The first time she meets Nightwing, it comes as an absolute surprise.
She’s heard of him, she knows that the smiling dark-haired blue-eyed boy in Joey’s pictures is Nightwing, she’s seen the vigilante in passing on trips to Bludhaven or New York City, and that single breathless moment with her finger curled around a sniper rifle, watching her ex-husband face off against a group of teenage superheroes in the name of their dead son, and praying he would realize what he was doing and stop before she had to take him out.
Seeing him stumble out of Slade’s bedroom in an undershirt and thin shorts, more than a few bruises speckling his bare arms and the curve of his waist where the shirt’s ridden up, is an extreme shock.
“Adeline,” Slade growls, relaxing as he realizes she’s not an intruder, and tensing in the way she’s only seen him do around her and the children. Putting his emotional walls back up, the asshole.
She is, however, too busy staring at the dark-haired young man giving her a languid smile. Even if she hasn’t seen pictures of him, he moves with an easy grace, more weightless than deadly, and he jumps up to take a seat on the kitchen countertop with a fluidity of an acrobat.
“Hello,” Nightwing smiles, “You must be Joey’s mom.”
Adeline swivels her half-stunned half-outraged expression back to her ex-husband, who merely glowers. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” she says flatly, “Nightwing? Really?”
Slade raises an eyebrow, “Excuse me?” His tone is all contempt, but he crosses his arms, and Adeline can still read him even if she’s no longer married to him.
“He’s the same age as your kids,” Adeline hisses.
“He’s three years older than Joey,” the bastard points out, as if that’s in any way a legitimate defense.
“Two years and five months, actually,” Nightwing says, swinging his legs on the counter, and they both turn to him.
“Kid,” Slade growls, “You’re not helping.”
Nightwing turns a brilliant, glittering smile on him. “Never said I would,” he laughs, and Slade’s growl deepens.
“Get out,” the man orders, and Nightwing keeps laughing, high and bright and tinkling, as he jumps off the countertop.
“Your manners are as shit as always, Slade,” the young man says, deliberately stretching as he passes Slade on the way back to the bedroom, “One of these days I’m going to get you to make me breakfast.” He turns that charming grin on Adeline before he disappears through the door, “Joey says he makes the best crepes.”
Joey is, unfortunately, right, and Adeline is aware that Nightwing’s deliberately poking the button, but there’s still a simmering fury rising up beneath her skin. She’s not unaware that her ex-husband has taken many lovers, men and women both, and they aren’t married anymore, it shouldn’t dig at her as much as it does, but this—this is crossing a line.
They wait, in silence, for the rustling sounds from the bedroom to cease, and Slade turns back towards her after they hear the window open and shut.
She’s already got the razors out. “Are you serious,” she snarls, itching to go for the gun strapped to her waist, to finish the job she started all those years ago, “He’s a child!”
That—hits. She can see it land, see the way Slade tenses, hackles rising, and she knows what she’s done, where she aimed her knives, and it’s…perhaps not entirely fair.
They’ve spent longer divorced than they have married, but neither of them have ever been able to fully hide their triggers from each other.
“He’s an adult,” Slade snaps, “He’s capable of making his own fucking decisions, and I haven’t manipulated, coerced, or threatened him into bed. It’s not your business who I choose to fuck, Addie, so if your judgement is the only thing you brought with you, you know where the door is.”
He doesn’t shove her out, though he’s fully capable of it. Adeline may be trained and experienced, but her ex-husband isn’t fully human, and she knows how easy it would be for him to overpower her.
And yet he never has. Not when they were married, not after they separated, he’s never, ever raised a hand to her in anything but self-defense.
Most people look at the eyepatch on Deathstroke the Terminator and marvel at the only lasting wound anyone has ever been able to inflict on the metahuman.
Adeline looks at it and marvels that he left her alive after she tried to kill him.
But Slade is leaving, heading for the bedroom, and she knows him and his avoidance tactics, knows that he’s already marked this safehouse burnt—because of her and Nightwing both, most likely—and it’ll take her another week to track him down again.
“It’s about HIVE,” she says, and her ex-husband stops in his tracks.
She hates him on a good day, despises him on a bad, but Adeline can be professional when it suits her.
“HIVE is gone,” Slade says flatly, still turned away from her. “We made sure of that.”
They burned the organization to the ground after she and Joey managed to stop him from going after the Titans, and, at the time, she thought they got all the loose ends.
“We missed a few,” she says, and tosses a flash drive at him. He twists and catches it, a mirror of her own rage on his face.
HIVE took their firstborn from them, and she knows Slade will be up for ripping out any stray roots.
“Unless you’re busy?” she asks, her tone level but the pointed glance at the bedroom not.
The flash of a disdainful sneer on her ex-husband’s face answers the question easily enough. And she believes that he isn’t lying about the lack of manipulation, but she can’t quite believe that Nightwing got into bed with Deathstroke of his own free will.
Maybe she’ll text Joey, just to be safe—he’ll know his friend better than she does.
The second time she meets Nightwing, she’s already in a bad mood. One of their leads has panned out to be worthless, the lack of progress has led to sniping, and Adeline finds herself increasingly reminded of why she shot Slade in the head when she finds his gaze wandering over all the scantily-clad waiters in the high-end club in Manhattan instead of searching for their informant.
“Could you think with your head and not your cock for one fucking night—”
“Our informant hasn’t shown up yet,” Slade says, sounding utterly disinterested, “I might as well enjoy myself while we wait.”
“You’re unbelievable,” she hisses.
“Maybe you should try it too,” Slade says under his breath, “Might get you to loosen up.”
She might’ve actually gone for her knife if the waiter didn’t turn up at that moment to take their order. She takes a breath, ready to order three shots of vodka—goddamn, was partnering with her ex-husband for this job a bad decision—when she recognizes the kohl-outlined blue eyes and the smirk on painted red lips.
The makeup makes him look even younger, Jesus fucking Christ, and she can see Slade’s appreciative once-over from the corner of her eye. Nightwing merely beams at them both, dressed in too-tight skinny jeans, a halter top that leaves his entire back bare, and stilettoed boots—that, she has to admit, accentuate that ass she’s heard so much about.
He’s still only three years older than her youngest son, so she drags her gaze back to his face. “What can I get you two?” Nightwing asks, holding a tablet in the crook of his elbow, and looking completely unconcerned that Deathstroke the Terminator is sitting in front of him.
You know you’re just a convenient fuck, right? Adeline wants to spit out, but she recognizes that that’s her petty side, and Nightwing can make his own stupid decisions about who to get in bed with. She certainly did.
She doesn’t see what Slade does, but Nightwing is falling with a yelp, spilling into Slade’s lap. “I have to say, I’m enjoying the new look,” Slade drawls, keeping his hands on Nightwing’s waist as the younger man tries to push himself up, “Here for a reason, little bird, or did Daddy cut you off?”
Nightwing settles, easily straddling Slade, and leans close to whisper, “Two o’clock.”
The angle is all off for Adeline, she has to use the mirrored wall behind Slade, but her ex-husband merely flicks his gaze up, to the upper balcony…and the man glaring down at them. Adeline doesn’t recognize the features, but judging by Nightwing’s breathless laugh, she’s going to assume that that’s Batman.
Slade keeps his hands on Nightwing, fingers flexing in what is definitely a deliberate taunt, and Adeline groans loudly. “So,” the vigilante hums, flicking a glance to her, “Business or pleasure?”
“Don’t worry, kid, I’m not here to kill anyone if that’s what you’re asking,” Slade huffs, one hand splaying across Nightwing’s bare back, “We’re just here for information.”
“The last time you told me you weren’t here to kill anyone, you ended up setting the building on fire,” Nightwing grins. There’s an echoing flash of a smile on Slade’s face. “Should I be worried? I can’t run very fast in these heels, and there are a lot of laces to take it off.”
Slade’s other hand creeps down Nightwing’s thigh, following the seam of the jeans until it hits the edge of those knee-thigh boots, and Adeline is not going to sit here and watch her ex-husband feel up a man less than half his age.
“We’re here for a reason,” she hisses under her breath, and both of them turn towards her, “So if you could keep it in your pants—”
“Ryder hasn’t shown up yet,” Slade says contemptuously, and Nightwing tilts his head, like he actually is a goddamn bird.
“Ryder?” he asks, “Jonathan Ryder?” He winces, “Might be a bit difficult to get ahold of him.”
Adeline groans again. “Dead?” Slade asks to confirm.
“Looks like a new serial killer hunting among the club clientele,” Nightwing says, which explains why he’s undercover. “Sorry.” He looks genuinely apologetic. “Maybe try his house if you want info? He’s only been confirmed dead for a couple hours.”
Slade makes a frustrated sound as Nightwing shifts back off his lap, and Adeline finds herself echoing it. Yet another avenue closed. Their prey is proving elusive so far, but Adeline knows that she’ll hunt them down to the ends of the earth if she has to.
And she trusts that Slade will do the same.
Slade’s gaze follows Nightwing as he disappears back into the crowd, but thankfully he realizes that now’s not the best time to get into a pissing contest with Batman. Either the disappointment or the sight of his latest lover is enough to sour his mood on the rest of the attractive and on-display waiters, and Adeline follows him out of the club with a silent exhale.
“Break into his house?” Adeline suggests. Slade just grunts. Goddamn, she should’ve at least bought that drink.
She rolls her eyes up at the night sky. Above her, less than six feet from her face, a form with far too many limbs pauses suddenly, red-eyed gaze fixed on her.
“Slade,” she says calmly, her hand moving to her gun. Looks like Nightwing was right about that serial killer.
Too many limbs or not, it dies with an entire clip of bullets unloaded into it, and its head cut off for good measure. Slade drags the hacked carcass to the club’s back entrance, marked ‘Employees Only’, and leaves it there.
“Cute present,” Adeline remarks, reloading her gun, “Have you ever tried flowers?”
He ignores her, and they head to track down Ryder’s home address.
For all that they bicker and argue and are unable to stand each other’s presence the majority of the time, when it comes to an actual mission, they work smoothly as a team. The latent Army in the both of them, the training to put aside their feelings for the sake of the job, and the easy way Slade defers to her to lead on the field, the way he’s always done, a refreshing breath of air in a career dominated by chauvinistic assholes.
She trusts his abilities, he trusts her judgement, and they work well together. The infiltration is going efficiently—they finally found someone who had information on HIVE, and their follow-up data is on the servers of Eris International, the locations of the people they’re looking for—right up until Slade pauses and holds out a hand for her to wait.
She raises an eyebrow, but holds position. Ten seconds later, the tile covering the air vent disappears, and a masked face pokes out.
“Well,” Nightwing says, upside-down, “This is a surprise.”
Oh, someone has to be fucking kidding her.
“What are you doing here?” Slade growls, as Nightwing executes a flip and lands on the floor. Adeline takes a quick look around her, and moves forward—if the Bats are here, their entire plan of getting in and out quietly has gone to shit anyway.
“Doing some investigation,” Nightwing shrugs, still watching them with coiled tension. “What about you? The building’s empty, aside from some security guards.”
“Because my skillset is limited to assassination,” Slade sneers, moving past him, and there’s something definitely cold in his tone. Interesting.
Admittedly, this is the first time Adeline has seen them interact as Nightwing and Deathstroke—well, no, the first time was when Deathstroke nearly killed the Titans after Grant’s death, and that animosity is long gone, but she can still feel a crackling tension. Nightwing’s eyes are hidden, and his expression is always a smile, so she ignores his face to watch his body language.
Stiff, slightly surprised—taken aback?
“Information,” she offers with a stab of sympathy, following Slade with Nightwing tagging along.
“On HIVE?” he asks softly, and she’s so surprised she actually stops in the middle of the hallway. Slade doesn’t wait for either of them, but Nightwing pauses as well, looking at her with an unreadable expression.
“He told you?” she asks, stunned—because falling in bed with him is one thing, Slade’s had a long, long list of sexual partners, but Slade doesn’t like talking about Grant with anyone, his failures too painful to face, and she can’t imagine that conversation would go over well with the young man that nearly died in his name.
If Adeline hadn’t made it in time, if Joey wasn’t there as a visible shield, Slade would’ve slaughtered the Titans in his grief. She wonders if Nightwing knows that. She wonders if he truly understands how close Slade came to killing him once.
“In so many words?” Nightwing laughs lightly, but his expression twists for a moment before it smooths back to a smile. “We should catch up, or he’ll leave us both behind.”
Apparently they have a tagalong now.
At the very least, Nightwing can hold his own. Unfortunately, he apparently doesn’t know how to shut up, and his brainless chattering is getting on her nerves.
“Sincere question, kid,” she says as she works on the lock of the basement stairwell, “Do you ever stop talking?”
“Not of my own free will,” he responds without hesitation, and she wants to groan.
“Don’t tempt me,” Slade says, and Nightwing laughs, loud and clear.
“You can certainly try,” he says, almost coquettish.
“Oh, little bird, I’ve done a lot more than that,” Slade says smugly, “Or did you forget about Montreux already?”
“Montreux…” the vigilante hums with a confusion that is definitely feigned but definitely works, judging by Slade’s low growl. “I think you’re going to have to remind me of that one.”
“Next time, I’m going to make sure you won’t be able to walk straight for a week.”
“Promises, promises,” Nightwing singsongs as the lock finally clicks open.
“Does the flirting ever turn off?” Adeline asks dryly.
Nightwing turns that smile on her, and something about it reminds her of a shark. “It’s part of my charm,” Nightwing says.
“The kind of charm that comes with wearing a skintight suit?” Adeline raises an eyebrow, because shark or not, she’s still been playing this game before he was even born.
“It’s very distracting,” the kid says guilelessly, passing her to head down the stairwell, and since her ex-husband is staring at his ass, she supposes the point goes to him.
It took a month trudging through infested rainforests, but she’s finally tracked down her thread. The information they obtained split in two different directions, and they agreed to separate to go after it. Now she has the flash drive, she tracked down a decent shower, and they’re so close to finding their prey that she can almost taste it.
She lets herself into Slade’s current safehouse, and follows the delicious smell into the kitchen. Slade’s at the stove, dressed in civilian clothes, and she takes a moment to watch him. “Are those crepes?” she asks finally, and his grip on the gun relaxes without turning around. “I haven’t had your crepes in years.”
“I wonder why,” Slade says dryly, but he sounds like he’s in a good mood. Adeline takes a seat at the counter and he pulls out another plate without asking, and for a second she’s hit with nostalgia so strong it makes her ache.
He’d gotten back from a job—as a mercenary, she knows now, but back then he only told her that he was a private contractor—and hadn’t woken her up by getting into bed, so she was genuinely shocked when she went downstairs to the smell of cinnamon and cooking blueberries. He kissed her, and made her a plate, and one for Grant when he shuffled down, and picked up Joey and kept him on his hip as he explained the intricacies of his special recipe to a five-year-old.
It was never perfect, but there were enough moments there that they could’ve been happy.
If it wasn’t for the secrets and lies and cheating and the danger he so thoughtlessly dragged them all into.
Adeline is halfway through her second crepe when she hears the shuffling footsteps and inwardly groans.
Nightwing looks half-dead when he stumbles in, dressed in nothing but what appears to be one of Slade’s shirts, dark circles under his eyes and hair a complete mess. He squints at her for a second, before visibly deciding that she’s not his problem, and half-collapsing into a different stool.
“I feel like crap,” he almost whines, facedown on the counter, and Slade hums in something decidedly not sympathy.
“Flying through a window will do that to you,” he points out, and Nightwing groans louder.
“You say that like I did it on purpose,” Nightwing grumbles, “I was thrown. Attacked. My personal gravity besmirched—”
“I don’t need to hear an entire monologue on why you’re an idiot,” Slade folds the next crepe and slides it onto a plate before dropping it on the counter in front of his current paramour. “Eat.”
Nightwing grumbles, but manages to draw his head up enough to start eating, using his hand instead of a fork and knife. He makes an appreciate murmur as he dives in, “Remind me to tell Joey he’s right. Alfred’s still got you beat on savory crepes, but this is delicious.”
Adeline raises an eyebrow, one that Nightwing can’t see and Slade ignores.
“And,” Nightwing continues, flicking another glance at her, “Not to be rude, but what is your ex-wife doing here?”
That’s my question, echoes in Adeline’s mind. Slade didn’t do long-term lovers, or exclusivity, but this was the fourth time she’d run into Nightwing, and each of the four times was in a different city. Either that’s one hell of a coincidence, or at least some of those times were deliberately engineered.
With a vigilante. With a twenty-five-year-old vigilante, and one of the darlings of the caped community. If Batman had an inkling that his son is half-naked and eating crepes in one of Deathstroke’s safehouses, she has no doubt that he’d come for Slade’s head.
She almost wants to laugh. She knows Slade’s a risk-taker, he always has been—signing up for the Army, volunteering for Project Rebirth, becoming a mercenary for hire—but playing cat-and-mouse with Nightwing seems like a spectacularly stupid idea. She isn’t sure if it’s another instance of Slade thinking with his—ha—dick, or if he has some long game going, but she’s certain it isn’t going to end well.
“Presumably to drop off some information,” Slade looks at her, and she holds up the flash drive.
“Actually,” Adeline says, “We can head out right now.” It’s itching her, this halfway domestic scene, and she’s not quite sure what she’s feeling, but she wants it to stop. It roils in her stomach as Slade slides the next crepe onto Nightwing’s plate.
“Sure,” he says as he turns off the stove, “Kid, you look like shit, take a nap before you start stripping the safehouse.” Nightwing raises his middle finger without looking up, Slade barks out a laugh as he goes to get changed, and Adeline doesn’t say a word.
The silence lasts till they’re a half-hour out on the road. “Spit it out,” Slade sighs, “I don’t want your passive-aggressiveness suffocating me the entire trip.”
“Joey knows,” she says, and it’s a question and not at the same time.
“Yeah, he knows,” his gaze flicks to her, “Almost like someone told him.”
Adeline waits, but nothing else is forthcoming. “And he didn’t have anything to say about it?”
Slade makes a harsh, unamused laugh. “Oh, he had a lot to say about it. Only some of it repeatable in polite company. Rose had a lot to say too, and none of it was pleasant.” Her expression tightens, as it always does, at the mention of his bastard daughter. “But I told both of them the same thing I told you. I’m an adult, he’s an adult, and who I fuck is none of your business.”
“He’s a hero,” she says levelly, “And you’re a mercenary. The only reason the Justice League doesn’t actively go after you is because trying to find a prison that can hold you is more trouble than it’s worth. But you’re a killer, and he puts people like you away.”
“For fuck’s sake, Addie, it’s just sex,” Slade groans, “Batman’s allowed to stick his cock in half the villains he encounters, and no one gives a shit. The kid’s attractive and flexible, and that’s all there is to it.”
He turns his attention back to the road, and Adeline watches the signs pass them by, the silence holding for a long moment.
“You only made me crepes after we were married,” she says quietly, and watches Slade’s fingers tighten on the steering wheel. She can finally name the emotion inside of her—it’s fear. Fear that Slade is making the same mistakes he made last time, blind to what’s in front of him in his search for something more, because Slade has never met an emotional vulnerability he hasn’t tried to ignore.
“I remember badgering you while we were dating, and you insisted that it was a special recipe,” she continues, and watches Slade’s control slip, fraction by fraction. “Family only. That’s what you said every time.”
“I was twenty-one and stupid,” Slade snaps, “I don’t see how—”
“I called you on Joey’s eighth birthday, when he was sobbing because you promised him crepes and yet you took a job half around the world—”
“It was never supposed to take that long—”
“And you told me you’d rot in hell before giving me a goddamn recipe to make our son’s favorite food—”
“If we’re going to start talking about our marriage,” Slade says, tone clipped and jaw tight, “This is going to become an exceedingly unpleasant trip.”
Adeline lets out a slow breath, and turns away to look out the window. The trees flash by them, green and vibrant, and the tension stills to something less taut. She takes a deep breath, and sighs.
“You were always good at ignoring what you don’t want to see.”
Finally. Fucking finally. It’s taken months—far, far too long in her ex-husband’s proximity, Joey’s begun to start his calls by asking if both of them are still alive—but they finally tracked down each one of the rats that scurried free the first time they did this.
It was easy enough to divide the kills equally, but now there’s only one left, and the squabbling over who gets to finish them has sustained them all the way to the trafficking base they’re in the middle of infiltrating. Adeline definitely has to take a moment to appreciate how simple their divorce was, in retrospect—she told Slade she was taking the house, the money, and full custody, and he should be grateful she wasn’t finishing him off.
“I could chop them in half,” Slade murmurs as they efficiently take out a hallway full of guards, “A piece for both of us.”
“If you cut them in half, they’ll be dead,” Adeline snarls, unloading her gun into someone’s face, ducking, and changing out the clip in the couple of seconds it takes her to push back up and aim at the next target. “I want to make them scream, not shoot a fucking corpse.”
“You can imagine the screams,” Slade says as he clears the hallway and checks around the corridor, “You should have enough mental footage for a playback.”
“While you get to indulge your desire to chop off limbs with that overcompensation you call a sword?”
“Overcompensation?” Slade grunts as he flings a guard into the wall so hard something cracks, “I should tell Joey to get you checked for dementia, you’re clearly losing your memory.”
“What can I say, honey,” Adeline says, saccharinely sweet as she slams her elbow into a guard’s face, before blowing off their jaw, “It wasn’t impressive enough to remember.”
They aren’t being quiet by a long stretch, but the next portion of hallways is eerily empty. Adeline wonders if they’ve already killed everyone in their path, or if someone spotted Deathstroke on a security camera and decided to make a run for it. She doesn’t care—they’ll hunt this last survivor down to the ends of the earth, and between her and her ex-husband, there’s no way they’re getting free.
Or the hallways could be empty because there’s someone else in their path.
“Deathstroke,” Nightwing greets easily, relaxed and casual and smiling—but with both escrima sticks drawn as he blocks the catwalk they’re taking across the storage room. “Fancy running into you here.”
Slade is silent, actually silent, so she steps forward. “What are you doing here?” she asks, forcing Nightwing to commit one way or another, though his stance makes it extremely clear he’s here to confront them.
Slade recovers at that, his voice dropping to a low, dangerous growl, “Get out of our way, kid. Or we will go through you.”
Adeline doubts that. But she’s aware that the tension is stretched thin, and no matter how good Nightwing is at balancing on a tightrope, he’s going to fall eventually.
“That seems overtly aggressive,” Nightwing replies easily, “And here all I wanted was a chat.”
“You’re too goddamn talkative. Move.”
“A lot of people like my chattiness,” Nightwing counters, “And, after all, it’s not nearly as satisfying to make me shut up if I don’t talk so much, hmm?”
“Nightwing.” Slade is not in the mood for banter, and neither is she. “Get the fuck out of the way.”
“See,” Nightwing says, standing his ground as they get closer, “Maybe I want to talk about James Marchand. About he is, no question, a very, very bad man, who’s done a lot of very bad things, but how he’s also the only person who knows where the next shipment of trafficking victims is arriving.”
Slade doesn’t stop, and neither does she.
“About how I need a little more time to get it out of him, which would be difficult to do with Deathstroke the Terminator hovering over my shoulder, so—”
“Move, kid. You’re not going to stop us.”
“Slade,” Nightwing says quietly, his gaze flickering to her but turning back to her ex-husband. “I know what HIVE did to your son. I know how much you hate them. But Grant is dead, and these people are not—”
“You, of all people, should know that no one is going to stand in the way of my vengeance,” Slade says coldly. “Jericho was the only thing that saved you the last time, and he isn’t here. Move.”
Adeline was also there, as she is now, but she’s disinclined to stop her ex-husband this time. All Nightwing has to do is get out of the fucking way, they’re not here for him, and he knows that neither of them will be stopped by any bullshit about laws and trials and justice.
Everyone who took their son from them is going to pay, and no one will be able to stop them.
“Slade,” Nightwing’s voice drops a register to something softer, “Please.”
Adeline almost holds her breath.
“Do you think I give a flying fuck about your lost shipment of victims?” Slade asks, low and deadly.
Nightwing’s smile firms to a thin line as he raises his escrima. “No,” he says, “But it was worth a shot.”
Adeline tugs the last stitch closed, and cuts off the thread before reaching for the gauze. She presses the bandage over the stitches and only then looks up to meet her ex-husband’s gaze.
“Careful,” she says, pulling her pants back up, “Keep staring, and your boyfriend might get jealous.”
Slade’s eye snaps up to her face, and his glower deepens. He’s pissed, and that’s obvious, but she also knows he won’t get up right now, so she’s free to do all the poking she wants. She smears antiseptic over the remaining scrapes, none large enough to need stitches, and hisses when the train goes over a rough section of the tracks.
There’s a low, hoarse moan, and the third occupant of this goods carriage groans and shifts in his position slumped on top of Slade’s legs. They kept the doors open to have enough light to see by, so Adeline gets to watch her ex-husband brush the hair away from that masked face. She braces herself for the pang—the grief that she never fully got to resolve because their marriage ended with three separate fires and she exhausted herself trying to put them all out—but there’s only a dull, quiet sadness. And a grin she doesn’t even try to suppress.
Slade glares at her so viciously she’s surprised he hasn’t developed laser vision.
Some more shifting, and a gloved hand weakly raises and falls before the mask tilts up. “Slade?” Nightwing slurs out. She’s not sure if his eyes are open behind the mask.
“Right here,” Slade says quietly.
The kid tries and fails to lift his head, slumping further against Slade. “What happened?” he asks weakly, curling a hand against Slade’s belt.
“The base blew up,” Slade says, straight and to the point. She didn’t even know the base had a kill switch until the whole place rumbled around them, disrupting the frustratingly close-quarters fight they’d been drawn into.
Nightwing, balanced precariously on the catwalk railing, was the first to fall, and it took Slade less than a second to jump after him. Adeline’s descent was more controlled, and she used the fallen catwalk as cover, only poking her head out when the crashes and cracks stopped.
They’d been in the best possible location—the only thing that collapsed on their heads was the roof, and Adeline managed to pick herself free without too much kicking and shoving. She emerged from the rubble to find Slade carefully pushing free, wincing as a fractured shoulder knitted back into place, Nightwing curled up beneath him.
“What,” Nightwing murmurs in confusion, “Why…my head hurts.” He groans again as he tries to shift.
“You hit it on some rubble,” Slade tells him, and Nightwing makes a soft, pained sound as he curls up. “Don’t move,” Slade says, holding him in place, “You’ll make it worse. Rest.”
Nightwing hisses as the train rattles over another section of uneven tracks, holding his head and groaning softly. “What—where are we—why is it so loud?”
“We’re on a train.”
Nightwing is silent for a long moment, long enough that she thinks he’s fallen back asleep, before he speaks up again, “How many times have I woken up?”
“Six,” Slade answers. Six times he’s patiently answered every one of Nightwing’s questions, and fallen into a fretful silence the moment the kid slipped back to sleep.
Nightwing makes a displeased sound. “Marchand?” he asks, voice carefully light.
“Escaped,” Slade says levelly. They had staggered out of the rubble, Adeline with bleeding cuts and Nightwing half-conscious, and Slade was the only one in any shape to go after Marchand. Adeline looked at him and raised an eyebrow. She certainly couldn’t stop him from his revenge.
And Slade had exhaled slowly and picked Nightwing up and they went to find some method of transport back to the closest major city.
Nightwing makes a sound, she can’t tell whether it’s an acknowledgement, a question, or a statement, and carefully braces one hand against the train car floor.
“Don’t,” Slade warns, an arm over his shoulders, and Nightwing slumps, tension draining out of him. “You need to rest. I’ll wake you up when we stop.”
Nightwing tenses again. His voice is almost too soft to make out. “You’re staying?” he asks faintly.
Adeline sees the expression on her ex-husband’s face, and has the urge to turn away. Like she’s intruding on a private moment, like she doesn’t belong—as many times as that look was once directed at her, it’s hers no longer, and she shouldn’t be here.
“Yes, little bird,” Slade’s voice is hoarse and quiet, “I’ll stay.” His fingers stroke through Nightwing’s hair, gentle and soft, in soothing, even strokes, and he doesn’t look up, even when Adeline’s sure Nightwing’s fallen back to sleep.
“If you have something to say,” Slade says, almost weary, “Just say it.”
Adeline thinks about keeping her mouth shut, but Slade is still staring at Nightwing with that astonishingly fragile expression, and she hates her ex-husband and thinks that the vigilante is an annoying idealist—but she can’t stay quiet.
She ruined his life, once. He lied to her, lied to her face, he brought danger into her family and nearly got Joey killed, and she tore away everything from him and didn’t feel sorry.
But she doesn’t want to watch him make that same mistake again.
“You have a startling propensity for fucking things up,” she says, and Slade just exhales, probably already tuning her out. “It isn’t an insult, it’s a warning.”
Slade looks up at her, narrowing his eye as she stretches up to her feet. The train is slowing—they’re passing near a city.
“Don’t fuck that up,” she tells him, “Or he might take your other eye.”
Slade blinks, but watches as she packs her stuff back up. “Where are you going?” he asks as she moves to the open doors.
There’s a curve up ahead, right before the train hits the city, and the train is slowing down enough that she can tell the station tracks are full. There’s a grassy hill on one side, and it’s the perfect opportunity to get off and slip into the city.
“Marchand,” she says, and deliberately misinterprets his scowl, “Don’t worry, you can tell your boyfriend that I’ll find out where Marchand’s keeping his merchandise before I kill him.” She’s happy to indulge the opportunity for a little enhanced interrogation.
“Guess that means he’s mine after all,” she hums, crouching in the open doorway. Slade growls from behind her, but Adeline just laughs.
She takes one last glance at her ex-husband—at the way he’s curled protectively around the vigilante in his lap, grip gentle for all that he’s scowling fiercely—and realizes it’s the first time she’s been able to watch Slade with another person without feeling the urge to murder both of them.
The hatred will never go away, but that’s okay. The love never left either.
“I’ll make sure to chop off some fingers in your name,” Adeline promises, and jumps.
Sixteen years ago, Adeline looked her soon-to-be ex-husband in the eye, and demanded he make a choice. Deathstroke, or his family. One or the other.
He walked away.
Now, the world’s deadliest mercenary picked protecting the vigilante in his path over the mission he was determined to complete.
Perhaps because Nightwing didn’t force him to choose.