“He wants to make it clear that he didn’t want to call you, B,” Oracle warned.
Bruce sighed, staring out at the buildings around the GCPD, “But even he couldn’t protect four people by himself.” At least Jason was willing to talk to him tonight, however reluctant. Some bitter feelings would never truly leave but they had finally begun to work passed so many of the problems and find a new place for Jason in the family, so they could continue to move forward. But then, two years ago, Dick had disappeared. With each moment since then, more and more progress was lost.
“Patch him in, Oracle.” There was a soft click. “Red Hood.”
“Batman,” Jason acknowledged, his voice clipped.
“Oracle’s sending us the addresses for the targets. What else can you tell us about the hit?”
“At least five dead already. Two in Metro, one in Star, LA, and Chicago each. All with slit throats. Don’t know their connection, other than they all lived in Gotham at some point.”
“You’re sure they’re all in danger tonight?” Tim asked.
“Sounded like it. A hit this wide with four in Gotham would eventually get Batman’s attention. I think they're trying to get it over with as fast as they can. Would have worked too, it was lucky I heard anything.”
“Who took the contract?” Bruce asked.
There was a noticeable pause before Jason growled, “If it was only one or two, I wouldn’t have even called you.”
“Do get to the point, Hood,” Damian drawled.
“You’re not in this conversation, Demon,” Jason snapped back.
“Hood,” Bruce commanded.
There was another pause, then his voice became low and hard, “He’s mine.”
Pieces fell into place, “Deathstroke.” Damn it. Of course, it would be him. “Capture only, Hood.”
“So he can escape again?” Jason’s laugh was harsh, “I don’t think so. Ending the bastard is the least I can do.”
For Dick , went unsaid.
Damian was tense beside him.
Dick was a touchy subject on the best days. Deathstroke was somehow worse. Vengeance in the forefront of their minds. Vengeance too late.
“Nightwing wouldn’t want you to murder in his name,” Bruce pointed out, “even Deathstroke.”
“You think so? I’ll have to check with him when he comes back.”
If he was coming back he would have by now , Bruce wanted to say. Bruce had used all of his resources to find Dick. And that was a point of contention with Jason, he thought Bruce had given up, had only put forth a token search. Or as Jason had put it, you don’t want to find the golden son if he’s tarnished .
Tarnished. Of course, Jason would see murdering all those people as a mere tarnish.
But Bruce knew Dick, even with evidence pointing to a psychotic break, he would never be able to forgive himself for killing someone. The fact that he hadn’t come home, that he was still missing, had only left Bruce with dark conclusions; ones he had only voiced once and had yet to be forgiven for even daring to think.
“Capture only,” he repeated.
“Good luck enforcing that, B. If you remember, I called you and with Orphan and Spoiler out of town, it’s one of us per target. I’m headed to Alma Melendez.”
Bruce ground his teeth, Melendez was a central target. Hood would be closer to get to the other locations if Deathstroke showed up somewhere else.
“Red Robin, your closer to Coventry, cover Pamela Jones,” he turned to Damian, “Robin, Faust at Port Adams,” his son nodded before throwing himself off the building.
“Oracle, try and warn as many as you can and get them to safety. I’ll take Anders.” The next most central target.
Jason’s silence was telling enough of his displeasure at the turnaround. No one would be dying tonight if he could help it.
Bruce made his way over the rooftops as quickly as possible. The streets were quiet this time of night, only a few hours till dawn. Perfect time to catch multiple people at home in bed.
Five dead already. At least nine on the list. No obvious commonalities, all in different parts of the city. Bruce didn’t like not having the full picture and they were definitely missing something here.
Barbara interrupted his thoughts, “B, I got ahold of Anders and guided him to a utility closet three floors down. But he’s the only one on the list who picked up.”
“Shit, Melendez is dead,” Jason announced, “Still cooling off. Throat cut.”
“I’ve got eyes on Deathstroke,” O broke in, “just entered Ander’s building from the roof.”
“He’s moving fast,” Bruce mussed. He was hoping they would have more time than this.
“Jones is dead too,” Tim said, “Throat cut. Still warm. This just happened, B.”
He’s not that fast, though.
“That’s across town,” Jason pointed out, “No way he killed Jones after Melendez and made it to Anders already.”
“I have incoming,” Damian warned, “Not Deathstroke. Similar suit but this is a woman.”
There was a pause, then, “Ravager,” echoed over the comm as everyone came to the same conclusion.
“Deathstroke brought his kids,” Jason growled.
Bruce agreed, and the docks were too far away for it to only be Ravager with her father.
“Red Robin, keep an eye out for Renegade but make your way to the docks. Oracle, is Anders secure?”
“He’s too scared to leave and I’ve got the building security locked. No one’s going to find him. … Deathstroke just discovered he’s gone. … He’s onto us, he just shot out the hall camera. Moving fast... Stairwell... Rappelling down... Passed Anders.”
“I’m still too far out,” Bruce admitted, running across another rooftop.
“He’s not even trying to find Anders, B. He’s running... Parking garage... He’s boosting a car.”
Bruce barely hesitated before turning and shooting his grappling line southeast. “I’m turning to the docks. Robin?”
“I’m keeping her occupied, Batman. She’s not nearly as skilled as her father.”
A slightly muffled, indignant yell could be heard.
“Please, “Damian scoffed, “Apparently she’s far less intelligent as well. Did you accidentally lobotomize yourself when you cut out your eye?”
Ravager’s answering scream made Bruce wince. “What about Faust, Robin?”
“He ran out with the rest of the workers.”
“They’re running south. Can’t make contact and it’s too dark to tell which one is him … Deathstroke’s out. Headed east. If they’ve got comms he’s probably headed for the docks as well.”
Alfred came on the line, “Sir?”
“The Batmobile is by Wayne Tower. Oracle, help him intercept Deathstroke’s car before he gets there.”
The following silence suddenly felt too quiet and Bruce cursed himself as he realized he had forgotten someone.
The lack of response didn’t surprise him.
“Oracle, what’s Hood location?”
The buildings were getting shorter as he made his way out of downtown and into the warehouse district.
“He’s on his bike, B. He’s going to catch up to Deathstroke before Agent A.”
( x - x )
Jason gunned the engine, ignoring the chatter over the line, speeding through the nearly empty streets. Deathstroke was his. He couldn’t be that much farther behind the mercenary now. Jason had been waiting for an opportunity like this for almost four years now, ever since the truth had been revealed about Dick’s time with Wilson, and not even Batman was going to stop him. The sick bastard wasn’t going to make it through the night.
Wilson’s kids, however, were an unwelcome addition to the situation. He still couldn’t believe the man was a father. He hadn’t cared enough about Deathstroke before four years ago to even bother to know. And with a dad like Wilson, it wasn’t too much of a surprise that they had followed in his footsteps. They had all been kept off the grid pretty well, so there wasn’t much known about them until they had started showing up in the field.
The eldest, Grant, the first Ravager, was dead. The youngest, Rose, had taken on that mantle only a few years ago, and the bitch seemed just as crazy as the other. Even more so if it was true that she had cut out her own eye for her dad. The middle kid, Joseph, was the surprise though. He was supposed to be the more normal one of the family. Nothing really on him until sometime in the last two years, then he had started showing up with Deathstroke all over the place going by Renegade. There were no pictures, just word of mouth. The reddish suit, mask over the lower half of his face, which made sense since the only other thing Jason had heard was that he was a mute, throat cut by some of Wilson’s enemies when he was younger.
It was pretty messed up if he was helping to cut these target’s throats as well. But what could he really expect from a son of Deathstroke?
After a swift turn, Jason was finally in sight of another speeding car. It had to be Deathstroke, especially headed this direction. They were almost to the docks by now.
He pulled his automatic from its compartment and opened fire, shattering the back window, causing the car to briefly swerve. Jason mentally cursed, aiming was difficult like this, he’d have to get closer to even have a chance of hitting the tires, let alone Deathstroke, but return fire had him backing off.
“Hood, back off!” Batman yelled through the comm.
How close was he that he could hear this?
“Intercepting,” Oracle warned, “in 3…”
Jason dropped the gun and squeezed the brakes tight, angling back.
The Batmobile slammed into the rear passenger side of Deathstroke’s car making it spiral through the intersection and sliding further down the street.
Jason didn’t wait for his bike to stop before he was jumping off, guns out, weaving around the Batmobile, toward the downed car.
“Renegade’s inbound,” Drake sighed, “I’m coming but my bike is totaled. I didn’t even see him before he was taking me down. He’s on a bike too.”
Jason knew he gave Tim a hard time, but he thought the kid could at least take care of a mute wannabe mercenary.
Jason ducked and rolled, barely missing a knife flying through the smoke of the crash, and Deathstroke was on him before he could open fire.
Damn meta healing. Without it, the mercenary would still be upside down in the wreck.
They moved fast, exchanging hits; the guns were decommissioned quickly, not that they were going to be useful up close like this. A hard kick from Jason had them separating, giving him a chance to pull a knife. Unfortunately, it also gave Wilson time to unsheath a sword. It wouldn’t matter, if he could get in passed it.
As he surged forward a shadow mirrored him behind Slade, barely giving Jason time to acknowledge that Batman had joined the fight and adjust his attack to accommodate before they were all a whirl of motion.
Even two against one it was hard to get the upper hand on the mercenary. His attention was split, all Jason needed was one opening to get in and he could gut him, but Batman was fighting to incapacitate and all that did was get in his way.
He briefly thought he heard the echo of a motorcycle engine but could only spare enough attention to know no one else was on the street with them.
“Ravager is injured and retreating north,” Robin reported, “I’m joining you.”
“No,” Batman ordered, “Stay with the target.”
“No point,” O said, “I lost Faust.”
“I’m on my way," Robin pressed, "Approximately three minutes.”
Jason snorted as he spun under the sword. He hadn’t interacted much recently with the demon brat but he knew the kid agreed with ending Deathstroke for good. With him here Jason's odds might actually improve.
Jason caught the motion of shadow and red out of his peripheral, right before a body collided with him. More accurately, someone’s feet collided with him as they parkoured over the hood of a car, knocking Jason further out into the street.
He quickly got to his feet, pausing a moment to reassess, then stopped completely, in surprise, as he watched Batman retreat back next to him, posture stiff.
Jason followed his gaze.
Decked out in a deep red-orange and black armored suit, firmly beside Deathstroke, stood Renegade. Just as he had been described, lower half mask and everything, only...only that wasn’t Wilson’s son Joseph. Batman had seen it too, that had to be why he had retreated.
His hair was longer, long enough that half was pulled back. There was a domino mask as well but that couldn’t hide what everything else he saw was screaming. Not his stance as he waited for an attack; they’d been sparring for too long not to recognize it. And certainly not the escrima sticks pulled from their back holster next to a sword.
It didn’t register that the street was clear, that it was safe to say it, the name escaped in Jason’s disbelief. “Dick?”
Renegade tensed, not that they needed any confirmation, but there it was.
There he was. Not dead. Dick was alive! Not in hiding, waiting to come home. Not alone.
“What the hell man? Where…”
Jason’s attention shifted to the man next to Dick. To Wilson. He was here with Deathstroke. Had he been with him this entire time?
His mind was still making connections as he pulled a gun from a back holster, leveled it at Wilson and fired.
Bruce grabbed his arm, forcing the shot wide.
Jason wouldn’t thank him, in fact, he was pointing the gun at Batman now, stepping away from him, as he pulled out another and aimed it, once again at Wilson. Or he would if Dick wasn’t currently standing in front of the mercenary.
He’d almost shot Dick. It was going to be a headshot. If Bruce hadn’t...shit. He almost shot Dick in the head.
“What are you doing?” Jason demanded, “You’re seriously protecting him? What are you even doing with him?”
This didn’t make any sense. They had checked Wilson out when Dick disappeared, he had been the first place they looked. But he had been on the other side of the world doing a job when everything had gone down. Had never disappeared longer than he normally had in the past and kept taking jobs. Jason saw the footage when Batman had caught up to the mercenary. They took note in the next week when he had started using his own connections to try and find Dick himself.
God, Jason felt sick. Wilson had played them like amateurs.
Finally, Batman spoke, “What did you do to him, Deathstroke?”
Wilson laughed, “So many things, Batman.”
Dick shook his head, cursing in… was that Romani? It all felt surreal. Then snapped, “How about we all just shut up and leave?”
“Yeah, alright,” Jason agreed, firming his aim, “Shut up and leave, Goldie, so I can kill your rapist.”
He moved to the side, trying to get a clear shot, but Dick met each step, keeping himself between Jason and his target.
“You haven't managed well so far Hood,” Wilson taunted, not even trying to hide behind his human shield, forcing Dick to do all the work; not that the mercenary was helpless. His sword was still drawn, and he may have been speaking to Jason, but his focus was clearly on Batman. “Do you really think your odds would change because he left? Your audacity is rivaling the Al Ghul brat now.”
“Are you seriously antagonizing the only bat actively trying to kill you?” Dick snapped at Wilson.
“Not the only one,” Robin landed a yard or two behind Batman and Jason spared him a quick glance.
It was rare to see the demon looking so unsure, so hesitant in his movements, but as he made his way closer to the group, his focus on Dick, he was dangerously close to looking his age.
And there it was, Dick self consciously adjusted his grip. Jason wasn’t even going to be upset that it was the brat that had given Goldie the first crack in his armor.
Batman held his hands out toward Dick, “Whatever has happened, Nightwing, we can work through it. I just need you-”
Dick’s laugh was strained, “There’s nothing for you to fix, B. Not this time.”
“That’s not true, Goldie,” Jason said, moving further around the pair, giving them two distinct fronts to deal with, “I can think of a real simple fix to the situation we’ve got here,” he tilted his gun in emphasis, “All you have to do is get out of the way.”
It was like a switch was flipped.
Renegade noticeably stiffened, causing Wilson to mirror the action. One breath and Wilson’s chuckle was drowned out by Dick snarling and charging Jason, the escrima sticks sparking in his hands. One flew out, striking Jason’s wrist, making him drop the gun, and bounced back to Dick’s hand in a split second.
Dodge. Dodge. Pary. Ow. Freakin-
Dick wasn’t holding back, not giving Jason a second to take advantage of the fact that Deathstroke was fighting Batman and Robin only a few paces away.
Jason got both of Dick’s arms in a partial forward lock, keeping the sticks high, “You think I’m not going to hurt you, Goldie?” Jason ground out, kneeing Dick in the gut.
His brother moved with the hit and was airborne, flipping to the side, throwing off Jason’s balance enough that one of the stick tips connected with his shoulder, sending a shock through him. He lost his grip and got another shock on his back, one to his leg taking him to a knee, the one across his jaw would have knocked him out without his helmet, but it still wrung his bell hard.
Damn it, he had forgotten how much those things hurt.
Dick backed up but he wasn’t giving Jason a breather. Robin was airborne, coming down in a strike against Deathstroke, when Dick grabbed his cape and hurled him around and into Jason, taking them both to the ground.
Damian flipped up and off of him, letting him roll to his feet.
Then nothing happened.
Jason was waiting for Damian, who was in position for the first strike, to move, to get them going, but he just stood there, hesitating. Before Jason could yell anything at him, he was in motion, trying to run around back to Deathstroke.
Shit, the kid wasn’t going to fight Dick.
Dick lashed out, feigning high, then tripped Damian and prevented him from rolling up and away.
Jason surged forward as Dick flicked his wrist and a blade extended from the end of one of his sticks. He didn’t know what he had expected and was surprised when he stabbed it through the end of Robin’s cape and into the pavement, effectively pinning the kid to the ground.
Jason attacked, trying to draw Dick away, to give Robin a chance to get free, but the man kept him close, stomping down when the kid’s hands went for the stick.
“Why are you protecting him?” Damian demanded, pulling at the cape that refused to tear loose.
Dick ignored the question, “Just stay down,” he commanded.
“Never,” the demon yelled, using Dick’s leg as leverage to swing around on the ground and kick the blade out of the ground.
“I’m coming down,” Drake warned over the comm.
“You stop for a coffee or something, Replacement?” Jason snapped, trying to twist Dick’s arm up.
Drake had swung down, landing on one of the parked cars and extended his bow staff, when smoke pellets suddenly rained down on the street, some striking with a flash.
The group scattered, trying to get clear of the affected area, but it was no use, the entire street was filled with smoke. Hearing the others coughing, he was grateful for his helmet’s filtration system, all the while cursing the smoke. As useful a tool as the pellets were, it sucked when they were used against them. By the time he had enough of a view to know where to aim a grappling line, Deathstroke and Dick were gone.
The bats gathered around the Batmobile, everyone quiet, even O and Alfred, who had to have heard at least some of that, were silent. There was too much to go over. They still had to track down Faust and get him and Anders into protective custody, collect weapons and vehicles.
What the hell had just happened? Dick was gone, again. He left with Wilson, willingly.
Jason let out a disbelieving laugh, drawing everyone’s attention, “Looks like you were right, B. He doesn’t want me to kill Deathstroke after all.”
A necessary, while not as action-packed, informative and hinty chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
\ ( *) /
“If I see that kid again, I’m going to skewer him,” Rose seethed, wincing as another stitch was pulled tight.
Slade finished pouring the water from the kettle and chuckled at his daughter’s anger, earning a glare in return.
“It’s not funny dad! ‘No killing’ my ass! Look at my leg!” She yelled, lifting the leg to give him a better look at her bloody inner thigh.
“Rosie,” Richard warned, pulling her leg back, “You want me to fix this or do you want to bleed out while you keep whining? Don’t move.”
She narrowed her eye, leaning forward, “I’m lucky he didn’t hit an artery. I definitely would have bled out then.”
Richard smiled and secured the next stitch, hard.
“Ow, Ren!” She flicked his ear.
His eyes widened, innocently, “Oops.”
“I’ll show you ‘oops’ the next time we spar, you twinkie bitch.”
Rickard cackled, puncturing the skin again, and Rose groaned.
Slade brought the hot cup into the living room and sat on the couch next to his daughter. “The boy was trained by the League of Assassins, Rose. He cut you precisely where he intended. Debilitating, but non-lethal.”
“Please,” Rose huffed, “he’s a teenager, how good can he be?”
“Better than you, Rosie,” Dick murmured, focused on finishing, not even looking up as he continued, “No, don’t give me that look. He’s been at this longer than you, so don’t take it so hard. He learned to handle a blade before he could walk.”
“How would you know?” Rose asked, then groaned dramatically when Slade handed her the cup, “Not the tea, Dad. It tastes like shit.”
“That means it works,” Slade and Rose said together. Slade rolled his eye as Rose smirked and pointedly took a sip, not even trying to mask the revulsion.
He turned to Richard, “Are you finished?”
“Yeah,” he sighed, “we’ll put a compression over it after Rosie takes a shower.”
“Other people’s ‘fine’ is not covered in blood, Rosie,” Richard chided, standing, “The other cuts might not need stitches but you’ll still want to wash them out.”
Rose huffed, as he helped her to her feet, “You’re such a mother hen, Ren.”
“Cluck cluck, you psychopath,” Richard smiled, prodding her along, “Shower. Now. We’ll go over the new plan when you get back.”
Slade reached out and grabbed the back of Richard’s pants, before he could get too far away, and pulled him sideways into his lap.
“Ugh,” Rose made a gagging motion as she left the room, “Suddenly the tea isn’t the only thing making me sick.”
“You’re just mad because you didn’t get to flirt with Red Hood and show him your moves,” Richard called out loudly down the hall, “and instead got beat by a fifteen-year-old. Rose? Rosie, remember how you want to bang him but he heard you lose over the comms? Rosie?”
“Shut up, Ren!” she finally screamed, slamming her door.
“She’s far more vindictive than you give her credit,” Slade warned, mildly, “Watch your back.”
Richard raised his eyebrows with a smile, “Thanks for the warning but I already do. Vengeance is a common trait in the women I’ve known, plus she’s your daughter so…” he tilted his head back and forth, “She’ll find a way to get me back and then I’ll come up with something else…”
It would never end. Slade had known he had taken a chance introducing them and while he hadn’t quite pictured this outcome, he was pleased with how much stronger it connected Richard to him. Even Rose was willing to work with him again, beginning to come around the safe house he was using more often.
He sighed, fondly, “You two are ridiculous.”
“You wanted us to get along.”
Slade gave one of Richard’s legs a squeeze, “I’m not complaining, little bird.”
He smiled when the cue was followed and Richard rolled around until he was straddling Slade’s lap; he was coming along so nicely.
Richard’s smile turned uncurtain, “Maybe you should, I think I’d prefer a tongue lashing to a literal one.”
“You want me to punish you, Richard?” Slade asked. He wasn’t surprised by where the boy’s mind had gone. Thinking of the bats always brought guilt, no matter how small an offense, seeing them now would only make it worse.
Richard looked down, “We almost got it done in one night.”
“Almost,” Slade agreed, “But then it didn’t work as I told you it wouldn’t.”
“Yeah. They’ll be guarding them now; ready for us instead of catching up.”
“They’re still at a disadvantage, more so, now that they know who you are.” He studied his bird carefully before continuing, “I can do this alone if you’re not up to it.”
Richard sent him a look of confusion, “Going easy on me? That doesn’t sound like you.”
No, it didn’t. “I’m not risking the job because you start holding back on the bats, Renegade.”
Richard clenched his jaw, “I’ve told you how I feel about fighting them but I still took Hood down, didn’t I? Did that look like I was holding back?”
No, that moment was perfect. As soon as those words had left Hood’s mouth, Slade knew it would be a good show. However, that wasn’t what he had been thinking about.
Slade slid a hand up Richard’s chest, the young man tensed as the hand slowly passed his neck and took ahold of his jaw.
The boy unconsciously leaned back, “‘And Robin’, what? I pulled him off you. You’re welcome.”
“Did you even lay a hand on him?”
Richard wet his lips, “I didn’t have to, he’s just a kid, we-”
Slade tightened his grip, “Just a kid? Really? After what he did to Rose?”
“I’ve got him covered, Slade,” he reassured, “You don’t need to worry about it.”
“Still trying to protect Robin from the big bad Deathstroke?” Slade mocked.
Richard’s gaze turned to steel, his voice uncompromising, “Don’t touch him.”
Slade leaned back in surprise, studying Richard’s face. He had miscalculated; something he hadn’t done with his apprentice since the young man was a teenager. Richard was clearly preparing for a fight over this and that wasn’t something they had time for right now. However, he would need to go over this situation more closely after the job was done.
“If it means that much to you,” he relented, carefully, “I’ll keep my contact with the boy to a minimum.”
Richard blinked, clearly taken off guard by how quickly Slade had given in. He waited another moment before the tension in his shoulders released. It had been slowly building since Slade had taken the job and they had known they would most likely run into a bat or two. He had purposely kept Richard away from Gotham for the last two years to avoid this kind of stress but it also wasn’t something that could be avoided forever.
Something changed in his bird’s gaze, “Are you sure you can handle that?”
Slade squeezed his jaw reflexively, hard.
Then released him when, instead of flinching, Richard smirked and leaned closer, nuzzling his cheek, whispering, “I know how difficult it can be to curb your homicidal urges,” before giving his ear a soft bite.
Slade hummed, digging his fingers into the toned thighs and pulled him closer, “The hunt getting you excited, little bird?”
Richard scoffed as he settled lower, “This is hardly a hunt, Slade. Those people don't even know how to fight back.”
“No, most don’t. But dealing with the bats now should keep us entertained.”
Slade might actually prefer to keep Richard out of what was coming completely, not that his boy would go along with that, his desire to prove himself was never-ending. And going off his brothers’ behavior, they were going to put up more of a fight for him than the remaining targets.
“That’s being optimistic,” Richard mussed, “We can’t afford to underestimate them.”
“Then talk to me. What are they doing right now? Where do we need to be so we’re one step ahead? You know them better than I do,” he caught his bird’s eyes, “If we do this right we can minimize any confrontations.”
Richard nodded, “Yeah, okay.”
Slade smiled, “Alright, talk me through it.”
( x . x )
“Where have you been, Todd?” Damian demanded as Jason got off his bike and joined them up on the computer platform.
Bruce, Tim, and Damian were all out of their suits, Bruce, with wet hair at the keyboard, the others obviously too anxious to sit for too long. Jason didn’t even want to know what kind of caffeinated Frankenstein concoction was in Tim’s huge ass mug.
He didn’t glance Damian’s way, “Ignoring you, Hellspawn.”
“You should have come straight here afterward,” he snapped back.
“Really? And done what exactly? Uselessly fret over Dickiebird? Hang around you angst-ridden lot and done nothing while you set everything up with the Commish? Hard pass.” Jason hadn’t come to the cave until it was absolutely necessary, any sooner would give Bruce the wrong impression.
Tim folded his arms, “If you had been here or even answered your phone you would know that Faust is dead as well now.”
Jason hopped up on the railing next to the sheer drop.“Yeah, I knew before you did. I’m the one that found him at his friend’s apartment. Unlike the rest of you, I can get stuff done on the street during the day. The cops weren’t far behind me so I didn’t see the point in telling you while I was still following up some leads.”
Bruce swiveled in the chair, “Anything useful?”
“Nah. So I took a long nap.”
“Are you serious?” Tim asked in disbelief.
“Wilson’s always been good at keeping a low profile when he wants and I’m not going after Goldie running on fumes and coffee, Replacement.”
Damian looked incensed. “Grayson is out there-”
“Yeah, he is,” he agreed, “Apparently not some John Doe in a morgue with cut wrists.”
“Jason-” Bruce growled.
He plowed through, “Not admitted anonymously to a psych ward because of some mental breakdown, huh, Bruce? Nope. It’s worse. He’s with Deathstroke. Has been with him at least since Renegade started showing up, probably from the moment he disappeared. You want to tell me how you missed something like that, B?”
Jason could hear the leather of the armrests creak under bruce’s grip, “I don’t know everything, Jason.”
“Yeah, I obviously gave you way too much credit. World’s greatest detective my ass. I was right, you didn’t even want to find him, did you?”
The sudden yelling overlapped.
“You dare accuse my father…”
“Are we doing this again? Why...”
“I am sick and tired of you…”
“He just wasn’t good enough for you anymore…”
There was a sharp clang, drawing everyone’s attention to the stairs leading up to the manor. Alfred stood at a table, holding a tray down on it, looking at ease but he must have slammed it down for it to have made such a loud noise. His voice was perfectly even as he spoke, “Pardon me, I believe there is, yet, one more target alive that they will come for. Perhaps that should be the focus for now?”
Jason looked down, unable to meet his gaze, and felt the others do the same.
“I have brought some lunch. Will there be anything else, Master Bruce?”
Bruce paused before answering, “No, thank you, Alfred.”
“Then I will leave you to your planning.”
Somethings would never change. Leave it to Alfie to put them in their place in less than a minute.
Jason reluctantly looked around at the others. This was exactly why he hadn’t wanted to come here. Any conversations they had always ended up this way and he was beyond done dealing with this shit. In the past, anything that had the various bats working together would usually bring Dick over from Bludhaven and the golden boy would act as a filter and mediator between them all. Without him...not that Jason had gotten along better with Dick than the others, but the eldest had left the position open and Jason wasn’t willing to mend fences to keep the peace. His quips were his own but always fell flat when used in place of Dick’s, making the empty slot more apparent.
Screw Goldie for putting them in this situation. Not one message in two years to let them know he was alive. Forcing him to team up with the bats against him. He ignored the voice in his mind offering reasonable explanations. Explanations he didn’t want to think about, that made him want to pity his brother. Jason couldn’t afford to feel sorry for him right now, not when he needed to take him down.
“Alfred’s right,” Bruce said after the butler had ascended the stairs, “Whether intentional or not, there is only one target left-“
“That we know about,” Tim added.
“That we know about,” Bruce agreed, “But with no other known targets we can put all of our efforts into Anders. He’s currently in a safe house with a police guard. We can continue moving him around in the hopes of keeping him hidden, maybe outlast the contract timeframe.”
“Tt,” Damian scoffed.
“Or…” Bruce prompted.
“We use him as bait,” Jason finished, “lay a trap.”
Tim shook his head, “With one target left it won’t be a trap, they know we’ll be there waiting for them.”
“Yes,” Damian countered, “but that gives us the opportunity to set the board in our favor.”
“Can we do that though?” Jason asked, “We’re not just going up against Deathstroke, Goldie’s helping him. That puts a serious dent in our home-field advantage.”
Tim stepped forward, “I think that can actually work in our favor. Dick doesn’t want to hurt us.”
“You think so?” Jason snarked, “My electrical burns say otherwise.”
“You’re not very well-liked, to begin with-”
“Enough,” Bruce cut Damian short, then turned back to the computer, “Tim and I have been going over the mask footage. Have a look.”
He had already sent his helmet footage to Oracle, so he watched the fight play out from four different angles, one from the intersection camera. Four angles of Dick protecting Wilson.
“Here,” Tim pointed to the screen, “He tries to take Robin out of the fight with minimal force.”
“It’s insulting. Grayson knows I am quite capable-“
“Not the point here. He could have attacked you, kicked you, anything, it would have been easier, but he never touched you.”
“Your inference is flawed,” Jason interjected, “He may have coddled the demon baby-”
Damian growled and Bruce gave a long sigh.
“But,” he continued, “Dickie did more than touch me.”
Tim rewound the footage and Dick tensed on the screen. “You said something that set him off.”
“He always does,” Damian muttered.
“Yeah,” Jason huffed, “Wilson had a good laugh about it.”
“He kept his distance before that,” Tim noted, “He was keeping Deathstroke away as much as he was protecting him.”
Jason snorted, that was such a Dick thing to do.
Bruce nodded, “Tim’s right. Even Deathstroke was holding back. I’ve fought him enough in the past to tell the difference; killing wasn’t his goal with us. I think that would be too much of a risk to whatever is happening between him and Dick.”
Whatever is happening. Yeah, it was probably best that they be as vague as possible about that for now.
“So we use it,” Tim settled into the chair next to Bruce, taking a swig from his mug while bringing up building plans on one of the screens.
Jason sighed and walked over to grab the platter of food, while the others gathered closer together. He was going to need more than sandwiches if he was going to have to deal with these sleep-deprived losers for hours to come.
The action and trauma are coming back at you in the next chapter, full force.
Ha! I did it before midnight! Happy New Year!
( ( R ) )
The plan was doomed to fail, if for no other reason than Drake’s complete confidence in it. Maybe if Damian had been given more of a say in the matter it would stand a chance. But apparently being deemed no more than an important distraction took away his ability to make any worthwhile contribution. Of course, Drake would be hidden away from the fighting in the building with Anders and a few officers, so his own contribution was minimal.
A distraction, ugh, it was almost as demeaning as being bait, barely a step above even.
“Will you stop pouting, Brat?” Todd complained from the opposite side of the roof, “I can hear you grinding your teeth over the comm.”
“I can hear it too, Robin,” Batman agreed, keeping his gaze outward.
Damian huffed but then caught sight of movement through his binoculars, “We’ve got Deathstroke and Renegade coming in quickly over the rooftops from the south.”
“Six buildings and counting.”
Batman hummed, “They could have gotten much closer without being seen.
“Any sign of Ravager?” Drake asked.
There was a moment of silence as they all searched, “Nothing up here. Oracle?
“Cameras on all floors and surrounding the building are clear.”
“Keep an eye out, they might be using Renegade as a distraction so she can slip in another way.”
“Tt, how fitting, both of us degraded to-“
“Oh my god, shut up, demon,” Todd moaned standing next to him now, “You’re splitting Renegade’s attention. That means we want you to attack Deathstroke, you should be happy.”
“Don’t talk down to me. We already know he is not fighting at his full potential.”
“Hey, you never know, maybe we’ll get lucky and he’ll kill you by accident.”
“Red Hood,” Batman warned standing on the ledge while holding out a hand.
Todd grasped it tight, “It’s not like we’re not all thinking it,” then they both jumped.
They'd chosen a safe house in a lone tall building for multiple reasons. The glide was smooth, lasting almost thirty seconds before they landed on the same rooftop as the mercenaries and engaged almost immediately.
“There’s smoke in the hallways on the third floor,” Oracle announced, “I think the building’s on fire.”
“How?” Damian asked, looking over the edge at the smoke coming out of a window, “They’re still four buildings away.”
“They must have come earlier and planted something,” Drake mussed.
“They knew where we were taking Anders?” He asked in disbelief, “Why not stay then?”
Oracle cut in, “This is only one of several police safehouses, for all we know they set up something similar at each location. Damn it, I’ve got flames now, it’s moving fast. I don’t think you’ll be able to get Anders down through it to the street, Red Robin. I still have no sign of Ravager. She could be waiting for you to get him out through a window.”
They needed to figure this out fast without Batman’s help, they couldn't risk Deathstroke overhearing the plans.
“She’s a close-up fighter,” Drake proposed, “no notable skill with long-range weapons. The roof is going to be the safest place for now. Do Deathstroke or Renegade have a rifle?”
“Renegade’s got something on his back,” Todd muttered, the safest one to communicate with them, “Can’t tell what it is.”
“Even if they did,” Damian argued, “the angle’s wrong, not to mention that breaks the pattern. So far everyone’s throat has been cut.”
Drake sighed, “Roof it is.”
The fighting was now only two rooftops away.
“I need to get down there.”
“Go, Robin,” Oracle ordered, “we’ll handle this.”
He quickly laid his line and jumped, rappelling down in an arch, running along the building until it dropped out and he was airborne, flipping across the street and landing easily on the rooftop. The smile of satisfaction was short. Grayson had taught him that move years ago. Damian had never thanked him, had done his best to downplay anything kind or useful Grayson had ever done for him.
Yes, he would get his brother’s attention, killing Deathstroke could be a very effective distraction.
Before he made it to the other end Deathstroke was jumping the alley, followed swiftly by Batman.
Damian drew his sword and flew into the fight. It only took a few alternating attacks to see what his father meant. Deathstroke was indeed holding back. Yet, somehow, that wasn’t making him any easier to defeat.
The mercenary struck out at Batman while spinning away from a slash from Damian, catching Robin with his leg and knocking him down.
Damian rolled out of the fall then continued the motion into an aerial to avoid another leg. Not Deathstroke’s.
Grayson was between them now.
In fact, Deathstroke moved his fight with Batman to an adjoining building, both across the street from the safehouse.
Pushing aside his confusion at the blatant avoidance on the mercenary’s part, Damian feigned with his sword, striking with the other arm. It didn’t land but it allowed Todd’s blow to knock their brother forward into a kick to the gut.
Each time Damian tried to make his way back to Deathstroke, Grayson was there stopping him and taking a hit from Red Hood for his trouble. It was actually working.
Distantly he noted Drake informing them that they were making their way to another stairwell on the seventh floor, when gunfire rang out, making Damian and Todd jump back as a line of bullets cut in front of them from Deathstroke, allowing Renegade the time to pull something off his back and run to the ledge. They ran forward as Batman knocked the gun away but were stopped again when, in three quick moves, Renegade snapped the object into shape and was suddenly aiming some kind of gun at them.
The barrel was oddly shaped, there was no way it shot bullets.
He pumped it, then spun firing something barely visible in the night, up and across the street, three times in quick succession.
Movement from the other rooftop stopped.
Nothing seemed to happen but even with the mask there was no mistaking the smirk beneath it as Grayson looked back to them, “Boom.”
The moment slowed almost to a standstill.
The gun had fired charges.
They weren’t bothering trying to get in to cut Anders’s throat. They were going to blow the floor.
Batman was moving, maybe even before Grayson spoke; had figured out what was coming as it happened. His grappling gun was in his hand as he ran toward the building yelling, “Red Robin!”
Drake was in the building with Anders.
Batman was in the air.
Grayson dropped the gun and turned, Damian just making out a strangled, “No,” before the seventh floor blew outward.
( x . x )
The world ended in fire and pain. So much pain.
“Backhand,” the maniacal laughter echoed around the warehouse, “or forehand?” Something was broken. More than something. There was so much pain. How was he still alive?
Jason just wanted it to end.
Distantly, he thought he heard Batman as the bomb clicked down to zero.
Batman was thrown back through the air as the warehouse exploded.
Jason pulled Robin back, covering him, protecting him from the debris.
“You’re safe,” he held on tightly as the boy struggled, “I’ve got you, you’re safe.”
But he wasn’t, Robin was in the building. The warehouse. Smoke filled the air.
He was dead, his body hot from the flames. He let go of Robin as his stomach heaved. He was dead again. Batman hadn’t come.
Bomb Voyage, Birdy! Ah!Ha!Ha!Ha!Ha!!
Jason flinched away. Joker was going to kill him, beat him to death and leave nothing but a bloody mess for Batman to find.
He choked on the blood. No, on ashen air. No. He shook his head. His helmet filtered the smoke, he could breathe. He wasn’t Robin anymore. His ribs weren’t broken, they weren’t puncturing his lunges. He was fine. But he couldn’t be because the building was on fire. It was too late, he was already dead.
Jason saw him through the smoke. He had blown the building. Not again. Jason was going to kill him. Robin wasn’t going to die.
He ran forward, almost falling in relief. He could move, he could make it out in time before it blew.
He tackled Joker to the ground, the wide smile gleaming in the night. He was going to kill him, bust every one of those white caps out of his mouth.
The laughter circled around him as his fists connected. He wouldn’t stop, couldn’t stop until there was nothing left. There was nothing left but an empty shell of blood and pain.
Forehand? HaHaHa! Or backhand?
“Stop!” Robin was at his back.
Jason shrugged him off, “Get out of here!” Why was he still here? He never listened! Why couldn’t he just stay away? “Stay away! I won’t let him hurt you!”
Robin stopped in confusion, “What?”
Joker cackled, Poor broken birdy!
“Stop laughing!” Jason screamed, backhanding him, “You’re dead, clown!”
A sharp pain pierced his side and he arched into it, gasping.
The pain twisted as the blade was pulled free.
Joker had a knife. Hehe! Get my point?
Jason hit the elbow joint while grabbing his wrist, forcing the blade down, aiming for his heart, but only managing to get deep into his shoulder.
Robin was back, arm around Jason’s throat, holding tight.
The person beneath him wasn’t fighting back.
“Get off him, Hood!” Robin yelled in his ear.
“I’m sorry,” Renegade cried.
Damian finally pulled Jason away, just as another knife flew past them.
Dick was on the ground, groaning, still clutching the knife Jason had buried in his shoulder. The knife Deathstroke had thrown. The one Dick had pulled out.
Wilson was on the other rooftop stumbling toward them, Batman barely moving behind him. He had been blown back by the explosion. They’d all been distracted, hadn’t taken cover, because...oh, god, Tim was in the building.
The foggy feeling slowly began to recede.
A short gasp had Jason turning back to Dick. He’d pulled out the knife, had rolled onto his knees, shaking, clutching his shoulder as it bled.
Wilson had jumped the gap and was headed toward Dick.
He was going to take him again.
Everything came into sharp focus.
Damian snarled behind Jason and moved forward, maybe to intercept the mercenary, but Jason shoved the kid to the ground, made sure he was out of the way, that they were both behind the A/C unit as he unclipped a grenade and threw it at Deathstroke.
Specialty made, higher charge, one-second delay.
It hit the ground at Deathstroke’s feet and blew, throwing the mercenary back. His head struck the brick of the roof entrance, cracking the helmet in two, and sending him spinning like a pinwheel over the edge of the building.
Jason had one second to breathe, one second of relief, that he might have finally ended Deathstroke before Dick yelled, “No!”.
Wilson was already out of sight when Dick ran forward and dove over the edge after him.
With a useless arm.
The building was only six floors. There was no way Dick would be able to catch him and shoot a line in time. All Jason could think as he and Damian ran to the ledge, was that the brainwashed bastard was going to die trying to save his rapist. But then he heard the sound of a grappling line firing and saw it lock onto the brick.
Of course, Goldie would do the impossible.
Dick’s legs were wrapped around Wilson as the line snapped tight, the angle wasn’t enough for a smooth swing, and Dick screamed as the abrupt stop jerked his arm. His grip slipped an instant later and they dropped the remaining feet to the street below; Wilson hitting a car windshield with a satisfying crash and Dick rolling off onto the pavement.
Instead of sighing in relief, Jason swore as Dick slowly got to his feet and stumbled over to Wilson.
Jason looked over to the blown floor, papers and debris floating through the air, then to Batman who was groaning and trying to get to his feet.
Too much to do.
He turned to Damian, snapping out, “Do your job, Robin.”
He had a split second to enjoy the kid’s face twisting from surprise to affront before Jason set a hook and repelled down to the street. His side pulled where he could feel the knife wound, but ignored the pain as he focused below.
Now, with what seemed to be two useless arms, Dick had opted to try using the bleeding one to pull at Wilson. Jason could just make out him hissing, “Move it, you lazy ass!” while his other arm, clearly dislocated, hung at his side.
Jason pushed off the building and released the line, landing a car’s length away.
Renegade grabbed a gun from Slade’s belt and spun, pointing it at him. It looked painful, holding it up with the wound in his shoulder still bleeding slowly.
Jason cocked his head, taking an easy step forward, “Gonna shoot me, Goldie?”
The gun lowered a little but Jason couldn’t tell if it was because of pain or hesitation. “Well, you did stab me, Hood,” he said, trying to make it sound light.
Taking another step, Jason gave a short nod, technically true, but, “You blew up Tim.”
The gun dropped all the way this time, his posture turning to one of defeat, his voice soft, “Fair enough.”
He moved forward cautiously, he wasn’t going to drop his guard yet, Dick was still dangerous, who knew how stable he was after being with Wilson for so long.
“Drop the gun, Goldie, and get on your knees.”
“You heard me. Drop the gun and get on the ground, slowly.”
Dick took half a step back and Jason stopped.
“What are you waiting for?” Dick asked, his confusion clear.
Jason took a second to study Dick’s posture. Defeated but stiff. Bracing. Jason’s throat closed.
“Are you expecting me to kill you?”
The following silence answered him well enough, and had him snarling, “Drop the gun, Dickhead.”
Dick’s arm twitched, “If you’re not going to, then let us go.”
“Let you leave with him again?” Jason scoffed, “Not a chance.”
Dick couldn’t back away from him anymore without leaving Wilson’s side, so his stance firmed, showing he was ready for a fight, even with the gun still lowered, “We won’t come back to Gotham. I’ll make sure of it.”
“‘We’? Your Master gonna give you a choice?”
His jaw clenched, “I make my own decisions, Hood. He doesn’t force me to do anything.”
Jason let out an incredulous laugh, “You actually believe that, don’t you Goldie?” This was so messed up. “Let’s start easy here, step away from the brainwashing, geriatric rapist, and we’ll talk some more about this, huh?”
Dick’s grip on the gun tightened, it was a weak hold but he could probably still get it up if he pushed it.
Jason’s own hand moved toward his piece, “You don’t want to do that, Goldie.”
Dick’s arm had only started to raise when Jason pulled his out and shot him.
Renegade’s suit might have been armored but it was insulated for shit. The prongs from the taser punctured deep and Dick spasmed, the higher than normal voltage locking his muscles up and the gun fired, the bullet hitting the ground between them.
A sudden movement from Deathstroke had Jason cursing, not only the meta’s enhanced healing again but high-grade armor, and going for one of his lethal guns. The mercenary rolled off the car and grabbed the semi-conscious Dick as he began to fall, an arm around his torso and a knife at his neck.
“You piece of shit!” Jason snarled, unable to get a clear shot, “He just saved your life, he almost died for you!”
Wilson’s smile was bloody, almost hidden behind Dick, “Good boy,” he purred in Dick’s ear, tightening his hold.
Jason saw green. The gun had armor-piercing rounds in it. He’d already stabbed Dick’s shoulder. At this distance, he could shoot through him there and hit Slade in the chest. No problem.
Slade suddenly listed to the side. Jason saw a cluster of darts sticking out of his neck before he fell further behind Dick, his hand with the knife dropping.
Jason lunged forward, grabbing his brother and the knife as Batman collided with Deathstroke, taking him to the ground, where the mercenary stayed, unmoving.
Unmoving but not dead. Not yet. Jason dragged Dick further away, cursing Batman all the while.
Red Hood would go for the kill, always. But Jason...he hated that Batman could still read him so well after all this time. Jason continued to back away as he held his brother’s limp form tighter.
( )( )
The world was moving on the other side of smudged glass, familiar shapes and sounds trapped behind it. At some point, Richard realized he was in the cave. He’d been sedated, the feeling was familiar enough, light enough that he’d never fully lost consciousness.
He tilted his head, trying to follow the sound.
There was nothing to find. God, he hated being drugged.
You’re safe with me.
He couldn’t move.
A hand moved across his chest.
He couldn’t breathe, it was too shallow. He strained against the strap.
The low hum of murmuring continued as everything else slowly began to come into focus. Too slow. It wasn’t just his chest. He couldn’t move anything. He couldn’t see anything passed the light shining over him.
“...look at him.”
Look at you.
He needed to move, to get away.
“Dick, it’s alright.”
He gasped at the voice, thrashing on the table.
Tim was in the building. He’d shot the charges. He’d killed his brother. Why had they brought him to the cave?
“You’re going to pull the stitches, Dick, just stop.”
“Turn off the light, Replacement. Haven’t you ever been on there? He can’t see anything.”
Richard stopped moving and the light disappeared. It took a moment before his eyes adjusted to the dark, but then, “Tim?”
His brother gave him a small smile, “Yeah.”
“You’re alive,” he breathed. How?
He was out of his suit, some fresh bandages covering the left side of his neck and jaw. Burns?
It didn’t matter. It couldn’t, not when, “You’re alive,” the straps over his arms stopped him from reaching out, “I’m sorry Tim. If I had known you were in there-“
Tim placed a hand on his shoulder, calming his slightly, “I know, Dick. I saw the motion sensors you set up and was able to get out of the blast range,” his fingers brushed the bandages, “mostly. You’re probably worse off than me.”
That might explain why Richard felt so numb, some of the good pain killers. He looked down at himself. Bare-chested and covered in bruises, stitches in his left shoulder. He shifted his other, they’d already popped it back in. Besides the straps meant for the table, there were a few more added. “Went a little overboard tying me down, don't you think?”
“We really don’t,” Jason said, folding his arms.
For a moment, on the street, he had thought Jason was actually going to shoot him, a more secret part of him hoped that he would, but then...Dick flashed a small fond smile, hoping it was convincing, “You asshole, you tased me.”
“Yeah, I did. It was only satisfying to thirteen-year-old me.”
“That’s a lie.”
Jason’s head tilted, “Seventeen-year-old me probably enjoyed it even more.”
“Yeah, he would,” Dick glanced around, “Where’s Slade?”
Jason frowned, “Not here so it doesn’t matter.”
No, they wouldn’t bring him to the cave. “Probably the same facility as last time.”
“You’d have to ask Bruce,” Tim said, “he didn’t tell us.”
Jason stepped back, leaning against a workbench, “He’s under the impression we might take matters into our own hands.”
Richard noted the use of ‘we’ as he spotted a still costumed figure perched on a table and couldn’t help the smile, “Little D.”
He’d grown so much. Probably the same height Richard had been at that age.
“Your sentimentality was your downfall, Grayson,” Damian intoned.
Tim facepalmed, “Oh, for...“
He hopped off the table, “It was perfectly obvious how little you thought of my combat skills and we used it to our advantage.”
What? “I didn’t-“
“There is no point denying it. It’s insulting that you believed me to be below the ability I attained before ever coming here. You clearly thought I would wither and decay in your absence,” he spread his arms wide, “Well, here now, am a shell of myself, fragile and easily broken?”
“No, of course not,” his chin lifted high.
Richard smiled as he continued, the kid was as proud as ever.
“I am ever closer to the warrior I promised to become. No thanks to you. I have never required your-“
“I saw you swing in, Little D.”
Damian’s mouth snapped shut.
Richard kept his gaze strong, “It was smooth, I couldn’t have done better myself.”
His brother looked uncertain for a second before it switched back to unimpressed, “Not a surprise, I have very little use for teachers when I so quickly surpass their skill level. It would seem that you are the one in need of further training, Grayson,” he paused, “I will have to clear some of my time to assist you.”
“Sounds like a plan, Little D,” Richard wanted off the table, to wrap Damian in a hug that would have the kid whining but still leaning into him. It was an impulse that was almost unbearable since he first saw Robin two nights ago. It had been a while since he had needed to interpret Damian’s behaviors, but it was easy enough for him to see that he had hurt his brother deeply.
Damian’s fingers twitched, then relaxed as he stepped back, looking off to the side, “I’m glad you have yet to annoy anyone into your homicide. Though it seems a near thing.”
Jason looked back and forth at them, turning it into a head shake, muttering, “This family is doomed to be emotionally constipated,” he sighed, “If I let you out of that are you going to try and leave?”
Richard stayed silent, the answer was obvious enough.
“Yeah, I thought so. Probably try and break Wilson out even though the last time he was locked up you wanted to kill him?”
That felt like so long ago now. “Things change. And we both know he doesn’t need my help to escape.”
“No, he doesn’t,” Jason allowed, “Since we agree on that, how about we make a deal, Goldie?”
Richard frowned, “A deal?”
“Yeah. I don’t really feel like keeping you locked up, seems like a lot more effort than I want to put into it. So, you agree to stay here with us until Wilson breaks out.”
Richard glanced at the other two. They didn’t seem surprised by the offer and weren’t making any objections; they’d all come up with this. Probably not Bruce.
“You think I’ve been brainwashed, why would you believe anything I say?”
“Maybe very seriously deluded would be a better way to put it,” Tim tried.
“There’s nothing wrong with me.”
Jason snorted, “There was plenty wrong with you before you disappeared, Dickie, who knows what new messed up shit is floating around in your brain now.”
“Whatever I tell you, you’re not going to believe me,” Richard reminded, frustrated, "I don't even know why I'm here. I should be locked up with Slade.”
“Alright, for the last time,” Jason snapped, “even locked up, you wouldn’t be anywhere near him. We will keep you as far away from him as possible.”
He shook his head, “You’re overreacting.”
“Oh hohoho, really?” Jason leaned over him.
“Jason,” Tim cautioned.
“There is no overreacting in this situation,” Damian added, “We could set Deathstroke on fire and watch him burn to ash and still be justified in our actions.”
There was a beat of silence before Jason nodded in approval, “Agreed.”
He didn’t think the drugs could be wearing off yet but he was beginning to ache everywhere, or maybe it was just exhaustion. They were acting as they had years ago during the bomb crisis. As if he was still worth their protection. “You don’t understand.”
“So explain it to us, Dick,” Tim pled.
He just closed his eyes, shaking his head. Things were so different now, he was so different.
“We can’t leave you strapped to the table and we’re not going to put you in a cell, so work with us on this, Goldie.”
“I can’t be who you want me to be right now,” Richard ground out. There was no way they could make this work, “So I don’t see how we’re going to-”
“Promise Damian,” Tim demanded.
Richard opened his eyes and found his other brothers staring at Tim as well, who looked as sure and steady as he did whenever he had solved a case.
“Look him in the eye, Dick, and promise that you won’t even attempt to leave the grounds while Slade Wilson is still locked away, and we’ll believe you.”
Richard blinked, swallowing when Jason and Damian looked back to him. He didn’t like that Damian seemed so confused.
A triumphant smile was beginning to grow on Jason’s face as he added, “Unless you’re planning on lying to him.”
He sent his brother a withering look.
“For all we know, he could be escaping right now,” Tim added, “So is this really that much of an issue?”
They’d maneuvered him into a very nice corner. Richard would have celebrated them working together so well if it wasn’t against him.
Damian stood up straight, confidence rolling off him, “Stop putting off the inevitable, Grayson and end this ridiculous standoff.”
Richard raised his eyebrows. False confidence but he was playing it well.
“You will, of course, comply with my wishes, it is in your nature to fret over my well being, no matter how unnecessary. You would not condemn me to a restless sleep knowing you are being imprisoned in the cave,” Damian locked eyes with him in a challenge, “not on a school night.”
Richard barked out a laugh, unable to hold it back and realized he had quickly been joined by Jason and Tim.
“Wow, when did Alfred start teaching his guilt trips?”
Damian smirked, looking more pleased than smug but continued to stare at him, waiting.
Richard took a moment to look up into the darkness of the cave. He could already feel Slade’s disapproval. Yeah, there was a good chance he was going to get his ass beat for this.
He turned back to Damian, “I promise.”
Bruce wasn’t surprised to find the cave empty when he returned. He had already been on his way back when Alfred had informed of the deal his son’s had made. It was a smart move and he felt more positive after reviewing the footage of the interaction. They still didn’t know what Wilson had done to Dick but it was clear that it hadn’t changed him enough to erase loyalty and protectiveness toward Damian. Even his reactions to his other brothers were more natural than he had feared it would be.
He switched over to the manor surveillance. The cameras in Damian, Tim and Jason’s rooms were already disabled, it was always the first thing they checked when coming home. As he had hoped, Dick’s camera was still active and would most likely remain untouched, if for no other reason than to prove he wasn’t up to anything.
Jason was in there with him, he had helped him get into a shirt and immobilize his left arm but was now walking idly around the room while Dick finished dressing in the closet.
( )( )
“You’re trying to claim you’re in a relationship with Wilson?” Jason asked as Richard walked out of the closet.
“We’re both adults,” he frowned, feeling off wearing some of his old clothes. His body had changed in two years and they didn’t fit the same.
“ Now you are.”
He tried to hide his frustration, he knew Jason following him in here wasn’t going to go well.
Not even caring that he was trying to ignore him, Jason continued, “So full-on unsafe BDSM? You calling him master, him calling you slave?”
Some things never changed, Jason couldn’t just leave anything alone, “No.”
“Pet names then? That’s pretty standard in a relationship, right?”
He just wanted to fall face-first onto the bed, he’d probably be asleep in seconds.
“So he’s got a pet name for you?”
If Jason would just shut up, “I don’t want to talk about this, Jason.” His brother was clearly pushing for something and Richard didn’t want this to tip the wrong way.
Of course, he wouldn’t just let up, “Embarrassed because they’re too cute, would ruin his image? We talking sweetheart? Honeybun? Smoopsy-poo?”
Jason continued to stare at him, expectant.
“He…” Richard sighed, he doubted he would want to talk about this with Jason no matter who he was in a relationship with, but now he felt the need to show them he was fine, that he wasn’t trapt in some hell. “He calls me little bird.”
Jason’s face shifted, unreadable. Surprised because it sounded normal? He couldn’t tell.
“And that doesn’t bother you? I’ve seen you in the shower, Goldie, not very impressive, but ‘little’?
Dick huffed and rolled his eyes. He could do this. This was familiar. “I can see where the name might confuse you since that’s where I got your nickname, Little Wing.”
“Hilarious, Dick .”
“No,” Richard sighed with a smile, “Little bird’s what he’s always called me.”
Jason’s face hardened suddenly making Richard backtrack in his mind. What had he said?
“Always, huh?” Jason challenged, “That makes more sense, calling Robin that.”
“ Kid you really was little compared to him.”
And it tilted the wrong way.
“He call you that when he raped you?”
“Please,” Robin strained against the hold, desperate, “Don’t.”
“Oh, little bird.”
The flinch was small but Jason saw it, his eyes going wide. “Are you shitting me? What the hell, Dick? He calls you the same thing? How can you-“ Jason stopped, putting his hands up, “Forget whatever you think is happening now, we can and will come back to that,” he locked eyes with Richard, “Wilson raped you when you were fifteen.”
They were going to talk in circles. “I know that.”
“You’re sure as hell not acting like it,” Jason shouted, “You’re acting like nothing’s wrong. Like it’s normal for kids to hook up with their rapists. It’s not! It’s beyond messed up.”
He didn’t need that reminder, “I know it is, Jason.”
“Apparently you don’t! Or you wouldn’t...Do you know what you look like with him? How he-“ Jason’s hands clenched, “You were his human shield and he laughed. You jumped off a building with a busted arm and he…he called you a ‘good boy’, Dick.”
“Slade’s an asshole.” It didn’t change the fact that he would do it again.
“You didn’t even hesitate. None of this is normal, Dick. How you—You know what all of this sounds like right? He’s been grooming you.”
“Get out,” Richard snarled, his heart suddenly racing. He knew what grooming was and that… he had only been with Slade for a month before, it was over ten years before he sought him out.
“Since you were a teenager, until-”
With his good arm, he shoved Jason back a few steps, “I said get out! I promised I wouldn’t leave, not that I would stand here and listen to you talk shit at me.” Jason was trying to explain everything by making Richard the victim.
“Shit, sure, but verified psychology, Goldie.”
Seriously? Dick laughed, “You really want to start talking about psychological problems, Jason?”
Jason paused, then snorted, glancing away, “We’d be here all damn day.”
Grateful for the break in the tension, Richard took a deep breath and sighed, “This family,” he shook his head and sat on the end of his bed, “I know you won’t believe me but I chose this,” he continued quickly before Jason could interrupt, “I’m pretty sure you all have the wrong idea about what happened. Slade didn’t abduct me, I went to him.”
Jason stilled, “What?”
“After everything that happened with Blockbuster, I chose to go to him. And chose to stay.”
The silence stretched out. Jason seemed to be debating something before he finally asked, “Why?”
“Because…” It wasn’t an easy question. Certainly not one he had the patience to try and explain to anyone right now, “Just because, for now, alright? As...messed up as this is, and I know it’s messed up Jason, I seriously do, Slade and I are together. We live together, watch movies on the couch. Last month we tried a vegan chili recipe, made it together and everything, it was disgusting. But we had fun. As much as you may hate it, this is how it is,” he wet his lips, “This is how I am.”
If anyone could understand it was going to be Jason. What his brother had gone through and how much he had changed, Richard wanted desperately for him to understand, to have at least one member of his family look at him and not see something broken. He was so tired of being broken, feeling like the pieces would never fit together again.
Jason sat down next to him but the silence stretched on.
He felt his brother glance at him a few times, his hands flexing and relaxing convulsively where they lay on his thighs.
“You got a nickname for him?” Jason asked quietly.
Richard’s heart dropped and he covered his face, he didn’t want to start this again, “Jason, please just leave.”
“But you probably wouldn’t need one with a name like Deathstroke.”
Richard turned to Jason to see him making an obscene gesture with his fist.
“Especially if you’re familiar with Shakespearean metaphor.”
Huh? Shakespeare? He bit back a groan. The little death . Richard’s head fell forward into his right hand again, “Oh my god, Jason.”
He held back a sob. He wanted things to be normal so much. He wanted to sit here with his brother making stupid jokes. He just felt so tired. He knew it couldn’t, it wouldn’t last. No matter what he said Jason was still going to want to kill Slade.
But he was trying, at least. Richard hadn’t seen that expression on his brother’s face in a long time. Awkward and uncertain. And hopeful. A sad olive branch that Dick never could turn down.
“You have the emotional maturity of a twelve-year-old.”
Jason bumped their shoulders together, “Makes sense. It must have stopped maturing after I died.”
Richard groaned, “And no tact whatsoever.”
Jason smiled, “Left it in my grave.”
“You seriously did, you zombie,” he snarked, but smiled back and kept it in place as his thoughts shifted to the bigger issues.
He couldn’t leave until Slade escaped. He had given his word. And if this was any indication, he was going to spend most of his time here justifying his choices. Not even that, trying to convince them that he had actually made the choices. He almost wanted to lie to them, to keep this going. It was clear they were giving him this chance, that they were trying to help him because they believed Slade had somehow forced him to do everything. He doubted they even knew everything he had done and with each admission, they were going to begin pulling away, they would finally see what he really was and this respite would end, leaving him where he would always end up. With Slade.
Hoo boy, I did it! Finished the chapter and posting. Bam
Flashbacks and memories are in Italics and inception level flashbacks and memories are also Bolded.
Be ready. Many things happen. I was going to divide the chapter up but then said, ‘Nah! Give them all of it!”
I’m crossing my fingers, my tablet is acting up and the formatting is taking forever. Hopefully it sticks.
( )( )
“Master Richard,” Alfred chided, “you should still be in bed.”
He smiled as he stopped at the kitchen door, “I’m too used to getting up early, Alfred,” he shifted his stance, “Sorry about the pajamas.”
He had tried unstrapping his arm to change his shirt, but the pain meds left on the bed-side table hadn’t kicked in yet, and it just didn’t feel worth dealing with yet.
“It’s hardly an issue, Master Richard. We’ll have one of your brothers help you after breakfast. With so many of you home, I’ve set up breakfast in the dining room.”
Richard kept the smile up, “I guess sneaking some food from the kitchen is out of the question?”
“Quite, especially since Master Damian will soon be leaving for school and has been asking after you.”
Smooth. “Dining room it is.” Richard waited a second before he took a step forward and hesitantly wrapped his arms around the man. He had seen him the night before but hadn’t been able to work up the nerve to do more than give an awkward hello. Much like the clothes he was wearing, everything seemed ill-fitting, not quite right. Even this hug was wrong and Richard knew it was because of him.
He was about to pull away when Alfred embraced him back, his voice ever soothing, “Welcome home, Master Richard.”
And for a moment he was lost in the familiarity, the countless times he had surprised the old butler with a hug. He still smelled the same as he had when Richard was eight.
Alfred stepped back, the line on his face somehow more prominent than a moment ago, and prodded him on, “Hurry now, before Master Damian must leave.”
He turned to the dining room and took a breath. Normal. He could do this.
Even if everyone stopped talking as soon as he entered the room. Tim and Damian were seated by the windows and Jason across from them, closest to the door. Bruce wasn’t there. He hadn’t seen him last night either. It was so normal for the man that Dick wasn’t sure if he was intentionally absent.
“Finally,” Damian said, “I was about to have Alfred go and get you.”
“He wouldn’t have done it,” Jason huffed and kicked out the chair next to him, “Pull up a chair, Goldie. I’m pretty sure Alfie broke some kind of personal honor code getting this breakfast ready.”
Stepping up the table, Richard finally noted the food and almost startled. Jason was right, in all the years since Richard had lived at the manor, Alfred had never willingly set out a box of cereal, certainly not the sugar monstrosity in front of him. He had eventually worn the man down to not throwing away the boxes he snuck in, but he always had to bring them out himself, feeling only a little bad continuously turning down the many balanced breakfasts the butler had prepared. Not that it was an everyday thing but he had tried to get away with it as often as possible.
But now all he could do was stand there.
“Huh?” Dick watched Slade pack some equipment.
“I’m going to pick up some groceries on my way back. Is there anything you want me to get for you?”
Dick felt suddenly hopeful, “Some cereal.”
Slade made a face of distaste, not surprising, the only thing Slade kept in the kitchen were ingredients, no actual premade meals, which were the only things Dick had had at his apartment.
“Anything specific or are you leaving that up to me?”
“Hell no, I’ve been unwillingly leaving it up to you for over a month now. Lucky Charms, Captain Crunch, Golden Grahams, you know, the good ones.”
“The good ones,” Slade repeated slowly.
“Yeah, nothing with whole wheat, bran or grain in the title.”
Slade continued to stare at him from across the training mat, “No.”
“What? Why?” he demanded.
“I’m not getting something where sugar is the main ingredient.”
“You asked me what I wanted.”
“Which was a mistake,” Slade turned away.
“No, Slade,” Dick ran over, cutting him off, “please, just one box of Lucky Charms.”
The mercenary didn’t look impressed, “You’re like an addict, Richard. Are you in need of a sugar fix?”
Dick wanted to snap at him, but that would only be used to prove Slade’s claim, “Sugar is one thing, Slade, but you’ve got nothing sweet in this house,” he pointed a finger at Slade when he opened his mouth, “Fruit doesn’t count,” making Slade huff in amusement, “I’m going to go crazy.”
“Withdrawals can be like that.”
Dick’s hand clenched in a fist and he dropped it, “Come on, it doesn’t even have to be cereal, just something sweet. Please,” he added feeling a little desperate.
Slade tilted his head, considering Dick more intently than he thought necessary. He had debated giving a puppy dog face but the sudden focus made him feel uncertain. Slade’s hand came up, cupping his face and he wanted to knock it away and step out of his reach. Why had he gotten so close? Out of training and bed, Slade wouldn’t even try to touch him, would keep his distance, but had made it clear that he would take any opportunity Dick gave him. And Dick continued doing this, getting close without thinking it through.
“I’ll bring you something sweet,” Slade promised.
“Not fruit,” Dick demanded.
Slade laughed, “Not fruit,” he agreed.
Then they continued to just stand there. Slade was expecting something, he wasn’t going to move until, “Thank you,” Dick tried.
Slade’s smile turned indulgent and he leaned in, leaving only a few inches between them and stopped again, waiting.
Dick hesitated, knowing what Slade wanted but... then closed the distance meeting Slade’s lips.
The mercenary deepened it, arm pulling him closer, but surprised him by keeping it soft. When Slade pulled away his hand was on Dick’s chest, he could feel how fast his heart was beating.
“So excited, little bird,” Slade murmured.
What? No, that wasn’t-
“I’ll only be gone for a few days, then I can take care of that for you.” One last kiss then he turned away, “Until then, I left a training schedule on the workbench.”
“What?” Dick asked in surprise, “I know how to train without-”
“Of course you do, but can you do it well?”
The indignant squawk Dick made was actually embarrassing.
“This isn’t a vacation, Richard, show some improvement and you’ll get your sugar fix.”
Dick was outraged, “You’re holding it for ransom?”
“Using it as an incentive,” Slade finished packing the case, “It’s too late now but maybe in the future, if you show enough improvement, you can come with me on a job and choose your own.”
Richard stared at the cereal box before scooping some eggs onto a piece of toast. He could feel his brother’s eyes on him. Slade hadn’t gotten any cereal but he had given Richard a pint of ice cream, which he had to portion out over the rest of the month. The only time they had gotten cereal, Slade had surprised him with a box of Lucky Charms after he had gone on his first successful assassination. He had ended up leaving it for Rosie when she visited.
“Alfred said he left a half an hour ago,” Tim frowned, “He stayed in the cave all night.”
“Surprise, surprise,” Jason muttered, before turning to Richard, “What’s with the hair? Please tell me you’re not growing it out for that ponytail again, that was embarrassing enough the first time.”
He couldn’t tell them that Slade liked to grip his hair hard and pull or use it to hold him down. It would probably be worse to say he enjoyed laying his head in the man’s lap as he carded his fingers through it.
Richard smiled and brushed some of the strands out of his face, “I don’t know, I thought I looked pretty good. Just because you can’t pull off half my flare...”
“I don’t want to, Dickie, keep that flare to yourself.”
“I think it looks fine,” Tim put in.
“You would,” Jason scoffed, “yours is almost as long as his.”
“It’s impractical for combat,” Damian said with a mouth full of bread.
“Are we really going to sit here talking about my hair?”
Jason’s face turned deceptively pleasant, “Are you willing to talk about something else?”
Richard’s jaw tightened. No, he didn’t want to start up their conversation from last night. What were they going to do at the mansion all-day? Even before he left, they only all came over for missions or some kind of event. They couldn’t have thought this plan of theirs through.
The silence lasted a moment too long.
“Tt, I knew it. I’m staying home. I obviously can’t leave you three here alone, you’ll drive him away before I return,” Damian wiped his mouth, “As Grayson’s favorite it falls upon me to keep him entertained.”
“Just leave, you little brat,” Jason snapped.
“Alfred,” Tim hollered, “Damian’s going to be late.”
Richard covered his mouth, stifling a laugh.
“I’m not going anywhere!”
“Damian,” Richard soothed, “I promised, didn’t I? I’ll be here when you get back.”
The teen waited a beat before standing, “I trust you, of course, Grayson, it is these two who are-”
“Alfred’s honking the horn, Demon Spawn, don’t make him wait.”
Damian glowered at Jason and the obvious lie, then ran around the table, giving Richard a tight hug before hurrying out the door.
Richard hadn’t even had time to return the hug and was left smiling after him, slightly shocked by his brother’s willing affection. It had been a while.
Taking a deep breath, he turned back to Jason and Tim.
Bruce studied Slade Wilson through the meta-grade glass and the mercenary, standing in the center of the room, studied him right back. Unlike last time, Wilson was in a cell, inhibitor collar in place, fully shackled, restricting his movement beyond being able to relieve himself; he would have to hunch over to even eat. There were cameras in each corner and several in the viewing room, not to mention proximity sensors to alert them whenever he moved too close to the door or viewing wall. They weren’t taking any chances this time.
And yet, Wilson was just as unphased as last time, leave Bruce on edge.
After he had returned to the cave, he had worked through the night, ensuring Anders was taken to a new secure location and trying to find the link between the victims. He had done what he could but often found himself distracted by the security feed from the mansion. Dick had slept a few hours but woke long before dawn and had continued to lay in bed, staring out at nothing.
Bruce had debated going up to speak to him, Alfred suggested it as well when he came down to bring him coffee, but he stayed. And he felt like a coward for it.
He had been a coward more than he liked to admit when it came to Dick, using the excuse that Dick wanted his independence, that he would refuse Bruce’s help...that Robin had his own team to worry about. By ending their partnership he had hoped to steer Dick toward a normal life, away from the danger of a vigilante’s life, but instead, Dick had risen like it was a challenge, starting anew in another city. It had been months after the incident with Deathstroke, almost half a year before the League had even heard about it. It had stung, though he couldn’t say much, it wasn’t as if he had been trying to reach out to his ward during that time.
Robin wouldn’t talk to him about it, had downplayed the entire thing. The rest of the team, still feeling guilt over their part in Robin’s captivity, had followed suit, resisting inquiries from almost the entirety of the Justice League, not that they had seemed to know much anyway. He had gotten the report from their database but it hadn’t told him much more, it lacked any kind of details. Robin had refused any medical treatment beyond some aspirin. The lack of information was completely unacceptable but it was months too late to learn anything beyond what Dick would tell him, which was nothing.
It wasn’t until the bomb scare years later that the blanks were finally filled.
“Tell me where the bombs are,” Nightwing demanded.
“And why would do that?”
Why indeed. Other than the mystery of a month spent with the mercenary, they hadn’t had any other personal interactions in the years since then.
Dick’s voice was quiet, “Because you owe me.”
Bruce expected Deathstroke to laugh, to brush it off, but he didn’t. He reacted by carefully not reacting, which started the alarms in his mind. No one in the room seemed to know where the conversation would go, and the longer it went on, the more the collective unease grew. There were very obvious things being left unsaid, but… no, Bruce pushed aside the implications. Wilson was simply trying to get a rise out of Nightwing or, more likely, going off the looks he was giving the mirror, the group watching.
But then Wilson agreed. Asked for paper and began writing locations. The League had been at this for hours and Nightwing had gotten his cooperation in less than ten minutes.
The group was thrown.
Bruce turned to Cyborg, demanding, “What happened?” He didn’t need to specify, it was obvious what he meant.
The young man shook his head, “I don’t know,” he said, sounding like he wished he did.
Jason stepped forward, “What the hell were they talking about in there?”
“Don’t know what?” Damian demanded.
Cyborg kept the explanation short, “Deathstroke infected our team with nanobots that could kill us with the touch of a button and used it to control Nightwing, then Robin, for a month. Robin never told us everything that happened,” Victor looked at Bruce, “And that never changed.”
“How can you not know?” Jason snapped, the conversation in the other room clearly having gotten to him, “You were part of his team.”
Cyborg stood firm, “And the Justice League is a team but we don’t tell each other everything.”
“You keeping ten million dollars worth of secrets, Vic?”
Victor pursed his lips but gave no answer.
A debt worth ten million dollars.
The silence was tense as they waited for Wilson to complete the list.
He didn’t want Dick in there any longer than was needed, hadn’t wanted to give in to him in the first place, but they had been out of ideas.
Bruce was proud of the way Dick was handling himself in there when he clearly wanted to be anywhere else.
Wilson handed over the finished list. Dick walked to the door.
It couldn’t be this easy.
Wilson smiled and Bruce tensed. “Have you had sex with anyone else?”
The smallest movements stopped. The air in the room seemed drawn out. Whoever wasn’t watching in there with Bruce was watching the security feeds. Everyone knew. And Bruce stood there, feeling his heart implode, as a voice pulled at his mind.
Bile rose. No. Not Dick. This was never supposed to happen to him.
The room erupted as Nightwing lunged. He got one hit in before Clark was suddenly there, pulling him away. Dinah blocked the door preventing a snarling Jason with an unholstered gun from getting out, most the room close behind him. Cyborg stood off, alone, looking broken.
Bruce continued to stare into the room at the mercenary and even though the mirror was one way, Wilson stared back.
Bruce had instructed the League to stay back, at least to only watching over the security feed, he would be doing this alone.
“What is the rest of your contract?” Bruce pressed, “Robin injured Ravager and she wasn’t there last night, so I’m guessing you sent her off to handle whatever is next.”
“You already know that you can’t make me tell you anything. Why don’t you go ask Renegade? You saved him from me, didn’t you?” Wilson mocked, “Has he not told you my evil plans yet?”
“He doesn’t know.”
Wilson looked pleased, “You haven't even asked him. You claim to care for my boy, yet you’re here with me,” he tilted his head forward, “I haven’t been here long, have you even spoken to Renegade yet?” At Bruce’s silence he laughed, “You’re making this too easy Batman.”
“Are there anymore targets?”
Wilson began to pace in front of the window, making it seem leisurely, even with the short chains around his ankles, “When did you even realize he was gone?” He asked, sounding genuinely interested, “I’m curious, since no one from your bat cult set foot in Bludhaven for almost a week afterward.”
An entire week without realizing something was wrong. Not having enough time to remember to check in. “We were busy with-”
“More important things?” Slade smiled. “Yes, the gang wars were quite time-consuming. And the mission is first, after all. You drilled that into him thoroughly. He wasn’t even surprised when I told him no one was looking for him. Simple acceptance.”
Bruce’s chest tightened. That couldn’t be true. He would believe anger before that.
WIlson’s eye brightened, “Do you know what we were doing for that week you didn’t care enough to check on him? When any trail that might have been left, went cold?”
No, his mind was already providing too many possibilities.
“After everything that happened, the life he had built for himself, turned to literal ash and corpses, he wasn’t in the right mind to begin training,” he tilted his head, “so he barely left my bed.”
Batman clenched his jaw, his fists following, “Who contracted-“
“I kept him drugged, of course,” Wilson interrupted and Batman stiffened, unable to stop himself from picturing it.
“At first. Alternating sedatives and stimulants to induce anxiety and panic. He’s so tactile when seeking comfort.” Wilson rubbed his hands over his thighs slowly, “Have you noticed?” The mercenary shook his head, “Even if you did, you don’t seem the type for physical affection. It’s no wonder he’s always been so touch starved. He used to hate how I exploited that trait. It must have been a subconscious pull when he tracked me down, he was barely functioning; slipping in and out of complete dissociation.”
Wilson’s eye became sharp, “I suppose I should thank you for that, for everything you’ve done to him, that after murdering Desmond and all those others, he ran to me instead of you.”
Had he? No. Bruce cursed not at least getting some of Dick’s story, Wilson was right, he was making this too easy for him.
“The drugs helped to keep him in that fun, desperate, state just a bit longer. And I needed to make sure your indoctrination didn’t force him to make any rash decisions. Guilt can be a dangerous emotion, compelling us into actions against our best interests. I told him as much, argued my case...hard,” he smiled, “Maybe argue is the wrong word, Renegade never countered anything I said. By the end of that first week it was clear he agreed with me completely. The drugs were a precaution and some fun for me, but ultimately unnecessary. Not once has he tried to leave, or contact you. Not even when I began sending him out alone.”
If any of what Wilson was saying was true, he could possibly use the footage to break through whatever he had done to Dick. But it seemed too easy. Again.
“You’re much more talkative than you were the last time you were imprisoned.”
“I have nothing to hide, Wayne,” Slade said, lifting an eyebrow. “Anything I tell you, my little bird already knows. I was hardly covert with my manipulations. I never had to spell it out. Renegade isn’t a fool. We were both very aware of what I was doing to him.”
Dick, willingly going along with Wilson’s plans, allowing him to…
A thought came unbidden to his mind. Not ten million dollar debt, but an investment. He pushed the thought back, “And Rose?”
Wilson stopped pacing, his smile vanishing.
“Exactly how aware is she? Does she know her father kidnapped and raped a teenage boy?” This was the right track, “If we have to end the contract without your help and we come across her, do you think she would be interested in the details of your relationship with Nightwing?”
Wilson stepped closer to the window, gaze intent, and, worryingly, the hint of a smile on his lips, “And maybe that is something else you should bring up with my little bird...when you finally find the time to speak to him. He has strong opinions on the matter of my daughter.”
Wilson straightened, “That’s something I know you’re aware of, my bird’s protective nature, since you exploited it so well in the field. If not for the attention your most recent Robin drew, the outcome would have been much different. Not that it matters in the long run, I won’t be away from my little bird for long.
It was the continued use of the endearment that finally made Bruce snap out, “You’ll never see him again, Wilson, I’m making sure of that myself. Your going to wither and decay in a cell until you’ve been forgotten and he’ll be nothing but a memory in your twisted mind.”
Wilson took on a slightly crazed looked, his voice cruel, “And I have so many memories of him already, Wayne. Some of the sweetest are of my little Robin begging. It was a pleasure he wouldn’t give easily, his pride wouldn’t allow it. I would have to lash his back bloody or lock him in darkness for nearly a week before he would beg to be let out. He has always been so strong, dealt pain often enough to resist. No, it was the rewards that he had no defense against. Ward of a billionaire by day, mysterious vigilante by night and yet still a virgin at fifteen. I imagine that was due, partially, to your public image, didn’t want to be called a slut and a playboy like his guardian. All the better for me. He was shocked, so unprepared, that he was begging before I even spread him open. I had never seen him cry before that moment.
“He couldn’t properly resist me like he wanted, not without risking his teammates, so I eventually began taking him to my bed; cuffing him to the posts allowed him the outlet he desired. Did you ever notice the scars circling his wrists? He would become so worked up he would wear them bloody...in the beginning. Soon enough he no longer needed them; he began to enjoy it. He never realized it of course, but soon he would be moving with me, still begging, but now for his master to pleasure him.”
Batman was out the door and into Wilson’s cell before he finished the last sentence. One heartbeat and he was on him, each blow landed precisely where he wanted. Thanks to the meta’s healing he didn’t hold back, he could do a great deal of damage without killing the man. More than one bone was broken. Blood was streaming from his nose when arms pulled Bruce back.
J’onn held him firm as Diana moved a limping Wilson away.
The mercenary spat blood on the floor as he laughed, “The only sound more delicious than his pleadings were the moans when I made him come.”
Diana’s knee came up hard into his gut, cutting his laughter short, before throwing him into the wall. Had they not been built to withstand super strength Bruce was sure Wilson would have gone through. She left him there walking back to them, her gaze full of compassion as she met his seething rage, “Be done, he will tell you nothing more but pain.”
She had known him long enough to see he was still intent on Slade, so she nodded to J’onn to drag him out.
"Even with all of that,” Slade called from the floor, “He took such unwanted pleasure in my praise. I always knew he'd come back to me eventually, or I would never have let him go. He was always going to be mine, I simply had to wait. And here we are; Richard is nothing if not loyal, and now he is loyal to me. Ask him what you want, Wayne, and see how he answers.”
Slade was smiling when Bruce looked back, “Renegade knows where he belongs.”
( )( )
Time was fuzzy for Dick, had been since Blockbuster. He’d lay on the bed, in this room, doing nothing for minutes or hours or days, he wasn’t sure, barely able to move but when he did it was sluggish and uncoordinated; generally unable to hold onto thoughts long enough to act on them. He’d almost made it to the door once, crawling across the floor, but Slade had come back in and simply carried him back. He’d carry Dick to the bathroom, bring him food, but never let him leave the room. Had Dick even asked to leave yet? He just kept trying. When he remembered. Half the time Dick was awake he forgot he was trying to leave, too busy...too busy…
Something soft and wet traced over his chest, making his gasp and arch up.
Not now, now he could move, but he couldn’t figure out what to move first and all he could seem to do was shake and flinch.
“What did you give me?” The words barely made it passed his lips. His heart was hammering in his chest, no matter how much he breathed it wouldn’t slow down. Everything was too much. “I can’t,” his eyes kept jumping around the room, “I can't focus.”
Something tickled his jaw and Dick followed the sensation, back and forth, back and forth. How long? Dick shook his head and leaned back, hiccupping out, “Stop.”
A hand slid down his back, down, down. Still no clothes. He never had any here. Everything tingled. Everything hurt and felt new.
Slade wrapped a leg over him and Dick moved closer until all he could feel was flesh. Did it feel good? It hurt less at least. It was a relief when he was touched; when he was moving. If he stopped then his skin was going to peel itself off.
It took all of his concentration to push even the softest words out, whispers meant to fill the room, “I’ve been on something since I got here.” How many days?
Something moved through his hair, a voice murmured, “Various things, yes.”
Sweat dripped down between them.
Dick was shaking. Too still, too calm, too painful. Dick wiggled against the heat and the hands began to move again, the leg rubbed against his.
“So you don’t leave. I know you, little bird.” There were so many hands touching him, too many, Slade didn’t have that many. Birds were pecking at his skin. Was it the blankets? They were being pulled against him.
“You overthink. You’ll do something stupid, like turn yourself in.”
“All that would do is put you behind bars.”
Breathing was easy, he was breathing too much. The air was hot around him. He needed to make a sound with the breath, “-deserve it.”
“Do you?” Flesh moved, the eye was next to his own. He couldn’t look away. “Or do you just want to be punished?”
He needed it. He was breaking apart. Someone had to stop him. “Deserve-“
Slade swallowed his words, teeth tugging at Dick’s lips. “I can punish you, little bird. If that’s what you really want.”
He remembered. Slade always punished him. It always hurt.
Dick’s hands found the skin and pulled.
His hands were stopped, the pressure hurt. The stillness hurt. “This isn’t a punishment, it never has been. I can find a way to punish you later.”
Slade rolled and Dick was under him. The eye was there. Not the mask. “After all, that is why you came to me.”
A hand wrapped around his throat. How could he breathe any faster? He could feel his pulse through every vein.
“Because I can give you what you deserve.”
It always hurt. It hurt now.
“Isn’t that right?”
Was it? He needed...he deserved…
Pressure from a thumb and his mouth fell open, his breathing heavy.
“You’re so sensitive on this mix,” Slade was close, then far away. Too far away. Too still.
Dick wrapped around him with everything he had, his mouth sucking at the finger. Salt. Bitter oil. A bead of sweat dropped on his cheek, he could smell old smoke.
Slade pressed down over him and everything felt better. The eye locked him in place as fingers traced through the sweat on his sides, “I was going to let you even out but I think I’ll continue giving you this a while longer.”
Dick’s heart was beating so fast he thought it might break apart, as he whispered, “Okay.”