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Better Die Than Doubt

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You press the heels of your palms into your eyes. You could practically feel the oncoming headache the way you could sense someone coming down the hall. This is what happens when you’re running on just 5 hours of restless sleep for the last few days. This headache was also not helped by the fact that this was your fifth coffee in the past 30 minutes. You probably should not be drinking this much caffeine this late but intelligent decisions weren’t exactly your strong suit this week. You rub the sides of your forehead feeling another wave of nausea. 


You check the time again and groan.  It’s been one-and-a-half hours since your agreed upon time had lapsed and yet one Jason Peter Todd was nowhere to be seen. You curse, nerves edging, and mind fraying.  To be perfectly fair to him, he is a busy guy, vigilante, and all. You understood that fairly well- and this was sudden to say the least. You can’t really fault him for being a bit late but the long wait was ratcheting up your anxiety. Again, the coffee didn’t help but considering it was the only thing you could keep down since last night, you didn’t have much choice. 


Last night. 


Your stomach tumbled. You cup your hand over your mouth feeling your coffee traveling back up your esophagus. You let out a long exasperated breath, letting yourself sink into the booth. You look out the window, eyes flickering wildly searching for Jason. Your hands tighten around your mug. The feeling of being watched made you bristle. 


Jason, well, Jason wasn’t hard to spot. The man was 6 feet 4 inches of pure muscle and leather. Having a handsome face and a ‘fuck you’ look in his eyes also helped.  In short, the man was hard to ignore. You wave weakly to him as he dismounts his bike, a gesture far too small for your usual bombastic self. Jason’s smarmy smile greets you as he returns the gesture with his gloved hand. The motion is slow and cautious, rickety in a way. You wince knowing he’s already noticed. You feel the tiniest bit more at ease as he approaches your booth but it didn’t stop your eyes from flickering and searching for something off in the environment. The creeping sense of being watched trails up your spine. You’re sure. 


“Jesus, y/n, you look like Timbo” Jason chuckles sliding into the booth his green eyes shining with scrutiny. You look at him flatly not having enough energy to properly respond to his jab. He winces seeing your lack of reaction. “Rough night, huh?” He asks flagging down a waitress, who looked quite pleased to get away from her previous table.  


You nod weakly, slowly as if the fact that it had been a rough couple of days had just sunk in. “Yeah,” you reply, your voice small and a little threadbare. You drum your fingers against your increasingly cold mug. The waitress sets a couple of warm mugs in front of you. Her soft smile makes you uneasy. You and Jason mutter a thanks as she tells you to wave her over if you need anything else. Her warm brown eyes boring into the stark purple bruise on your face. You shrink and smile sheepishly at her.


“I’m fi-”


“I am going to throw these sugar packets at you if you say you’re fine.”


“Damn, ok, Mr.Kettle,” You laugh. His concern startles a genuine laugh out of you. You’re sincerely surprised how lively the sound that comes out of you is. “You know if you keep sounding like that, Jay, you’re gonna wreck the whole stone-cold badass thing you got going,”




You huff running your hand through your disheveled hair, trying in vain, to soothe your mind. What was the best way to put it? You swallowed, gathering your lapsing thoughts. “Sooo uh-” The collar of your shirt suddenly felt tight around your neck. “-I-” You breathe. “-I found around 4 or 5 of Blackmask’s boys and Deathstroke-No, I’m not shitting you- in my- my apartment for- well- the third time in the last two months, can I crash at your place? Just ‘til I find a new place. Oh and also how do I get rid of them?”


 He blinks as his brain takes its sweet fucking time digesting what you had just said.  He leans back groaning and running his hands over his face. He looks like he’d like to deck you if he wasn’t too busy being concerned for your welfare. You shrink again, feeling bad for springing it on him. The decision to leave out the gory details of your hectic week suddenly felt like the wisest choice but you had no doubt he’ll get it out of you at some point. 


“I’ll skip the obvious ‘why did you wait three times before moving’ question because I feel like I’m probably going to get an aneurysm from your answer,”  Your reasoning wasn’t quite that stupid. You were mucking about Sionis’s operation. The fucker decided to branch out his little enterprise into your city and like hell, you were gonna leave well enough alone. After you had set fire to one of his warehouses, you thought that would explain the False Facers. But Deathstroke? Deathstroke was a mystery. You’ve also been mucking about his business but you two have always been civil if not friendly. Frenemies of sorts, you guessed. You’ve been encountering him a lot in the last few days. You had figured that Blackmask had hired him but considering he threw two men out of your apartment window last night, you’re not entirely sure.  You make an affronted noise that Jason elects to ignore. 


“What did they do?”


“Aside from necessitating a visit to IKEA?  Nothing.”


“Did they take anything? Leave a message?”


“Nope, nothing-” You furrow your brow trying to recall. You shake your head. “-They just made sure I knew they broke in.” You add, shrugging your shoulder. You wince at the movement. Your shoulder still aches from being hit with a bat. Jason’s shoulders shift, moving as if to reach out to you but stops himself. Instead, he continues with his line of questioning. “Sweetheart, there’s gotta be something missing.” 


You frown, biting your cheek. Jason rests his chin on his hand, green eyes watching you and urging you to think back. It was either the weight of his gaze or the lack of sleep that was making it hard to recall. You close your eyes and catalog your belongings, analyzing the mental picture you have like a crime scene like how he taught you months ago, breaking it down into the smallest pieces of information and bringing it back into a bigger picture.  Still, nothing. Nothing of note was missing. You shake your head and shrug your uninjured shoulder. Jason glares at the immobile one. You shake your head silently telling him it wasn’t from last night which just made him clench his jaw. 




You shake your head.  He frowns baffled. 




You shake your head again. 


“Anything personal?” He asks jokingly. 


“I-” A cold horror washes over you trailed by embarrassment. Your vibrator had been missing and so were a couple of your lingerie sets. You feel your stomach drop to the floor. “Oh god, Jay- I- Please, let me stay with you.” 


“And have them steal my stuff?” He chuckles. 


“Please, Jay, like you have anything worth stealing.” Jason frowns at you scrutinizing your face. You level him a glare but it was more in an effort to fight down a blush than anything venomous. Jason’s jaw unclenches and his face breaks into a shit-eating grin. “What color was it?”




“Bzzzzzzzt ” 


If you weren’t blushing before, you are now. Heat climbs up your spine. Your mouth felt dry. 


“Well, what color was it, sweetheart?” Jason drawls, his voice dropping an octave. You shiver but bristle just as quickly. You bite your cheek and glare at him. “HA. HA. HA. Funny, Todd.”


“Was it Red Hood Red?” Jason teases, winking and raising his cup of coffee to his lips. 


“Nightwing blue” You deadpan. Jason coughed into his drink.  You preen with satisfaction. 


“Does it make stupid puns while you go at it? ”


“Yup,” You say, the ‘p’ popping. “That’s part of the appeal.” You joke smiling into your mug.  Jason snorts. “How is that supposed to be sexy?”


You shrug, a sharper less tired smile cutting across your features. “Dunno man. Nightwing is pretty sexy if you ask me.” You wink.  


Jason makes a fake gagging noise. Well, it seems fake with how theatrical the gesture is but with bats? You never could tell. You roll your eyes and giggle.  Jason’s shoulders loosen at your bubble of laughter, his face slipping into one of his sheepish smiles. “In all seriousness, y/n, you can stay at my place.”


You smile at him, your usual fluorescent smile. 







A man from across the street watches you intently through the lens of a camera. 



Slade throws the photos across Roman’s desk, each glossy piece of paper containing a candid photo of you looking increasingly frayed and anxious.  


Roman marvels at how your usually larger than life figure shrank into your puffy coat, how small and malleable and inexperienced you looked. He notes the panicked look in your eyes in every one of the photos and savors it. He couldn't wait to see it for himself. 


In one photo, you're looking over your shoulder as you enter your office building. 


In one, you’re tracing circles on a child’s hand with your thumb,  beaming brightly as you told some wild tale to distract the child. 


In another, you're slumped in your desk chair as you think over a case looking absolutely exasperated but determined. 


In yet another one, you're locking lips with a man, his hand trailing up your shirt. Roman made sure to give the man some swimming lessons a few weeks prior.  


In the photo in Roman’s hand, you're at the emergency room looking like you haven't slept in 2 days. Your face was bruised and your clothes were torn in several places where Slade had managed to land a blow. Your delicate skin marred with cuts and trickling blood. Absolutely gorgeous.   


He examines it closely. The photo was taken just a few hours ago. You look like you're going to cry but your shoulders and jaw are squared more frustrated than scared. There's a fire in your eyes that threatens to level the city. A thrill rides up his spine at the prospect of extinguishing it. 


“This is why you wanted to throw my men out the window?”


Slade hums. He shrugs and the edge of his lips curl into a smile. “It was the only way to convince the kid that we’re both after her-” His eye drifts to your face. Appraising but impassive. “The kid’s scared out of her mind and exhausted at this point.”


Slade had a point. Roman had to give him that. It wouldn’t be obvious to the casual observer but it would be plain as day to anyone like Roman who had been studying you for a while. You weren’t quite as meticulous with your appearance as Roman thought you should be (He would work on that later) but the dishevelment in your appearance was obvious. The slight dip in your shoulders in place of the prim posture that you usually employed was a blatant indication of your weariness. And the falter in your smile, the flickering in your eyes, and the number of times you let yourself bite your cheek showed the cracks in your fearless image. 


Who knew weeks upon weeks of chaos could weather Minos City’s own budding hero? 


In the photo next to Roman’s hand, your laughing face is stark and lively against the drab atmosphere of the diner, bubbling laughter carving life into your exhausted features making you look more like the shining paragon your city has come to rely on. The man sitting in front of you is laughing too. The sharp edges of his grin softened by the fondness in his eyes. It was hard not to recognize him even with such a foreign expression plastered onto his face.  Roman crushes the photo in his hand. 




“And she’s now with the Red Hood. In his secluded safe house. Weakened and far from help. Most likely thinking that she’s safe under his protection and blissfully unaware of the tracker I put in her arm.”


“I see… It seems like you are worth the pay.”


Slade made no effort in hiding his smug grin.  




“Jay, I really am sorry about this.” You mumble for what seemed like the fifth time in the past half hour. 


“I sincerely hope you’re apologizing for the fact that you neglected to tell me you had bruised ribs before getting on my bike and not the fact that you’re staying with me because two crazy assholes decided your place needed remodeling.” Jason exasperates, pinching the bridge of his nose. You feel kind of annoyed by the gesture but he did have a point especially with your city’s less than smooth roads. You were also pretty banged up. As it turns out, facing off against a bunch of goons plus a master assassin is not good for your health. You swore viciously under your breath. Now, you weren’t expecting Deathstroke to go easy on you despite your rapport but the guy really didn’t have to throw you around like a rag doll. Even with your power to adjust the odds, it was a miracle that you escaped intact. 


“Well, Mr.Pot, you ride your bike all the time even with broken ribs.” You bite back. Jason rolls his eyes unaffected by the distilled venom in your voice.


 “Well, one of us is a stone-cold badass- ”


“And the other is a sasquatch with a stick up his ass.” You sneer snatching the beer bottle from Jason. Your tone was far too fond and playful to have any actual bite. Jason chuckles at you and ruffles your hair before snatching it back and handing you a bottle of water.


You huff taking the bottle from him and following him to the couch. He sits down on the couch patting the seat beside him. You plopped on to the couch, placing your sock feet on his lap. He grabs your ankles and throws your feet back at you. You just as quickly throw them back on and this time you do it with an absolutely delighted smirk on your face. “Rude,” He mumbles but doesn’t attempt to extricate you again. 


“So Deathstroke, huh?” Jason starts, side-eyeing you over his beer. You adjust yourself to sit up a little straighter.


“You mean the asshat who broke my favorite lamp last night?”


“Who the hell has a favorite lamp?”


“Me! And get to your point.”


“Have you two- yanno?” Jason jokes, his eyebrows wiggling and hands gesturing vaguely. Your eyes grow wide and heat creeps up your neck and face. You scowl at Jason throwing a pillow at his face for good measure. He catches it with ease much to your frustration giving you his trademark triumphant grin. You kick at him with no real force. 


“NO! What kind of soap opera shit is that?” You giggle into your drink. You would be lying if you said you hadn’t thought about it before. The guy was skilled and pretty witty.  You also had eyes and the man was handsome but something always felt strange about taking it further. You were civil but you kept your distance. 


You pout at Jason again causing him to chuckle. “What? I’m just saying it’ll air out some tension~” He suggests winking. 


“Oh my actual god, I hate you. I sincerely, truly hate you.” You laugh, kicking at his thigh. Jason makes an obviously fake hurt noise which draws out even more giggles out of you. Some tension in Jason’s shoulders releasing upon hearing the bubbly sounds. 


“You speaking from experience, Jay?”


Jason shakes his head and coughs. “Catwoman-” Cough. “Talia Al Ghul-” Cough. “Sorry, sweetheart, seems like I have a really bad cough this week.”  


And that is how you spend the rest of the night questioning Bruce’s love life. 

“Food is in the fridge,” Jason says pointing to the said fridge which was sorely lacking magnets, sounding like a somewhat tired single parent. 


“Do I look like I can keep anything down?”


Jason snatches the water bottle you had abandoned on the side table next to the recliner. “With that big mouth of yours? Sure.” Jason teases lightly booping you on the nose with your water bottle. “Get some rest.”


“Yes, mother” You sighed, burying yourself into the thick comforter he’d given you, crumpled water bottle in hand. He ruffles your hair. 


“You know you’re safe here, right? ” The question startles you. You shift uncomfortably, pulling the comforter tightly around your shoulders. You shrug at him, not entirely certain how to answer. You know Jason’s safe house is, well, safe but you also thought your apartment was too. Your stomach twisted. 


Jason squeezed your shoulder probably sensing the spiral of your thoughts. He smiles down at you, probably. It was hard to tell with the helmet.  


“If you want, I can-”


“No, Jay, I’ll be fine here. You can go on patrol. I’ll be fine. Promise.”


The thing with Jason was that even when he was so big and bulky and hella intimidating, his empathy towards others had a bad habit of always shining through despite the layers of armor and sarcasm. You squeeze his hand, pressing little circles into his palm, and smile up at him. It was forced but it was the best you could do. Jason ruffles your hair again before letting go and making his way to the window. 


“Get some sleep.”


“Aye aye cap’n” You yawn settling into a slump on the couch. Jason can’t help but smile fondly at you.  You wave him a sleepy goodby before he sets off. 

You passed out on the couch, an old habit you never grew out of. You always slept on the couch when you felt uneasy. It may have been some sort of way to separate stress from your bedroom. It sure as shit wasn’t for safety reasons. Your equipment was dispersed throughout your apartment but your weapons were usually stowed away in your room. 


You feel a hand running gently through your hair, smoothing away all your apprehension. 


“Jay” You grouse, your hand halfheartedly swatting at the hand stroking your hair. You bury yourself further into the warmth of the comforter feeling the need to shrink away from the touch. You feel a soft prick on your neck.  


Your eyes fly open.  




The hand tangles in your hair. It throws you to the wall. The air is knocked out of your lungs. Your ribs scream. You scrabble to your feet. Your limbs fail you. They flail uselessly. Your breaths pick up. Your chest feels like it's caving. 


"JAY" You shriek. “HELP.” A large hand grasps your throat. A rush of adrenaline kicks in. You thrash. You kick. Your hit lands. Another grasps your ankles. You scream. You swear viciously. Another grabs at your wrists. Something rough winds around your wrists and ankles. 


The world tilts into an odd angle. Your head feels heavy so do your arms and your legs and everything. 


"Jaaay" You slur, the air in your lungs becoming sluggish like everything else. "Jay" you sob again, knowing he wouldn't come. Not when he was so far away. 


"Shut up you …..  bitch" You feel a swift kick to your stomach. It barely registers above the haze. 


"Hey man-"


"What? The …. man said we …… rough her up."


"We can?"


"Yeah, ……, said so"


Your eyes blink, stupid, and uncomprehending.  Distantly, you hear yourself grunting and whimpering. You can feel their blows but your body is too far away, too inaccessible. It was strange to physically feel yourself drift away. 



Roman traces the sun shaped scar radiating on your shoulder with a leather-clad hand. The one shot he’d managed to land on you the first time you’d stormed one of his warehouses. You were all cocksure and quick wit and boisterous laughter. You really had the devil’s own luck but it seems to have run out. Not that Roman’s got any complaints. Not when he’s got you laying at his feet,  tied up and vulnerable. 


He crouches down, hand on his chin.  His eyes roam appreciatively over your sleeping form, appraising you like a premium cut of meat. You look pretty against the black silk sheets he’d chosen.  He sighs content with his prize. He traces the tip of his knife over your cheek, a dark purple bruise maring your features stark against the stainless surface of the blade. Slade really was quite careless when handling you. Not that Roman has any plans on being any gentler.  


He lets his blade drift down, trailing down your neck down to the flimsy protection of your oversized shirt.  Your steady breaths falter. You keep your eyes shut trying to gather more information but it’s hard not to focus off the tip of the blade cold against your warm skin even as the blade cuts through the thin fabric of your shirt. A large hand grasps your face roughly. 


“I know you're awake, baby-” You blanch still not opening your eyes. The grip on your jaw tightens. You grin like a madman. “It's rude to keep daddy waiting.” 


“Sorry, Sionis, I was really hoping not to have to wake up  you’re ugly mug.” You sneer, voice thick and raspy with sleep but still full with your trademark confidence. Roman looks more amused than irritated.  Your body and mind are still at the cusp of sleep. You wriggle and almost cry out with joy when you feel them move. You mind the hand on your jaw and its tight grip. 


“Baby, I won’t tell you a-” You spit in his face, cracking an eye open to see his reaction. A bloody grin spreads across your face like wildfire when you see the annoyance on his face. 


“You’re going to regret that” He growls, wiping his face with a torn piece of your shirt. 


“Oh please-” Something cracks across your jaw. 


“The next time it’ll be the other end,” It takes a moment for your mind to catch on. You stare at the hilt of the blade for a moment before letting loose another smarmy grin. His violent reaction spurs you on. Yeah, you can definitely see why Jason thinks you’re going to age him twenty years.“Oh please, You like my face too much for that.”


“You really wanna test that?”


“Nope,” You say, spitting into his eye and landing a punch square in his face. You cackle like a madwoman when he goes down. You don’t bother hiding the delighted chirps that escape your chest. 


Being petty, you give him a swift kick to the face before dashing towards the door.  You launch yourself, feeling like you can fly. The copper taste in your tongue almost feels sweet. 


Your hand grasps the door when a hand tangles itself in your hair. 


Roman throws you back onto the mattress, the springs digging into your back. You scratch and claw and thrash against the large hand wrapped around your throat. You snarl as Roman leans closer, his body pinning yours against the mattress, his weight immobilizing your fatigued limbs. A sweet-smelling cloth covers your mouth and nose, you gasp in surprise, inhaling the scent. Your mind is already sluggish by the time it catches on. 


Your vision dims. 


You feel hollowed out. 


Your limbs fall away, arms drooping and pliant against the silk-covered mattress. The cloth feels too much against your skin. Vaguely, you feel horror prickling up your spine or maybe it was just the springs again. 


Roman pulls away. You think you breathe a sigh of relief, feeling the weight of him lifted. He straddles your body, grinning down at you. Your mouth falls open to say something. You want to say that you curse him out or that you threaten him. The sound you make is small. Your tongue feels too heavy.  No, something is pressing it down, you think. 


Above you, Roman is a towering colossus. You’re vaguely aware of the shifting of his hips. He removes his gloved hand from your mouth and caresses the side of your face with mock gentleness. His movements are sluggish and syrupy.  You make another noise when you realize to some degree of horror that isn’t. Your mind felt heavy and useless. 


He snaps his fingers. The sound is dull like it's contending with water. A muffled set of steps approaches you. A man, you realize. You don't think you’ve noticed him before. His dark shape is messy and incomprehensible. A red dot flashes stark against his form. The mechanical sounds of a shutter drift in and out of your mind. You turn your head back to Roman at the sound of shifting fabric.


Above you, Roman, already without his suit jacket, loosens his tie, eyes staring hungrily at you. The pit of your stomach feels painfully cold. You blink at him stupidly. He chuckles, grasping your chin to make sure you’re looking at him. You protest against his touch.


“Don’t worry, baby, you’ll be the star of our little show like the filthy attention whore you really are. ” He laughs. It rumbles like thunder in your ears. 


The world falls away. 















You feel a prick on your neck. 


Hot breaths fan against your face. 


Your body is too warm. 


You don’t want to know why. 


Twenty-five, you continue counting. 


You feel fabric shift against you. 


Something sharp digs itself into your flesh.  














Something’s crushing your windpipe.


Your body is aching. You’re not entirely sure whether it’s from use or disuse and by who. 


“Good girl”










There’s something scraping against your flesh. 


Is it a knife?


Hot pants fan against your skin. 











“Boss, I-.... going a …. bit too far?”




“Do …. You…. to think?” 


Two sixty-eight


A hand strikes you. You think your jaw is broken. It hurts but then again everything hurts. All you can do is take it and whimper. 


Tears sting against your face.  


 “That’s right. Just like that. Like that, you little whore.” 


Your body is warm again. 


You still don’t want to know. 











You’ve counted two before. 


You blink. 


The haze of your mind lifts. 


The coldness of the room seeps in your bones. You’re bare. You take stock of yourself, running your hands over your skin. Everything is still there. 


Everything and a few other things. You let disgust and shame roll over you. A sob tears its way out of your chest. Your breath picks up. You feel your mind slipping. You press the heels of your palms into your eyes, calling your mind back and steadying yourself. 


You take stock again. This time moving your limbs and jangling your joints.  They were weak but workable. You’re surprised to find yourself unbound aside from the collar around your neck. You suppose Roman’s confident in his drugs. How long have you been here? You press lightly against your neck, feeling the higher than normal pulsing of your artery. You shift yourself waking your legs up. 


You stiffen, gooseflesh spreading over your skin as light filters into the room through the door. Your eyes snap shut, stinging from the sudden intrusion of light. The pulse beneath your fingers jackrabbits. You think you’ll keel over. 




All the strength in your veins floods out, leaving a feeling of cold horror in its place. You scream or you try.  Your body feels impossibly rigid. Roman stalks towards you, his footfalls slow and deliberate and too loud. Your heart jumps up to your throat with each step. You inch yourself away from him, drawing yourself up to make yourself feel bigger. He coos at how adorable you are, trying to look defiant. The mattress dips under his weight. Your mind begins to slip away from you again. The world falls away from you. You anchor it, digging your nails into your palms. He cups your face, thumb caressing your bottom lip. You glower at him and bite out something witty. He laughs amusement lighting up his features, the sound grates against your ears. 


“Not gonna fight back?” He taunts, pressing his thumb down on your bottom lip. Your body recoils but then goes slack as he runs his hand up and down your side. Shame blankets you but the fear etched into you keeps you still. 


Roman loosens his tie. 


Your mind falls out of your reach. 


“Such a good little slut.” He murmurs against your lips.




You wanted to say. 


Instead, your mind starts counting again even as you hear the rustle of fabric. 








A gunshot rings through the thick atmosphere of the room. 


Roman curses. 


His men stampede. 


Another round of shots fire. 


Something- No, no.  Someone tears Roman off of you. 


“Deathstroke?” You croak, your voice sounding foreign and absurdly brittle. 


“Do you know anyone else walking around looking like this, kid?”


“Ravager” You snark, lips twitching into a smile. He rolls his eyes underneath his mask. The familiarity of the exchange breathes life into your body. Roman’s hand grips your wrist with bruising intensity. Your breath catches. 


No. No. No.


The word loops in your head like a constant rat-tat. 


Slade’s foot makes contact with Roman’s head, the force of it unnecessary but satisfactory. The sounds of bone-cracking fill the air. The man falls uselessly to the grimey floor. He shoots him with a couple of rounds for good measure, each shot instilling a pang of finality in the back of your mind. 


You scrabble towards Slade, wide-eyed and shallow breathed.  You cling to Slade as he bundles your body in silken sheets.  He hoists you easily into his arms. You bury your face into the junction between his neck and shoulder, closing your eyes, the image of Roman’s bloody body on the floor pressed into your mind. You sob in relief. Your hands clasping onto Slade, white-knuckled and shaking.


 "I've got you, sweetheart," He rumbles, running his hand through your hair soothingly. The tight knots in your body, loosen. You whimper a quiet thank you. “I’ve got you.”


You lift your head only to see Roman twitch. 


Your breathing falters. 


Fear pricks your spine. 


Your mind falls away from you again. 


Distantly, you feel Slade’s grip on you tightens. 


Distantly, you hear him murmur something. 


Everything is too far away. 


Your eyes blink sluggishly. The world becomes dimmer with each blink. 







A warm spray of water drizzles down over your aching skin. Your open wounds sting but the warm water pooling around you soothes the aches of your bruised flesh. Your eyes focus on the soft off-white of the tile on the wall opposite you. You don’t let yourself about the thin, rusty red film swirling in the water. The air in the room is thick with steam and the scent of lavender. 


The absence of grime on your skin makes you feel lighter and gauzy and immaterial. You felt naked and obscene like you had been taken apart and now someone was examining pieces of you. You almost miss it. 


“Lean back” Slade grumbles as he lathers your hair with some lavender concoction the hotel provided. Your body follows automatically, eagerly, obediently. You tell yourself you’re just tired. You tell yourself nothing’s wrong with your response. You tell yourself you’re ok. You wince. The warm water around you shifts. You hear it splash against the tile. You flinch at how loud it sounds. You take a deep breath and lean into his touch. He’s handling you delicately as though you would fall apart any second. You might. 


Blinking away tears, you watch his face, aware that by leaning back, you’d be giving him a good view of the hickies, bite marks, and knife wounds Roman ‘gifted’ you. There’s a slight twitch in the corners of his lips. He must be disgusted with you too. You want to sink into the hot water and let it burn you anew, but you don’t trust yourself not to drown.   


You close your eyes as another spray of warm water pours over you. You melt into it hoping it’s enough to wash the last few days- weeks?- away. 




Your hands grasp his face, pulling him towards you. His hands brace against the tub, keeping him from falling in with you. Your arms loop around his neck, your hot breath fanning against his lips. You press your lips against him, searching and wanting. For what exactly? Comfort? Safety? Stimulation? His lips press lightly against yours, not quite a kiss. Slade actually looks taken aback. 


The rest of the world floods back in. You peel away, your eyes wide with terror. “Shit- I’m- Fuck! Fuck! Shit, Slade, I- I’m sorry. I- Shit! I didn’t-” Your breathing ratchets up, becoming shallower as the pulsating in your ears grow louder. There’s a tightness growing in your chest that makes you think your ribcage is about to implode. You cover your face with your hands not caring how it didn’t help your shallowing breaths. You can’t look at him. You just can’t. You know you’re disgusting. 


Your body wants to come apart, dissolve, and if it can, evaporate. You can’t breathe. You curl into yourself, into the water. A hand grabs at your wrist. You flinch. The hand carefully pries your hand away, forcing you to uncurl. Slade’s other hand cups your face gently, guiding you to look him in the eye. The lack of disgust in his face rattles you.


His thumb brushes against your lips making your stomach twist and your spine curl. He dips his head closer to yours. You kiss him eagerly. He lets out a pleased hum and smiles against your lips. Something cold licks at the bottom of your stomach but it’s overtaken by the need for connection, to fill in what had been hollowed out.   

You press closer to him than strictly necessary as you watch the news, chewing on your cheek.  He pulls you close, shifting you on to his lap. You don’t protest, eyes glued to the TV. 


“Businessman, Roman Sionis, was found with several gunshot wounds to the stomach in one of his warehouses here in Minos City. He is now in stable condition. Authorities say...”


Your jaw falls slack in mute horror. Your stomach tumbles to the floor.  You’re hyperventilating. Your teeth are digging into your cheek, you taste copper. Your mind spirals back into the room, back to the dirty mattress, back to Roman. 


Strong arms wrap around you, stilling your trembling body against a broad chest. Your body relaxes a fraction. You curl into him, the buzz of nervous energy settling into a quieter panic. 


“You’re safe with me, you know that don’t you, sweetheart?” Slade says tracing circles into your palm. You lean your head into his shoulder. You nod easing against him. “I’ll never let that monster anywhere near you.” He promises, pressing a kiss into your hair. A little sob wrenches free of your imploding chest. 


Slade keeps his face buried in your hair even as you fall into a lull. It was the only way to hide the triumphant grin spreading across his face. 


“Don’t worry, sweetheart, I’ll take good care of you.”