The land blurred beneath him. How could Slade force him to leave like that? And how could he just leave?
Slade hadn’t wanted to use that, he could hear it in his voice. He commanded him to leave, to run away. Far away. Far far away was what he had felt.
So he ran away. Or flew away, while Slade was fighting for his life.
Far away. Far away. This could be far away.
He landed quickly, changing into Renegade and immediately kicked back, breaking a low branch off a tree. Switching to himself, he fell to the ground. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t...he hadn’t even looked back. Nightwing's eyes were far better than Renegade’s. What would have happened if he had seen Thomas? Would he have turned back?
This wasn’t the plan. Win the battle, get the boon, Slade interrogates Thomas, Dick stays far away.
How could he leave Slade like that? Damn him for using that word.
He could be dead, he could be dying and Dick was doing nothing.
When he felt the pull. He immediately jumped and changed into Nightwing, taking flight. He had to return, his master needed him. Which one? He couldn’t tell. He only knew that he was needed. His wings strained, pushing to get there as quickly as his body could manage.
His master wasn’t calling for him, this wasn’t the same feeling. It was more like the compulsion to protect the Knight. Was he close enough to Thomas that he could feel that again? Had he not gotten far enough away. Was Thomas dying? He tried to strain against the pull but his body didn’t falter. Who needed him?
The sun had lowered to the point above the mountain, Metropolis in the far distance, when the feeling eased, he was almost there. He angled down, weaving through the branches.
There. On the ground, a cloaked figure resting against a tree. Slade.
Flying in, he changed back to himself, landing lightly at his feet.
“Slade?” he whispered.
The head dropped back against the tree and Dick quickly untangled the cloak, pulling it away and froze. Slade was gagged, his one good eye almost swollen shut. Based on the amount of blood that covered his face from a now closed head wound, his healing was at least still working. Blood had soaked through the entire front of his shirt, his armor missing, from some unseen wound that Dick prayed had also healed and the man was shaking his head at Dick, looking thoroughly pissed as he strained his arms that were pulled back around the tree.
No. No, no, nonono. Free him and run. Free him and run. But Slade wasn’t tied with a rope, he could have phased through that. His arms were shackled, the cuffs engraved with the same language that encircled his own wrists.
“As I said..”
Dick choked on the air, his throat closing as the familiar voice sounded behind him.
“...you didn’t need to call for him to come. He will always come flying back with your life in danger. It is how the magic works.”
Dick met Slade’s apologetic gaze as Thomas continued, “Come to me, Talon.”
He slipped two blades quietly to the ground by Slade’s hands. Could he reach them? Would they even matter? They were too big to pick the locks but that was all he could manage as his body stood and walked over to Thomas. He could see a few talons now, in the shadows of the trees, Thomas must have used them to overpower Slade. Dick wouldn’t believe Thomas could have done it alone, no matter how skilled he was.
Thomas, who was looking Dick up and down, frowning.
They had changed everything they could in the last few weeks, cutting Dick’s hair, getting him different clothes and armor. They had kept the weapons, he’d spent the last three years training hard with them, but now he was covered in a deep brown leather armor over the brilliant blue shirt Slade had gotten for him.
When Dick reached him, Thomas cupped the back of his head and pulled him into a kiss.
Dick kept his eyes open, he had to see everything, he couldn’t risk coming to himself weeks later as he had in the beginning. As awful as some memories were, they were better than the blank spaces.
Thomas’ eyes stayed open as well, not watching Dick though, his eyes staring passed him toward Slade.
The kiss was hard, claiming, serving no other purpose than to assert his ownership. Dick prefered it by far to what Thomas normally did.
Pulling away, Thomas flicked the leather in disdain, “What is this? Take it off.”
Dick fought it, his hands moving slowly to comply, “Thomas-”
“ Obey .”
The word shot through Dick and he dropped to his knees. Thomas wanted him there. He may not have ever said it but Dick had ended up in this position enough times to know. He began working at the straps to his armor, his mind beginning to slip into that quiet place he had found, his body going numb.
They had lost. Slade was defeated, secured with magic. Dick felt the same. He couldn’t go back to this, he couldn’t continue to fade away again, but what could he do? With one word he was silenced. With one word he was killing. He had no way to protect Slade. If he begged for Slade’s life, Thomas would make Dick kill the man himself, if he wasn’t already planning that. It had happened before with Helena. He couldn’t do that again but how was he supposed to remain quiet when facing Slade’s death?
His throat felt tight, he wasn’t getting enough air. His hand began to tremble as they continued their work, his vision blurring.
Thomas made a noise, then lowered himself in front of Dick, waiting until the last of the armor had dropped before reaching out and stilling his hands, “Oh, Talon,” his voice full of compassion, “you’re safe, I have you back now.”
Dick held back an hysterical laugh. Thomas’ couldn’t be this obtuse, he was too observant, too clever for this to be anything but intentional. But at the same time, he was always so sincere in everything he said to Dick, did he truly only see what he wanted? Could he believe that Dick actually wanted him back?
With one of his hands still holding Dick’s wrists, Thomas pulled him closer. And Dick went. His mind growing more still with each moment.
Thomas’ free hand roamed over him, moving his shirt, checking for injuries his mind supplied, because he cared. Then he wasn’t simply checking him over, the hands were caressing, wrapping around him.
Dick thought he heard a cough but then Thomas was kissing him again and that was all he could focus on. He was being soft now and Dick hated it, hated how, even now he wanted to fall into his uncle’s arms and be safe. The hands were under his shirt, moving up his sides. He twitched away from the sensation and Thomas smiled.
This was what he wanted. He wanted Dick to laugh, to reciprocate, to burrow into his arms. Part of him wanted to, it would be easier than fighting. And Dick would, he had, all it would take was one word and Dick would disappear as his body obeyed.
Slade cleared his throat pointedly, louder, muffled because of the gag but it still pulled Thomas’ focus, making Dick tense up.
Thomas made a shushing noise, both hands pulling free of the shirt and rubbing over Dick’s arms.
“Upset that he is mine, Wilson?” Thomas asked, his voice dangerous, “He was always mine. You may have gotten a hold of him again but he was never yours, no matter what you put him in.” In one swift motion, Thomas took hold of the front of his shirt and tore it open.
Dick convulsed at the tearing sound, finally telling his body to pull away and Thomas lost his grip at the unexpected move. He fell onto the ground and began crawling backwards.
“Stop!” Thomas growled and Dick froze in place. His uncle’s face was contorted in a snarl but he wasn’t looking a Dick.
He began stalking toward Slade, “You believe you can take him from me?” he asked softly, unsheathing a knife.
His heart seized, “Thomas, no!” Dick pled, “Please-”
Dick choked on his words.
“You allow him to beg, Wilson?” Thomas asked, leaning over him. Slade’s legs were free, why wasn’t he at least trying to kick him away?
“Not surprising, someone like you would feel powerful having someone else begging. You did it before didn’t you? Had him beg you when he was younger? He told me about his time with you, about the kiss. A brilliant way to build an infatuation in a teenager. You’ve wanted him ever since haven't you? Wanted what you could never have?” He held up the knife, “Look at where your ill advised fascination with my property has gotten you.”
Slade was silent, his intense gaze not faltering as he stared Thomas down, not even when the blade slid smoothly into his stomach, once, twice, three times.
A pitiful whine escaped Dick and he got up to move toward the two. His master was hurt.
Thomas let out a long suffering sigh as he pulled the blade out and stepped away, “I had forgotten.”
He blocked Dick’s way and lifted his chin, locking eyes with him, “You are mine, Talon. Ignore his pain.”
Dick stilled. “Good lad,” he praised, kissing Dick’s forehead, “Now, Wilson is refusing to give up the band. But I’m confident you know where it is. Get it and bring it to me. You will feel better when it is done.”
Dick obeyed, and hated himself with each step.
The sun had just lowered behind the mountains and in the fading light, the swollen eye looked better but now Slade coughed and a trail of blood fell out of the side of his mouth. He was dying a Dick was useless.
Going to his knees, Dick reached forward, quickly pulling the gag off, hoping Slade would give him an order, something, anything that would stop him, even for a moment. But Slade said nothing, continuing to quietly sit there watching Dick expectantly through a half lidded eye, as he took off the patch.
At least he wouldn’t be able to get the Eye out, no one could without...he easily pulled out the Eye and bit back a sob, “Why?” he whispered, hopelessness washing over him, ignoring the burning where his skin touched the band. Why had he let Dick have it?
Unless...unless he couldn’t stop him, because he was dying.
“What is that?” Thomas asked, before Dick could slip the band off, “Bring it as well.”
The orb felt heavy in his hand, the band like a hot iron, as he brought it back to Thomas, who snatched it from him, fingers going over the engravings, gaze intent.
“You had the Manhunter’s Eye?” he asked, sounding pleased, “Well now, this certainly explains most of the mysterious things about you, doesn’t it, Deathstroke?” he smirked, “What did that cost you, besides clearing a space for it in your skull? How dangerous are you without this, I wonder?”
Slade finally spoke, his voice strained, “More than you without your spells, I’m sure, boy.”
A muscle in Thomas’ jaw ticked at the intended insult, making Slade smile, bloody.
“You’re a fool Thomas Wayne, relying upon magic so fully, believing it makes you powerful instead of weak. Your brother is a fool as well, rejecting it as he does, but at least he stands on his own merit instead of stealing it from others.”
Thomas’ hand tightened around the Eye, “Are you calling me a thief, mercenary?”
“You stole your nephew.”
“He is mine,” Thomas snarled, grabbing Dick by the arm and jerking him closer.
“He was your family,” Slade spat, “He loved you and you betrayed him. Don’t pretend to care. You imprisoned him in his own body, took away his will and replaced it with your own. You love yourself more than anything, making him sacrifice everything for you. What have you ever sacrificed for him?”
“Everything,” Thomas thundered, “I split my soul to keep Talon with me. You’re more likely to regret your eye than I ever will for that.”
Slade’s face smoothed, something lighting his eyes, “You soaked yourself in darkness, warping your soul and then sold off pieces of it, something you no longer saw of worth, for someone priceless.”
Thomas’ countenance darkened, “His usefulness has ended, Talon,” he said, holding out the bloody knife, “finish him off.”
Dick grabbed the blade before he could stop himself, then froze, his mind grasping for anything. Finish him . Finish him. He could finish him off by waiting for him to die. He held onto the thought and remained still, fighting off an inevitability with hope.
“Finish him,” Thomas repeated, with a dangerous edge to his voice.
“I am,” Dick gasped, moving as slowly as he was capable.
There was a moment of silence, then Thomas chuckled, “Always so clever, Richard.”
Dick looked at him in surprise. He hadn’t used his name in years.
“Please don’t make me do this Thomas, please.”
“Only the weak beg, Talon,” his eyes void of feeling, “ Obey .”
Dick cried out as his body moved, turning toward Slade.
“Congratulations, Thomas,” Slade said, his eye open and his voice clear, “with the band you have all the power over him again.”
He was only a few steps away now, the blade gripped tight.
Slade continued, his voice growing hard, “Unfortunately for you, while the band may be yours...the Eye is mine.”
The forest was suddenly bathed in light and Dick turned to see the Eye, still in Thomas’ hand, shining as the sun. The man was motionless, like Dick was watching a second in time, then his eyes widened and he was screaming, arching back in pain.
The Talons dove forward as one, out of the shadows toward him, to somehow help their master but dissolved into nothing as soon as they touched him.
Dick was moving forward before he even realized it, mesmerized by the never ending scream. His master needed him.
“Robin, no!” A heavy weight knocked him down, pinning him to the ground but he only had eyes for Thomas.
“I have to help him!” he cried, digging his fingers into the dirt and dragging himself forward. Thomas was growing thinner, his skin paling.
“Fight it,” Slade breathed in his ear, “nothing you do will save him, you must fight-” Slade cut himself off with a scream, his grip loosening.
Dick’s eyes were locked on Thomas, he saw his fist tightening over the eye. There was the sound of a crack, like a tree snapping in two, and Slade screamed again.
The Eye was breaking.
Another crack sounded, this one like thunder, creating a howling wind swirling around the skeletal figure once Thomas.
Dick turned and threw himself over Slade as the final crack resounded like a mountain crumbling, shaking the earth.
Followed by an abrupt empty silence.
Dick layed there just breathing, blinking the dust out of his eyes, not daring to get up in the darkness just yet. The sky was still lit beyond the canopy but none of it seemed to make it down to them. Slade wasn’t moving. Was he even breathing?
“Slade?” He whispered, listening intently and finally hearing a laybored intake. “Slade?”
The man groaned, “I’m here, little bird.”
Dick gave a shaky laugh in relief, then doubled over in pain as his eyes began to burn.
“I don’t-” he screamed as the fire spread to his wrists and the gold lettering began to glow.
Slade ‘s arms were there around him, holding his arms down and still as the pain deeped. He couldn’t see, could only feel searing tears building. His head moved, shoved down into the dirt as the tears fell.
He tried to claw at his eyes, to make the pain stop but Slade held him unmoving, murmuring to him like he had on the front line as Renegade.
He must have passed out because he came to suddenly, laying in Slade’s lap as he leaned against that same tree. The sky wasn’t much darker, it couldn’t have been more than five or ten minutes. His eyes and wrists still hurt but it was a receding ache now.
The man chuckled, “This has been one of the longest days of my very long life, little bird. Not the worst, but surely the longest.”
Dick slowly sat up, taking a deep breath to ease the nausea, “What happened?”
“With the way you were crying tears of gold…”
Dick turned to Slade sharply then searched the ground, only taking a few seconds to find the puddle of hardened gold. Just beyond that a blackened shriveled corpse. Thomas.
“...I would say that, killing Thomas and destroying the band…” he smiled, “freed you.”
Dick stared at his wrists. The gold was gone. It was gone. Thomas was dead. He looked at Slade, “What about my eyes? Is it gone?”
Slade reached up, brushing back some hair, “A bit dark to see, but yes, as blue as I remember them.”
Shaking now, Dick’s mind raced, thinking over everything that had happened in the small clearing, “Did you plan this?”
“This was clearly not the prefered one, you weren’t supposed to be here, but it worked in the end.”
Dick stared at him in disbelief, “You let yourself be captured?”
Slade laughed again, it sounded strained but it was real, “I just said this wasn’t the prefered plan. Capturing and torturing Thomas came before this one.”
Dick looked at the empty eye socket. The Eye was gone, destroyed. Then looked down at the shackles still on Slade’s wrists, following his gaze, Slade explained, “The manacles were meant to stop me from magically escaping. Effective in their purpose. So I broke the chain. Thomas always did underestimate me.”
A laugh bubbled up, he stopped it after a few seconds when it threatened to turn to sobs.
He was free.
“What did you do to Thomas? You used the Eye, but did it never glow like that before?”
Slade hesitated, “No, it hadn’t.”
Dick felt his guilt swell, “I’m sorry, that I cost you the Eye. I know what you gave up for it.”
“And I gave it up for you,” Slade said simply.
Dick blinked, “You gave it up? You knew that would happen?”
“I knew it was a possibility. I asked to see something impossible. With someone else holding it, I knew I would be safe from the effects at first. With as difficult as it was to even injure that man, it was the only way I could think of to kill him.”
Dick mulled that over, “What did you ask the Eye to see?”
Slade smiled, “Everything.”
“Everything? As in, everything? How could you even-”
“Hence the impossibility of the request.”
“That could have killed you.”
“It killed Thomas.”
Dick knew Slade was risking his life to help him but...Slade could have ended up a shriveled corpse next to Thomas.
Dick grabbed Slade and pulled him into a kiss, feeling Slade return it almost instantly. He smiled as Slade’s arms began to wrap around him but then a quiet grunt from the man had Dick’s brain catching up, “You’re hurt! You’ve been stabbed! I’ve got to get you back to the city, you need a healer,” he paused, “You need a healer right? I still don’t know what you can live through.”
Slade nodded, still not moving from his position against the tree, “A healer might be helpful at this point, yes.”
“Gods, I’m sorry,” Dick put a hand to Slade’s neck to check his pulse, letting the other hand move through the man’s hair, “I’ll need to use Renegade. You’re not going to die on me on the way there, are you?”
“I can manage to live a bit longer,” Slade teased.
Dick pressed his back up against Slade’s chest, moving his arms around his neck, so that Slade would be in the saddle when he changed.
“Did you see anything?” Dick asked, getting on his hands and knees to level Slade out, getting in the right position.
“Of everything,” Dick clarified.
Slade paused, “It didn’t matter.”
“What?” Dick sputtered, “How would it not matter? Why?”
He felt Slade smile into his neck, “I was already looking at everything.”
Dick breathed in sharply, still surprised by the man’s straightforwardness, even when dealing with emotions then smiled, “I always knew you were a secret romantic, Slade.”