his shoulder.
Jason watched him go. Maybe Slade wasn’t too bad. He stretched his arms above his head and winced as his rib shifted. Or not.