Slade doesn't understand how all the other gods can't see the truth about Richard, King of the Underworld.
Maybe it's because Slade is bored by the politics of Olympus, and thus is paying more attention to the outsider. Maybe it's because they're all so comfortable in their places that they neglect to look past the exterior they want to see. Maybe they've convinced themselves that they're imagining things, and pretend it's not really there.
Whatever the reasoning, none of them see it. But the truth of it is that Richard is a still-healing wound.
And Slade's always liked picking at scabs.
He remembers what the boy was like, a few millennia ago when he was truly no more than a boy. Before he was the king of an entire domain, instead just a child with immense potential for power following along behind the Lord of the Skies like a duckling. He'd been energetic and kind, always smiling and bouncing from place to place, eyes wide with joy as he took in everything new, soaking in knowledge and experiences like a sponge.
And when the Titan War came, he fought on the front lines beside Bruce and the other elder gods, refusing to be denied, ignoring Bruce's command to stay behind. Admirable. The strength and determination, the fire and passion; a warrior in his own right, despite how his adoptive father had tried to send him in other directions.
Slade wonders, sometimes, what might've become of that young boy Richard used to be if he hadn't fought in the war, if he'd followed King Bruce's order and stayed behind. Maybe he wouldn't have been given the ginormous job he now has, if he hadn't been such a major force in winning. Maybe he would've continued on free and happy, exploring the world, gaining new knowledge and new experiences.
Instead, Bruce gave him the Underworld. Slade knows there was something about trust, there. That the Lord of the Skies truly showed how much faith he has in Richard above others that he would entrust an entire domain to him.
But it doesn't change the fact that ruling the Underworld has changed him. Far more reserved, where he used to be affectionate. Quiet, where he used to be open. Still, where he used to be constantly in motion.
Slade finds it fascinating.
He's always been fascinated by the unusual, the different. Everything about Olympus is so dull, these past few thousand years, everyone so confident and settled in the way the world works. He doesn't miss the Titans—no, those megalomaniacal bastards needed to go before they killed them all—but he does miss how at least back when they were around, things happened.
Now, Slade spends his days causing some Chaos down on Earth and getting his amusement by fucking with other gods, and then living through lectures from the king because technically, Slade is a resident of Olympus.
Not that he's ever felt bound to that floating rock in the sky, not with the power he wields. Nature gods tend to get looked down upon, thought of as peaceful beings, but Slade can't imagine why; with a flick of his fingers Slade could create a tornado that would decimate an entire continent.
He's never been one for peace.
Which brings him back to Richard; whenever the young god visits Olympus—visits which are few and far in between—it's something happening, and more than that, Richard is such an oddity. Always calm and in control and contained, but so obviously holding back if you really look.
There are so many things you'll notice about Richard, if you really look. None of them seem to, but Slade watches. He sees the longing in Richard's gaze as he looks at the rolling beauty of Olympus, at the laughing and smiling gods, at the easy comradery of everyone else.
This is a lonely boy desperate for companionship, and Slade can't help but be amused.
Richard is the king of an entire domain. He rules the Underworld, judges over the dead, controls the fields of punishment, watches over Elysium, guards the entrance to Tartarus. He is one of the most powerful being in existence—
And yet he also flinches away from casual touches, things he used to jump into wholeheartedly as a child. He stares at people laughing together with poorly hidden desire. He looks upset when people mention him visiting more.
And yet none of them seem to see it.
Or maybe they do, but they're ignoring it. Slade would actually be impressed by how cold that would be, if he actually thought them capable of it.
No, they're just stupid. The lot of them, pushing away this beautiful creature without even realizing what they're doing. What they're doing by never visiting the Underworld. What they're doing by joking about how long it's been since they've seen him.
Slade knows there's some sort of magic that ties Richard to the Underworld, something that makes his presence essential, which means he can't leave often or for too long. But it's not like Bruce and his ilk actually trust Slade, and thus no one's ever deigned to share with him what that magic might be.
He has to admit they're right in that regard, even if it's frustrating. Slade would probably attempt to break the magic if he knew what it was, just to see what would happen. What would become of Richard.
"What are you doing?"
Slade withholds a sigh at the suspicious voice that pulls him from his musings.
"Enjoying the day," Slade drawls. He doesn't move from his position where he leans against the trunk of a large tree, his arms folded loosely over his chest. "Is that not allowed anymore?"
There's an annoyed breath from the godling who has approached him, and it makes Slade's lips curve in amusement.
Across the field is what currently has Slade's attention, and what has probably propelled the god of the forge to come over and seek out his intentions, ever so protective. Richard is visiting Olympus for the first time in a while, having been called by their king himself, and currently he walks with a pair of his brothers, a quiet smile on his face as one of them tells some sort of story.
He looks exhausted already, Slade observes with some level of curiosity. He only just got here, and already he wants to return to his domain.
Slade wonders how much of that has to do with the magic that binds him there, and how much to do with being faced with those he used to spend every day with, and now only sees once in a century.
One of the brothers reaches out to swing an arm around Richard's shoulders, and Richard goes stiff, jaw clenching. He manages to relax his expression before either of the other boys notice, but the tension in his frame remains.
Slade tuts at the other gods' inattention, and Richard's poor deception skills. Just because it fools them doesn't mean he's any good at it.
"Slade..." the godling beside him says, a note of warning in his voice, and Slade rolls his eye, finally glancing over to the boy with an unimpressed look.
Timothy, to his credit, does not cower away from Slade's displeasure like many often do. Instead he straightens, raising his chin and jutting it out, just as strong and rebellious as he's sure the godling's eldest brother would approve of.
"There something you want, boy?" Slade asks slowly.
"Just..." Timothy shakes his head, sighing a little. "Just leave him be."
Slade's eyebrows shoot up. So his attentions have been noticed, then. He wonders if Richard mentioned it to someone, or if Slade's allowed himself to be careless enough to make it obvious. He sure hopes it's the first one.
"I haven't done anything," Slade says casually. "I'm just standing here, enjoying the day. Don't you have somewhere to be, godling?"
Timothy's lips press into a thin line. "We both have somewhere to be," the boy says pointedly, and then moves around him, walking off in the direction Richard and the others had been heading.
With a sigh, Slade follows.
Shouted arguments are already filling the air by the time Dick arrives at the throne room, and he has to resist the urge to just turn around and leave before any of them see him.
But Jason's arm is still around his shoulders and Damian is still close to his other side, so there's nowhere to go. Besides, even if he wasn't boxed in the way he is now, he wouldn't actually be able to just leave; Bruce called him here, and so his appearance is mandatory.
Case in point—Jason and Damian rush off as soon as they’re inside, but Dick doesn't turn to leave.
No one seems to notice him right away, which Dick is thankful for. He loves them all, truly he does, but they're...a lot to handle, especially after he just spent the better part of a century primarily by himself.
Not the longest he's gone without seeing any of them, not by a long shot, but still.
He allows himself to observe for a few moments, seeing what alliances have formed over the latest issue to hit the Olympians. Dick has no clue, really, what's actually going on, nor does he actually care. In another century or so there will be another problem that gets the gods in an uproar, another problem they're facing that will call Dick up to Olympus. That's always how it goes, and Dick stopped caring about the specifics many years ago.
It's not worth the effort, at the end of the day. It's just exhausting. Because truly, at the end of the day, their problems have nothing to do with him. The Underworld will stand no matter what threat Olympus faces, what squabbles the gods get pulled into. Humans will keep dying, the five rivers will keep flowing, the seals of Tartarus will be just as sturdy as ever.
Dick could say that, he knows. It would stop Bruce from calling him to Olympus every time someone gets a booboo, if Dick pointed out that he is a king of his own domain, that he doesn't even have a seat upon Olympus, and has no duty to any of them.
But being called here to help with all these issues is the only way he sees his family, even if seeing them ends up hurting more than helping once he has to return to the Underworld.
"I'm surprised to see you haven't yet flitted off to your father's side," a voice says, stepping up beside him, and despite himself Dick feels one corner of his mouth curving upward at the familiar presence.
"Just taking it all in," Dick says.
Slade hums. "We should get out of here."
Dick shoots him an exasperated look, but Slade is unbothered, smirking at him. "No, we shouldn't. We've been called here for a reason. We should help."
Slade cocks an eyebrow at him. "Oh? And is that why you're hiding over here in the corner, bending the shadows to conceal yourself better? Because you want to help?"
Dick glances around and curses himself inside his head. He hadn't even realized he was doing it, but yes, Slade is right; the shadows are draped around him like a cloak, aiding him in remaining unnoticed by the others, and he shrugs them off, flicking his hand to make sure they dissipate. They fade like smoke, sunlight rising in the room, and across the room Dick sees Clark unconsciously relax, tension fading from his posture.
Dick grimaces; he hadn't meant to deprive the sun god of what would give him strength. He thought his control was better than that; there's something about Olympus that always makes it a thousand times harder to hold back on his abilities, and he hates it.
When he glances back at Slade, the elder god is looking at him with fascination, a look very familiar to Dick. As long as Dick's known Slade, he's known that expression, like he's a puzzle Slade is still working on figuring out, and is enjoying every moment of doing so.
When he was younger, it used to confuse and unsettle Dick quite a bit. But now he's so used to it that it's almost...comforting, maybe. Something that will never change, something that feels steady. Slade treats him differently than the others do, in a way that feels so much more real.
He doesn't understand it, but he stopped trying to long ago.
"Could you darken the entire temple?" Slade asks, his single glowing eye flicking around the room before back to Dick.
"Even at midday, bright as it is?" Dick nods again, and Slade's lips twitch upward. "How much power would that take?"
Using his abilities on Olympus is always so much more draining than on the Earth or in the Underworld. Up here, he is about as far from his domain as he can get, and is surrounded by the powerful auras of all the other gods who are at their strongest here on their "mountain". Everything works against Dick being able to use his powers to his full capacity.
But he's far more powerful than the others realize. He's spent a few millennia or so with nothing but time on his hand, time he's spent learning exactly what he can do, what he's been granted and gifted with.
So, to answer Slade's question, it would take an enormous amount of power to cover the entirety of the temple in shadows, at midday and with all the other gods present, especially Clark. But Dick could do it, and still be on his feet when it's done. And then he could hold it for quite a while afterwards.
But Dick doesn't say that. Doesn't admit it. Instead he says, "Enough to drain me, maybe."
There's something knowing in Slade's eye, but he doesn't push the issue. He says again, "We should get out of here."
Dick looks over the room of bickering gods, at where Bruce stands at the head of the table with Selina on one side and Arthur on the other, gaze sharp as he listens to the arguments of his people.
Because they are his people. Lord of the Skies, King of Olympus. At the end of the day, they all follow his Rule. Even Arthur, also a king of his own domain, follows his Rule. He has a seat on Olympus, after all. He is bound to Bruce same as the rest of them.
Dick is bound by nothing but loyalty. A very old loyalty, all the way back to when he was nothing more than a godling with too much potential for power who Bruce took under his wing. Loyalty that led to Dick agreeing to rule the Underworld, after the Titan War. Loyalty that keeps him going to Olympus whenever Bruce calls for him.
Loyalty that leaves him alone and lonely while they all celebrate their lives on Olympus, the only thoughts in their mind about what the next day might bring for them.
But Dick? No, Dick knows what each day will bring. There's always a job to do in the Underworld. He's already anxious to get back.
"Okay," Dick says softly, and takes joy from the surprise that flashes across Slade's face.
"Follow me, then," Slade says, and offers Dick his hand.
Dick hesitates for a moment, and then takes it.
Slade takes Richard down to Earth.
He wants to get him out of Olympus, away from the immediate temptation to go back to the temple and do what Bruce wants him to do. Down on Earth things are different, Magic feels different, and when Slade sees the line of tension in Richard's shoulders loosen, he knows he made the right decision.
There's a forest Slade rather likes, somewhere just outside Greece, and he brings Richard to it. It's filled with life, where creatures hunt and are hunted, and a stream runs through it towards a large waterfall. Humans often like to go to that waterfall and swim in the water below, and they often drown in the tricky currents that Slade may or may not make sure upon their entrance into the water.
He has to get his fun somewhere, doesn't he?
Richard stands on the edge of the rocky cliff beside the peak of the waterfall, eye closed, head tilted back towards the bright blue sky. The sunlight makes the gems woven into his black clothes shimmer and sparkle, and if Slade looks at him from the right angle he can see the faint outline of a pair of weapons strapped to his back, something that still exists down in the Underworld but Richard has yet to call to himself.
"Why not carry those openly?" Slade asks.
Richard's eyes slide back open, and he looks over his shoulder to look at Slade with a furrow between his brows, not understanding his meaning.
Slade steps forward until he's right behind Richard and then he places his hand in the center of his back, Richard going stiff at the touch and proximity. If Slade concentrates hard enough, he can feel the weapons as if they were truly there, a pair of sheathes concealing what must be blades.
"Why hide them?" Slade asks again, when he receives no answer.
Richard is deathly still—ha—in front of him, barely breathing, and Slade presses his hand more firmly against the boy's back.
"It's—uh—" Richard starts shakily, and then takes a slow breath. His voice is far more calm when he says, "I'm not hiding them, I'm just not expending the effort to keep them conjured. The Underworld powers them, and it's easier to just let them remain a shade until I need them." His head tilts slightly, enough to maybe see Slade out of the corner of his eye. "People don't usually notice them, though."
Slade hums. "Can I see them?"
Richard doesn't say anything, but there's a shimmer in front of Slade's eyes and as if from nothing, a pair of weapons are visible attached to Richard's back. The sheathes are pure black, shining faintly in the sunlight like onyx, and the hilts of the blades hidden inside match the color save some sort of design in a deep, beautiful blue that Slade recognizes as the exact color of Richard's eyes.
"May I?" Slade asks, wrapping his hand around one of the hilts to indicate what he means. His other hand remains pressed against Richard's back; he can feel the heat of his skin through the material of his shirt.
Richard nods, so Slade tugs on the hilt. It slides free with no noise at all, and Slade realizes why very quickly—there's no blade attached to the hilt.
In front of him, Richard's body shakes slightly as he laughs under his breath, and Slade thumps him on the head with the hilt in retaliation.
Richard turns around to face him, a smile on his face that makes his eyes crinkle, but Slade doesn't drop his hand, instead letting it slide from its previous position to instead settle on Richard's hip.
"I told you," Richard says. "The Underworld powers them. That includes the blades."
His eyes flick over to the hilt in Slade's hand, and they seem to glow brighter for a moment as a blade forms from nothing, much like the sheathes had before. The short sword matches the onyx color of everything else, except there's the impression of movement inside of them, like shadows writhing, almost alive.
"Incredible," Slade murmurs, examining the blade, and it's only because his hand is on Richard that he notices the small shiver that travels up his spine.
He tightens his grip just slightly, using it to tug Richard closer, and the boy stumbles forward a step with a sharp breath. His hands raise to catch himself, and then push against Slade's chest, but Slade wraps his arm around Richard's waist, keeping him pinned close.
"Slade," Richard says, a note of warning in his voice. His pulse is racing, Slade can feel it. "Let go of me."
Slade reaches around him and slides the sword in his hand back into its place on Richard's back, then uses that hand to cup the side of Richard's neck.
Richard has fallen deathly still once again, his gaze fixed on Slade's chest to avoid looking the elder god in the eye.
When Richard was a boy, he was so openly affectionate. Always quick to give a hug, or lean against someone's side, or put his arm around someone's shoulder.
Now, though. Now, touch makes him stiff and uneasy, no matter who it is, and Slade doesn't think it's because he doesn't like to be touched. Slade thinks it's because he does, but if he allows himself to indulge then going back to the Underworld all by his lonesome will be a thousand times harder.
Slade doesn't let go, just stands there steadily, holding tight. He calls upon a breeze, ruffling Richard's hair and cooling sun-heated skin. And then he waits.
Slowly, eventually, Richard relaxes in his grip, body going from stiff as a board to pliant and loose. His head tilts forward, forehead pressing against Slade's chest, and he lets out a quiet breath. His hands are no longer pushing, instead holding onto the material of Slade's shirt.
Slade hums, low and approving. He rubs his fingers over the nape of the boy's neck, a gentle motion, and Richard shivers, his breath hitching.
"There you go," Slade murmurs. "You're okay."
Richard looks up at him, examining his expression, brow furrowed. Slade releases the nape of his neck to reach up instead and rub his thumb over the line there, smoothing out the frown.
"Why are you doing this?" Richard asks.
There are a million things Slade could say. I find you fascinating. I want to see what happens when you finally let loose. I think getting close to you will irritate Bruce and the others. I want you to have some peace. I want to figure out exactly how you tick. You're unusual and I like unusual things. Olympus is dull and you aren't. I think you're a bleeding wound and I've never been able to resist poking at those. You need someone who understands you.
He doesn't say any of that. Instead he tilts Richard's chin up and kisses him.
Richard jolts like a bolt of lightning has gone through him, eyes wide and once again rigid in Slade's arms. Slade keeps him close, nipping at his bottom lip, and Richard gasps. Slade takes the opportunity, deepening the kiss and sliding his tongue into the younger god's mouth.
Richard's eyes have closed and he's trembling in Slade's hold, but he continues to grip at Slade's shirt. And then he hesitantly begins to kiss back.
Slade makes an approving noise and pulls Richard even closer, their bodies flush together. He slowly slides his hand down Richard's back, settling on his ass and squeezing gently. Richard sucks in a sharp breath and breaks the kiss, panting against Slade's shoulder.
"Wait," Richard says on a breath. "Wait."
Slade presses a kiss to Richard's temple. He doesn't move otherwise.
"Why are you doing this?" Richard asks again. He starts to draw back, pulling against Slade's grip. Slade considers refusing to let go, curious what Richard might do, but decides against it, instead releasing his hold.
Richard takes a few steps away, breathing deeply, and watches him intensely. Slade keeps himself relaxed and at ease, not a threat, allowing Richard to work through whatever's going on in his head.
"Answer me," Richard says firmly. He's shaking a little, Slade notes. He wonders if the boy is even aware of it, or of the way the shadows from the trees seem to stretch towards him.
"I'm doing this because I want to," Slade says. "Because I want you."
Richard's lips twist into a bitter smile. "You're not the only person to want me," he says, and despite how cocky that could come off there's nothing but self-deprecation in his voice. "But it...doesn't matter. I'm just gonna..."
He looks off towards the woods, and the shadows pulse. The weapons on his back seem to become more solid.
He's planning on heading back to the Underworld now, Slade realizes. He's going to run away.
Slade’s hand is twined in the back of Richard’s cloak before the younger god has a chance to move. Because Richard may want many things, but he has long-since mastered denying himself. Unlike Richard, Slade has never been one to hold himself back, and if he allows the boy to run it will be centuries before he has another chance.
Besides, the boy must be far more spooked than he’s capable of realizing if he’s able to run off without upholding his almighty father’s demands.
Dick can’t explain why he leaves.
Well, that’s not completely true. In fact, it’s not true at all. The warmth of Slade’s touch lingers on his skin, the scent of the nature god’s power stubbornly refusing to dissipate even in the chill of the Underworld.
Slade wants him. Slade...wants him. And Dick doesn’t find that idea anywhere near as terrifying as he thinks he should. Slade has always looked at him differently. Dick can’t lie to himself, can’t pretend he isn’t surprised, not when the way Slade looks at him like a puzzle to be solved is more familiar to him than his own father’s smile.
It’s been centuries since he’s seen Bruce smile, at least a millennium since he’s heard him laugh. But he still remembers the rare, precious sound and how it filled the entire Temple with warmth. How special Dick would feel, when he was the cause.
Bruce still smiles, Dick knows; he still smiles that love-struck smile at Selina, still laughs boisterously along with Jason and Tim and Damian and all the rest of their family. Dick knows that for all the weight on his father’s shoulders, he is truly happy on Olympus. But Dick is never around to hear it, hasn’t been a part of that for a very, very long time.
Instead, Dick has the cold decay of the Underworld as his dominion. He has loneliness, has darkness and isolation that sink into his very being.
And yet somehow, every time he returns from the Earth—from his summonings to Mount Olympus—the Underworld is a comfort.
Dick feels the tension release from his shoulders as the power welcomes him home, shadows draping themselves around him as he sinks into his throne. As much as he grieves the loss of sunlight and warmth and family, this is where he truly belongs. And he always will.
A loud wolf-whistle pierces his thoughts.
Dick startles, his eyes flying open from his moment of reprieve. Standing in the middle of his throne room, a self-satisfied smirk fixed to his face, is Slade.
Dick is on his feet in an instant, the blades in his hands thrumming with power. His power was great even on Earth and on Olympus, but here in his own realm, Dick’s power knows no limits. And yet Slade looks far more fascinated by the glowing black swords than he does fearful of what Dick could do to him.
“How did you get here?!” Dick demands, outrage coloring his voice. No being can enter his realm without permission, and Dick most certainly did not give it.
“Easy, boy.” Slade raises a hand, and Dick can see the corner of his cloak pinched between two fingers. Dick glares and wills his cloak to dissipate back into shadows, leaving Slade empty-handed.
Slade doesn’t seem to mind. Instead, he glances around the throne room with a curious expression on his face. He looks out the windows, taking in the rolling fields of Elysium, and the curiosity turns to fascination. “This place truly is beautiful. I can see why you hate to leave.”
Dick scowls as the jab hits deep. Slade knows why he so rarely returns to Olympus; he’s one of the few that truly understands.
“You’re not welcome here,” Dick says, but the words ring falsely. Slade snorts.
“If that were true, I wouldn’t be here at all.” Slade inclines his head towards Dick, his tone as formal as it is mocking. “Simple tricks are no match for the King of the Underworld, after all.”
“What do you want, Slade?” Dick asks, exhausted. It’s only been a few hours since he departed for Olympus but it feels like centuries have passed. Could it really have been a few minutes since Slade kissed him in the forest and Dick asked him that same question?
“I already answered that,” Slade reminds him.
“I'm doing this because I want to. Because I want you."
Dick has heard that before. Countless beings who’ve seen him as the key to endless power; gods, nymphs, spirits, primordials, even the occasional daring human. Everything ended. Everything died eventually, even the gods. Everything but the Underworld. Everything but Death itself and those who rule over it.
Dick is tired of being used; wants none of it. Especially not from someone claiming to...claiming to care.
But never before had anyone followed him to the Underworld.
Dick lets a bitter smile twist across his face again. “You’re the first immortal to visit the Underworld in ten thousand years.”
“That’s truly a shame.” For once, Slade looks sincere. “Your realm is far more impressive up close.”
Dick feels a swell of pride accompanied by a far worse ache. He is proud of the Underworld. For thousands of years, it has fallen to him and him alone to maintain order, to dole out punishments and rewards to the dead, to protect all of creation by watching over Tartarus. And none of his family have ever seen what he has accomplished.
He knows there should be pride in that fact, in knowing that Bruce trusts him enough to give him this much responsibility, but that pride isn’t enough. Not when the loneliness has had millennia to take its toll on him.
“You’re not afraid?” Dick can’t stop himself from asking, twirling the blade in his hand absently. “Your power is weakened in my realm; it would be effortless to destroy you.”
Slade just smirks again.
“You could do that anywhere. But if you think I’m afraid of you, Richard, then I’ll remind you that I’m not the one who ran.”
“You’ve chosen this loneliness for yourself.” Slade’s voice is harsh, and it makes Dick wince. “You’re in a prison of your own making.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t I? You could have refused this honor, could have turned down your father’s offer. You still could.”
“You’re wrong,” Dick snaps, glaring, protective anger surging in his chest at the idea of abandoning his realm. “The Underworld is my responsibility. I won’t ever let that change. I wouldn’t...I wouldn’t give it up for anything.”
“And so you’ve become an outsider, a stranger amongst your own family. A not insignificant price to pay.”
Dick sighs, his anger dissipating at the truth of that. It shouldn’t surprise him that Slade knows him so well, not when the older god has been watching him for so many millennia.
“You don’t have to be,” Slade says, plucking a fruit from the bowl on the dais. He studies the pomegranate carefully, turning it over to watch the way the rind sparkles in the Underworld’s unusual light. “Alone, I mean.”
“Don’t touch that,” Dick warns, his heart suddenly pounding in his chest.
“The stories are true then?” Slade looks entirely unconcerned as he tosses the fruit into the air. “A single bite and I’ll be bound to the Underworld forever?”
“There are things in this realm that not even I can change.” Dick’s frown doesn’t lighten until Slade has returned the fruit to the bowl and stepped away.
“And yet, there are many you could,” Slade steps forward until he’s in Dick’s face, one broad hand reaching under Dick’s chin to tilt his head up until he’s staring into the older god’s eye. “If you weren’t afraid.”
Dick swallows. He wants to lean forward so badly. He wants to kiss Slade and let himself be held, let himself be wanted and cared for. But Slade is wrong. This isn’t about Dick being afraid.
Dick is an outsider. He isn’t like the other gods; the Underworld has changed him too much for that. Slade might want Dick, but the Underworld would change him, too. And Slade would never let that happen. He would never let himself be bound to the responsibility as Dick has, and that means that this can never be real, no matter how much Dick wants it.
Dick pulls away again, turning away, and Slade lets him.
“You should go.”
“If that’s what you want,” Slade says. “But if you ever want something else, you know where to find me.”
Dick glances back, but by the time he does, Slade is already gone.
The pomegranate looks different in daylight. Slade wonders if the curse still holds power here on Earth, but as soon as he does, the fruit grows lighter in his hand until it’s almost translucent. He knows suddenly that consuming so much as a single seed will tie his immortal being to the Underworld forever.
Slade doesn’t know why he took it. But seeing Richard in his full glory, every inch the king of his realm, blades humming with power as he prepared to smite his enemies...Slade wanted more. He meant what he’d said to Richard; if the younger god wanted him out, he’d never be able to pass the gates. The fruit was insurance that he’d always have a way to see Richard again.
He doubts he’ll ever need to use it, though. The boy will need time, that much is clear. But Slade is a primordial being, as old as the Earth itself, and he has nothing but time.
It’s a mere half-century before Richard is summoned to Olympus again. Slade doesn’t drop what he’s doing the moment he hears, but he does allow the hurricane to dissipate sooner than he otherwise would’ve in favor of returning to the Mountain of the Gods.
Richard’s brothers have gotten to him already, and it’s clear that Richard is trying very hard to enjoy their presence. He looks good. Very good, in fact. Slade doesn’t know whether it’s genuine or it’s the result of Dick trying even harder to conceal his loneliness.
“We’re so glad you’re here, Bruce is furious—” he hears Timothy say, and Slade might be the only one that sees the exhaustion flash across Richard’s face. All the other godlings are too focused on their own problems. There are many reasons Slade has been avoiding Olympus recently, and their mighty king is responsible for most of them. Apparently Richard’s brothers have received more than their share of Bruce’s ire.
“If you continue to stalk my brother, you will not enjoy the consequences,” a petulant voice warns from behind him. Slade allows a disdainful smirk to cross his face.
“And I suppose I should be intimidated, is that correct?” Slade mocks, mostly for the pleasure of seeing the godling’s face contort with rage. Damian certainly inherited his father’s temperament, and it amuses Slade to no end.
“Stay away from him,” Damian spits. “Timothy believes you are a minor nuisance, but I see you for what you are. Do not forget that you are only allowed on Olympus by my father’s permission.”
The attempt at a threat only deepens Slade’s smirk. The godling is well aware that Bruce cannot risk antagonizing Slade and the other primordial gods. He may be powerful, but even the King of the Gods will be weakened by another war.
“Your brother is a big god now. He can threaten me on his own,” Slade returns, enjoying the way the frown on Damian’s face twists harshly. “And even if he couldn’t, you have no right to speak for him. Not when you have no idea what he wants.”
“Stay. Away.” Damian doesn’t draw a weapon, but Slade knows exactly how hard he’d need to keep pushing to make him draw his broadsword to his hands. As much as he’d enjoy the chaos that would cause, he has a much more important task in mind than antagonizing this arrogant godling.
“I would,” Slade says apologetically, enjoying the way his mocking tone makes Damian hiss, “but unfortunately, your father has requested my presence as well.”
The words have the desired effect, and Damian has no rebuttal that won’t result in him insulting his own father. Unfortunately, this also ensures that Slade must now make an appearance in the throne room where the king is currently throwing a fit.
Damian trails him the entire way, and Slade takes no small pleasure in making the god of beasts wait as he takes his time.
He can hear shouting long before he makes it to the throne room, and it’s the usual chaos when he enters. The only difference is the sight of Richard standing before Bruce’s throne, attempting to look appropriately chastened as Bruce yells at him. Slade can’t understand why he bothers—Bruce holds no power over him. Even this far from the Underworld, Richard could make Bruce bow with a snap of his fingers.
Bruce is a fool to forget that loyalty flows in both directions.
Slade doesn’t quite know what this is about, but it's apparent that the king has some sort of problem locked in his teeth, and Richard is being considered the responsible party.
“Do you realize what you’ve done?!” Bruce roars, and Slade watches in fascination as the pinched expression on Richard’s face grows tighter and tighter. The tirade continues on and on, and it’s clear Richard’s patience has grown thinner than spider silk.
“This is a matter of trust, Dick!” Their ever-so-mighty ruler continues. “How can you possibly expect me to trust you with this responsibility when you act like this?!”
Richard tenses, and Slade can see the line begin to fray. But just when he’s convinced the Lord of the Underworld is about to snap, Richard takes a breath and a wave of calm washes over his face.
Across the throne room, Richard meets Slade's eye, and for a fraction of an instant, the façade lifts and Richard rolls his eyes. Slade smirks, inclining his head, and then just like that the moment is over.
The summit takes an eternity, as most of them do. Once the king has finished his tirade, the matter must actually be dealt with and that entails endless negotiations and stubborn, obstinate gods fighting against the so-called greater good to ensure that none of them lose anything in the process. Slade finds the entire affair droll as usual, but the sight of Damian posturing behind his father and Richard pretending to pay attention is more than enough to distract himself with.
It seems there’s been some new drama in the past few decades; Arthur caused a storm that destroyed one of Diana’s sacred cities and the goddess of wisdom has sworn vengeance. Slade expects this slight will fuel their ridiculous feud for at least another three centuries.
Another time, Slade might be interested in the opportunity to sow yet more chaos among the Olympians, but now his sole interest is on the God of the Dead. Richard’s façade is cracking; he looks exhausted, and distraction covers his face like a shroud. Slade wonders how long it might take him to coax a smile onto Richard’s face this time.
It’s definitely amusing how quickly Richard slips out of the room in a veil of shadows the instant Bruce calls the council to a vote. Slade certainly doesn’t blame him; without a seat, Slade has no investment in the outcome, either. But it is almost funny how easily the other gods forget Richard’s presence.
As Slade slips out, all three of Richard’s brothers watch him with hostility and suspicion where they never even noticed Richard leave.
It takes Slade barely any time at all to find Richard sitting against a cypress tree in one of the smaller gardens. Slade appreciates the choice; the larger, more sprawling gardens can be too much to take in for someone accustomed to the relative simplicity of the Underworld. He’s not surprised Richard sought out sunlight and warm tranquility over the bustling oasis of the temple’s main garden.
Richard cracks an eye open as Slade approaches, offering Slade a tired smile.
“It’s good to see you, Slade.”
“You as well, Richard. Enjoying your visit so far?” Richard grimaces, and Slade raises an eyebrow. “I’m afraid to inform you that your brothers have surely noticed your absence.”
The corner of Richard’s mouth pinches to the side. “We still have time. They’re not going to leave before the vote is over. And that could be...a while.”
“I imagine decision-making is much more efficient in the Underworld,” Slade notes.
Richard snorts. “When something needs to be done, I do it.”
Slade grins and inclines his head. “Like I said—much more efficient.” He holds out a hand. “Care to walk with me for a bit?”
Richard pauses for a moment, and then takes his hand, allowing Slade to pull him up. The younger god’s hand is warm from the sunlight and Slade idly wonders how it would feel to run his hands along Richard’s skin in the depths of the Underworld where there would be no sun to warm it.
A spark of power passes through their grip and Slade tightens his hand, enjoying the steady thrum of power radiating off him.
Richard doesn’t let go when he’s on his feet. Instead, he hesitates, and Slade takes the moment to interlock their fingers. Richard falls still as he processes the contact, and Slade can’t deny the thrill that passes through him when Richard slowly relaxes and allows a smile to brighten his face.
“Shall we walk, Richard?”
Richard inclines his head, and Slade can’t drag his eye from the way his black locks glint in the sunlight. He’s beautiful, that much is undeniable. But Slade is fascinated by the way the tension in Richard’s shoulders slides away, how the stress lines seem so much fainter in the light. They stroll through the gardens, hand-in-hand in companionable silence. Slade finds it peaceful and exactly to his liking.
The other gods are fools; Richard has floundered in their company for millennia when a quiet stroll is more than sufficient to enjoy his presence.
“You can call me Dick,” Richard says after a little while. Slade feels Richard’s hand clench in his own and realizes the younger god is nervous to make the offer. “Since we’re...friends.”
“Are we friends?” Slade can’t help teasing him, and it’s worth it for the blush that tinges Richard’s face pink.
“I...I’d like us to be,” the boy admits, glancing away.
It’s as amusing as it is heartbreaking—Richard is the King of the Underworld, lord of an entire realm, and practically tripping over himself at the thought of letting someone inside his protective walls.
Slade stops, turning and raising a hand to cup Richard’s chin. “And if I’d like us to be something more...Dick?”
The younger god swallows, stunning blue eyes tracing down to where Slade’s hand rests against his skin. “I think I’d...like that too.”
Slade pulls him close, capturing the younger god’s lips with his own and locking their mouths together. Dick lets out a startled sound, trying to regain his balance, but Slade only tightens his hold.
Slade kisses Dick until even he needs to breathe and it is, by far, the best thing that has happened in the last century.
“I think you and I should go somewhere private for a little while. How does that sound?”
Dick doesn’t say anything. Instead, he surges towards Slade, cupping his face and pulling him in for another kiss.
Slade isn’t one for sentimentality, but even he can appreciate that Dick fits perfectly against him. The Fates know better than to meddle with him, but holding Dick in his arms, Slade can’t help but wonder if they had their hands in this.
That being said, Slade has been patient for a long time, and now he has a chance to make up for lost time. He’s not going to waste it wondering. Not when he could have Dick all to himself in his private chambers for the days it might take the council to come to a vote.
Dick has been thinking about Slade.
That shouldn’t be anything of note, really; after all, he spends most of his days alone in the Underworld—it’s not unusual for his thoughts to drift to the people he misses. But ever since he’s returned to Olympus, Slade hasn’t been occupying his thoughts as much as he has been...consuming them.
This visit to Olympus has been much more enjoyable than any other in recent memory. His brothers had demanded to know where he’d gone during the voting of course—Damian especially—but they’d backed off by the fifth time Dick assured them he’d just gone on a walk.
And he had. Technically. It was none of their business what came after the walk.
Dick doesn’t want to think about why he’s so hesitant to let his brothers know what he and Slade...are becoming. Aside from the fact that Dick doesn’t even know what to call whatever they’re doing, he just—Dick is a powerful god, king of his own domain, and he’s been on his own for a long time. Who he spends his time with—and how he spends it—is none of their business.
After all, they’ve never come to visit him. The part of him that aches from that knowledges snarls that they don’t have the right to tell him how to spend his time when he visits Olympus.
Dick spends plenty of time sparring with Jason, he lets Tim show him around Olympus’ new armory, and he meets each and every one of the dozens of monstrous beasts Damian has acquired in the last century. And he still stays, even when watching Damian care for his beloved pets makes him miss Cerberus fiercely enough to want to return to the Underworld right then and there.
Jason somehow coaxes Cassandra out of her chambers—despite the goddess being nearly inseparable from her writings—and Dick shares meals with his whole family for the first time in nearly a thousand years; even Bruce and Selina join them. Dick can’t even begin to put into words how incredible it feels to just enjoy his father’s company without any obligations or pressing concerns hanging over his head. He feels more like himself than he has in—well, maybe he can’t remember the last time he could truly answer that question.
He just wishes he could give his family credit for being the reason he’s stayed. In truth, they have nothing to do with it. Every time he feels himself growing weary of his family, every time the bustle of Olympus becomes too much or a joke at his expense strikes a little too close to home, Slade is never far away.
It’s exciting; stealing moments together, exchanging kisses in secret underneath the cypress trees and behind the closed doors of Slade’s chambers. He knows his brothers have seen Slade following them, he knows they’re suspicious of Slade’s intentions, and he certainly knows how Bruce would react if he found out what he and Slade have been up to.
Dick just doesn’t care. For the first time in a very long time, he’s enjoying himself.
He carries that joy over into his sparring with his brother, and he strikes hard at Jason’s shield, hitting with enough force to make the god of war stagger backwards. Dick lets a smirk cross his face, drawing far more power than necessary to make the onyx blade shimmer with pure power. He can feel Slade’s eye on him, the intensity of the gaze making him shiver as the older god watches the spar from a distance.
Jason curses as Dick disarms him in a smooth motion, but instead of grinning and allowing Dick to pull him to his feet, his brother yanks off his helmet and throws it furiously against the ground.
“You need to get rid of him!” Jason snarls, his eyes burning green with irritation as he pushes himself off the ground. “How are we supposed to focus on anything with him watching you all the time? You’re the god of creepy stuff, can’t you just tell him to get lost?”
Dick blinks, his cheer evaporating. The call of the Underworld seizes the moment of weakness and suddenly Dick is beyond exhausted. He’s never been away from his domain for this long before, what kind of a mess is going to be waiting for him when he gets back? How much longer does he have before the seals begin to weaken—
You’re the god of creepy stuff. Jason doesn’t mean anything by that, Dick knows he doesn’t. But it hurts anyways, and Dick has to fight himself to stop the shadows from leaping up and swallowing him whole.
“Fuck! I’m sorry Dick, I know it’s not your fault. Don’t worry, I’ll handle him for you. Okay?”
“It’s okay.” Dick releases the power anchoring his blades and lets his shoulders drop. “I need to go back anyway.”
“What? Bullshit, you didn’t say anything about that before. Look, Slade’s an asshole and a creep, don’t let him get to you.”
“Jason, drop it!” Dick snaps, losing control of the anger building in his chest. His brother blinks, looking a little stunned. “I need to go. It has nothing to do with him.”
Jason opens his mouth to argue, anger and confusion plastered across his face, but he deflates almost immediately. “I...we’ll miss you. It’s been nice having you around, you know? You should come visit more.”
Dick’s chest tightens uncomfortably. “Yeah,” he says, but the word feels empty. “I’ll see you next time.”
Slade’s sharp gaze is burning a hole in his back and Dick says, “Can you tell Tim and Damian I said I’ll see them soon?”
“Of course,” Jason replies. “We’ll see you soon.”
“Right,” Dick says hollowly as his brother disappears.
Slade is behind him the instant that the younger god is gone. “That went well,” he comments smoothly, and his usual mocking tone grates against Dick’s already frayed nerves.
“I’ve been away from the Underworld too long.” Dick doesn’t turn around. “I have to go.”
“I’m sure you do. Of course, you could also try standing up for yourself instead of letting everyone walk all over you.”
Dick goes stiff and slowly turns to face him. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“The fact that you’d rather run away and make excuses than admit to your family that the end of days has come and you actually enjoy my presence.”
“I’m not running from anything!” Dick protests, anger flaring in his chest.
“Well you certainly seemed to be enjoying yourself before your brother mentioned me.”
Dick doesn’t know why that’s the straw that breaks the cart, but his control slips away and he sees red.
“Not everything is about you! There are millions of souls that depend on me and I can’t just turn my back on them! I have responsibilities! Something that you’ll never understand; all you do is cause chaos and kill off humans for your own entertainment!”
Silence hangs in the arena between them. Finally, Slade speaks and for the first time in all the millennia Dick has known him, he sounds almost wounded.
“You really think so little of me?”
“Am I wrong?”
He’s a coward. Dick is a coward and he hates himself for it but he can’t stop the words from slipping out any more than he can stop himself from returning to the Underworld before Slade can answer.
It’s been nearly a decade since their fight, which is simultaneously a lifetime and no time at all. He hasn’t heard a single word from Slade since, and he’s not naïve. He knows what that means. They’re done. Whatever fun they’d had was over and it’s all because Dick ruined it.
That’s why he’s surprised when he finds himself summoned to Earth by none other than Slade himself.
“Slade, why did you call me here?” Dick demands the instant his surroundings come into view.
They’re inside a crypt, and a very large and fancy one at that. He chooses to examine the rows of names carved into the walls instead of look at Slade; a bittersweet smile almost rises to his face for every name he recognizes. Many of these humans have found their way to Elysium, and Dick feels a bit of pride without quite knowing why.
“So Bruce is the only one allowed to summon you anywhere?” Slade’s dry voice pulls him back, and Dick frowns.
“That’s not an answer.”
“If you really need me to spell it out for you, I believe the humans would call this a date.”
Dick blinks. “You...I thought you were—”
“Hurt by what you said?”
Dick nods numbly, guilt curling in his stomach. A tiny smile pulls at the corner of Slade’s mouth and he shakes his head.
“There’s nothing you said that wasn’t true. I do cause chaos and kill humans for my entertainment. But I’d like to think you know there’s more to me than that.”
“I’m sorry,” Dick says.
Slade tilts his head. “Because you don’t?”
“Because I do know and I never should’ve said that to you. I’m so sorry Slade, I was—”
“Understandably exhausted from an extended visit with your overbearing family?” Slade cuts in with a smirk.
Dick glances away. “That’s not an excuse.”
“Well now that we’ve established that you didn’t mean what you said and I don’t blame you for saying it, shall we get back to the important things at hand? Your brothers seem to dislike my monopolizing your time on Mount Olympus, so this seemed like an appropriate compromise.”
“Slade, I can’t be away from the Underworld for long.”
“I know you’ve spent weeks on Mount Olympus before, you can spare a few hours on Earth.”
“Time passes differently here,” Dick answers.
Slade rolls his eye. “Time passes more slowly on Olympus,” he reminds him pointedly. “If you’re going to run again, do it now. No point wasting either of our time.”
Dick purses his lips and lets out a slow exhale. “So this is a date? Here in a mausoleum?”
“I thought you’d be more comfortable here,” Slade responds smoothly as he settles onto the sleek marble bench in front of the rows of stone-carved names. He offers his hand, and a teasing smile crosses Dick’s face in response, allowing Slade to pull him onto his lap and relaxing as his body slots in perfectly against the older god.
“I guess I’m just surprised that you know anything about human customs. I thought you nature gods were beyond mere human ways.”
“I’ve spent more time among humans than you’d think,” Slade answers. Dick isn’t sure if it’s the words or the warm, strong hands sliding over his skin that make him jump.
“I find that gods tend to be...shortsighted. And somehow humans, so small and limited, can accomplish fascinating things in that time. Not all of them, of course. But I’ve met far more worldly, interesting humans than I have gods.”
“Of course.” Dick finds himself smiling back. He tries to imagine Slade, hunched over in the beggar’s disguise most gods tend to favor when they visit Earth and can’t do it. It’s impossible to see Slade as anything other than strong and powerful.
“And what about you? You’ve got plenty of human souls in your realm; surely you’ve spent some time amongst them.”
Dick swallows. “I...I have. But I try not to spend too much time around them.”
“I’m shocked that the dead might make poor company,” Slade drawls.
“No, they’re—there are some wonderful people down there, but I don’t...” Dick breaks off, unsure of why this is so hard to say. He thinks of James and Alec and Lyla and all the hundreds of other kind, caring, vibrant people he’s met enjoying their well-earned rest in Elysium. His chest tightens. “The attention of a god makes people nervous. And they...they’ve earned their rest. They don’t need me butting in and influencing their afterlives.”
Slade is staring at him again with that oh-so-familiar puzzled look on his face. “Do you ever get tired of being so self-deprecating?” he asks.
Dick frowns. “What?”
“Did any of those ‘wonderful people’ ever tell you they wanted you to get lost or did you just decide that one on your own?”
Dick freezes. “I...”
“You really are something else.” Slade shakes his head. His fingers find Dick’s chin and he feels his head being tilted back until he’s staring Slade in the eye. Slade leans in until Dick is practically cross-eyed to keep track of him, and he shivers as the warmth from Slade’s breath washes over his face. “Have you ever considered that people might enjoy your company?”
The words hit Dick like a thunderbolt to the chest, and Slade closes the distance between them before he has time to process any of it. Kissing Slade is just as amazing as he remembers. It’s even better than he remembers, really—he’d spent quite a bit of time getting used to the fact that he’d never get to do this again.
Slade’s tongue circles around his, his hands roaming over Dick’s body and slipping inside his robes while the kiss takes Dick’s breath away and turns his mind into mush.
“Slade, not here.” Dick tries to push Slade away, but there’s very little he can accomplish with the way the elder god is pushing his tongue down his throat. “It’s not—it’s disrespectful.”
“Then take us somewhere else,” Slade somehow manages to say without ever backing off.
Dick obliges. It’s not his fault that the first place he can think of is his bedchambers.
Slade doesn’t even blink at the change of scene, nor does he recoil from the sudden dampening of his power that Dick knows he must be feeling down in the Underworld.
And that just makes him want Slade even more.
Slade has known this was going to happen for a long time. Because there’s something very simple that most gods will never understand—everything is a cycle. Everything begins and, eventually, ends.
Unfortunately, this also includes the centuries of secrecy and discretion he and Dick have enjoyed. It’s been entertaining to say the least, to say nothing of the rush Slade has gotten from knowing that Dick’s prying family has been oblivious to what’s been happening under their noses. And even if he’s never said as much, Slade knows Dick's enjoyed having something that’s just his. No overbearing family or never-ending expectations.
So no, Slade is not surprised this is happening; if anything, he was expecting it far sooner.
“Jason, this is a surprise. It’s not like you to venture this far from Olympus,” Slade offers casually, raising his hand and watching the storm on the horizon swell in size. The black clouds are already visible for miles and the churning seas below are enough to send the little fishing boats fleeing back to shore. The winds will be powerful enough to tear down trees and smash the homes lining the coastline to rubble; the humans have gotten too bold and far too comfortable in their believed mastery of the elements. Slade is looking forward to teaching them a lesson.
Jason doesn’t even glance over at the dangerous weather growing; no appreciation for a good storm. Typical.
“Cut the shit, Slade,” Jason growls. “This is your last warning. Stay the hell away from Dick.”
“I think we both know that’s not going to happen.” Slade doesn’t even bother to look at the younger god. Jason fumes, angered by the disrespect. Slade couldn’t care less what he thinks.
“Whatever you want with him, we’re never going to let you get it.”
“And what exactly is it that you think I want?” Slade lets his voice fill with power, amused by the way Jason puffs up his chest in response to the threat.
“I don’t trust you.”
Slade pauses at that, releasing his hold over the storm growing in the distance and leaving it to its path of destruction. He finally turns to look at the other god, allowing amusement to shine through his eye and a condescending smirk to cross his features.
“That’s an interesting way to admit that you don’t know.”
Jason steps forward, his aura thrumming with power around him. Slade senses rage and anger and hears the drums of war echoing with righteousness. The God of War truly believes he is on the right side of this fight.
If Jason were capable of using his brain, he would know that the battle was long-since decided. He would understand that Dick was the only one had any right to make this choice.
But really, it’s more than that. The God of War imagines himself as a righteous warrior protecting his naïve brother from harm. Slade sees an arrogant child trying to bend nature to his will.
It seems the boastful humans won’t be the only ones learning a lesson about what happens when you deny nature its course.
Jason steps even closer and Slade can feel that heat pouring off him in his fury. His eyes are glowing pure green, almost wild with protective rage powered by the ancient Lazarus Pits. Slade meets his anger calmly, wondering exactly what it would take to make the godling lose control.
“I know that you’re using him,” Jason hisses. “I know that whatever it is you’re after, Dick is going to be the one hurt by it. You’re a lot of things, Slade, but you’re not an idiot. You should know by know that I am never going to let him get hurt. None of us are.”
Slade almost laughs. The sheer obliviousness is too much, it really is. Slade may be the one missing an eye, but the godling in front of him is truly blind. He and all his precious family still have no idea what millennia of loneliness and isolation have done to Dick, how badly they’ve hurt him by leaving him alone for all these years. It’s almost funny. Almost—Slade can’t truly bring himself to find any amusement in the knowledge that the god he loves spent millennia in agonized self-hatred.
So he keeps himself from laughing, but he doesn’t manage to bite back the contempt from filling his voice. “You know, it’s funny. For someone who claims to want what’s best for him, you seem to have absolutely no idea what that is.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Will the thought ever penetrate your thick skull that you are perfectly capable of going to him for once? You’ve all had standing invitations for millennia, but I’d hardly expect such a self-obsessed, puny godling to see beyond their own ichor.”
Jason pulls back, his mouth agape, and Slade's satisfied by being the one to put it there. It’s about time someone showed Dick’s brothers how much they’ve taken advantage of him over the centuries.
“You have no idea what he wants,” Slade continues. “You have no right to speak for him.”
“I’m his brother!”
“And that entitles you to take as much as you want from him?” Slade spits back, viciously pleased as the blow lands. Slade half expects him to retaliate, either with words or with that glowing sword strapped to his back, but Jason manages to steel himself.
“Enough games, Slade,” he growls, but Slade isn’t imagining the way that Jason has gone stiff. Slade’s words hit deeper than the godling would ever admit. “This is your last warning. Do the smart thing and stay away from him, or we’ll make sure you do.”
“Just. Try it.”
Jason may be the god of war, but Slade is nature itself. And nothing can get in nature’s way, not even a god.
Not that the godling appreciates the threat for what it is. Jason steps back, looking at Slade with something almost like regret.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Slade should have known what was coming next, but even if he had, it might not have made a difference. The god of the forge is as cunning as he is crafty and the instant the golden filaments touch him, Slade knows he will not be able to escape.
“I told you, Slade. That was your last warning, you could’ve walked away,” Jason says, looking far less confident than he sounds. Timothy crosses his arms over his chest, regarding Slade coldly as Damian snarls at him with pure hostility.
Slade looks at them calmly through the golden filaments of the net.
“You know, there are far less dramatic methods to inform me that your father demands my presence.”
Bruce, as Slade suspected, is not happy. The throne room is full, all the Olympians in their seats, with every deity on Olympus crowded into the room. The air is cold, fraught with tension so thick Slade could pierce it with one of his blades.
Slade is dragged into the room by a pair of minor gods, weakling offspring of the least treacherous Titans who barely have the power to best a nymph between them, let alone actually take Slade on. Jason and Timothy have both taken their thrones and Damian has found his way to his father’s side.
Slade knows the display is supposed to humiliate him. In reality, it’s all he can do not to laugh in their faces. The other gods may see this as their king defending one of his own against a potential threat that means nothing but harm; all Slade sees is an arrogant, oblivious fool throwing a tantrum.
Bruce stands, thunder and lightning crackling above their heads, and the entire temple falls silent instantly.
“You’ve gone far enough, Slade. For millennia I have allowed you a place here on Olympus. You have run unchecked through the world, bringing havoc and strife, and yet time and time again I have forgiven your transgressions and allowed you to continue. But I have reached my limit, and I will not allow you to harm my son.”
He draws himself up. “You will be bound to the Earth, your power tied to it so you may never leave. Never again will you be able to set foot upon Olympus; you will be forever banished from its hallowed halls, and forbidden from interacting with any gods.” Bruce leans forwards, lighting bolts of fury blazing in his eyes. “You will never see Dick again.”
“Do you have any words to speak in your defense?” Diana demands. Slade resists the urge to roll his eye; truth and justice are hardly the goddess of wisdom’s purview, yet everyone always fancies her judge and jury.
Slade allows a smirk to cross his face, turning as much as the golden filaments holding him immobile will allow. “You’re a fool,” he tells Bruce.
The King of the Gods recoils, fury darkening his features. “If you have nothing to say in your defense, then this matter is settled.”
“It won’t work,” Slade says.
“Silence!” Damian snarls. “You had your chance, we have no need to listen to your ramblings.”
“You’re all fools,” Slade repeats. “There is nothing that you can do to keep me away from him. You have no idea what you’re all meddling in, and I certainly won’t be bothered to fill you in. Not that it could possibly penetrate those impossibly thick skulls, the way you’re all so obsessed with your perfect lives in this utopia.”
“Enough. Bring the stone,” Bruce commands.
A nervous-looking satyr comes forward, holding a clear box. Inside sit a fairly large rock, a piece of mined ore.
Slade frowns when he sees the chunk of Earth being carried gingerly as though it’s a bomb liable to go off at any time. He recognizes it immediately; he may not have ever been the most doting son, but he knows the sheer power emanating from the object. Even if she were not his mother, Gaia’s power is unmistakable.
A thrill of apprehension runs down his spine.
“You paranoid bastard,” Slade snarls. “So sure you’d need to keep us in line—you have plans to take out everyone in the Temple, don’t you?”
Bruce simply lifts his chin. The throne room is dead silent.
Slade takes a breath to steel himself. He meant what he said; there is nothing any power in the Universe can do to keep him from Dick. That being said...this is not going to be pleasant.
Dick hasn’t been to Elysium in...a very long time.
Slade’s words have barely left him alone in the years since that first date on Earth, and even though they’ve had plenty of other dates since then, the words constantly return to plague Dick’s thoughts.
Dick knows every inch of the Underworld like the back of his hand, the realm an extension of his being, but still entering this part of Elysium again after so long feels like entering a new world. Or an old one, really. He used to spend so much time here, before he made himself leave. Returning to it now is...strange. But good.
It takes the woman a few moments to realize he’s there, but as soon as she sees him, a brilliant smile beams across her face. She’s been dead for almost four thousand years, and Dick will never cease to be fascinated by the sense of peace that surrounds her; he thinks he might be the only god in existence able to appreciate how complete humans are after their time on Earth has passed.
It’s funny—in comparison, he feels even more broken and listless than the souls wandering Asphodel. He tries to hold onto that broken feeling, the bitter irony of a god feeling so inferior to those within his realm, but the woman is smiling at him like he’s the most wonderful being in the universe.
“Richard!” Lyla throws her arms around him, hugging him tightly. She’s still beaming when she pulls back. “It’s wonderful to see you, My Lord!”
Dick swallows, his nerves dissipating under her cheer. Maybe...Slade has a point.
The visit is wonderful. Lyla regales him with the tales and gossip, and Dick is astonished by how much has happened between the people in the Land of the Dead over the course of a few millennia. He should have known better than to assume that humans would stay out of trouble simply because they were dead. Fortunately, his friend couldn’t be happier to share all the things he’s missed with him.
And Dick can’t wrap his head around how much he’s missed this. Casual conversation with a friend for no other reason than to share each other’s company. Hours pass, and those hours turn into days, and Dick remembers how easy it is to lose track of time in a place where time has no meaning.
The suddenly arrival of one of his Furies interrupts them and the creature drops into a bow before Dick even has a chance to speak.
“My lord, I apologize for the intrusion.” The Fury bows low, wingtips brushing against the ground. “We thought you should know that a summit has been called to Mount Olympus. Every deity on Earth has returned to the heavens.”
“A summit?” Dick frowns, blinking in confusion. “I wasn’t called to a summit.”
“No,” the Fury agrees. Dick is on his feet before the words process. He barely hears Lyla wishing him luck as he draws up his full power and the shadows envelop him. He arrives on Mount Olympus faster than he ever has and for the first time in his entire life, Mount Olympus is silent and empty.
There’s not a being in sight; no gods, no nymphs, no dryads or creatures of any sort. But the air is electric; literal sparks crackle through the skies and a terrible feeling settles in Dick’s chest. He’s only seen Bruce angry enough to do this once, eons ago right before their forces gathered to go to war.
Dick draws himself up and heads for the throne room.
The golden doors are closed, two of his father’s trusted guards barring the entrance.
“Step aside,” Dick orders. The guards don’t move, keeping their weapons crossed in front of the majestic double doors.
“Lord Bruce has ordered that no one may enter until the proceedings have finished,” one of the guards informs him, looking down at Dick emotionlessly. For a moment, Dick feels like a godling once again, back when he was a small child trying to be allowed into his father’s strategy meetings. He’d hated the condescension then, but now it filled him with a primal rage.
Every deity in existence is behind these doors, from the Olympians in their thrones to the minor gods and even the woodland creatures that roamed the Temple. Dick’s entire family is in that room, and not a single one reached out to him.
Dick glares at the minor gods barring his way, anger and disdain rising in his chest in unison. He is no longer that small child playing at being a soldier. Dick is the God of the Dead, Lord of the Underworld, Keeper of the Titans and King of everything beneath the Earth and the Oceans.
“Move,” Dick growls. “Or you will be moved.”
The guards shift, pointing their spears at Dick’s chest. A single pulse of his power summons his blades; in two moves, Dick has sliced through both of their weapons and brought the gods to their knees. Another burst of power sends them flying, and Dick slams the doors open with a wave his hand.
He storms into the throne room and stops dead.
The Fury was right; the massive room is filled with beings of power, all gathered to watch the Olympians hold court. But Dick couldn’t care less that every single one of them is staring at him because in the center of the room, forced to their knees by a shimmering golden net, is Slade.
Beneath the net his tanned skin is deathly pale, the normally unearthly glow of his single eye dim and unfocused. Even if he couldn’t see it, Dick can sense from his aura that there’s something deeply, horrifically wrong.
Dick feels his immortal heart stop beating.
“What did you do to him?” he breathes, looking up at the ring of thrones. None of the Olympians will meet his eyes; the fact that Damian won’t look away from their father’s throne hurts, but far worse is the guilt shining in Jason’s eyes as he hesitantly raises his head to meet Dick’s fury. “What the hell is going on here?!”
“This has nothing to do with you, Dick,” Bruce says.
“Release him!” Dick thunders, pure power roaring in his ears. Unearthly winds howl through the throne room, the shadows thickening until the assembled gods can barely see through it, let alone attempt to move or counter him. Dick hears Clark let out a strangled sound as the darkness chokes him, and he might feel bad if the sun god hadn’t sat back and watched the god Dick loves be doomed to his fate.
“Return to the Underworld,” Bruce orders sternly. “This matter has already been settled; your presence is not needed.”
“How dare you?!” Dick yells. “Millennia of dragging me all the way back here to deal with your petty squabbles and your ridiculous bullshit and the one time you find a so-called problem that actually involves me, you have the audacity to go behind my back?!”
“You had far more important matters to contend with,” Bruce says righteously in a voice brimming with self-importance. “Slade has been dealt with; he will torment you no longer.”
“Torment,” Dick breathes incredulously, fury building in his chest. “Are you—you can’t be serious. You all thought Slade was harassing me and so you did this to him in your self-obsessed righteousness and yet not one of you ever thought to ask me what I thought?!”
The throne room is silent and Dick’s shout echoes through the chamber. The gods look stunned; or at least most of them do. Dick notices that his brothers look particularly guilty, but he doesn’t spare them another glance. Instead he turns toward Slade, yanking the golden net off him without a second of hesitation. Slade exhales, but even with the net gone, he still looks horrible.
There’s a stone hovering in the air above him, the energy flowing from it foul to Dick’s senses. Without hesitating, he reaches out and crushes it with only a surge of power and his bare hand. A gasp goes through the room. Dick doesn’t care about any of them, instead he drops to his knees at Slade’s side.
“Are you alright?” he asks, fighting back the panic as he inspects the older god for visible injuries. There are none, but Dick has never seen him look this drained. Dick has never been able to imagine what Slade would look like if he were powerless, but nothing he could come up with would possibly be as bad as this.
Slade’s hand finds his and squeezes once in reassurance. Dick lets out a shaky breath and turns back to his father. Bruce looks stunned at the display, and he’s not the only one. Doubt spreads like wildfire across the other Olympians’ faces and Dick’s voice trembles with rage as he tells them all—
“I love him.”
Bruce’s jaw drops, and next to him Selina stares like he’s just spontaneously burst into flames. Though, that's probably not true at all; she’d look much less worried if he actually had.
“You what?” Bruce asks. For the first time in Dick’s entire life, his father is genuinely taken aback.
“I love him,” Dick repeats.
“How can you love him?” Damian bursts out suddenly.
He says it like it’s the most horrifying thing imaginable, to love Slade. The fury in Dick’s chest bursts into flames and suddenly Dick can’t hold it back anymore. For hundreds—no, thousands—of years, Dick has buried his hurt and his loneliness and his pain. He’s put his duty before everything else, sacrificing everything time and time again to keep his word and be worthy of the responsibility thrust upon him.
And the whole time, his family allowed him to stay at arms’ length. Maybe they never pushed him further, but they also never invited him closer. Dick sacrificed the love of his family and friends in exchange for their respect, and it turns out doesn’t have that either.
“How could I love him?” Dick repeats. His rage fuels his power and it builds until the ghostly winds of the Underworld are whipping through the room, darkness pouring out as the shadows take over. “You want to know how I could love him? You want to know how I could love someone who appreciates me? Someone who seeks out my company instead of leaving me alone until it’s convenient for them?”
“Dick—” Bruce starts.
“I’m not finished!” Dick roars, his voice ringing with the force of his true might. Dick knows the limits of power well, he’s had millennia to practice, but none of the gods in this room have ever seen him like this before. He can hear panic from the crowd of minor gods, feels their efforts to fight back against the swell of darkness and takes deep satisfaction in their failure. “For ten thousand years, I’ve ruled the Underworld by myself. And Slade is the only one of you who’s ever come to visit. He’s the only one who’s ever come to me! He is the only one of you who doesn’t demand my time; he asks for it! He doesn’t force me to be who he wants, he appreciates me for who I am!”
“Dick!” Jason tries to break in, and Dick cuts him off with a snarl.
“Slade is the only one who tells me he loves me and shows me that he means it!”
“Dick, stop!” Jason exclaims, fear coloring his voice as he rises from his throne.
“You’re hurting him!” Jason grabs his wrist, and Dick is so shocked that he falls still. The fear wasn’t directed at Dick at all, but instead...
“Slade!” Dick’s stomach drops all the way back to Earth, terror flooding his chest at the sight of the smoke curling off the older god’s back. Slade flinches when Dick grabs him, and he recoils, horrified. He turns back to the assembled gods; the faces that stare back at him are concerned. “What’s wrong with him?”
“His power has been bound to the Earth,” Diana explains. Her voice is hesitant, but still she is the only Olympian willing to answer. “The farther he is from it, the weaker he becomes.”
“Your true form is too powerful for him like this,” Clark adds, a brave effort considering how badly Dick’s power is affecting him.
Dick takes a breath, focusing all his energy on calming himself down. Slowly, the light trickles back into the throne room and the shadows recede back to the Underworld. The assembled gods relax; Barry’s hands unclench from their death grip on his throne and the painful tension releases from Clark’s shoulders. But all of them are watching Dick with a wariness they’ve never had before.
Dick knows that shouldn’t feel as good as it does. But most importantly, Slade lets out a shuddering breath.
Silence hangs in the air.
“Dick, I’m so—” Bruce begins heavily.
“Undo it,” Dick snarls.
“I am not asking.” Dick stares at his father, calm fury meeting his regretful gaze. Before Bruce can answer, a new voice interrupts.
“Dick.” Slade’s voice is hoarse, but the strength behind it stops Dick dead. He turns around to look at Slade, concern flaring in his chest when he notices the line of red trickling out of the corner of his mouth. For a moment, Dick is terrified.
His first thought is that Slade’s power has been so completely stripped that the golden ichor running through his veins turned to human blood. And then something falls out of Slade’s hand, dropping to the ground.
Dick can only stare.
It’s a pomegranate. A pomegranate that’s been ripped open, exposing the deep red seeds inside. Part of the rind hangs loose, holes in the white pith revealing that a row of seeds is missing.
Dick’s voice breaks, overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of what Slade has just done. He ate the fruit of the Underworld. He willingly bound himself to the Underworld forever . No god has ever done that before—even Dick’s power is twined with the seals of Tartarus rather than the realm itself. And certainly, no god has done it with their powers already diminished and tied to another realm.
Slade had no idea what would happen if he ate the pomegranate. And he ate it anyway.
“Gaia’s power tied my being to the Earth, but like you said, some things are beyond anyone’s power to undo.” The corner of Slade’s mouth quirks up into a smirk. His voice is tired but triumphant all the same. “I can’t see myself spending much time on Olympus anymore, but nature should work the rest of the details out.”
“Slade, you...why would you do that?”
Slade looks at him, and for a brief instant, that puzzled expression that Dick knows better than anything else in the universe is back.
“All this time and you still don’t understand?”
“The only other option was to never see you again. I’d say it was worth the risk.”
Dick’s chest hitches, tears brimming in the corners of his eyes. “I love you too,” he whispers, before bringing their lips together.
There’s more to do. Bruce, Selina, his brothers, and the rest of the Olympians have a lot of ground to make up before Dick can consider forgiving them for this. Nothing will ever be the same between them but… that’s a good thing. Dick deserves better than the way they treated him before, and he’s willing to give them a chance to make the effort.
For now, Slade is kissing him like there’s nothing more important in the world, and Dick is too happy to worry about anything else. Slade should regain his divinity once he’s closer to Dick’s—no, their—domain, even if it will take time for him to recover fully. But that’s okay.
After all, the two of them have all the time in the world.