It had taken him weeks to find the man, weeks of looking over news footage, headlines, the Internet. For the past week he had shadowed the elusive mercenary and assassin, interfering with his latest job as subtly as he dared, spoiling the contract. He knew the man had glimpsed him, knew the man was aware of those efforts to sabotage the job.
Now, staring down the barrel of a nine-mil pistol, he wondered if maybe he had forced the issue a little too bluntly.
The assassin had not fired the instant he got the boy in his sights. Instinct held him back, as he looked at the dark haired boy. There were certain things about him that prickled at the back of the assassin's neck, made him wonder about the kid's brazen interference with his job. Maybe it was the set of his jaw, the blazing arrogance, or the eyes that refused to show fear.
The face off in the back alley was one that she had hoped never to see. White cold fear and anger both warred, but she knew she had no right to the anger, at the very least. She had made a choice that had inevitably led to this day. But, it did not mean she had to accept the situation and let it play out unhindered.
"Slade Wilson, put it down!" Her voice lanced out, the sole warning she'd give him, for sake of the past.
"Well, now, Little Bird, I can't do that. It's just business." He did not look her way; they had crossed paths as adversaries several times over the years since she had summarily ended their affair.
"Not when that's my son you're holding a gun on." She did not put a pleading note in her voice, did not call against their past association. The words promised dire consequences if he did not back down, and he was fairly sure harming her child…
He studied the boy, coming up with an age that set him at unease. The set of the eyes, the line of that arrogant jaw…
The teenager standing with the gun in his face never took his eyes off his trigger-finger as he spoke, "Thought I lost you a couple states back, mom..."
"Figured you were trying, and stopped letting you see me," she snapped, eyes locked on the assassin, watching him tense head to toe.
"What the hell did you think, hiding this from me, Canary?" Slade growled her direction, tempted to turn the gun her way. Instead, he shifted, and it was holstered, though it did not make things any safer for either the boy or his mother.
"I was trying to protect him, but he seems to have a wish for trouble." She refused to be repentant in the face of his anger.
"I'm your son, of course I do... Wow, he's just as fast as you said he was. Nice to know." Now the only question was, what did he think?
Slade's voice was deadly calm as he turned his attention more fully to Black Canary. "Dinah, take the boy out of here." His command was not one to be argued with, and the boy saw his mother go from a battle ready stance to one of agreement.
"Yes, Slade." The buzz of unspoken words pressed on the kid; they had just communicated something under his nose, and he had no idea what. "Duncan, come with me now." She used her full 'mother-voice' on that command.
He knew better than to argue with that voice and sidestepped, watching him carefully as he moved towards his mother. That sounded like he was safe, but he knew better than to assume he really was. //Cannot believe he got the drop on me, no-one's managed that in years, not even my uncles...//
Slade watched the boy's wary stride, saw the sheer potential in the way he moved. What had she called him? Duncan? The probable outcomes of the discussion he would have with her later crowded his mind briefly before he focused back on the job the boy had almost ruined. It came first; this new complication of family issues would have to wait until later.
"What were you thinking?" Dinah hissed softly as they moved out of Deathstroke's vision, and hopefully his hearing.
"Wanted to meet him. See him.... how did he get the drop on me...?"
Dinah almost smiled; it had been a good lesson for him to learn his gift did not make him better than everyone in a fight. She just wished he had not gone off on his own to do this…if Slade had pulled that trigger…
"His brain processes things faster, transmits it to the nerves, the muscles at a level only a Speedster can beat. You likely can't quite anticipate that yet." She smacked the back of his head lightly. "Why didn't you just tell me you were wanting to meet him?"
"Wouldn't have gotten to see him work--and I had my eyes open, not just my gift," speaking to what she wasn't saying. "Stories are one thing... this was real." He hadn't grown up deluded to what his father was, not between his mother and his favorite 'uncle'... but all the knowledge in the world hadn't kept him from being fascinated by the man he'd never met. "He's... so good..." just a touch of awe in the voice.
"And so wrong in how he uses it," she said, a note of concern in her voice. "Duncan, I kept you from him for a reason, remember?" She sighed softly. "Not that I think he would actively hurt you, but then again, Rose got a very bad deal at his hands."
"I know, mom... but... he's my father. And he never went back after her. You told me so." //I want to know why. Why, when his preferred targets are scum, he thinks he has to stay on that side of the law... Just the money? That can't be the reason...//
"I could have…I would have found him for you, set up a less potentially lethal encounter," she said. //And kept the talk he and I must now have far more private.// "You probably just shaved ten years off my life, making me see that little scene. What were you going to tell him if I had not come along? 'Hi, I'm Duncan Lance, your kid'?"
"Something like that... just as soon as I got the gun out of my face." He paused, thinking about what he had put her through. "Sorry, mom."
"Just…no matter what, tonight, don't come out of your room." She took a deep breath. "I've got to talk to him." She led him to the hotel she had reserved a suite for them at.
"MOM..." It was an intense, more than loud, protest, not at all thrilled with that idea.
"Duncan." She stopped their walk, taking him by the shoulders. "He's crossed my path at least a dozen times since you were born, as an adversary. And I never hinted that you existed. I have to account to him for my decision; I owe him that much now that he knows."
He studied her face, and finally nodded slowly. "Okay. You sure you even want me in the rooms? I can always go catch a movie."
"You think I'm letting you out of my sight again that soon?" She shifted her grip to an arm around his waist, walking at his side. Already at fifteen, he had the signs of his father's height, and would soon dwarf her. "Besides, he won't come until late."
"Your point?" She knew better. He'd been raised by her, his uncles, and Oracle. Nights were his time. "I'll be awake."
"Movie place won't be open, unless you're planning on sneaking into one you are still underage for, mister," she said with mock gruffness. She held onto him a little more tightly than was her custom, as if afraid he would vanish, though her voice told him all was well. Of course, over the years, he had learned her body language rarely lied the way her face and voice could.
"Would I do that, mom?" he said it in all innocence, then he stopped and pulled her around, into his arms. "mama, I'm okay. Pissed at myself for getting caught off guard, but I'm okay."
She leaned hard into his arms. "Just worries me, that he knows, that he was too angry to say a word…and that I just let him go kill someone without raising a finger." She shook her head. "God, I hope the contract was on a right bastard."
"It is. One the cops can't touch, too. Tried that angle." He wasn't Oracle's adopted 'nephew' for nothing.
She took a deep breath, and nodded. "Alright." She grew quiet as they walked, her mind tumbling over the events that had led to this event.
He was wondering when she'd start letting him know just how much trouble he was in, but... if she wasn't going to mention it, he wasn't either.
Dinah was sitting at the table by the window, a cup of hot tea in her hands. Duncan had gone to his room, and she had been alone for over half an hour, anticipating the arrival of a man she had consciously chosen to wrong.
The door slid open silently, and the man in question walked in, eye finding her almost instantly. Hours ago, he had been incandescently angry, and even now the anger burned hot, though he had it banked and under tight control. That she had kept a son from him... "Lance."
"Slade." Deliberate use of his first name, when every time they had fought in the past sixteen years, it had been his family name instead. She had remained in her costume, preferring to not get personal, not taking refuge in her civilian identity.
"Why?" the open-ended question wasn't his preferred method, but he'd see which answer she gave first--it would reveal quite a bit.
"To protect him." She truly had only wanted the best for her child, and the fates of Slade's other three children had left her afraid for the unborn child, when she made that decision. "I did not see a way to tell you, without running the risk of…" She faltered, regret at having to even bring up his tragedies thick in her voice.
His eye narrowed, and it was long, long moments before he spoke, voice clipped. "Prudent, I suppose. ...Would you ever have told me, had he not forced the issue?"
She paused, meeting his gaze evenly, the turmoil of this meeting barely hidden in her eyes. "I had intended to, before he officially took up a costume. To tell you, let you know, before he came to your attention in the wrong way."
"You've been training him?" Not that there was much doubt, given the way he moved... but that could be natural. He'd stayed away from the Titans for long years, to avoid fighting his daughter, that he might instead have come against a son...
"All his life, nearly. The potential showed early, and the heart," she said softly. "I had help." She omitted telling him Dick was involved; she did not want the man going after her Boy-o's lover over this. "I've hidden who he was fathered by from most everyone, but I told him as soon as I was sure he could understand."
"That explains why he decided to come and trouble me... somewhat." //Makes me wonder if he has any sense, to go with the skill, though...//
"I should have seen it coming." She shook her head. "I don't regret hiding him, Slade…but I do regret that I felt I had no choice but to do so."
"Hm." He shook his head, slightly. He could almost see her point, given everything that had happened to his other children, but that she had let his son grow up completely without him.... //Just like Addie, after...//
"For what it's worth…he seems very impressed with you." Dinah sipped her tea. "No one's been able to break through his guard in a couple of years. Not since he got his gift fully under his control." She made a small gesture with her hand toward her head. "He can…anticipate a battle, see it as clearly as daylight, know just where everyone is, their threat to him."
"Apparently not clearly enough," Slade replied, though the thought that his son had acquired one of his gifts was... pleasing. Slightly. "Given that I surprised him."
"Like I said, no one else has in a long time," she pointed out. "It was a lesson he needed, too. He gets a little cocky when he trains with some of the other younger people."
That gained a very small half-smile. //Then he's something like me.// He remembered that confidence, and yes, he'd seen it in the boy's eyes. "He'll learn better... unless you intend to continue trying to keep me from my son, Dinah?"
She shook her head, though he saw the fear in her eyes, the fear of a mother for her child. "He's your son, Slade. It's…" //…been a comfort to me, how like you he can be.// She found words more suitable to who she was speaking to and continued. "It's only right, now that you know, to let him have time with you."
He nodded once, taking her words at face value, and considered the situation. //I won't lose another son, Dinah,// hovered on his tongue, but he held back the reassurance. "He's here, still?" The closed door was a fairly good sign.
She nodded. "Like I could have made him go home." The noise she made was one of good-natured humor now. "He's a headstrong boy, adept at getting his own way."
"A child of ours could be any other way?" he asked, and wished in the next second that the words had stayed behind his lips. She'd broken things off between them, and he'd never attempted to re-establish them, given her reasons.
"You have a very strong point," she said softly, before she bit her lip and looked away. It took her a minute to turn back, face turned to a mask very befitting a Bat. "How do you want to do this? Contact him, set up visits?"
"We'll see if I can stand the boy, first," Slade told her. 'Then... it's not as though I keep a set schedule. I'll let you know."
"As you wish, Slade." Dinah took a long swallow of her tea, eyes dark but her face giving nothing away. Being so near him, she could remember what led to her having a son to be discussing and the conflict it had caused in her ethics. "I'm sure if you want to, you'll be able to find us."
"Easily," he agreed. "Even with your partner's protections on the electronic side." He paused a few moments, watching her, then spoke again. "Mind?" he asked as he tilted his head slightly towards the closed bedroom door.
"He really wants to meet you," she told him for an answer. "Without hardware between you two." She then turned to look out the window, trying very hard not to dwell on thoughts of how things might have been.
Slade rose and walked to the closed door, knocking once.
The door opened a few moments later, his son standing in the doorway in a pair of sweatpants, eyes slightly sleepy, but clearing rapidly as he studied the tall man standing there once again. "Hello, father." He stepped backwards lightly, pulling the door open wider.
Slade took the invitation, moving inside the room and looking around by force of habit. He took a seat at the smaller table in this room, and turned his regard to the boy.
//My physique, or will be when he gets his full size. Definitely my eyes, the line of his jaw…wonder who put the pieces together?// "Hello, Duncan."
Duncan pulled the other chair back, spun it, and dropped onto it. "I'd apologize for meddling... but I'm not that sorry. It worked... a little better than I thought it would."
"Do you realize what could have happened tonight?" He wanted to see how far the common sense had departed the boy; that, he could blame on the impetuous mother.
"You could have killed me," Duncan admitted. "If you were the type, I'd never even have known it was coming... I need to learn how to anticipate you. I might've, if I'd ever been able to train against Rose..."
"And why would you need to anticipate against me, boy? Your mother has gone to a lot of trouble to keep you out of my path, and I don't seek the Titans out anymore." He felt it fair to assume that would be the first team the boy worked with when he officially took on a costume.
Duncan smiled at him, "If you can sneak up on me, someone else can. I don't like that... and it's one more jump towards knowing what the heck Mercury and Hermes are going to pull next."
A small smile twitched at the man's lips for that bit of logic. "Why come find me, though? As you said, you could have sought my daughter. She's near my level of ability." His tone implied that Rose had been under his eye for some time.
"That... would have gotten complicated, rather quickly. Or do you think she somehow wouldn't have noticed? I don't need another big sister deciding to mommy me; Lian's enough... and I wanted to meet you."
The comment about Lian caught his attention. //Help training him, ehh, Dinah? I believe a talk with Lian's other father is warranted…soon.// "You've met me now." He made his tone cold, testing the boy's reactions.
//Damn, you're worse than Bruce...// "Yeah, I have. Barring the whole killing for a living, you don't seem too bad... and you're hella impressive."
"You interfered with what I do for a living tonight, boy. I don't take kindly to that." He was impressed the boy had been so successful at that, even if he did not show it. "I give my word that something will be done, I do it."
"You got it done. I didn't manage a permanent disruption," he sounded vaguely annoyed with himself over that, then his head tilted, blue eyes dark with a question he didn't think he had enough relationship with the man to ask, yet.
Slade eased back in the chair, granting the boy a smile that was edged with menace. "Truly following in your mother's footsteps? Or more in Grayson's, as a thorn in my side?"
Duncan shrugged a shoulder. "I don't know. I hadn't actively planned on harassing you regularly..." //yet.// "At least, not when you're hunting." If he'd been expecting a reaction to his primary teacher's name... he hadn't gotten it.
"Wise decision." The faint nod he gave was an acknowledgment they would be on opposite sides in this game of life. He stood then, preparing to leave. He had a feel for the kid; now he needed to do some investigating, see what he could learn about the boy. "Keep it in mind, and we might get along."
"See you around?" //Damn. Misstepped. Oh, well. Done's done. And it won't actually hurt anything for him to know I want to see him again.//
"I'll find you, boy." He let just a hint of warmth color that, not wanting the kid to get too worked up.
Duncan nodded, following his father towards the door. "Okay."
As they opened it, Duncan could see his mother had not moved from beside the window. She did not turn to see them, patently minding her own business. Slade decided not to intrude on her again, despite a lingering resentment for having kept his son from him. "Look after yourself, boy."
"Of course," Duncan nodded. "I've had good teachers in that. Good night... or is it good morning?" Glancing towards the clock. He let his father out, relocked the door, and walked over to kneel beside his mother. "mama?"
She lifted a hand, stroking it through his hair, and when he glanced up she had tears on her cheeks.
The boy's stubbornness warred with his worry, and he stretched up to pull his mother into his arms. "mama, it's okay... It's okay..." He hadn't meant to hurt her!
"Shh, Duncan, shh. Don't mind me," she urged him, settling against him. "This needed to be done. I probably should have already arranged you two a meeting." He held her tight, not letting go, and not knowing what to say. "All the things I ever told you about him, I left out one thing." She pulled away to see his face. "I never told you why I left him, only that we argued and I did."
"So... why?" There had been a time when the sound of that word from him had made her wince.
"Because I was an idiot, who had let a very masterful man get under my skin…to the point that when we crossed paths on the battlefield, it took every bit of will I had to fight him." She shook her head. "Because I had come to care for him. And seeing him, knowing I have hurt him worse than in any battle by hiding you so long, it makes me feel just like the night I told him I was leaving him."
"You were afraid for me," Duncan reminded her, holding her. //You didn't just care, mama. You loved him.// "And maybe you were right to be." //I just don't know...//
"Doesn't matter now, but I thought…I thought you should know now, that you're older, I did have feelings toward him," she told him. She closed her eyes, listening to the quiet of the night for a minute. When she moved away, pulling herself to her feet, she looked more time out the window.
He snorted softly and stood up. "I already knew that, mom."
She laughed softly. "No, not just the ones that cause me to come home cussing whenever Babs sends me out on mission against him." Both Slade and Dinah had gone out of their way since the affair ended to show nothing but professional interest in each other…which had meant some very vicious fights.
"I knew that, too." She'd been the one to tell him about his father, after all, and she still didn't control her voice all that well.
"Go on back to bed; I'm heading that way myself." She turned to him, hugging him tightly. "We need to go back to New York tomorrow."
Duncan nodded and hugged her back, then headed towards his room. "Sure, mom. Sleep well."
She waited until his door was closed, then whispered to the empty room. "Doubt it." She turned from the window, and went to her room to stare at the ceiling.
It had been a long time since Dick Grayson had been surprised by any of the rogues in a less than attempted lethal fashion.
That streak ended as he came to retrieve his bike from a parking garage, and found Slade Wilson in civilian clothing leaning against it.
"Now this is unexpected... what?" He watched Slade sharply, just waiting for it.
"That damn kid. What did he do?"
Slade eyed Dick with a hard, cold gaze, one that warned he was not in the mood for trickery. "Interfered with my job. Wound up looking down my pistol, closely." He watched for Dick's reactions, still none too pleased. The resemblance was too strong for Grayson to have ignored it.
"I am going to beat him," Nightwing muttered, eyes hard. "It wasn't my idea," he added, shaking his head. "Thought we had that bull-headed streak under control..." //oh, god, Dinah, you're going to kill your son.//
"Start saying the things I need to know." Slade would not ask why Grayson kept the secret; it could have been Dinah's own logic, or the fact that Grayson was bound to Dinah's other boy.
"Like what? He's good, especially for his age, and smart... if a little arrogant. Unfortunately, he knows how good he is."
"Couldn't knock it out of him?" Slade asked. "Tell me, Grayson; when were you going to tell me?"
"I wasn't. Not my call, Slade, and you know it."
Slade cocked his head to one side. "You would have let the boy face me in battle?" He had a hard time believing that.
"Okay. Okay, you've got me there. If Di hadn't by the time he picked a costume, I'd have called you."
Slade considered that, then nodded. "How bad is he? Cockiness, that is? What pushes him? Who's been helping you and Lance teach him?"
"He's not that bad. Jason was worse, about cockiness. He just knows he's good--probably the best of the kids that're still just training, and that gift of his..." he shook his head. "If he wasn't so eager to learn, he'd be impossible, but he's not willing to rely on the gift--a lot like his mom. What pushes him... he's idealistic, stubborn, and very much Black Canary's son, with all that implies. Roy's been teaching him to shoot--when Lian's not, that is, and he's been learning hacking from two of the best." //Babs and Tim.// "Hawke, too, for some of the styles I don't know."
Slade grunted at that; his son had not lacked for good teachers. "His mother knows," the mercenary finally told him. "She had tracked him while he was screwing around with my job."
//Thank god I don't have to tell her,// flashed across Dick's face. "Thanks for the heads-up."
"They never told Rose, correct?" Slade wanted to confirm that before he went and saw his daughter again.
"Of course we didn't." He added the obvious. "She'd have told you."
Slade would handle that detail; she'd be able to watch over her half-brother more often than he could, and she had the right to know, now that he did.
"You know how to get in touch with me, if they need anything," Slade told his favorite Titan.
"Yeah, I do. ...Honestly? I'm glad you know. I wouldn't go behind Di's back, but... it's never set right. You loved Joey... y'shoulda known."
Slade shook his head. "It's done."
Dick nodded once, accepting that. "Anything else?"
"I'll be around, Kid." Slade was going to get to know this son, after he had done all his investigating.
//Oh, joy,// Dick kept that thought carefully behind his eyes and off his face. "Fine. I'm running late." Slade moved from the bike, with just a hint of a smirk.
"Tell Harper I said hello."
"Sure. Watch your back." //He'll be aiming for it with something...//
Slade just watched him go before tending to the rest of his business.
Rose had just finished filing another stupid report on why she had felt it necessary to break Weather Wizard's arm, and had come back to her apartment near the base of the Outsiders. She stepped in, and looked up sharply, to see her father on the couch, his feet propped up on the coffee table. It was rare he came to her place; normally he caught her in public places when he wanted to talk.
She walked over and dropped to couch-arm farthest from him, cocking her head curiously. "Daddy? What's wrong?" It had never been a good thing, not a single one of the times he'd breached her security to be certain of catching her privately.
He shook his head. "Not so much wrong, Kitten, as...something you need to know."
Tension all through his body and there was nothing wrong? "Okay, daddy. Tell me." She'd long ago given up arguing with him over the nickname, he wasn't about to change his mind.
He cocked his head back, viewing her with casual regard. "Do you know of the Canary's boy? They call him Duncan," he began.
"I've seen him a few times, but not often.... She's kept him off the teams, even though he trains with the rest of the kids... I hear he's good. Why?"
"He's your brother." Slade saw no reason to be less than blunt on saying it, some of his irritation over missing the boy's life in his voice.
"What?" Her single eye was wide with shock, and only years of control had kept her jaw perfectly in place as her father said something completely unbelievable.
"Her child is mine. I only just learned, night before last, when the kid tracked me down." Now amusement over the boy's precociousness crept in. "I need you to keep an eye one him, when he goes active."
"...Tracked you down? Kid must be good. He's... oh, wow, talk about solving a mystery..."
"Explain?" Slade wanted to get his daughter's full thoughts on this.
"Who the heck his father is has been a mystery for years, the betting pools were huge for a while, especially since she just wasn't talking... Oh, I am going to maim Dick. He had to know, he's been teaching him..."
"He did. And Harper." Slade still felt anger that he had been denied access to the child, but at least she had gotten the boy decent men to help raise him. "She chose not to tell me, Kitten. Because of the boys, and you."
"That little..." she bit down the rest of the growl, admitting mentally that she might have had something of a point. //I'm still going to maim Dick.// "Annoying birds aside, I think you're one of the few there wasn't money on, though the rumor mill was as interesting... most people thought the Bat; Green Arrow would come up and get shot down because they've never gotten back together... then there was the version that even she didn't know.... You never heard any of this?" That startled her.
"After she chose to end our affair, I only checked up on her a few times. Once when she first came back from obviously having the kid…but I checked on her while she was on mission. I bought the training thing; she got damn good. The other times…" He flashed over their encounters, including the three times she had actually helped get him in custody. The last time that had happened, she had still been in the hospital when he escaped. That had been the last time he had seen her, before turning up in the alley the night prior, when he had stopped by the hospital to see how badly he had injured her. "I never went anywhere near her private life."
"Ah. Makes sense, and given how careful she's been about him... I see it. And of course I'll keep an eye on him. The Outsiders and Titans run together enough that it shouldn't be too much of a problem to do so."
Slade nodded. "I should let Joey know too. Just so he knows he's got another piece of family." He stood up from the couch, moving toward her.
She stood up and reached out for him, curling into her father's arms. She might hate what he did... but he was still her father. "Tell big brother I say 'hi', would you? ...I have a little brother..." her voice was vaguely stunned on that last, low comment.
He petted her hair, holding her close and letting some of his anger ebb. "Yes…and he's quite interesting."
"Oh?" Knowing him, he'd probably make her find out on her own, but it was worth the shot.
He laughed softly. "Ask him how we met, when you go looking for him." He had faith in her ability to get past any protective streak Canary had concerning her…their…son.
"I'll do that," she nodded, now certain there was a story involved.
"Take care, Kitten." He kissed the top of her head, then made his way out to go see his other son. Joey, when he had come back thanks to Raven, had tried to hero for a while, before opting for a normal life. At this time of day, Slade thought he would be at his studios.
He was, and was deep in his work... but his security was also very good, which was enough to get his attention when someone came in. He turned... and studied his father curiously, signing, "Dad?" Not that he didn't love his father, but his appearances never boded well.
"It's okay, Joey. Not here for trouble." Slade gave his artistic man a smile. "Just learned something you need to know." He perched on the edge of a desk, casually. "You know Black Canary?"
Slade almost bristled at that, with Rose's comment about Dinah having possibly not known who the father was preying on the back of his mind. He stayed calm, though, to tell Joey about Duncan. "She had a kid; he's about fifteen…and he's mine."
Joey's green eyes widened almost comically as timelines flickered through his mind, and he just shook his head in disbelief. "Yours?" the gesture very sharp, for emphasis.
"Mine." Slade was amused at his son's reaction; he could see why, though, with Canary so firmly entrenched on the hero side of the fence. "Thought you should know."
"I... have a little brother..." Joey was just a bit stunned.
"Not so little." Slade did give a glower at that. "Already well on his way to matching me for size."
Joey blinked. "At fifteen? Huh."
He wasn't about to comment on his father's anger, not when he could so easily guess why.
"If you want to meet him, I'm sure Dick would arrange it…he knew."
Joey's eyes narrowed at that, as he considered why Dick wouldn't have told him. "I'll do that."
"You okay on everything else?" Slade looked him over, glanced around the studio. "Wife and kids?"
Joey grinned hugely. "They're fine... liked the presents. Thank you. What about you, dad?"
Slade gave the question serious consideration, and the thought of having a son to get to know outweighed most of his irritation with the situation. "I'm good."
"Good." Joey walked over and hugged his father, keeping his paint-smeared hands carefully away from his back, then pulled away again. "You be careful."
"Always." Slade thumped Joey on the back. "Be safe."
Joey shook his head and went back to his work, plotting the conversation he was going to have with his old friend.
Dick moved through a kata, lazy and fluid in the late evening sunlight in his gym, ignoring the pull of old injuries. Roy'd be home soon enough--and he'd have to tell his partner Slade knew. He wasn't looking forward to that.
"So, were you ever going to tell me?" Rose's voice cut through his concentration bitterly.
He twisted sideways, puling out of the kata. "Hi, Rose. How'd you get through this time?"
"I might tell you, after you tell me all about my little brother, and how you could do that to Daddy!"
"It. wasn't. my. call, Rose. Dinah insisted, and I couldn't go behind her back."
Rose shook her head. "More loyal to a woman, rather than a man who's saved your life a few times?"
"Roy would have killed me, if I'd gone behind her back. Especially about your father." //And you know it quite well,// was the end of that thought.
She did not look happy. "So what's the kid like? Daddy said he was interesting."
Dick grinned. "Trouble on two legs, bold, proud, stubborn, and driven."
Rose snorted. "Sounds about right." She got a serious look. "I want access. You let Dinah Lance know that."
He was proud of his student... his favorite student, honestly, and if Duncan ever agreed, his own heir. He sighed softly. "Okay, Rose. I'll tell her. Now that he knows, it shouldn't be a problem."
"Damn straight he knows…and he's not happy at all, about not knowing." Rose was upset on her father's behalf…and miffed for herself.
"Oh, trust me, I know he's not happy. I don't envy Di that a bit."
Rose thought about that, wondered how long it would be before Dinah Lance had an unexplained absence from her life for a few days. She was pretty sure her father was already planning to get all the details from her.
"I'll refrain from kicking your ass today."
"Oh, thank you," Dick replied. "Look, Rose... I didn't chose this, and I'm glad he knows now."
"She should have had more faith in him, in me." Rose turned to leave. "Neither of us would have let anything happen to the boy."
"That's what he said before Joey's throat got slit, Rose. If I remember Adeline's story correctly." And that was the biggest reason Dick had kept silent until Duncan was old and strong enough to protect himself.
"He'd learned a lot since then, and you know it," Rose growled back. "And Wintergreen said it was his pride that led to that…he definitely learned to control that."
Dick shrugged slightly, not willing to argue with her on that. "Mother's right to worry about her son, Rose. And done's done."
"Point." Rose turned and flashed him a grin before blowing him a kiss. "Later."
He really didn't want to have to recheck the entire damn grid. "Rose.... how'd you get in this time?"
Her merry laughter answered that question as she left.
//Damn... okay, fine.//
He finished the routine he'd broken and went to manually run down the entire security grid around the house.
Getting back home with Duncan, Dinah settled back into her routine, checking her flower shop over and sending her son up to do his lessons. She checked in briefly with Oracle, letting her partner know they were home without the why of their disappearance. Oracle, accustomed to fits like this on occasion, let it go. When Dinah cloaked something in privacy, much as it galled her, she had learned to press on.
It wasn't long before Dick and Roy dropped by, as if alerted that she was home by some mysterious means.
"He's upstairs," she told them, continuing to make the arrangement a local school needed for their principal. "And hi." They both could see she was concentrating on work to avoid her emotions, having learned to read her over the years of dealing with Duncan.
"Hi, Dinah. Bad couple of days?" Roy asked, leaning against the counter as Dick headed upstairs, tapped his door once, and walked in.
Duncan turned around, looking far too much like his father. "Hi, sensei."
"Mm. Hi, yourself." Dick's tone said he was anything but pleased with his student.
"Guess you heard?" Duncan said, managing nonchalance quite well.
"Oh, yes, I heard, when your father showed up to interrogate me about why I never told him. And then your sister, and I get the feeling Joey's headed my way before long. What. Were. You. Thinking?"
"That I should meet him before I went in the costume." It was perfect logic. "I waited all this time, and I was not about to let him hear about me and decide it was time to test the Titans again, to find out about the kid who can see a battlefield with his eyes closed."
Dick snorted. "Okay, fine, that's the story for the rest of reality--it's a good one, too. Three points for creativity and intelligence... now how about the real story?"
"Because I wanted to, and thought Mom would say no." Duncan grinned irrepressibly. "I had to see just how good he was, see if I could find him on my own, get close enough to actually see him."
"And wound up looking down his gun, you irrepressible little idiot," Dick swore at him, "Did you not pay attention to the part where he's sociopathic, Duncan, and not above killing someone messing with a job of his?"
"I had it under control." Duncan shook his head. "When Mom spoke I should have gotten his gun away from him. That would have been smarter."
"Damn right, you should have," Dick told him sharply, "and we're going to practice it until you can do it in your sleep."
"Good idea. I need to train against someone like him, someone that can help me anticipate Hermes and Mercury," Duncan added.
Dick nodded. "Your sister wants to meet you. She'll help with that part... and probably enjoy it far too much."
"I can't wait." Duncan's bright blue eyes were gleaming with anticipation.
"I should've known." //I'm going to enjoy watching her kick your ass, kid,// Dick thought, keeping it behind his eyes. "So tell me. What do you think of him?"
Duncan bounced up to his feet, unable to stay still now. "He's …wow, you said he was fast, but…no one moves like that, not without the Speed! And he's so…impressive."
Dick winced, seeing so much of himself in that chattering, awed kid. "I know he is... he's also a cold-blooded killer, and you need to remember it. I made that mistake."
The boy whirled, staring hard at Dick. "Why?! Why is he a killer? Have you seen the majority of his kills over the years? Talk about a better off dead list."
Dick closed his eyes. "I don't know, Duncan. I've never understood why he makes the choices he does. I wish I could."
"One day, I will ask him," the boy vowed. "So how pissed is Rose?"
"She's pissed at your mom... quite a bit. Less pissed at me, as she knows the value of secrets, and too eager to meet you to be pissed at you--I think."
"I hope so…I've wanted to meet her for a long time." He remembered seeing her on the rare occasions that his mom had not been able to come up with a reason to avoid her, mostly in passing at Dick's. "Bet Mom's going to cook, since you showed up. She'll be looking for something to do."
Dick nodded. "Yeah... and she probably is. Half an hour after dinner's over, you, me, and the mats."
"You, me, mats…and a side dish of Roy after?" Duncan said, too used to taking his lumps from his teachers.
"Oh, probably. And you might want to start figuring out your apology to your 'sister' about now." //If I ignore it, he didn't actually say it like that.//
Duncan groaned. "Damn. She'll use the crossbow again, I just know it." He did not need her pissed off weeks before he and the other four kids tried to make it to her and Cerdian's team.
"Probably," Dick agreed. "Unless you grovel really, really well."
"Lian doesn't sway for groveling. I'll have to bribe her." Duncan looked at his computer. "Let me finish up school, so Mom's not pissed too."
"You do that," Dick said, and headed back downstairs, shaking his head, frustrated.
"He was gone nearly a full day before I found his trail." Dinah shook her head. "And then he tried to lose me again. The boy's good…he's going to be scary good."
Roy shook his head. "Well, of course he is--if he lives through this. He's your kid, and Dick's student."
"Your student too," Dinah reminded. "It went…stressfully. Came too damn close to tragedy." She turned worried eyes his way. "I waited too long."
Roy's eyes sharpened. "Dick didn't tell me much, what happened?" He moved to her, pulling her close. She leaned into him, resting her forehead on his shoulder, as she took a deep breath and slowly unfolded the story of how she had found Duncan and Slade, the conversations they had each had, only leaving out how torn up she had been by Slade's anger at her.
Roy's shoulders tightened, and tightened, and he started swearing softly in Dineh before long. "That. Little. Idiot."
"He's stubborn, but I swear he had everything planned but me catching him, and his father being able to get past his battlesense."
"Slade got pas--of course he did. He's too fast. Huh... about time someone reminded the kid he's not all that."
Dinah laughed softly. "Slade was always good for that to all of us."
Roy sighed. "Don't I know it." He'd been on the wrong side of that a few times, himself.
His mother/friend/sister let out an entirely too melancholy sigh. "Thanks, Boy-o."
"For?" Roy rubbed her back gently.
"For keeping me sane all these years," she said, forcing a teasing note as she pushed away, trying to focus back on work.
"You're welcome," he told her teasingly as he let her go.
"You two staying for dinner?" Dinah smiled to show she was pushing past her stress.
"If you're cooking, heck yes," Roy said with a smile.
"Mind the counter, and let me go look at what I have." She pushed the arrangement to the center of the worktable, and then brushed her lips over his cheek in passing.
Dick found Roy sitting at the counter stool, flipping through a magazine, with Dinah nowhere in sight.
//Damn stupid kid, too much like me at that age, got a case of hero-worship on top of too much brains...// "Dinah in the kitchen?" he asked, making his voice lighter than it wanted to be.
"Yeah. We're staying for dinner." Roy grinned. "So, how bad do I get to beat him?"
"Pretty bad, just as soon as I'm done."
"Di's trying to hide it, but she's still shook up," Roy told his mate.
"Well, yeah. Our brat of a student's decided to hero-worship his father, after getting Slade's nine-mil in his face..."
"Yeah, she said." He shook himself. "Guess we better get used to the bastard showing up randomly again."
Dick nodded, "Seems like it... hey. At least this time he won't be hunting us..." He was still looking for the bright side of things.
She had only just crawled into bed, when the security system alerted her to a presence on the fire escape. She stood, drawing her robe on with a sigh, wondering which person wanted a quiet meeting. She was very glad she had shifted where Oracle could hear and see in her home as she went to the window to find the man she least wanted to talk to, and most wanted to see standing there.
She threw the catches after deactivating the temblors, and drew the sash up, stepping back. Unconsciously, she pulled her arms tighter around herself, making sure the robe was covering her.
He stepped in, face impassive, as he noted the fatigue around her eyes. It had always been easiest to get what he wanted from her in terms of information when she was tired.
"Have a seat," she invited, showing him the chair near the bed, while she sat on the edge of the bed."
"I will." He took the offered chair, pinning her with his singular gaze. "Now, Dinah; I suggest you give me the full story about my son. I want to know when you knew you were pregnant, if you knew all along it was mine…" He saw her eyes flash angrily on that, and he buried his suspicions that he had been but one of several potential fathers immediately. "Tell me everything."
"It started ten days after we argued…"
The alarm wrapped around his wrist buzzed quietly, snapping him awake. //Three am. Mom should be home... let's go see.// He rolled out of bed and padded across the room, pulling his door open. He headed for the kitchen, getting his usual late-night glass of water--it made a good excuse for him to check and make sure his mother was home safely. He walked back towards his room... and his attention was caught by the sound of his mother's voice talking. He cat footed towards her room, head cocked, listening. //That's weird...// He paused outside the door, listening intently.
Eventually, he made out what she was saying, and his eyes brightened. There was only one reason she would be telling that story... but he had to be sure he was right, and kept listening until he received conformation either way.
Sixteen years prior
Dinah was almost numb with shock as she left the women's clinic. It just could not be possible; she had been careful. With things as she had left them, there was no way this could be happening to her.
Memories of angry words hurled from her to the man she had been with haunted her now. It had only been ten days before when she accused him of manipulating her emotions. She remembered his naked anger at that, then the calm way he had drawn her close when she admitted to trying to push him away.
She remembered the closed look he had gotten when she admitted caring for him. And her anger, that she had let herself open to him, and he was still a cipher she could never understand. She had left, and told him never to darken her doorstep.
A wretched sob escaped her, and she drew her phone out of her pocket. With a shaking hand, she almost punched his number, almost gave her breaking heart the satisfaction it craved.
Then she remembered every story she had ever heard about Joey, about Grant, about Rose.
And she dialed Dick instead.
Dick studied the display on his phone in confusion, recognized the number, and picked up. "Dinah?" //What the hell?//
"Dick?" It sounded most unlike Dinah, as the woman on the other end was speaking in small, unsure voice. "I need someone to talk to...you. May I..." She caught her breath in a gasping sob, and started fighting harder to gain control.
"Where are you? Do I need to come get you, are you hurt?"
"I can drive myself…I'm in Gotham," she told him. "Just tell me where I can meet you."
"I keep an apartment on 53rd and Jefferson, apartment 432, Daniels building. I'll be there in fifteen minutes." That was going to require hijacking a friend of his, but... so what?
"Alright." She hung up and went to her bike, her fingers shaking as she hitched the helmet on. It took her longer than fifteen minutes to get there. He saw her coming up, walking woodenly, her skin drawn and pale.
He went straight for her, his eyes wide as he reached out, wrapping his arm around her waist. "Dinah?" his voice was more than a little worried as he offered her support.
She sagged against him, letting him take her weight. "I'm so sorry, Dick, but you are the only person I can talk to right now...and I'm scared out of my wits."
The feel of her falling against him like that scared him badly--he'd never seen her like this, not the woman that had saved his lover's sanity, fought everything the League, Gotham, and Babs could throw at her with a smart quip and a hard kick... "It's okay, Dinah. Whatever's wrong, it's okay." //Don't kill me for this.// He dipped and wrapped his other arm under her legs. She was so damn tiny; it wasn't hard at all to lift her, nor to move with her in his arms back towards his unlocked door.
She pressed her face into his shoulder, trying once more for control, making an aborted move to reach for her phone again. As harsh as she had been, as rough as his last words had fallen on her ears, she doubted he would even answer it.
"Sssh," he said softly, kicking his door shut behind him with one foot and moved over to drop himself onto the couch, holding her worriedly. He and Dinah'd been… odd about each other for a while, but they'd become friends eventually, mostly out of worry about Babs, and Roy. "Dinah.... what is it?"
"I'm pregnant," she whispered. "And it's…there's only one…the father…"
//Bruce? ...No. She wouldn't be like this... Ollie? Again... why come to me?// "Dinah? Who?" That she was this shattered meant it couldn't be a good thing...
"Slade." It was a very tiny voice that whispered it.
//Oh. My. Motherfucking. Gods.// He didn't say a word, just kept her against his chest, trying to figure out what he could possibly say that wouldn't sound completely stupid. "You two were..." he finally managed.
"I'm sorry…I shouldn't have…I just knew you…if anyone…might be able to…" She tried to pull away, the scared look in her eyes warring with the misery, and he realized the misery was not truly for who the father was, but something else.
His arms tightened around her. "It's okay, Dinah. It's okay. I'm glad you're here. It's okay." //Shit, damn it, the one time my fast mouth shuts up....//
"I can't … I can't tell him, Dick. Much as I ache to, to let him know he's going to have a baby…I'm scared of the baby being affected by … by his past." She met his eyes. "I'm going to need help, from someone who does know, like you."
Dick nodded, watching her eyes, running through the Wilson family tragedies again. "I... can't say I disagree with you, Dinah... and I'll help you any way I can." After a minute, "I didn't know you were..."
Dinah nodded slowly. "He's been…good to me, Dick. Ever since we crossed paths the first time, because of Blockbuster. Things got…intense, the second time Babs sent me somewhere he turned up at."
Dick rubbed her back gently, //Then... I don't get it. I mean... okay, I do get it, but if you know how he can be, why won't you let him? What happened?// "When is anything with him not?" he asked rhetorically. "And things... continued from there?" He knew damn good and well she'd crossed paths with Slade more than twice. Far more.
"It began on the way back from the island…one time thing, a burn off of too much energy." She looked down. "Then he found me in Europe, after I had finished a mission, and … well, every time we were close to the same city that wasn't my home ground, we seemed to find one another." She shook her head quickly. "Never near one of his jobs…like he did not want to give me reason to have to make it an official meeting."
"He wouldn't," Dick agreed, "not with the complication that would pose." //Dangerous, dangerous game, you two...// "Won't he notice, though, if you start avoiding him?"
Now Dinah's pale skin flushed, darkly with her memories of their argument. "No. He won't." //If I had not ended it already…I never could have hidden it.//
His head tilted, wondering at that, but he wasn't going to force her to tell him anything she didn't want to. "That's... good, right?"
"I…guess so. For the baby's sake." The hesitation said so much, and the pain in her eyes. Whatever had happened to make them part, she did not like it.
"Want to talk?" he let the offer hang in the air.
"I broke it off," she admitted. "Not even two weeks ago...and it did not go well."
"...no. I bet it didn't...." //Oh, Dinah.// He could hardly imagine what it would be like, to go through the hell breaking things off with him would have been, and then to find out she was carrying his child... "What a hell of a mess, Dinah," he told her, but his voice was soft, not accusing.
"Yeah." The woman drew a deep breath in. "So, I stay clear of Slade…only tell you who the kid's father is...and Roy, much as he's going to want to throttle me. Let others think I don't know who the dad is?" She drew into herself, shaking her head. "God, this is going to kill Ollie."
"Roy... yeah. He's not gonna cope well, but he'll get over it. If he gets too obnoxious, remind him who Lian's mother is." He paused, then winced. "Oh, man. Yeah... I'm sorry, Dinah. Mm... you could either let them think you don't know, or that you don't care. Either works..." //She's already set on keeping it...//
"Easier, with all the rumors about me, to claim I don't know, but I don't want to find out, to avoid complicating Random Joe of the Week's life," she said, laughing bitterly. "Thank god for my man eater flings." She moved to stand, needing to pace. "I thought, maybe, you might help me with the kid…be its godfather or teacher or …whatever you're comfortable with. I think Slade would approve."
"I already said I'd help you, Dinah. If you want me to be godparent, okay. I can do that, and if you want me to teach him, or her, I'll do it." He fought back the flush at the thought that Slade would approve... but couldn't quite disagree.
Dinah nodded. "I'm going to need help. I know that. Because I won't let the kid not live up to that potential."
"All right. You've got it. You want to... stick around a while? Rest?"
She shook her violently, beginning to feel a need to move, to act, now that the beginnings of a plan were forming. "Need to see Roy, quickly. So he has less time to be mad at me for not telling him." She shuddered. "And plan when I'll go to Star City."
Dick nearly offered her backup for that, but thought better of it. "Want me to call Roy? Let him know you're coming?
"Damn good idea," she told him, shaking herself one more time. "Best to just get it done."
"All right. I'll give you about half an hour's head start."
Roy could not, for the life of him, figure out what Dinah was coming to New York for. He heard the bike outside, and heard it turn off. It took long enough for her to walk to the door that he almost went and opened it himself.
As it was, he was standing just to one side of it when she came in, his green eyes worried. "Di?"
She slipped in, arms wrapping around his waist as she buried her face into his chest. "Boy-o, I've done something…you're not going to like, but I need your help."
He wrapped his arms tight around her, thankful Lian was at preschool, and held her close as he asked. "What is it, Dinah?" She pushed at him, until they were sitting down, before she would talk. And then, sparing him from as much detail as she could, she admitted her pregnancy and who the father was.
He nearly came up out of the couch, muttering savagely in a language she didn't understand, but clearly recognized, and slowly, slowly ran down. "Di... what the Fuck were you thinking?!"
Her eyes flashed angrily, despite her current state of mind. "Don't. Don't sit in judgment of me, Boy-o. I knew you wouldn't like it, but this…this is a force of nature just as damn strong as what happened to bless our lives with Lian."
"I... shit. Sorry, Di. You're right... just... Slade? I don't..." he made himself shut up again. "Sorry, Di. I just..." //He's tried to kill all of us, damn near succeeded, he's unpredictable and dangerous and all around bad news and you're carrying his kid?!//
She saw the conflict, felt sorry for him, knowing the tales of just how much grief Slade had brought him because of Dick. But she had almost been killed by the mother of his child for daring to be a caregiver.
"He divorces Deathstroke so completely from his private life, Roy…it was hard not to fall for the man who made me forget the loneliness Oliver left me with," she said softly. "But it's over. And I'm going to need help hiding the child in plain sight."
"You know I'll help you, Di. It's not the kid's fault... and I'll take your word for that." A thought crossed his mind, and he shook off the odd smirk, looking at her with serious eyes. "You've been such a huge help to me with Lian... how could I not?"
Dinah sagged against him, some of her stress sliding off. "Lian is my heart and soul, Boy-o. And one day, she'll have to know, just to be on guard, and to know there's a kid like her."
Roy nodded slowly, wrapping his arms around her again. "Yeah.... guess they do have something in common. ...What're you going to do? You've got to disappear, before long, or, well... that costume doesn't leave much to the imagination, Dinah..."
She nodded. "Maybe Diana would take me in?" She had to stretch for that one. "I'd ask J'onn, since he's a master at hiding, but an island full of women would be harder for anyone to reach than just living in a new city under false names. I think if I disappear before I show much, and stay away…say a year? I can make it seem like a prolonged training trip."
"Diana might... but what if it's a boy? The Amazons get kind of weird about that, if I remember right... I think I could get my people to hide you."
She blinked, thinking about if it was a boy, and tears welled up in her blue eyes. "A son." //A son he won't know until the boy can take care of himself.// "Yes…I think I could do that. I remember when we went last time, they were rather nice to me."
"Of course they were... and they're happier with me, now. If I swing it right, no one'll know anything about you until you come back home. And nobody'll blink an eye at Lian and I heading back home every few months."
Dinah nodded sharply. "You should have a few weeks to set it all up. I'm only five weeks or so, they said. I can probably hide it until three months, max. And that's if I start wearing the coat again."
"No problem." He was much happier with something to actually do, and with the fact that she intended to keep Slade far out of the kid's life. "It'll be done in time. You might be roughing it a bit, but..." //I don't think you'll mind that too much.//
"I can handle it. I promise you." She was the one that had insisted on camping trips in Washington with Ollie after all. On that thought, she darkened. "How soon…how soon should I tell Ollie?"
Roy winced, closing his eyes. "I... god, I dunno, Di. He's gonna flip no matter what... but I think you want to tell him before he might notice..."
She nodded slowly. "I'll handle it. Before week's end." She closed her eyes as she rested against him. "Only you, me, and Dick should know. Lian when she's older. The kid as soon as it is safe to get the kid to keep a secret."
"A'ight, Di... but how're you going to keep Herself from knowing?"
"You mean the woman who has exasperatedly cut off comms every instance I start flirting with a pool boy or a waiter?"
"Aaah. Okay. And yeah, I meant her."
"Like every other person I know, I'll tell her I don't know, and don't want to know, because I don't want to deal with the father." And that last phrase brought a grain of truth, even as it cut her to the quick.
"Okay." He pulled her in and hugged her again. "Lian ought to be home soon. Going to stay to see her?"
"Actually…I'd like to stay here today," she whispered. "Just to get my feet under me again."
"Sure, Dinah." Holding her against his shoulder, that damn thought flicked through his mind again. //Isn't it supposed to be me repeating her mistakes, not the other way around?//
Dinah paused in her tale. She had seen Slade reacting minutely to the raw emotion she had conveyed, saw the subtle signs he might not be quite as angry at her now. She had not spared her emotions in the telling, even if it made her look weaker in his mind. She took a deep breath to continue, summarizing from the tale of just how she had come to her decision to hide Duncan.
"I moved to New York when I came back. Between the three of us, we made sure Lian and Duncan were always covered. Dick's been Duncan's primary teacher from the minute the boy did a perfect flip off his bunk bed top." She shook her head sadly. "Ollie, did not take it or the boy well, but he offered, once, to marry me, to help me make a family home."
"That would have been a mistake," Slade said flatly, eye growing hot at the thought of the arrogant archer having anything to do with his son.
"I laughed it off, told him a woman could raise a kid fine on her own. In truth, the only men I trusted raising your child were my Boy-o and Dick." Her voice slid with fond affection over the sentence; her closeness to the boys ran deep now.
"You chose well. Grayson is a skilled and strong man. Your Harper has useful talents." He leaned forward, his eye locking on her face. "I do not agree with your choice. You knew things had changed for me, that I was fully free of the remnants of the corruption Joey's possessed soul had left. But it is done. There is no living in the past."
"None," she answered him, her chin coming up defiantly. "And I would have come to you soon, I swear, Slade. As soon as I knew if he really was going to put a costume on."
"I believe you." His hand moved slightly, as if he had almost reached up, but it could have just been a repositioning. She drew in a deep breath, wondering if there was anything she was leaving out, and then she brightened and rose, walking to her bureau. She brought back a plain notebook, handing it to him.
"I have something for you. I…I did not know if you would really want the mundane things recorded, but they're in there, along with the observations I made about him over the years," she said, watching him leaf through it briefly. He nodded, setting it to the side, glancing sidelong at the door, knowing all too well that the boy was just outside, even if Dinah had failed to notice in her explanations.
Though he'd come to the door partially through the recital, it had been extremely hard for him not to go to his mother at hearing the pain in her voice... but he hoped that her honesty had cooled his father's anger towards her. She'd done the best she could for him. He really wanted to know what was in that notebook, too! He shifted slightly, and considered... then ran his hand along the door loudly. "Mom? You okay?" his voice was carefully sleep-rough, as though he'd just gotten up and heard her voice.
Dinah did not startle too much, Slade noted, and she turned to the door. "I'm fine Duncan. Easy patrol. One small gang, two break-ins, one attempted rape." She was so used to telling him the details, Slade noted, hearing the tones of long ingrained habits in her voice. "Go on back to bed, son."
"Good. Okay. Night, mom..." and he walked off to bed, wondering if Slade would stay, or not... Probably not. But he could always hope. She glanced at the clock, then shook her head.
"Wonder how long he listened in?" she said, seeing how late it was compared to his usual check up on her.
"The whole time," Slade said casually. She stared at him, before slowly sighing.
"He knows you're here then." That thought, Slade could see, actually did not displease his former lover. "Is there anything I left out? Anything you want to know?"
He shook his head, standing from the chair, taking the notebook. With his free hand, he caught her wrist and pulled her close, enjoying the look in her eyes, the way her body tensed, and then flowed close to him. He had suspected it through the story, and now confirmed it; she was still caught up in him.
"Don't think of keeping anything from me, concerning him," he warned, his voice rough and hard on her ears. She brought a hand up to push him away, a token protest, but he abruptly let her go and headed for the window. She followed, her heart hammering at the way he affected her.
"I won't…I'll let Rose know, from now on." She tried hard to keep emotions from her voice as he stepped out. "Be careful, Slade…he's damn excited to be able to see you now."
Slade heard the words she did not say, the ones her eyes said to him, the mask gone from her entirely. "I'll be careful, my little bird." He was gone before she could reply, making his way out of her sight. She could not help but smile though, for the small acknowledgment his words gave her.
Four hours, and he was up and downstairs, checking the house over again.
He could hear his mother humming to herself as she cooked breakfast, up earlier than usual. It was a very pleased sound, and the fact she was indulging in tasty food rather than her usual regimented diet told him she was treating herself.
//Uh huh... hm. Interesting.// "Smells good, mom," he told her as he walked in, trying to spot if there was anything he could do to help.
She had not poured the drinks yet, though two place settings were ready at the breakfast bar.
"Should. Real bacon and eggs for a change." She smiled at him.
Drinks he could handle, and went to do just that. "What's the occasion? Your birthday's next month..."
"Hmm." She gave him a little look that promised mischief. "Maybe I just felt happy when I got up today."
"...Right. Hermes, dude, I could use a rescue..." he was joking, and his hand was nowhere near his phone as he grinned at her.
She laughed brightly, serving the food to them both. "You, young sir, are a scamp." She reached out and ruffled his hair before sitting down. "So, Lian called me while I was looking for you. She said Mia's definitely retiring at the end of the month. Wants to know if you and your gang of friends are still serious about trying out." She was not about to confirm or deny his father's presence in her bedroom the night before, especially not when she knew things were on a level footing again between her and the assassin.
"Mom!" Duncan protested, ducking out from under her hand. "Yeah, we're serious," he nodded, willing to speak for all of them. A cluster of overprotective, been-there, done-that, not-until-you're-trained-right parents had kept he and his age-mates off the Titans for way too long in their books, it was about time they got the shot.
"Good. Because you and yours will have to be ready to kick into high gear in just a few months." Dinah got serious. "The League is getting ready to try and recruit the senior Titans for a few more taskforce teams. If J'onn can persuade them, they won't have as much time for the Titans, and it will be the Teen Titans, or nearly, for real again. And no, that's not common knowledge, not even to Cer and Li. I want you aware, so you can be aware of holes in their training."
"...Thanks for the heads up. That's an interesting mix of hell, yes and oh, shit... I'll keep my mouth shut. And play nice with Cer." His eyes rolled at the thought. Trying to convince him not to swear had become a lost cause early on.
"Good. He is older, more experienced, and a real tank." Dinah settled to eat her meal. "Any plans for the day...after you finish catching up on school?"
"Other than practice? No..."
"Might want to let those bruises from 'practice' with Dick and Roy wear off first." She ran her thumb over the faint one along his cheekbone. "I thought I might send you on a delivery."
"Nah. I have a couple assignments--and that wasn't practice. It was an object lesson. Delivery? Who to, and where? I'm game."
She passed a delivery sheet to him, and he noted the address...then did a double take; it was the Outsiders' headquarters, if he remembered right, and even Oracle was in awe of his memory.
His mouth started to open, then he stopped. "Oh. Oh, smooth mom...."
"Hmm?" Now the mischief danced in her eyes. "Think you can handle it?"
"No problem." //I gettomeether!!!!// He could hardly keep the grin off his face.
The flowers were delivered to the medical bay, where Robin was resting in sedation, his partner Superboy beside him. Duncan took a minute to size up the man who had never chosen an adult sobriquet, much as Robin had opted to take his name into adulthood. The half-Kryptonian nodded at the kid, recognizing him from a couple of trips to Dick's house. Duncan nodded back, and casually walked out of the medical bay, quite unsurprised when he saw her in an empty hallway.
"You, follow me." She turned and guided him out of the halls to a training room she had already secured against spying.
Duncan followed her, looking around the Outsider's headquarters curiously, until they were inside the training room. He noticed the weapons in the practice racks behind her as he took in the shape of the room, and watched her as the door closed. "I take it we're clear?" flicking his eyes around.
She nodded once, a faint look of amusement on her lips as she sized him up, debating if she should just test him, or talk. The urge to try his mettle was too strong; her father did not call just anyone 'interesting'.
He flashed her a smile, then, even as his danger sense started to twinge. "Hello, sister." The smile turned rueful, "Nice to be able to say that."
"Earn it." And she pressed into a strike immediately, almost slipping close enough to tag him before he evaded her.
He twisted out of the way and struck back, a tighter smile on his lips, //Hell, she's fast.// He dropped back away from the heel-strike he 'felt' coming and snapped a kick at her jaw from his spot braced on a hand, twisting upright as he did. "Staying barehanded?" he asked even as he dodged her next attack, feeling it whistle past his shoulder.
"We'll see." Her smile was dangerous, as she 'saw' a flash of him, older, carrying a pair of sticks, engaged in battle. She blinked the vision away during a handspring away, focusing her mind on the now.
He followed her, not giving her the space to regroup as he sparred with her, stretched to the limit but keeping up, //Is Dad faster?// he wondered in-between a series of shoulder-jarring blocks--she hit like Nightstar.
Rose analyzed as she fought. //Fast, but Shiva-style speed...reads the body. Very flexible...all Dick. Strong, but conditioned that way. Potential's high...too damn bad can't risk letting him go my way...he'd be damn tough to beat then.// She landed a grazing blow on one arm, but took one in turn, spinning away. //Strike that; he's going to be hell on legs when he's got his full growth.//
//So quick. Hard edged. ...soldier. Dad's influence. That was Dick though!// As a fluid, flying kick went just over his head as he dropped and took a strike at her knee, then rolled on away. They were damn close to that practice rack, would she try and change this up?
She moved in a very fluid, very Dick spin, as if to take a weapon, but caught herself mid-spin with a kick that lanced out into his path as he tried to match her move. She was quite pleased to find in him a sparring partner worth her time, and could only anticipate what he would be when he was mature.
He swore as he caught that blow in a poorly executed block, barely having seen the change in time to block it at all and he kept moving. They'd have time to add weapons either later or next round.
Rose shifted again, moving into Roy's hand-to-hand style for just a moment, to shake the rhythm, before moving into her own, distinct manner of fighting.
He laughed, countered her, and answered her style by flicking back and forth between his mother's style and Dick's without a breath's worth of pause, off the ground more than he was on it and always and ever in motion.
She answered with a wry chuckle of her own, moving with an ever-increasing speed until she moved just past his ability, very impressed at just how much she had to cut loose to get to that point.
He could still see the pattern of the blows before they hit, but doing more than blocking them, even simply blocking them, was eventually impossible--he just wasn't as fast... He flung himself backwards, taking the shot to his ribs to do it, putting space between them with a long series of backwards flips, breathing hard and on guard. "Damn..."
"Damn good, brother." She was smiling as she went into a relaxed guard pose. "Dick's taught you pretty good."
He relaxed when she did, grinning over at her as he scraped sweat off his forehead before it could run into his eyes. "Dick, Roy, Mom... I've had good teachers. Still can't box, to Wildcat's dismay--too limited."
"Something to be said for a solid punch from time to time." She threw him a towel, taking one for herself. "I couldn't believe it at first, when Daddy told me. But…you're very much his kid."
"Oh, yeah," he agreed completely. "And he taught me to throw i--you think so, really?" his words cut off and changed with her last comment, trying to sound casual about the question, when it so much wasn't. "I... guess it would be kinda unbelievable."
She moved over to him. "You need anything, get in any trouble, you get word to me, little brother." She pushed her hair back behind her ear. "And you have a lot of him in you. You fight with his passion."
Duncan nodded, taking her offer as seriously as it was meant, "I'll do that, sister." His head tilted curiously, "Passion? He's so precise..."
She laughed at him. "Get him to spar."
"Planning on it," he replied with a huge smile, wind finally back.
"Nice moves," Rose told him. "Real nice moves. And you'll be a good Titan."
"Thanks," the smile settled into something smaller, more hopeful. "I hope so. ..gotta learn how to keep up with that, but at least I could see you coming..."
"Couldn't see Daddy, huh?" She knew; it was very rare that any of her visions touched him, and always with a peripheral view, focusing on someone else.
"Nope. Sure couldn't. He snuck up on me," indignant mutter. "I haven't been snuck up on in years..."
Rose laughed softly. "Look, I have to get back to work soon, but I'll catch up with you through Dick…no reason for us not to be introduced, as we're both his students."
That got an amused smile, "True enough. Sneaky. He'd be proud. I'd probably better head home, anyway."
"Be safe, Duncan." The three words were very serious.
"I will. You too, Rose." He offered her a hand, tilting it in question, //shake or hug, sis?//
She grabbed the hand, pulled him in, and hugged him until his ribs threatened to give way. "We'll get Joey's butt out here one day."
He grinned and hugged her back just as tight, careful of the ribs he'd hit earlier. "That sounds good," he said against her shoulder.
She let go of him, cocking her head sideways. "Want me to get you a safe number for Daddy?"
//Yes!// "I think... I ought to see what happens, first. When he comes around. After that... I'll probably ask."
"Was just thinking, as busy as he gets, you ought to have one…for just in case." Rose knew just how protective their father could be.
Duncan smiled at her, "You're probably right. Okay, I'm convinced."
She looked around for something to write with and on, finally finding the tally book for when Grace and Boomerang were having pissing contests with their abilities. She gave him her own safe number, and made a mental note to tell her father she'd need a new one.
"Here. Memorize it or program it in your phone; it rings a dummy that gets bounced hard, so no one should be able to track it."
He read it over a few times, eyes closing a moment between readings, then handed it back to her and rattled it off. "Right?" She nodded.
"Keep the hard copy, just in case, for now." She pushed it back into his hand, then walked away to get back to work, leaving him to find his way back out.
He shrugged, tucked it deep into a pocket, and headed out, remembering the route, then headed home, still grinning.
Joey had a new painting under his arm when he arrived at Dick's. Dick met him at the door, pulling it open for him. "Hey Joey."
The man signed a one handed greeting, shaking his head at Dick. When they got in, and he had set the painting down, he continued. "You could have told me. I would have kept it quiet."
Dick sighed. "Wasn't about you, Joey. Dinah didn't want anyone to know. I didn't tell Rose, and she's my student."
"Rose would have told our father." Joey had no doubts on his sister's compromised loyalty. "But if the woman did not want anyone knowing, I can almost understand." The painter pulled the cover from the painting, offering it to Dick then; it was a piece Dick had idly wished for depicting Roy and Lian at a younger age.
Dick's breath caught for a moment. "...Wow, Joey. That's gorgeous work, thank you. I don't know. She might not have, if I asked... but." he shrugged. "Dinah asked me to keep her secret."
Joey nodded. "Curious. Is he like his mom or Dad?"
"...both. Dinah's affection, Slade's practicality... and his cockiness."
That had Joey shaking his head. "Dangerous combination." The former Titan settled in; he so rarely made it out to see his old friend, and he was not going to waste it all night on a kid that he'd never met.
"Yeah. We keep working on him, though. How've you been?"
Joey started talking about his life, the family he'd made, the relief he felt that neither of his children seemed to have a meta gene. All in all, Joey was very glad to have left the pain of being a Titan behind, even if he did sometimes miss his friends.
Dick chattered with him merrily, though he was talking about the worry of sending his adopted daughter to the Titans, the change-ups brewing in the teams, and anything else he could think of... and as usual, as he talked he moved, eyes always on Joey's hands but the rest of him in the same fluid, casual motion he'd always had.
Joey finally stopped Dick with a head cocked to one side. "Dick…did you let Dad give you his serum at some point?"
Dick froze, toppling sideways onto the couch to stare at Joey with confused eyes. "Ah, NO, why?"
"It's been almost three years since I saw you last." Joey flicked his fingers at Dick's face, his hands, and shook his head. "No change...not the kind I expect to see."
Dick frowned, and took a long look at Joey. "You haven't changed much either, you know..." Now he wanted to, like, find a mirror.
"Which is why I thought of Dad. Because it's his serum, that which I inherited, that slows my aging." Joey shrugged ruefully. "You were always the son he saw as his heir."
"Like I said," Dick nodded, finally shifting to sit back up.
"Well, maybe you had a touch of meta in you," Joey said.
Dick shook his head. "Nope. We've tested that pretty frequently. Pure human."
The door opened, and Roy walked in with a grin for Joey. Both Dick and Joey saw it in the same moment, with Dick's appearance on their minds. The redhead looked exactly like his portrait, worked from a picture taken three years prior.
The identical, sharp looks made Roy tilt his head, looking down nervously. "Hey, guys, what, did I brush up against paint or something?"
Dick shook his head. "C'mere, bowhead." Joey stood, got the portrait, and put it beside Roy as the man came to stand very still.
Roy looked at the picture, looked at Dick, then twisted his head to look at the mirror in the hall. "...Freaking weird. What the hell?"
Dick shook his head, baffled. "I... don't know. And how did nobody else notice?"
"They see you every day. I don't." Joey shook his head. "Something…I don't know, magic maybe? Kory's energies? Raven's? Is holding your ages back, or slowing them."
"Gotta be magic, it's not tech," Dick said with a shrug. "Wouldn't think Kory could, Raven wouldn't I don't think... huh. Mystery."
"Oh, great. I'm not going to see you until you get to the bottom of this, am I?" Roy bitched, but the hair at the back of his neck was trying to stand on end.
"At least with it affecting you, it confirms Dad did not find a new way to use the serum," Joey told Roy. "Not even for Dick would he give you that kind of edge," he stated matter-of-factly.
Dick snorted, amused, and Roy laughed. "No, no he sure as hell wouldn't."
"Still say he's jealous of your natural eye…better than his was in the army, I bet." Joey smiled. "So, I should get going, before the wife thinks I'm having another affair."
The pair laughed in disbelief, shaking their heads almost as one. "Right," Dick said.
"Like you'd do something like that," Roy added in. Joey just smiled, and took his leave. Roy came and hugged Dick close. "So, who do you think popped an aging thing on us?"
"I'm not sure," Dick replied, turning into Roy's arms. "Which worries me... Hmm. Photo album time..." he didn't move, though.
"Later," Roy murmured against his ear, before biting it softly on the lobe. "Right now...empty house..."
Dick shivered slightly, "Yeah, I know..." he said against Roy's jaw, hand sliding down his back, other hand in brilliant red hair.
//Who do I owe for this... and what do they want?// he wondered, then put it away.
Duncan came into his room, and looked up to see his father sitting quite nonchalantly in the window seat.
"Father," he smiled as he said it. "Mom know you're here?" idle curiosity in the tone and nothing more.
"Didn't see a reason to disturb her; she was with a customer." He watched the boy. "Grab a few clothes."
Duncan nodded and simply slid his closet door open, dragging out a small duffel and slinging it over his shoulder. "Anything else I ought to take?"
"Casual, but sturdy." Slade shifted to leave. "Tell your mother, four days tops, and meet me up the street."
"Four days? Okay. I'm packed for three; I'll see you in a few. Up translating to north?" He was moving, bag dropped on the bed to finish packing as he tugged clothing out of dresser drawers.
"Smart boy." The man vanished down the escape, avoiding the cameras easily.
Duncan grinned at the compliment, stuffed the bag, and headed down to talk to his mother for a minute.
Dinah noted the bag, eyes flicking up to his face. He could not quite read her, her emotions, as she nodded slowly.
"Do you know how long?" As they were in a recorded section of the apartment, she was careful with her phrasing.
"Four days, ish? Not more than, anyway. Love you, mom. See you then." He was grateful, again, for the fact that his mother had long ago decided home-school was by far the better idea. Scheduling around public school would have been a real pain.
The woman nodded and watched him leave, before calmly going to tend her books. She'd find something to do while he was gone, so she did not have to worry about this first absence under Slade's care.
He headed on out and up the street, scanning for his father. He spotted a sedan with the man in it, and was soon getting in on the passenger side. Slade started driving, heading out of the city, without saying a word.
Duncan didn't mind the silence, and noted the route out of the city. Dick had knocked that into him early, and it might come up later.
"Heard you met your sister," Slade finally said, once the city was behind them. He had chosen an old bolt-hole, for this excursion, one he had not used since Dick had been little older than this son.
"Yeah. She's fun!" Duncan couldn't help the smile. "So fast, though."
Slade heard that enthusiasm, saw the brightness in his son, and decided that he could grow accustomed to it. It reminded him strongly of just whose son Duncan was, after all.
"We'll see just how fast you are, this trip," he promised.
"Not as fast as she is, I couldn't keep up, not once she really got going... Don't think mom expected me to be gone as long as I was, though."
Slade gave him a curt glance. "Your mother should not have to be worrying about you now. Not when you are about to join the Titans, and they will give her plenty of reason to worry over you."
"I didn't mean to worry her, but we got to sparring, and didn't want to stop. She knew where I was, she's the one that sent me over there."
"To Rose." Slade was slightly impressed; he supposed if the secret was out to him, Canary saw no reason in holding back further. "In the future, try harder."
"Try harder at which? Taking my sister on, or keeping better track of time? Oh, did Rose tell you she gave me a contact number for you?"
"You really are Dick's student." Slade was amused at the lightning fast shifts in Duncan's focus. "And both. As well as the number." He did not put any provisos on using the number either. "Might want to rest up on the drive, kid…you're about to learn what it means to be mine."
Dinah took one look at her son and jerked her head up to the apartment, sending him on.
"Hot shower…I'll be up in a few minutes!" She kept her arm tucked close to her body; at least he was too tired to notice it.
Duncan nodded slowly and let the bag slide off his shoulder--he'd get it later, when he didn't feel like a hundred miles of bad road, and was more awake. Father hadn't had to shake him to wake him, though; the car stopping had been enough... that pleased him, in some obscure fashion. He pulled himself up the stairs by the railing and stripped to the skin, and then slid into a shower that was absolutely as hot as he could stand, bracing against the wall as it beat down on his back.
It was sometime later when he heard his mother calling him distantly, telling him to get out of the shower and go lay down. He realized she wasn't physically distant; his mind was just foggy with the fatigue he felt.
He dried off, wrapped the towel around his hips and went in to pull boxers on, making sure he wasn't going to flash his mother before he dropped the towel, and pushed the sheets back to fall into bed. She came in after he was settled, a jar of the strongest muscle rub in hand. The massage was not as thorough as she could have hoped, with her injured arm hampering her, but she made sure he would be able to move the next day.
"He was pretty rough, huh? But you're not in that bad a shape, so…"
"Rough is mild..." he replied. "Worse than Dick on a bad day... Started ground-up, testing me... not just sparring, my brain hurts... He's so fast, so good..." He sounded utterly awed. "Got new tricks, though. Show you later..." He pressed up into her touch when she found a knot a solid kick had caused. "Seemed.... pleased enough. With what I knew... Says still plenty to learn, though..."
She worked the knot out, listening to her son's words and nodding. She wished it had been possible to have Slade in on the training all along, but…the man was a criminal, a murderer. Regardless of how honorable he could be, Dinah had to keep that at the front of her mind.
"He has more than enough he could teach you," she said neutrally. Every once in awhile, it flickered through her mind that she was exposing Duncan to a grave danger, that Slade could very well take the boy from her, try to remake him over as he had done Rose. Then she would dismiss the thought; the man she had … even in her mind, she shied from admitting the depth of the feeling she had for Slade Wilson … That man would never break the potential Duncan showed, and would not count it as profitable to abduct the child with all his connections.
"Mm-hmm. Knows different things. Different style. See what Rose means now, about passion... loves it like we do..." He wasn't awake enough to realize he hadn't told his mother about that conversation.
Dinah was able to follow the thought though, knowing firsthand. "Yes, Duncan…he's very full of passion." She filtered through the various forms of passion, from the intensity of their fighting over the years to the way Slade had always been privately to her, to the way he had been when they left the marines on the island to keep fighting. She shook her head. "He's probably very proud of you."
"You think?" he sounded almost unconscious, but so very hopeful.
"How could he not be? You're Dick's student, and a damn good one." Dinah gave a few more kneads to a bad knot, then moved away. "Sleep in. You can catch up on lessons tomorrow night."
"Okay, mom, sleep m'self out..." He curled up, cheek against the pillow, and went deep asleep.
Dinah covered her son with a light sheet, and then headed out, turning off the light. She went and put the rub away before scrubbing the residue off her hand. She made her way to her bedroom, where she had dropped off her books to do the accounting for the shop. She was soon deep into the accounting, happy to have the numbers to keep her mind off…
"Dinah." He watched her tense, then lay her pen down to look at him by the now open window.
He settled casually against the wall, studying her, noting the wounded arm instantly. It was the same one he'd broken all those years ago, though it looked merely sprained this time. "Found trouble while Duncan was gone?"
"Went looking for it; just getting slow in my old age." She leaned back in her chair. She looked him over as casually as he could; he was still very much the picture of masculinity, frozen at an age that seemed…neither old nor young. She knew she had aged some since he had been her lover, though she seemed to be aging slowly, a side effect of the Pit, Oracle had theorized.
"You are hardly old," he replied sharply. Aged slightly, yes, but not so much as she should have, and still far younger than he was. "And I would tend to doubt 'slow'."
She shot him a coy look before she could even think about it. "Careful; I might think you were interested," she said in a bantering voice.
"Or perhaps I simply lack tolerance for stupidity," Slade replied mildly, watching her. //You're the one that left, Dinah. I never denied that I was interested.// Duncan's few, careful questions--where had the boy learned tact, it certainly wasn't from his primary teachers--had had him thinking over their long ago affair more than he liked. Her reasons for leaving still applied, however, and unless she changed her mind, there was little chance of things changing.
"You always did." She turned back to her desk, a shadow falling over her eyes. // Why in hell do you have to be you?! Why can't you be…// She broke that off. When she had left him, when they argued, it had been as much to keep herself from trying to change him as in a need to protect herself from the sharp division between loving him and needing desperately to take him into custody.
"Some things don't change, little bird." He watched her reactions closely, seeing the conflict in her, and changed the topic for her sake. "You've done well with him. Still a number of rough edges, but he's young."
"Dick's done a lot for him…the boys have been great on helping me handle him." Roy had been the one to support her emotionally, and Dick had handled her son's need for a male mentor. "He's wanted to meet you all his life, though." She looked back over a column of figures, not really seeing the numbers.
"I had picked up on that. I'm... intrigued by that, given your opinion of my work..."
She turned back to face him; she had schooled her face, if not her body, to hide the emotions. "You are his father. On one hand, he deserves to know everything. On the other, I'd be stupid to not tell him, knowing he might one day have to cross your path." She stressed 'stupid' just slightly, reminding him she had never really been that when it came to him…except in their private lives. "From an early age, I made sure he had all the facts."
"And he still had any desire to meet me? Interesting."
//How could he not, when he could hear the words I would not say?// Dinah nodded. "We taught him to form his own opinions after he had the facts and his own evidence collected. Besides, he lives for the fight as much as I do. From the time he could throw a kick, he's been wheedling others into sparring."
Slade smiled slightly at that, "I'm not surprised." //With you as a mother, and Dick as the closest thing he had to a father?// "I should expect to be studied, then," as though he was making a note to himself.
"Hmm." Dinah had already resigned herself to more disappearances by her son. "Probably." She then shrugged it off. "He's going to the Titans at the end of the month. That should keep him somewhat busier."
"True, they do have a way of getting into all sorts of trouble," Slade agreed. "That entire group of kids going?"
Dinah wondered just how much Slade had observed in recent years, or if Duncan had spoken of his friends. Then she recalled Rose, and knew the girl probably marked out things of interest for her father.
"The five oldest of the next generation. Two speedsters, a changeling, a tank, and Duncan." //Their leader, and god help Cerdian when they get there.//
Slade nodded. "Starfire's girl, and Gar's son." That was one friendship he had never been able to reclaim, and there were times he regretted the loss. "Dangerous group."
Dinah was amused at the Starfire's girl comment. None of them knew whom for certain, but Roy had let her know when NightStar was born that either he or Dick was the father. By Kory's explicit choice.
"Yes. The speedsters belong to the original Kid Flash." She figured if he associated them that way, it could not hurt the twins' chances for longer lives.
Slade nodded. "Of course... I didn't think the younger one had gotten that attached, yet. Or that the kids would be old enough, if he had." Really, just because he'd left the kids alone didn't mean he wasn't paying attention to them... she ought to know better. She looked at him with a neutral gaze, trying hard not to wander into the familiar banter of years past.
"If you would get Duncan to leave me a note, in the future, when he's going to go off with you…" She reminded herself that he was still a wanted man, that it had not been that long since they had crossed paths professionally because an assassination he had pulled off had destabilized an entire region in South America.
His eye darkened. "I told him to let you know..."
"He did. That one time. In the future, he will not think, and act first, unless you remind him." She gave a soft smile, looking very much like a doting mother in the soft light of her lamp. "He can't help it…like an overeager puppy, sometimes."
Slade tilted his head slightly. "That I hadn't noticed yet. The cockiness I saw, but not that..."
She laughed softly. "Slade, our son would be most careful to try and look dignified to you. It's just a small habit, of putting priorities to training and learning new tricks over such simple things as not making me worry."
"He make a habit of that? He ought to know better."
She could not help the warm look she gave him at his words. "Roy's had at him a few times. He gets better, then it slowly loses focus again. I think, in part, it's my fault, for being gone so much, leaving him with the boys, or Lian staying with him here once she was old enough to watch him."
Slade considered that, nodding eventually. Independent, strong-willed child with an often-absent working mother... it made some sense that he would be so. "Is he any better about checking in with them, or does he think he can handle himself, so no one else ought to worry?"
Dinah thought about it. "I have to admit, one of us usually knows where he is…except when he gets it in his head to learn something for himself." She looked at him ruefully. "Such as if he could track you. It's just more likely to be Dick or Lian who gets the heads-up."
"He sounded close to the girl," Slade mentioned. He was still... conflicted over the boy's choice of meeting strategies. On one hand, it was perfectly appropriate for a child of his, on the other, he'd nearly killed the boy. //It's them that are informed, but he loves you so deeply... interesting.//
In looking back at her, thinking over what he had seen in her room, he knew she was not involved with anyone. Comments from Duncan seemed to imply he only shared his mother with her work. That and her reactions to him added up to a picture that made him remember just why women were not meant to be understood by men.
"Lian is his sister for most purposes. She's the only one of the younger ones who knows just who his father is…and it was a point they could bond over, especially after the last time…" She shuddered. "Well, it helped them both."
He nearly moved closer to her at that shudder, though he succeeded in remaining still. His lips thinned at the oblique mention of one of the few individuals he actively hated. He was still waiting for the day someone placed a contract on her pretty, poisonous head. "Both children of heroes and villains, true enough." That his son considered Harper's daughter his sister amused him, in some fashion.
She cocked her head at him, a small smile teasing at her lips. "They play a very dangerous training game. She's a very damn good shot with most anything…but the crossbow is her choice for this game. She usually reserves it for when he's been particularly thick headed…he gets to dodge."
"That would certainly sharpen his reflexes," Slade said after a few moments. He wondered, yet again, about his son's sanity, if he was willing to let a girl with that kind of eye take aim at him on a regular basis.
She nodded, and then got uncomfortable when she could not think of something to say, to prolong him staying, even as she mentally kicked herself for wanting him to. "I'm sure he's looking forward to seeing you again," Dinah said, turning back to her books, so she would not see him actually leave. "So please be safe."
He walked over at that, laying a light hand on her damaged arm. "It won't be long. Though, I think that comment should be the other way around, little bird..."
She closed her eyes, shivering at his touch, trying not to faun, and losing the battle of wills with herself. She shifted, leaning back into him, her good hand coming up to rest on his. "I'm fine…just a small accident in timing."
He left his hand there, warm against her skin, and shook his head slightly. "Small accident, hmm?" Her reaction to his touch pleased him immensely, though he was still baffled by her contradictory behaviors... women. There was no predicting them. "Take care of yourself, little bird."
She drew into herself, away from him just slightly as he moved to leave. "I will…Slade." She had hesitated, and he had wrecked her ability to hide anything even in her face. She waited until he was at the window, started to speak, then bit her tongue until he was gone. "Damn me, but I have missed you," she whispered.
Lian watched the new recruits arriving with a jaundiced eye. She had seen each of them train over the years, had interacted with all five of them on some level since they had been born. To one side of her, Cerdian was glowering; this day had been long in coming, but he could not block Duncan's arrival at the Tower. The senior Titans were not present today; they had all gone to meet with the Justice League about the new taskforce options. On the other side, Luke stayed still and smiling; he had seen them the least, since his father had remained apart from the hero community for a long time.
Nightstar was carrying the older boy, Duncan, as they arrived. Lian noted that, and figured Duncan had wheedled Starfire into sending their 'cousin' for him to avoid being carried in by an older hero. The twins, Mercury and Hermes, had zipped in and out several times, still wound up like crazy for the big day. The last to come out was Menagerie; he lived on the Titans property, as his parents had never chosen to move away from the Tower.
Nightstar let him go a couple of feet up and he landed lightly, standing up in the black and gold he'd inherited from his mother, though the full-body costume, the flared mask, and the sheathes across his back (three, what?) spoke of Nightwing's influence much more than her flamboyant aunt's. He was barely on the ground, Nightstar touching lightly down beside him, when Mercury's silver-clad arms wrapped around his neck. Her low alto voice chattered away at a mile a minute or more, and he smiled at her, replying as if deciphering her super-fast chatter came naturally, then he untangled her arms from around his neck and the rest of them settled around him as they walked up. Cer's glower just intensified as Condor spoke. "Dart, Tempest, Offspring. You guys ready for us?"
Hermes had fallen in beside Nightstar, while Menagerie, in hippogryph form, took the far side of Mercury. The five oozed confidence in themselves and, worse to Cer's way of thinking, all seemed content to let Condor, the brat Duncan, speak for them.
"Welcome to the Tower, officially," Offspring said, when Tempest decided to be more like a Bat than a fish. "And you kids are about to find out it's not all fun and games as Titans."
"Well, d'uh," Hermes said. "We do all come from hero homes." The speedster rolled his eyes.
Menagerie shifted into a manticore, opening his mouth to speak. "Hermes is right. We've been training for this almost all our lives."
"They're right, too," Duncan told his team, trying to keep things under control. "M, I know you've been in it, 'Star too, but the rest of us... training isn't a real fight, and that's what we'll be headed for now. Lead on, guys."
Mercury fidgeted in place, silver blurring at either side of her, neon-streaked hair pulled back from her face, impatient as usual.
Dart kept her approval off her face. She was not going to give Tempest reason to accuse her of favoritism. Condor was brother in all but fact, bound far more tightly than mere blood to her by the rules of their extended family. Nightstar…well, the half Tamaranean was either her half-sister by blood or by the domestic partnership of her fathers. Tempest knew the rumors of that same as most Titan kids did.
"This weekend will be mostly indoctrination," Tempest said, turning on his heel and leading them inside the Tower, right past the statue of the original Titans. "We're not supposed to be answering any alerts; Cyborg said the seniors could catch those if absolutely necessary."
//Good. We need to learn to work with you, first,// Duncan thought, nodding slightly in approval at his back. Only that Mercury spotted that cut off her instinctive protest, if Du--Condor liked it, there had to be a reason. She flitted over to stare up at her father for a second, then caught up before anyone but her twin should know she was missing... and she winced as Duncan flicked a low, //Stay in// behind his back at her.
//Stupid damn battlesense, what's it doing listening to me? I'm no threat.//
Nightstar smiled over at the sight of the statue, both of the men that might be her father there, and they followed.
Hermes had puffed up at seeing the original Kid Flash; he took his legacy serious, even if he and his sister had opted to not take true Flash names. Menagerie actually shifted to his true form, a very slight teen boy, with his father's trademark green skin, and a reserve that could only be from controlling his emotions to ease his mother's life.
Offspring was doing the tour routine; pointing out the rooms that had always been off-limits on previous trips, explaining what was in each, until they got to the briefing room. There, Tempest took over, explaining the changing dynamic of the Titans. Dart remained quiet, studying them, as Tempest talked.
The Titans had consisted of Cyborg, Raven, Beast Boy, Wonder Girl, and Speedy as the core team for some time now. Dart, Tempest, and Offspring had joined at fifteen or sixteen, like the five now in the room were.
Speedy had decided to retire, as her lifestyle and the medicines she was dependent on had begun to clash. The others either were joining their other friends within the Justice League taskforces, or merely stepping down to purely advisory roles.
Which left Tempest to lead a practically brand new team of untried heroes. As he got to that point he looked at each one, and asked for questions.
Mercury, predictably, was the first one to open her mouth. "Sowho'veyouguyshadthemost run-inswith? Imeanwe'reallbutD--CondorTitanskids, weknowthehistory, butthenewstuff'sbeenunderwraps..."
Condor approved. Good for Mercury to prove early that she wasn't as flutter headed as she acted.
"Good question." It gave Dart a private sense of amusement that Mercury was right…and yet so wrong about Duncan not being a Titan kid. If being the son of the most notorious rogue the Titans had possessed didn't qualify him, she did not know what would. "I'll be handling the Rogue's briefing."
That amused Duncan, and he settled back slightly.
Duncan wasn't about to ask Cerdian anything. And he'd known almost everything in that briefing anyway.
"No more questions?" Tempest only barely managed to contain his relief; he had his grandfather's temperament for these kinds of things. "Dart, continue."
"The Titans have had a run of villains historically, and some have to be touched on despite a lack of recent activity," Dart began. She gave the run down of notable clashes, sparing nothing even when she had to cover the pair of notables responsible for herself and Duncan. She continued through more modern nuisances, including notes on suspected parentage of several who seemed to be continuing in parental footsteps.
Duncan was filing the information away, and at a few points flicked a hand up to inquire on some point or another that he didn't think his sis had covered in enough depth. It would all be there when he needed it, thanks to tricks learned from his primary teacher and from Oracle as well. It amused him, privately, that his sister had gotten the primary workload.
His teammates listened intently, though the two speedsters were hard-pressed to be still so long. When Dart finished, Menagerie tentatively held up a hand.
"What happens if things get…more intense than we can handle? I've been told about several fights the Titans went into alone and got chewed up, because there was no backup." The slight boy flinched as Hermes threw an arm around his shoulders.
"No such thing," the confidently brash speedster said.
"Actually," Offspring stood up. "When I take you to get your communicators fitted, there is now a built in panic button. We're not having another incident that led to Pantha's death." That had been a case of too few titans on site, too many villains. Pantha had saved all her teammates, at great cost. "Anyone on team can hit the button, and it routes through three monitoring stations. All the other sanctioned teams will be alerted, and shift close personnel to the battle."
"That is good," Nightstar said with a nod.
"Very," Condor agreed. //Not that we're likely to hit it often, but thank god it's there. Note, check the hardware. It's no use if it's damaged, not that Cyborg won't have tested it to exhaustion.//
"That's enough on briefing. Offspring will get you your communicators and quarters," Tempest said in dismissal.
"If you will all follow me," the shape-changer said.
Mercury was up instantly, but held her spot at the end of the table until the rest of them joined her, then they trailed him, though Menagerie knew the Tower like the back of his hand.
Nightstar was not too much a stranger to it; her mother had parked her with the Titans a number of times while pursuing another modeling career. She fell in beside both Menagerie and Hermes, earning a playful swat at her backside from the speedster boy. The two of them were openly flirting, making Menagerie flush a little more greenly.
Offspring led them to one of Cyborg's workshops and took care of the communicators, showing them how to use them and how to wear them. Once they each were outfitted, he took them upstairs and showed them the rooms that were still open, explaining that some rooms had been shifted, to allow them to keep their team close together.
Duncan ran a finger over his comm, surprised at how right it already felt to be wearing one... but then, he'd watched his mother with hers all his life. He ran the floor plan of the Tower through his head before choosing a room, putting himself between ninety percent of the possible entrances and the rest of his team, and a long look at his cousin sent her to cover the other end, space between them for the rest of his team. It didn't surprise him in the least when Mercury chose the room next to his. He would have preferred her between the guys, but that'd been a lost cause. The fact that she'd been one of the speedsters that got the ability to vibrate through solids crossed his mind for a moment before it was dismissed.
Menagerie wound up in the middle, with Hermes choosing to get between his best friend and Nightstar. The five moved with such easy grace that Offspring just knew they were in for trouble. Tempest had been bitching all week about the fact the little trouble-making, non-Titan boy was coming…but Condor had been nothing but polite and respectful. Offspring shrugged as he coiled into a giant spring and made his way back to where Dart and Tempest were already arguing about the fact the four other members looked first to Condor for guidance.
Condor checked over his new room, noting what he needed to move in and what was already there, then went to collect Mercury and hit Menagerie's room. It was probably going to become meeting central for them. Hermes had apparently had the same idea, he was perched on the built-in dresser, and a two-toned whistle brought Nightstar in after a moment or two. "Opinions?"
"Tempest doesn't like you," Nightstar said, grabbing on the obvious.
"Dart's hotter than I remember," Hermes said, earning a slap on the back of his head from Nightstar. "OW!"
"We need to try harder to put Tempest at the front of our thoughts and actions," Menagerie said quietly. "We've trained all along with D…Condor, but Tempest is the Titan leader."
Duncan nodded. "Oh, Cer hates me, has since about the first time I beat him wrestling. It goes back, and Tommy's right. You guys have got to listen first to him, or Dart... unless he proves we shouldn't." The expression said he thought that wasn't entirely unlikely. "He hasn't been leading a field team long, after all. We'll see."
Mercury's rippling laugh cut through the room. "He's scared you'll show him up, D, and we all know it," as she dropped across his lap for a minute.
"We'll work it out." Nightstar had confidence in them all. "Just give it time."
Dinah saw the pretty alien hybrid on her way, and then looked at her son with a proud smile. "No fights; I'm impressed."
Duncan tilted his head curiously, "Hmm?"
"Lian called; told me Cerdian could not find a single thing to fault you on all weekend." She hugged him before smiling. "Come on; put your stuff down and come eat with me."
Duncan shrugged. "Cer's a jerk, but I know how to behave. And besides, he is field lead. Mercury's going to be the trouble, if anyone is." He headed up and dropped his gear, then went down to eat with his mother.
She had made all his favorites, and there was a gift about the length of a new staff by his chair. She was pouring drinks, looking content with life, and no worse for wear than usual.
Duncan tilted his head and went to pick it up, turning it over in his hands curiously. It felt...solid, but not quite as heavy as his staff.
"Go ahead. It's from me and Dick."
He twisted it... and a flash of memory, old TV footage. "This is like Dad used to use!"
"It is. Dick convinced Cyborg to crack one of the old trophies open, and then craft one for you, with newer materials. A lot less deadly, though; you can override the safety setting to rig it for higher levels, but it will fry the internal circuits." Dinah watched the boy look over the controls.
"Mm. So don't go messing with it unless I've absolutely got to? What kind of level is it set to?"
"Default setting on power up is a basic taser," she told him. "It goes up to a point that can demolish walls or severely injure a person."
"K, good enough. Eh. Walls are what I've got 'Star for. or Mercury if we need to be sneaky... not that she's good at stealth... seems to just not blend with Flash personalities."
"Not usually." Dinah smiled at her son. "She still crushing?"
Duncan flushed slightly, turning his head away.
"That's a yes." She shook her head. "Well, I'm very proud of you, Duncan. And I'm confident in your abilities."
"Thanks, mom. That means a lot. And since I didn't mention it, dinner looks great." Finished examining his new
toy weapon for the moment, he settled in to eat with all the hunger of a typical growing teenaged boy. She sat across from him, watching him and talking to him through the meal, pausing at one point to very bluntly tell Oracle to find someone else; she was staying in with her son.
She stopped. "Strike that, Oracle. It's a light run? Fine. Condor will be going out with me."
Duncan was up and moving almost before the last word was out of her mouth, new weapon snatched up on the run. She smiled and rose to go change as well, looking forward to taking him out on mission. It would let her see firsthand just how good he was.
He was down quickly, old staff swapped for his new one, and he'd taken the time it took to pull the suit on to calm down into something that reflected the leader his team knew, even though the idea of heading out with his mother was absolutely thrilling. She'd never let him even back her up.
She had her fully armored black and grey on tonight, which meant it was almost certainly going to be a good fight.
"Here." She held out a new communicator. "Oracle's line."
He settled it into place, "O?"
"Good evening, Condor," her voice purred in his ear. "It's good to know you're on-board."
"Yeah. So, sitrep?" //Professional, professional, professional....//
"Simple extraction," Oracle began, feeling him in on the details. Black Canary kept quiet as Condor was filled in, leading him out to her bike. It did not take her long to get them to the airfield where Aerie One waited, and they were soon en route to the mission.
Duncan settled in, trying not to prowl the entire airplane as intensely as he wanted. He saw his mother was perfectly at ease, running down the rest of the night's happenings with Oracle, several subtle shifts in her posture and voice that pointed out she was in professional mode. More than one person had pointed out to him that there was not much difference between Canary and Dinah until he came along. Now, watching her firsthand on mission, he saw the way she locked away 'mom' and became 'operative'.
He listened, trying to settle himself as completely as his mother was, falling back on thinking about his team, and checking various items in his boots and gloves.
When they arrived on scene, it seemed like the target was firmly entrenched behind a small army of well-armed henchmen. Black Canary did the head count, looked for the defense weakness Oracle had spied out on satellite imagery, and took the lead. She was completely confident in herself, and in her son to follow her lead. With Oracle to guide them, they were able to get fully inside without a single fight.
The point that the situation got less quiet was when they snagged their quarry, the daughter of a politician being strong armed into signing legislation that was not in the peoples' best interest. Black Canary had Condor do most of the shepherding of the girl on the way out, though he did get a few good scrapes out of it.
Mostly he got to see his mother on the job. All training and sparring fell to the wayside as he watched Shiva's second greatest student work the fights to her advantage, guarding their target and getting them clear of the compound.
He was so thoroughly impressed, but keeping it together, and kicking ass as needed to get the girl out. When they did get clear, and were running full tilt for the pick up zone, he almost could have sworn his mother was laughing; she was definitely exhilarated by the fighting, and the fact they were still being pursued.
As they got aboard the plane and Lady Blackhawk had them in the air again, Black Canary inspected the shell-shocked girl Condor had wound up carrying a good bit of the way, leaving her son to make his own post-battle checks.
He did so quickly enough, finding nothing but a few new bruises and a scrape or two. "She okay, Canary?" That was weird, calling his mother by her codename, but only proper.
"Should be, Condor." She had practice going to battle with her family; Arsenal and she were a hell of a team with Hal back when all three had been League. The woman strapped their target in, sitting close and reassuring her.
"Good." He walked a bit away to settle in, not wanting either of them to see the amount of glee he had for the success.
"Thoughts?" Oracle asked in his ear. "And she's not listening right now."
"Wow." He said back quietly. "I'll... let you know, once I stop grinning like an idiot..."
Her laughter was musical. "You did good. Very good. I don't think I was ever quite that coordinated, and here you are just starting."
"Thanks Oracle." //OH my god she said I did good...// "I have lots more practice?"
"I'd say so." Oracle was amused. "I know the others tell you not to get cocky. So I won't add that to the mix."
He chuckled, shaking his head. "Thanks. I appreciate that."
"Anytime." The information wizard let the comm. go quiet then.
//We did it... I didn't screw up, we did it!// He was absolutely exultant about it.
Dinah finally got Duncan off to bed, smiling softly at the way the boy was happy to have gone out with her. She would not make it a habit, but an occasional patrol or mission would help him get experience where she could see his progress. She knew mothers tended to see their sons as better than most others, but in Duncan's case…she was hard pressed to deny it was the truth, as she reviewed the night. She had seen a few things, things she would pass on to Dick…no, better to point these habits out to Slade; he'd reshape them correctly, being the newer teacher in Duncan's life.
Duncan grabbed his phone and hit his sister's speed dial, reminding himself to keep his voice low.
"Duncan, what?" Lian's voice was irritable; she was in the middle of patrol, but she would never not answer his calls.
"Mom took me out on mission with her!"
That got a pause, and then an easing of the irritation. "That's great, D. You handle it okay?"
"Yeah. O said I did good! Hostage extract, pretty easy, but we did it...
Lian smiled at her kid 'brother'. "Glad to hear it, D. You get her in your back pocket, and you'll never lack for work to do."
"Don't I know it? Mom never does. But... I just had to talk to somebody; mom took me out with her and I didn't screw it up!" Only to his sister would he even admit the possibility had existed.
"I'm proud of you…was proud of you before, but first run is often the toughest." Lian remembered hers; Papa Dick had taken her out.
"Thanks, sis. Guess I ought to let you get back to work, huh?"
"Ehh; it's a quiet night. You had C in enough of a fit that he handled the few calls we had." She giggled at the memory. "Way to go, D. Killing him with politeness worked."
Duncan shrugged. "He's the one with the problem, and it didn't hurt me to be nice."
"He'll settle down, eventually. He's just got a lot of pride, being third in line to a throne and all that." Lian did honestly like her team leader, even if she had to handle a large part of the actual team duties. He was adept at the coordination with other teams, and had a way of being the supporting wall when the world went to hell, as it so often had.
Duncan rolled his eyes silently. "I hope, or things are going to get nasty. I can only keep that up so long, even if it didn't hurt me this time."
"The only block I see is how well he's going to handle it when your battlesense comes out, to be honest. He's been tactical for so long…Cassie even listened to him." Lian pondered it. "It should be something he welcomes, D. It's going to mean a world of difference in a fight."
"If he doesn't see me as supplanting him," Duncan said. "If he does, he'll just have to shove it. I'm not risking my team by running at less than a hundred percent."
"No Titan runs less than that," Lian warned him. "Ever."
"I know it."
Lian smiled. "Why don't you and Aunt Di come to dinner at the house? I'll call Dad, and we'll do the family thing for a change, tomorrow."
"Sounds good. T'morrow night, you mean?"
"Well, d'uh." She got that condescending tone of an annoyed big sister. "See ya then, D."
"See ya, sis."
Duncan hung up with her, and felt the need to be sure the house was secure, the hair on the back of his neck rising slightly. As he prowled, he passed close to his mother's room, and heard her laugh, a soft sound, before a low, deep male rumble said something to her behind the closed door.
He tensed, listening, and waited.
His mother's voice was quite soft, almost too soft for him to hear, but he heard the question his father asked quite clearly.
"Why should I do that?"
Now that he was almost certain it was just his father raising his hackles, he turned to check the rest of the house, just in case. Everything was quite secure, he found, though he did note on the alarm pad that the window to his mother's room was deactivated for alarms, just as it had been since Duncan's father had first come back into their life.
He relaxed, then, told his inquisitive nature to shove it, and went to bed, rather than listening again at his mother's door.
Slade paused in the window, looking at the woman who had just told him to 'stay'. His retort had been sharp and brusque. As much as he had enjoyed listening to her talk about Duncan's first field exercise, he knew nothing had changed in her reasoning from before.
"Why should you stay?" Dinah asked, her chin coming up with pride in herself, even if it was merely a cloak for strengthening her resolve. "Because I was a fool sixteen years ago. Yes, I know who you are. Yes, I know what you've done, or at least enough to know I should be trying to haul you to jail." She refused to look away. "But I miss you, I miss what we shared when we put aside the costumes…and if it means being as dual-natured as most of my colleagues, to have you here, and fight you there…it's what I will do."
Slade turned from the window and walked back to her, looking at her levelly. "Are you sure about this, Dinah? I understood your reasons then. Now..."
"Every time you leave, I hurt." She admitted that much to him. "There's been no one, Slade, who could reach me the way you did then." She pulled herself back. "But…I understand it's been a long time. If you moved on…then forgive me, for being a fool again."
He shook his head slightly and reached out to catch her shoulder, pulling her in slowly, hand running down her back. "The first time, this was on your terms, Dinah. This time... it's not that simple."
"I know." She let herself flow against him. "Not a word from me, about what you do, or how we might wind up at odds." She rested her head on his broad chest, feeling safe and secure in his hold.
His hand stroked down her back again, considering that, considering what it would do to her... and he decided that if she wanted to make this choice, he would not fight her. Not when she was offering what he wanted, and his head dipped as his other hand tangled lightly in her hair.
Her soft moan greeted the hand in her hair, before she tipped her face up to his, meeting his mouth with her own. There was no resistance, no lingering reservations as she renewed the silent promise to be his again.
He pulled her closer as he kissed her deeply, feeling the lack of resistance in her, and he took a slow step backwards. He would not change who he was, or what he did... but there were ways he could make his actions slightly less... problematic for her, and he would consider those later.
She followed him willingly, her eyes trusting him as she did. She knew, if this ever came out, she ran the risk of losing all that she had ever built herself up to be in the hero community. Right now, though, she really just wanted a chance to be happy with the man who made her feel complete.
Duncan roused in the middle of the night at a sound he was sure was his mother. As consciousness settled in and the sharp cry was duly processed, he realized very suddenly his father had stayed.
He flushed, shaking his head, and buried his head deep in the pillow, hoping it would be enough. //Oh, man, this is cool, but I don't want them to hurt each other! And I really don't want to hear it!//
Dinah padded out to her kitchen, hair more mussed than normal, but otherwise decent in her robe. She smelled breakfast, and praised Duncan; she was very much starving, and had wanted to secure something for Slade to eat too.
"Morning, mom," he said once she came in. He'd tried to make breakfast for the three of them, calling up what little he'd seen of his father's tastes, and had plenty of experience with what his mother preferred.
Three places were set around the table, and strong, black coffee was brewing.
"Morning, Duncan," she said, even as she gave the third setting a puzzled look, before glancing briefly up toward a camera.
He shrugged, "Got them, mom. Looped it."
"Okay." She smiled warmly at him, and then turned to go back to her room, sitting on the edge of the bed as he watched her. "Our son has made breakfast and disabled my partner's eyes."
He laughed, low and soft, shaking his head in amusement. "I wonder how he knew to do that..." She blushed prettily for him; she could not help it that Slade provoked her voice more than any other man in her life had.
"Join us for a meal?"
"Of course, my little bird. If our son's gone to that much trouble..." She purred at his words, moving close enough to kiss him. Kissing turned to touches, before he reminded her gently that the food would get cold. A shared shower had to suffice to cool her desires, before they went and sat down to a meal with their son. Duncan looked up just in time to see them come in together, with his mother close enough to his father as to leave no doubts as to the fact they were a couple again.
He flashed a brilliant smile at both of them. "Mom, dad. Morning." He'd started serving a minute or two after the hot water shut off, so plates were filled.
//This's gonna be trouble, I just know it...//
"Good morning, Duncan," Slade said, studied all three places a moment, and settled at his. "Good memory. Keep it up."
"Morning," the blonde said with a grin. They all settled to a normal family time.
Slade had not gone back to Dinah every night, but his nights there were frequent enough that Duncan had made several different loops to use to blind Oracle. Duncan had caught the tale end of Roy chastising Dinah for her relationship, a conversation that had ended with Dinah promising she was happy and Roy grunting.
Since then, Duncan had been at the Titans every weekend, on mission or patrol with Dinah once a week, and gone with his father one or two days a week.
This week was no different, as Slade drove him to their place outside the city. The difference this time, was that Slade had told him to bring his staff.
He had, eagerly, though he was massively curious as to why.
He learned as they met on the outside training mats, and Slade had his own staff.
"Let me look at that one, kid…Cyborg's work?"
Duncan handed it over. "Yeah, mom and Dick hassled him into it." He tilted his head, "Though it's set to lower power levels that yours, they told me."
"Grayson, I figured," Slade admitted. "And I'm not surprised." He finished inspecting it, and handed it back. "You need a lot of training with it. Saw you on the news; you were very rough shod."
"It handles weird," Duncan agreed, "and I haven't had time to figure out good routines with it. Really useful, though." He wasn't surprised to hear that Slade had seen, that fight had been a very public one, to none of their pleasure.
"We'll concentrate on it." Slade picked up his own, and for this, it was a matter of showing by example, at least for now, compared to the straight out battle training they usually did.
Duncan nodded and copied his father, learning by the watching, and by attempting the moves. Like with any new weapon, it was just going to take a little time.
It had been almost half a year. The weekends with the Titans had seen Duncan turn sixteen, the twins reach seventeen, with Nightstar and Tommy edging closer to their fifteenth birthdays.
Duncan had surprised Cerdian; both personally and professionally, the non-Titan offspring was a good Titan, and the team had eventually melded. If Tempest remained purposefully ignorant to the fact Condor occasionally gave hand signs to the kids behind his orders, it just made the teamwork smooth.
So no one had any doubt about sending the full eight-man team in to handle a small infraction by the Toyman in Middleton. The Toyman was easily in the league of rogues that the Titans should be able to handle.
Things started off easily enough; the Toyman's constructs not that much trouble to the many talents of their team. Nightstar's starbolts and Tempest's magics were making quick work of theirs. Condor had cranked the settings a little on his staff, pushing them high enough to do serious damage. Dart's trick arrows were doing just as much damage, while Mercury was ruining circuitry at super-speed by buzzing through them. Hermes was disassembling them just as fast, his eye for mechanics finding their weaknesses easily, while Menagerie stomped on things in one of his largest forms. Everything felt like it was going fine... and then the light flickered, the magically sensitive felt something ripple through the air... and Condor yelled at the top of his lungs, "Star DOWN!" as his danger sense screamed.
Nightstar reacted to the cry, moving quick enough to avoid the majority of the sizzling energy that lashed out at her. Condor felt six distinct threats on all sides of the battle field, before those threats milled out into a variety of dangerous monsters and demonic beings from other realms. A seventh threat flickered up, as the orchestrator of the mayhem dropped his intensive mental shielding to watch and add to the chaos.
"Regroup!" Tempest roared, seeing rapidly that they were overwhelmed by numbers and firepower.
Condor swore mentally, knowing the best tactical choice was to go high, hit the roofs and scatter, that if they pulled in too far it was going to be a slaughter, but they couldn't take these things out across the city and endanger the civilians, either, and his hand slapped up to the panic button they all wore, hitting it without a second thought. They needed backup, right--"Ry, right!"
Mercury flashed sideways on his word and a massive tail slapped down just where she had been.
He kept trying to catch that elusive seventh threat as he yelled targets and teammates. He'd deal with Cer's bruised ego later. For now, he just had to keep his team alive, until help came.
"Middleton," Oracle ordered from her tower. "Titans' distress call." At her word, the field team of the Birds rushed the teleport pads, for once not griping about the still new to them technology.
One of theirs was in trouble. Their senior operative's son. Any time they could save was needed.
En route to the transporters, Dinah cursed softly. "Oracle, patch me to Nightwing," she ordered, her voice hard and tight.
"Nightwing," the male voice growled back.
"Already did. He's pretty close to there as it is."
"Canary out." They stepped on the pads, setting their target, as Dinah prayed for her boy's father to be quick.
The Justice League had access to some of the most powerful technology on or off Earth, looking down on one city was hardly a problem. Nightwing's shoulders tensed as he watched that scene, pulling information before they went in blind. He was short-staffed as hell, and when they teleported down the Watchtower was going to be devoid of heroes. Almost everyone was already out, part of them in space, part dealing with a series of disasters across the globe. He'd already made the call to Slade, Roy's eyes flashing at him, and now they knew enough. "Key. Let's move. Wonder Woman."
"Yes, Nightwing?" as they headed for the transporter pads.
"If Condor tells you something, do it." His voice was an almost perfect echo of his father's.
"What?" Following Nightwing's lead when necessary had never galled, but this...
"Listen to him," Nightwing repeated as they hit the tubes to transport down.
Despite his warning, his cousin hadn't dodged fast enough and Nightstar was down. Hermes had caught her and pulled her to Dart to guard--they'd gotten her to a roof where she could make the best use of her skills--then gone back out to help his sister. She was working one-armed, face set white against the pain of the snapped radius even they didn't have time to set. Both twins were finding their powers not quite enough against the array they faced, inventive as they had gotten in trying to take them down. Menagerie was doing amazingly well, shifting between fantastic forms to find the best adversary for each one he faced.
Condor fought with every bit of the speed he'd been forced to learn, listening to the battlefield--and danger screamed too late for him to avoid the crushing blow that took his right leg out from under him and made him scream. //Oh, this's bad...// He was already in pain, fighting something with six limbs meant something was going to come through, but he was so dead if he didn't mo--
A gunshot rang out and his foe dropped, battlesense flaring that he had an ally, and he found the familiar form of his father //civvies?! Dad, whatthehell?!// at the edge of the battlefield.
Mercury left her spot when she heard that cry and ran to his side, snatching him up to get him to Tempest, her eyes widening at the neat hole she'd spotted in the beast's head, and then another shot cracked and she decided it didn't matter and just got him to Cer.
He tried to stand on that leg and couldn't, looking over the battlefield towards his father with a sigh of relief. "Thank god," he breathed softly. "Ry. When this's over, get him out..."
She stared at him, baffled, then nodded and went out again.
Tempest had gone with the flow of the battle, throwing all his magic into protecting his team. It had meant listening to Condor, following the boy's uncanny senses //and they were so going to have a discussion about that, or else he and Lian would, dammit// while he did. Leadership at this point was a moot point; if the kid had an edge, they needed it.
Then their ace in the hole went down, and he bellowed out the order to circle in, as his mind flicked to the white-haired man //no, he's not had anything to do with a Titan in years...// then back to the boy bleeding at his feet. Ability, arrogance, certain things that could not be ignored now... //By the depths! And we said he wasn't a Titan legacy kid...// He did not want to deal with the consequences, the fallout he could glimpse in the future; he had no time for that. First, he had to get his team out safely, a thing growing steadily more possible with every shot the man fired.
Slade had caught the whispers of Toyman wanting to making a big run, and had wagered that the Titans would be set up to handle it. He had indulged a father's sense of pride, tracked the Toyman here, to sit back and watch his son in action. As Nightwing had hit him with the call, he had already been moving, separated from his costume by the need to not take that amount of time. Now, as he waded through the battle, he focused on getting his son out of this alive.
Diana was the quickest to appraise the battle as she and her partners arrived…and she called out the threat.
"Key, center forward position, six dimensional rifts still ejecting creatures." She scanned, saw the gunman, and added. "Deathstroke, currently engaged in fighting the enemy, likely hostile as the battle clears!"
"Not unless we engage him," Nightwing growled to her as he flung himself into the fight, cutting himself a path through them on a track to join his enemy/ally.
Arsenal caught Diana's arm as she started to follow. "Drop me with my girls, would you, princess? I'm more good up there." The title was absolutely respectful.
She nodded and took him that way, though startled by the plural, then dove down to join the fray.
Nightwing made it close enough, and sheathed a stick to pull a telescoping bo from a boot and fling it Slade's way. "I didn't mean come in this much of a hurry."
The bo was caught, telescoped out and in use before the words finished leaving the other man's mouth. "More difficult to pin me down if I'm not in colors," Slade growled his way, shooting a creature that was far too close to Tempest... and his son.
The battle flared with an intense, dark energy as the parents of Menagerie arrived, hastily teleported there from the Tower by the mother. Some of the more demonic creatures hesitated and actually tried to draw back to their portals as Raven lashed out, supported on the ground by both Cyborg and Changeling.
"Point," he had to agree; then, despite that he was in full motion he started to laugh as he saw the demons attempting to run away. //Hell yeah, Hey Rae!// delighted thought as the battle started to turn their way, slowly. The steady whistle of two sets of arrows overhead faltered and stilled as something mostly wing and talon and beak attacked up there, but he was too busy with his own fight to go. "Key's thataway," he told Slade with a point of a stick, and then was back in the fight fully.
Condor called a warning up, feeling something heading Tempest's way... and the blow Cer managed to avoid kept coming despite the block he threw up, slamming into the side of his head, barely slowed, and he was out without the time to scream.
Slade was in time to see, not in time to react, beyond another shot and a superhuman leap that cleared the last obstacle. He came down on one knee, just as the sound of the Canary Cry hit his ears on the outer edge of the fight. He knelt, one gun gone from his hand so that his fingers could find the pulse in his boy's neck, the other hand clenched on his pistol as he sighted in on the villain that had caused all this.
The touch pulled him back, and eyes fluttered weakly open. "Dad, no..." low, weak whisper, trying to sign, 'too many heroes,' trying to get his other hand up to his father's arm, though any attempt to move made him want to hurl, bad an idea as his ribs said that was... "oh... mom."
"Hush, boy," Slade said, with what Tempest could tell was concern and affection both, used to those muted emotions straining through his grandfather's gruffness. The aim wavered though, and two shots flowed past Diana as she was en route to the problem. The Key went down screaming, his hip and shoulder on opposite sides shattered under the force of the bullets. Without him to sustain the rifts, Raven and Dinah were able to shatter the rifts, one by magic, and the other with sonics, though the latter was trying to reach her son.
"Condor!" Dinah's voice was strained as she evaded a demon, who was promptly destroyed by a starbolt from another angry mother. The Black Canary skidded to a stop at the side of her lover, dropping to both knees at seeing her son so mangled. "Is he..."
Diana had come to deal with the other perceived threat, Nightwing's words to the contrary not reassuring enough. She saw as Slade rested the gun hand briefly on Dinah's shoulder in an obvious gesture of comfort.
"Slade Wilson!" she called.
"Damn, you have to go!" Dinah's eyes pleaded with him not to argue. "I'll see to our son!"
Mercury's eyes went huge where she'd come in to hover and she moved, grabbing the much bigger //verydangerousDuncan'sDadohmygodhowcouldhenottellme// man with her good arm and taking off at her full speed. She dumped him on the edge of the city three seconds later and turned around to run back to Duncan.
"Nightwing, get up here!" Roy's voice roared and Dick moved, line taking him to the roof with nothing like grace. Both of their girls were down, Lian's eyes half-shut as she kept a pressure bandage tight over her arm, and Nightstar... still wasn't moving.
"Black Canary!!!" The righteous rage in Diana's voice did nothing to phase the Bird of Prey, as she knelt by her son, reassuring herself as Tempest worked to stop the bleeding with his magic. She heard the comm chatter as Nightstar was treated by Starfire, heard Lian's status from Roy as he told Dick. When she was sure the boy's heart rate was steady, she stood up and looked at Diana, at the storm she had predicted nearly seventeen years ago finally breaking on her head.
"My son is injured. Until he is in the care of the medics, I suggest you contain your problems with me and my actions long enough to see that this battlefield is contained, Princess Diana." She kept her voice steady, her chin high. "I'll face the League once these kids are safely in the hospital where they need to be."
Hermes managed to reach his sister, his leg wrenched badly enough to keep him at normal speed. He held on to her as she knelt by Condor, knowing that he had just witnessed the biggest secret of his best friend be revealed to the world... and not sure how he felt about it. Menagerie resisted Cyborg's efforts to scoop him up, running over to his teammates, putting his support with them as he felt the anger and hostility over what the adults were calling a blatant betrayal.
"Black Canary, you just aided and assisted a known and wanted fugitive…" Diana began the list, too angry to be reasonable.
"Who just saved our lives!" Menagerie's outburst surprised his parents and his teammates, but they let him speak. "You want to catch him, go! You don't make a woman turn in the father of her kid! You don't try to take that mom away while her son is still bleeding! GO!" The push of magic was strong as the latent empath took all the negative he was suffering through and threw it back at the Amazon.
Mercury reached out to her brother with her bad arm, leaning against him, looking at Dinah with huge eyes. "Should I take him, or we wait?" She could hear the ambulance sirens coming their way, now that the battle was finished.
Nightwing nodded as Starfire carefully lifted their daughter and headed towards the nearest hospital, hand on Lian's shoulder. "Time to get ground-level, baby girl. You're going to a hospital." He'd heard Diana yelling, and knew his life was about to become hell.
"His dad saved us," Lian said stubbornly. "And that's got to count for something!"
Nightwing made the roll of his eyes obvious. "How about you let me handle that with the rest of the seniors, huh?" as he lifted her carefully, taking the normal way down for one of the few times in his life. "You yell at your team if you have to." Roy was a silent, worried and annoyed shadow at his back.
Diana listened to the shape-shifting child, and nodded. "You will be expected at the Watch Tower as soon as your son is stable," the Amazon finally said, and went to cope with the rest of the situation. Dinah barely heard her, as she glanced at the girl that had been Duncan's friend, and almost more, for years.
"We need to let the EMTs move him, honey. He's got a head injury, after all." She would face her sins easily; it was Duncan that she feared for, both in health and in how everyone would treat him.
"Black Canary..." Tempest spoke softly. "He's a Titan. We might be a bit stunned, but he's one of ours, period." She squeezed the young leader's hand as she heard Misfit and Gypsy finally catch up to her. She noted the absolute silence from Oracle, and cringed; that was one person she was dreading the fallout from for personal reasons.
"O wants us back in the air; that situation in Argentina is getting worse," Gypsy said. "You okay?"
"Fine, Gypsy... go on. I wouldn't be much help right now, anyway." The older woman watched her two teammates leave, and the EMTs finally arrive. She moved closer to Hermes and Mercury as they loaded her boy up.
"Okay," Mercury nodded, watching them move Duncan, fluttering in worry--and pain, arm tucked against her chest until one of the other crews spotted her and came over to try and help the young speedster.
Nightwing walked out of the building with Lian in his arms and went directly to one of the ambulances to let her be loaded in, then turned to face the three people he knew were going to be on his case.
Changeling cut him a scathing look, and Cyborg was not much better, but Raven... she was reading him, and then turning back to where the other ambulances were.
"We should have known." Her voice was controlled as she turned back. "Secrets are necessary, but not always to everyone."
"No masks come off," Tempest growled at several EMTs, preparing to defend his team's anonymity. "Unless absolutely necessary, like with Condor's injuries!" He wished Offspring had not been away this weekend; the springy Titan was so much better at dealing with the public. He pointed to Hermes for one EMT, and the other twin wound up sharing a ride with his sister.
Nightwing shook his head at her. "Not my choice, Rae, not my secret. Y' want to take it up with Canary once he's okay, go for it." Despite being torn, Roy was going with his daughter. He'd see Dinah soon enough, as he doubted anyone would get her out of the ambulance with her son.
Mercury reached for him with her good hand, murmuring softly in the speech they shared, "I'm worried..." He took her hand, squeezing.
"Hey, sis, how can it be all that bad? Tommy just defended them."
The words that needed to be said, or at least were poised behind lips were choked back when Raven curtly gestured to both seething men. "Stop. No more anger. Nightwing has a point. None of us know the reasons. None of us can judge."
"Yes, Rae," Cyborg managed with a deep breath to find control. Changeling just shifted to a smaller form and moved to his lover's shoulder, chittering at Raven stopping him from speaking.
"We'll handle Star, if you like," Raven told the first Titan leader.
He sighed, "Oh, no, I won't stick you with her temper, Rae, but thanks. Looks like we're stuck on cle---did anyone actually go catch that slimy little freak?"
"The Key, the Toyman, and a handful of the monsters were captured and incapacitated," Cyborg growled, his voice showing disappointment that another name was not on that list.
She shook her head. "About D, bro. Not stuff. He's..." she trembled slightly.
"Slade Wilson's son. You know, the sort of immortal guy with the ability to heal? If D's got the strength, the speed, the mind…don't you think he's got that?" Hermes squeezed her hand. "He'll be okay. Star and Dart got hurt too, in case it missed your comm."
"Good," he nodded. He'd been a little distracted with his daughter. And where on earth had Diana gotten to now? He looked around, and sighed. "I hate dealing with bodies... don't suppose you can dump them back where they came from, Rae?"
Mercury blinked, "I knew Star was down, but Dart? When'd that happen?" She squeezed back, letting her brother reassure her. "He's got to be..."
Hermes filled her in on when he had taken his spill, what he heard of the chatter when Lian got hit, and the other things she had missed in her lightning rounds of the field, keeping her as distracted as he could.
Raven looked around the field and nodded, summoning her energies.
"The princess took off to assemble the Big Seven," Cyborg said. "I heard her calling for the Manhunter."
She nodded, listening, knowing what he was doing and more than willing to let him distract her from what she'd seen. //You've got to be okay, D...//
Nightwing sighed. "Greeat. Okay. Guess that sticks me dealing with the press and the law... great. Then I'm headed for the hospital." He headed towards the sets of police lights, not looking forward to this.
Nightwing and the newly cast-sporting Mercury were waiting in the room when Duncan was rolled in, and they took up vigil. Canary had been outside the operating theater until they announced he was in the surgical recovery, then turned over her duties to Nightwing to go face her 'trial' on the Tower.
The evidence of Slade's metabolism was quickly apparent as Duncan roused within minutes of being situated. He had woke in recovery with a lot of pain; now was not much different as his body fought the meds.
He struggled for consciousness, getting his eyes open, and Nightwing shook his head, moving to him. "Duncan, easy. Everyone's fine. You're safe."
"Star, Dart, Dad?" He wasn't worried about himself, sure, he hurt, but so?
"Everyone's fine. You did good."
Mercury pressed against the bed, leaning over with worried eyes. "Rest, damnit, D. We got things."
He made his eyes focus, and looked at her cast, frowning. //Not good enough, teach. Not good enough.// He looked back up at Nightwing, head pounding, "You sure?"
"Dart has stitches. And went home with Arsenal. Plus Tempest, who opted to go with her rather than deal with the seniors. Hermes has stress fractures and a twisted knee to recover from. Nightstar had some burns and internal bruising, but woke up snappy and herself…mad she missed the fight." The older man gripped his student's hand. "Diana apparently made a sweep for the mercenary, but could not find him."
"Bet she... loved that. Thanks, Kay..."
Her almost never-heard real name made her start to shake. "Don't you do this to me again!"
Nightwing pulled back, letting the speedster and his student sort through this now. Only a blind man could have missed the steadily growing relationship between them, though Nightwing was fairly certain it had not gone into any official status. Duncan was too much his mother's boy to get deeply involved with a secret unrevealed.
He lifted his hand to her face, wincing at the pull of the IV lines. "It's okay. I'll be fine, promise." He tried to flash his usual smile at her.
She tangled her good hand around his carefully. "You... goddamnit, D... once you're better, we're talking." Her eyes flickered hot at him.
"Yes, 'Ry. Go... rest," he told her, knowing how tired and hungry she had to be... and the drugs were trying to pull him back under.
She glared at him indignantly and shook her head as his eyes closed.
"He's got a point, Mercury. You should eat." Nightwing watched the girl carefully. "He's not going anywhere, and I'm staying until his mother comes back."
She scowled, arm crossing over her bad one. "I don't want to leave..."
"...ry..." chiding, almost unconscious tone, and she sighed. "I'll be right back."
Nightwing just hid his smile until she was gone, then sat down to his lonely vigil, trying to ignore the sense that the shit had hit the fan most spectacularly.
Black Canary entered the council room, experiencing the complete silence of her communicators being shut down, and faced her 'peers'. Diana, Bruce, and Clark, in their unholy Trinity of sanctimonious priggishness held the center of the table. To one side sat Connor and Kyle, making her almost choose not to look that way, considering the way things had fallen between her and Oliver over the years. The other side held Bart and J'onn.
//At least J'onn's not already condemning me.//
"Black Canary, we've called you in here…"
"Because I committed an error in judgment, a lapse in my ethics as a vigilante, and even aided and abetted a known felon," the blonde said without batting an eye, cutting Clark off in the midst of his little speech. "I know these things. I also know that my son, his entire team, would now be dead if not for the person that has each of you looking at me like a pariah." She cast a gentle look J'onn's way. "Except you. Thank you, J'onn, for being willing to listen first, even if you don't like what I say."
"Indeed." The alien looked at the Trinity, urging them to stop and think, rather than just react.
"Seventeen years, Canary, and not a single word in any ear that might have helped put him away?" The question came from Batman, and his voice was actually touched with the contempt and anger he felt.
"You have a lot to account for. If it were strictly the parentage of your son, it would be one thing. Accidents happen, and they seem to plague your family," Diana said.
Dinah's eyes flashed. "Lian, Robert, and Duncan may have been accidents, but the world is a better place for their existence." She controlled her urge to clench her hands into fists. "And no, Batman. I solve my own problems…I've helped put him behind bars three times in the twelve he crossed my path professionally in that time. The last time, if you will remember, I wound up in the hospital for two weeks, and he stayed in jail for nearly half of that because of the injuries I gave him."
"You can't just fight him when he's in the colors," Bart snapped. "He's evil, masked or unmasked. Can't you see that?"
"Have you tried to see otherwise?" Dinah asked in a low, quiet voice that made the room grow silent.
"What else is there to see? He's a completely unrepentant murderer," Batman spoke again.
Dinah locked eyes with him, speaking volumes in the silence between them about the parentage of the young man that prowled Gotham by Batman's side.
"Unrepentant murderers do have a way of finding Gotham children, I'd say," she finally said aloud, flashes of Talia, of Jason Todd, even Two-Face in her eyes.
"Past indiscretions are one thing," Batman replied, "Continuing said associations, however, and placing not only your child but a significant portion of the hero community in danger by doing so... is a different matter."
Dinah could not help it; she laughed bitterly, and then looked straight at Diana.
"What happened out there today? Am I the only one who saw what that man did for the sake of his child? Going into battle unarmored, barely armed, and saving those kids' lives?"
Diana, goddess of truth she had been, replayed all that she had seen, and had to slowly nod.
"Today, it suited him to do so," Clark pointed out. "What about the next time?"
"Black Canary may have a point," Kyle said slowly. "In the past seventeen years, I am very hard pressed to remember a single time he has had activities anywhere near the Outsiders. What little the League has seen of him has been out of the states, where the laws concerning mercenary actions get hazy. If the existence of one child reined him in that much, what would two do?"
Dinah gave him a look of surprised gratitude for playing devil's advocate.
"He's killed more people than any single man I can think of on our list of most wanted," Clark said. "Directly, that is," he added before Dinah could point out Lex Luthor to him.
"I know." She took a deep breath. "But, even if he and I are not married, you cannot honestly expect me to take the layer of trust he gives me, as the mother of his child, to use as a tool to bring him in."
Batman shook his head, feeling as though he was arguing with his eldest child--//Dick knew about this//--all over again. The man's odd morals aside, his own family's history was nowhere near as... whitewashed as they were saying it was. He'd proved before that he had little care for his children's lives. His eyes narrowed at her then, behind the mask. "He would not be so kind, if you stood between he and a target, as you yourself mentioned has been true."
Dinah hesitated now.
"Say it, Dinah, so they have the full picture," J'onn urged, having caught the fleeting thought.
"He only learned in the past year. And since he did…he hasn't even ghosted on Oracle's radar for his work." Dinah used that piece as evidence to the contrary. She knew good and damn well Slade was still working; she had treated a few cuts on him during their visits; but he was going out of his way to hide his modus operandi.
"There are no statutes of limitations on murder." Bart's voice was flat.
"I'm not denying that!" she snapped, whirling on him. "But I will not be forced to break a bond of trust!"
"Why not? You broke ours!" he retorted.
With a controlled, angry move, she reached up and jerked the League communicator off, striding angrily forward and putting it in front of Clark.
"So I'm compromised. I made a mistake in my personal life. But I will not, even for the sake of friendships I once cherished, try and take him down in my home, or let any of you use me to get to him. Or my son!" She spun to leave the council room.
No sooner had the door closed behind her than J'onn rose. "We will come to regret that decision on her part." He looked impassively at Bart. "There was a strong chance, from the way she was thinking, that we would not have had to worry so strongly over the assassin, even if he did elude us."
"J'onn, she's as compromised as she said she was, and in collusion with a mass murderer," Batman replied.
The alien merely shrugged in an all too human gesture. "All the more reason to keep her close, Batman. Now, if he is so evil, he has the full influence on her that we no longer do."
The Bat shook his head in reply, willing to admit the point, but not to concede that she should have been kept within the League, where the assassin might find her useful. There were limits to the usefulness of keeping ones enemies closer.
"You can't quit."
"Excuse me?" Dinah had just opened the comm line to Oracle. She needed to face that demon first, even as her cell phone registered far more calls than she wanted to deal with.
"You quit the League…Batman has already revoked your status…so I'm being preemptive. We're shadowy enough in our mission guidelines, that having a villain on the side isn't going to phase me."
"You are not quitting. Period."
Dinah relaxed softly. "Fine. Even if it means using a compromised agent?"
"You're only as compromised as you want to be." Now the voice was moving toward emotion, and Dinah could feel it coming.
"I share a son with him…and all that it implies."
"I suggest you remove the eyes from your home, then, so I won't be obligated." And Oracle would find other ways, until she could put a solid box around Slade Wilson once and for all.
"Can do." Dinah continued on her way up to the hospital room.
"Now…how in the hell did you keep that from me?! And WHY?! I could have been working out ways to get him removed far more effectively if I had known I needed to put more resources on it!"
"And that's why... it would have meant focusing on him when a resource to track some other, bigger, more immediate threat down existed." She sighed softly. "I did it to shield you from me. From my mistakes."
There was a long silence. "I don't approve. Of then or now. And I will be hunting the bastard with all I have, to get you in the clear again."
"As if either of us thought you, the others would not." Dinah placed her hand on the doorknob. "Later, O. Duncan needs me now."
Roy tossed a couple of quips the guard's way as he made his way through the governor's mansion, heading for his 'dad's' office, absolutely dreading the conversation they were going to have to have, and praying he'd beaten the news there. He stepped into the front of the office, and grinned winningly at his father's secretary, a no-nonsense young woman who cheerfully ignored Ollie's flirtation. That she was deeply involved with another woman didn't hurt that at all. "Hey, Jenna. The old man in?"
"Yeah. Snarling at the budget, but otherwise he's fine. Go on in."
//I beat the news.// He kept the relief off his face as he pushed the door open and walked in.
"Roy!" Ollie stood up and cleared the desk, looking good for a man who was in his early fifties physically, and sixties by the calendar. He stayed fit, even if he had long ago laid the bow aside for the hammer of politics. "What brings you here?"
"Hey, dad." Roy had very carefully shut the door behind him, and pulled a very non-legal piece of equipment out of his pocket. He flicked it on, and the mild hum of a jammer at full strength came on as he walked over.
"Shit." Ollie flinched and just sat on the edge of his desk rather than thump his son on the back. "What the hell's happened now?"
"Everyone's alive, before you worry," he said quickly, "but things got bad today, and then they got worse."
"Tell me everything I need to know, and what I have to do to fix it," Ollie told the redhead.
//Nothing you can do to fix it, dad, and it's going to rip you apart.// "Toyman decided to start something in Middleton, or at least that's how it seemed. Almost everyone was out already, it was me, Dick, and Diana up on the Tower holding reserve, so the kids went. Toyman, no sweat, right?" He snorted bitterly. "They got into the fight... and then the Key stepped out and ripped rifts like crazy. Condor hit the panic button and we scrambled..." //How the fuck do I say this?// "Wing made a call on the way out, and by the time we got there..." he took a deep, long breath. "Duncan's father was already on the field."
Ollie shook his head slowly. "Condor…that's the name Dinah's kid took?" Roy knew the old man knew it like the back of his hand, that he was stalling. "So the big secret is out? Pretty Bird's lover is known?" He was skirting the sides of it, not wanting to ask.
"Yeah. And it's causing a thousand kinds of hell. Batman was pulling her status by the time I got Lian out of the hospital and got up to the Tower to come. Want the rest of the sitrep, and the injury report first?"
Ollie steeled himself. "Tell me how my Dart is, and that other girl of yours."
"She's going to be okay. Got banged up, and the worst is a damn deep cut in her draw arm, but it'll all heal. 'Star's going to be okay; she got knocked out, and didn't fall well, but she's Kory's kid. She'll be fine. Hermes got his leg damaged, and Mercury's arm was broken. Tempest made it out mostly okay. Duncan, though... His leg's shattered, I don't remember the list of the ribs he got broken or the rest of the internal damage, he's got a wicked concussion on top of it all. I think they're worried about what's going on in there; it was a bad hit." He shook his head. "Like the damn things knew who the biggest threat was."
"Taking out that girl of yours…I can see that. Now, what aren't you telling me about the boy? Why would you class him as a bigger threat than that boy of Raven's?" Ollie had winced for Lian and Nightstar both, despite the fact he had not had as much time with his younger granddaughter.
"He's got... we took to calling it battlesense. Knows every move that's going to happen on the field as it's happening, and what to do about it. I figure it's the only thing that kept them intact long enough for anyone to get there... and he got it honest." He wondered if that would be enough, or if he would have to spell it out completely.
Ollie ran his hand through his hair with a look that said life couldn't get much worse. He rose and walked to the window of bulletproof glass, looking out to see his security in their customary sentinel positions.
Roy nodded. "Yeah."
"Explains a few close calls," he said with a weak attempt at a joke. It had never made sense to him why the mercenary seemed to snap up every offer to make his life hell out there.
Roy chuckled softly, "Yeah. It really does... not that he knew. We were never going to let him know."
"Pretty Bird's doing?" If Roy had kept a secret on her word, he could understand. She had been as much a defining part of Roy's life as he had been, nearly. When Roy nodded, he sighed. "Alright, Roy. You should get back to your family." He was going to sit here and brood on what-might-have-beens, and try hard to reconcile how the woman he had loved could have made a child with a cold-blooded killer.
"I... wanted you to hear it from me, not anyone else, though Connor's probably already on his way..." Roy said, not really willing to leave him alone.
"Call him and tell him not to... I've got some work to get to," Ollie said, still not turning back. "Go on, now."
"All right. I'll call him. ...for what it's worth? He," his own lips twisted, "cares about her. And Duncan." He flicked the jammer off, pocketed it, and headed out. //Whether you like it or not, dad, I'm calling Hal.// Once he was out of the building, that was exactly what he did.
"Calling about Dinah's bombshell?" Hal asked him as he picked up. "Kyle and Connor gave me a ring, and I'm heading out in five for Ollie's."
"Yup. Good. He's... well. You know."
"No kidding, son. I've got Ollie; not letting him down." His tone implied others, especially certain non-blondes, had.
"A'ight. Let me go head Connor off." He'd spotted the distinct green tinge of a Lantern setting down behind some of the buildings.
"Already handled, Roy." Hal did nothing by half-measures; no doubt, by morning, there would be a press release about the governor going on retreat.
Rose slipped into the hospital room to see Black Canary and Nightwing on either side of her brother's bed, both tensed from the intrusion.
"Just me," she told them, nodding more to Canary. "Robin said you're always welcome at the Outsiders," she added, getting a wan smile.
"He said that because Oracle told him to cheer me up." Dinah pushed away from the bed. "Here; take my chair." She then glared at Nightwing. "Go home, sweetie. My Boy-o should have you there, not here... and you know the girls would prefer you to be home."
"If I'm here, Batman's not yelling at me," Nightwing replied with a wan smile, "Hey, Rose."
"Go home!" Rose cut him a glare. "You look like shit, I heard about Dart's arm, and the stupid Bat is menacing Gotham."
Dinah snorted, but laid down on the hospitality cot, closing her eyes for a few minutes.
"Oh, sure, you lay down when she gets here," Nightwing bitched. "Fine, fine, I know when I'm not wanted."
"Nnn..." Duncan moaned, voices dragging him back towards coherence. Dinah moved, blinding fast, to be back by his side. She did not push Rose aside, instead staying near the foot of his bed, one hand on his good leg.
"Hey, you should still be out," Rose said, lacing her fingers in his. "It's okay to take one or two days to get better," she teased, her one eye sparkling to see him fighting the injuries and the narcotics.
"Sis? Gonna... be more than day or two... Hi, mom..."
Dick shook his head and left while the two women weren't glaring at him.
"Yeah, but after that I get to call you a slacker," Rose informed him, taking a light tone with her kid brother. Dinah moved to take Nightwing's empty chair, laying her head on the bed next to Duncan's hand.
"Hey baby boy," she murmured, smiling up at him.
He glared at his sister (as much as he could, given that his eyes were barely open and he felt like roadkill), then turned his attention to his mom. "You... okay?"
"Fine, Duncan." She closed her eyes to know he was safe.
Rose decided for all that Canary had made a huge mistake keeping the boy away, she was at least a devoted mom. She already had the dirt on Canary's newly rogue status, as far as the League was concerned. Both the Outsiders and Birds had refused to bar her, to Batman's increased annoyance.
"M'kay. Where's 'Ry?" He was surprised, in the detached way of really good drugs and painful head injuries, that she wasn't there, silverflutterblur in the corners of his vision.
"Wing sent her to eat, and then she came back, but I made her go sleep... she's in Hermes' room."
"Hey, Dad said he'd try to get by, but he has to be damn careful, this being one of the Martian's stomping grounds," Rose told her brother. "Got the impression he was proud of you."
"Ooh. Okay... good. He'd better."
"I hope he's damn careful," Dinah said softly, real concern coloring her voice.
Reassured that everyone was okay, he started sliding back under. Rose looked at him, then at the very tired Canary, and decided she wasn't going anywhere until someone else came in to pick up the vigil.
"Go on to sleep, BC. I've got you both covered." She walked around the bed after snagging the blanket from the cot, draping it over the elder woman carefully.
"Thank you, Rose." It was not long before she was out.
Dick closed his eyes at the ruckus he could hear from inside the house. He'd let Rose kick him out of Duncan's hospital room and headed home via the transporters, hoping for a little peace... but it didn't sound like he was going to get it. He could hear Kory and Mar'i's voices inside, along with Lian and Roy.... This was so very much not going to be enjoyable. He walked through the door, costume exchanged for civvies, and tried to figure out how much of a storm he'd just walked into.
The quietest person in the house was Cerdian, amazingly. He was sitting there, face showing that thoughtful brood that only Atlanteans seemed to pull off with such dignity. Kory snapped a vexed look at her former lover, then back to the girl who shared so much of her temperament. Dick flicked a look Roy's way, checking to see if Kory'd started in on him yet, then cut in. "Duncan's going to be all right, they think. He's been awake, mostly to check on everyone." He wasn't waiting for three worried teammates to start... asking for updates.
Nighstar beamed with relief, "Thank goodness..."
"Yes," Cerdian and Lian said, almost in sync. Cerdian was the one that continued. "I think I understand why it was a secret," he began.
"I don't! It made him a threat to the team, and the Titans should have known!" Starfire snapped.
Lian rolled her eyes. "Aunt Kory, Slade's been leaving Titans and Outsiders alike alone for years! It wasn' our business!"
Dick sighed softly, "Kory. Slade didn't know. We were never going to tell him, but Duncan took things out of our hands right before he joined the Titans."
"Is that why he never told us?" Nightstar asked, her pretty head cocked curiously to the side.
"His mama chose to make it a secret." Lian moved over to sit with Cerdian, away from the still not happy Roy. "And, yeah, I think he should have let the team know." She matched gazes with Kory. "Our team. But done is done. He's a Titan, he belongs to us...and like it or not, his father is the reason we all got off that street alive," Lian said, defying Kory to debate the point.
The older woman glared at Lian, then snapped her eyes to Dick and Roy. "You have had this potential threat on your household, where our daughters live for years. And it never crossed your mind what kind of retribution there would be if he learned on his own?"
Cerdian just stayed silent, his thoughts carefully hidden as he listened, weighing everything he learned.
"It would've come down on Canary, and she was willing to deal with it. Her life, her son, her choice, Kory. And Slade wouldn't come after my kids if he was pissed at me for keeping Duncan from him." As far as he was concerned, that was a simple fact.
"I don't share that faith, Richard," she informed him. "Mar'i, get your things...it is time we go home."
"Starfire," Cerdian said, catching her attention. "I'll be expecting my team member at the Tower tomorrow morning," he told her in no uncertain terms. "We have things to discuss."
Lian hid her smile as Cerdian proved exactly why he was the leader, and not her. When he chose to, he was a force of nature, compelling people to give way, with clear logic. As a former Titan herself, Starfire was unable to refuse him on the grounds he had set.
Nightstar wrapped herself around each of her fathers in tight, close hugs, then went to go pick up the medicines she'd been given and the coat she generally didn't bother with. "I'll see you tomorrow Tempest, Dart... Has anyone spoken to Offspring yet?" She'd been too worried to think of it, until now.
"I got in touch with him," Cerdian said. "I asked him to be available to Tommy."
Kory's face was still livid, but she came and hugged Lian, then Cerdian before facing her teammates. "This is going to have a long reach," she said. "And he has not usually been good news for us in the long run."
Roy shrugged, and she almost took pity on him, knowing the frustration he had to have felt over Dinah's choices, which made her as culpable as Dick in all matters relating to Slade.
Nightstar nodded. "Good. Tommy will need it." She watched her mother with her fathers, shaking her head slightly. Father generally knew what he was doing.. there must have been good reason behind his choice, and until she heard differently, that was what she was going to believe.
"I know it is, Kory," Dick said softly. "It's already happening... but all we can do now is see how it shakes out."
Kory shook her head one more time, then moved close and pulled both men to her, kissing them. "Be careful." She Moved away, grinning just a little when Roy patted her backside with a hint of his former humor, and took Mar'i home.
Cerdian looked at Lian. "Want me to leave?"
"No, if you're here already I don't have to worry about your mother pestering you over whatever garbled version Uncle Arthur wound up hearing." She laid her head over on him, closing her eyes. They were friends, had been all Cerdian's life, it seemed. Right now, she worried for her little brother, and Cer was more comfort than her agitated fathers.
Dick sighed and leaned against Roy, shaking his head. "Rose's guarding Di and Duncan," he relayed to his mate. "Life's going to be so interesting, the next few days." He really wasn't looking forward to some of the people that were going to want to give him hell... Batman topped that list, though Oracle, Huntress, and most of his Titans weren't far behind.
"Yeah." Roy just stroked Dick's arms and hair as he nodded. "Going to be hell for a little while, but they'll get over it. Di leaving the League like she did is going to bite some asses though." He appreciated that Kyle had gotten in touch to tell him that little piece of information, of exactly how Dinah had left. "She was one of the better field leaders, and a lot of the younger members trained under her."
Lian bit her lip to hear what Dinah had done; she knew the woman lived for only two things. One was her family; the other was being Black Canary as fully as possible.
"Robin's apparently bucking the Bat's orders... Di's got an open invite on the Outsiders," Dick shared with a small, wickedly amused smile. "You're right, it is, and she was."
"Dinah may damn well quit," Roy grumbled. "Just to keep from having to go through this shit again."
"No she won't," Lian said firmly. "She can't."
"Nah. She won't let Bruce have the last word," Dick said with a shrug.
"True." Roy closed his eyes after flicking a glance at Lian, watching with vague amusement as Cerdian coaxed her into laying against him on the love seat they had taken.
"This may sound like a stupid question," Cerdian began. "But he's not my rogue, has never been a rogue to my country. Why, when three of his children have been heroes, is Deathstroke so intent on murder as a way of life?"
Dick sighed, loudly, and dropped to sit cross-legged a few feet out from his adopted daughter and her... teammate. "It's not a stupid question, Cer. It's a question I ask myself a lot... and I've never come up with a good enough answer. The one he'll give most often is that it pays well, and it's all about the money. Another one is that it's what he's good at... and he is, nobody can argue with that."
"I think it boils down to something none of us can see," Lian said with quiet insight. "Something that shaped him, before he came to the eyes of your generation, Papa. Something none of us will ever know for certain." She shrugged her good shoulder. "It's probably what you and Aunt Di see hiding behind the mask. Why neither of you seem to be able to shut him out. Why Rose has never given up on him."
Dick flicked a smile at his eldest. "You're probably right, Dart..." //Something in Vietnam... or maybe just all of those months of being afraid he wouldn't even walk again... Feeling useless, maybe, during all of that? Not things I'd say to you kids...// "Not that it really matters why. He does what he does... and we deal with it when we have to, stop him when we can." He shrugged.
"Such a waste." Cerdian stroked Lian's hair. "Dart, you need sleep. Lean on me, and I'll get you to your room."
"Sounds good. See you two in the morning," Lian told her fathers, letting her teammate help her to her room. Nor did they hear any other door close; apparently Lian had decided to keep Cer close for now.
Roy sighed softly. "I should be irate that the boy is in our daughter's bedroom, but he's the closest thing to stable she's ever shown a willingness to take."
Dick snorted softly, "Don't I know it? I swear, she learned relationships from Grace... and what good would it do to get pissed off? They're Titans. We all remember what that was like, and at least they understand each other. Leave it--up until the point we overhear something. Then we can bitch. Or, you know, call Garth."
Roy chuckled. "Garth would say Lian corrupted him." The redhead nuzzled his lover. "Bed for us? So we're too busy to hear them if they do?"
Dick nodded. "Yeah. First, phone off the hook and turn off the cells. I'll leave my comm on the emergency band." He went to go do just that.
"Paranoid much?" Roy teased, having already hit the ringers of his cell and the house phones.
"I hate being interrupted... and so do you, might I point out..." Dick said with a grin as he saw Roy'd already read his mind. He headed for their bedroom, flicking a long look over his shoulder. Tomorrow was early enough to deal with everyone else.
Raven pressed her hands to her temples, closing her eyes as she struggled against the cacophony of emotions coming from both of her mates and her son. Vic was trying to remain calm, had been doing so, but they had been running the knife-edge of adrenaline since the first warning had come across the comms... She'd thrown them towards their son as swiftly as she could, and finding demons attacking her child had nearly been enough to snap her own control. Let alone what the sight of Deathstroke in the middle of the fight had done to Gar.
She did not understand the one-time friendship he and Wilson had had... but she could not mistake the anger and rage her changeling lover held towards the older man. It had been beating against her control from the moment he recognized him on the field, and neither their son's defense of the man--//of Condor//--nor Nightwing's calm about the situation had helped.
Even hours later, Gar was practically too angry--//and afraid//--to speak, Tommy was glaring at all of them impartially and Vic was attempting to deal with Gar's rage before it pushed her too far. What she would do without his quiet strength, she wasn't sure right now... but she needed to talk to her son. "Tommy."
"Mom." He met her gaze levelly, using every control he had to shut his emotions off from her, a trick that had made it difficult over the years to truly bond to her shy, usually timid son.
She shook her head slightly. She didn't want to fight with her son, and couldn't blame him for defending his teammate, but, "What you did to Wonder Woman..."
"Needed to be said, Mom. How would you like it if I were bleeding all over the place and someone wanted to call you down on something?" //Not backing down, Duncan would fight for me.//
"I wasn't arguing with what you said, Tommy, but you deliberately projected at her to back her away." She'd tried to raise him with better ethics than that, especially given some of the things she had done over the years.
He blinked once before he looked down from her eyes. "I couldn't help it. Duncan needed his mom."
She couldn't help the small smile, and she laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, easing the sternness of her words. "Don't do it again, Tommy. You know better... but you're right. He did. Tommy... can we trust him?"
//Flash of white hot anger for doubting.// The emotion slipped free, with strong loyalty, before Tommy nodded once. "He's Duncan. He's always watched out for us. Always made sure we got the best of the best, too. We're his, and he's ours and that's how Titans work... right, mom?"
Raven flinched back from the flare of white rage, and sighed softly. "Yes. It is... and that gives me something to work on your father with. Titans Together, after all."
She'd never wanted to raise a child under the banner of that battle cry... but they all had, and it had built them quite the team. Her generation had had their issues, their villain's children and walks on the dark side... it seemed to be the kids' turn, now. "Why don't you call Mercury and Hermes, make sure they're all right?"
"I need to. Hermes is not happy, and I'm sure Mercury is wound up," Tommy told her. His voice made it clear he knew how Wally's son felt, but he was guessing at Mercury.
"Go on, then." She stroked his hair gently, lightly, then re-settled her shields and went to go find her lovers, putting the matter of Tommy's certainty about Hermes' feelings aside for later thought.
Tommy went to the phone in his jacket pocket and dialed Hermes' number. It still amused him that he...the green skinned kid...actually lived under his proper name but neither speedster answered very quickly to their birth names.
When Hermes' phone was not picked up on third ring, he switched to Mercury's. He bet his friend had either lost the phone in the course of everything, or he was still taking the lashing from Wally over the day.
After a few moments, the speedster girl picked up. "Hey, Tommy..." her voice was oddly quiet.
"Hey. Everything okay now?" He kept his own voice quiet, trying hard not to think in the direction of his parents' room.
"...D's gonna be okay, and my arm'll be better in a few. Hurts, though. Think bro would rather be there than here... 's it safe, yet?"
"Safer. Mom talked to me. Don't think Dad is willing to while he's ramped up. And Vic... is trying to play peacemaker, as usual."
"K. I'll be there with him in a minute. Then I gotta figure out some stuff."
"I'm going over to my room on the team floor," Tommy said. "One less mind for Mom to deal with."
Tommy hung up, and slipped away to get to his room before they showed up.
It wasn't long at all before they were in his doorway, Hermes carefully supported against his sister's body. Their silver-gilt speedster's usual bright smile and quick wit was nowhere in sight, and despite what was obviously her best attempt at shielding him, there was a new, raw core of pain in her as she stood there.
Tommy helped get Hermes down on the bed, so he could rest his leg out, then carefully, slowly hugged Mercury, opening his shields enough to let love, comfort, and hope flow out to her. "He probably did not have a choice, Mercury, on not telling you," Tommy said softly.
"It's not that, Tommy. I know D didn't. It's dad," she curled up against him, soaking up the comfort he offered.
The smallest Titan nodded slowly. "Yeah, I can imagine if Dad's reactions are anything."
"He tried to make me leave the team. Leave D." Some of her usual brazen personality reasserted itself as she tossed her streaked hair a little. "Got a shock about that. Like I listen to him? He's never around anyway."
Tommy laughed softly, pulling back to go sit on the edge of the bed. "Hey, he'll either get over it, or he won't. Your mom won't let the second happen, I bet..."
"Yeah, Mom was already tearing into him," Hermes said, shifting to where he was almost but not quite touching Tommy's hand.
She grinned, remembering some of the things her mother had had to say, and nodded, dropping onto the floor to look at them both, putting away her anger and hurt at her father with Tommy's help. "It was pretty serious, but yeah, he'll either get over it or he won't... No skin off me."
"We've got each other," Tommy said. "No matter what." He could not remember life without the others of his team; being the youngest, he had imprinted on them almost as quickly as he had his own parents.
"Yeah, Tommy...we do. And Sis...you should get to D. He's gonna need you there, I bet."
"Yeah. We do," Mercury agreed firmly, nodding sharply. "Huh. Yeah, I probably should... though, Ravager's there..." She hopped up, brushed her cheek over Tommy's hair, patted her brother's good leg, and buzzed back out the door--then stuck her head back in, grinning, "You two behave, kay? Don't need anyone to have more reason to be mad at us..." Then she really was gone.
"What's she talking about?" Tommy asked, puzzled.
"Don't worry about it, Tommy. Just lay down and grab a nap with me, 'kay?" Hermes kept his smile to himself.
Mercury flitted past the nurses' station and down the hall, then buzzed herself through the wall next to the door, rather than deal with pulling the door open and shut again.
Rose was very alert, tense...until she recognized the girl as Duncan's teammate. She put a finger over her lips, pointing at Dinah who was asleep with her head on her arm on the side of the bed, and Duncan whose eyes were closed.
Mercury nodded, remembering to slow it, and found herself a spot to perch, watching Duncan intently. //You have got to be okay!// Her fingers twined together, twisted through each other, and she wrapped her arms around a knee, trying to be still, though it came as poorly to her as it did to any speedster.
"You seem pretty tore up over my brother," Rose commented softly. "Let me guess...first crush?"
"Best friend, other than my twin. And my lead," Mercury replied, equally softly, though her cheeks had gone pink.
Rose smirked knowingly. "Didn't crush on my first Titan lead, but on a Titan lead, yes." Roy had never been more than her employer and friend; Dick had had her eye early on, a fascination replaced with one for Tim later. "Doc says he just needs a little rest."
Mercury nodded... and gave up the fight, reaching out and over to push a few out-of-place strands of hair back into their proper place. "Looks like he's going to need more than that," she said worriedly, looking at all the damage. "He's tough, though. Always was."
"Comes with our genes." Rose snorted then. "And he got the extra dose of stubborn." The Outsider considered if now, with the girl here, would be a good time to go let Daddy know the prognosis.
"Yeah. He is. Out-stubborns me, even, sometimes." That got a bit of a smile.
Rose stood up. "Not about to go to sleep, are you?"
"No. I'm up. I don't want to know what you're doing, either, do I?"
"I'm letting a concerned father know his son is not going to die today," Rose said bluntly.
Mercury sighed, dropping her head into her hand. "I was trying not to know that, but whatever."
"If you accept Duncan...you have to accept who he is. And that is as my brother, as my father's son, just as much as he is Nightwing's heir, and Dinah Lance's kid."
A silver-gloved hand tightened, shimmery lips setting tight against each other a moment. "I just spent the equivalent of five or so hours fighting with my own father over your brother and your father, and my choice to help him. I could really give. a. damn. less at this point what anyone thinks of anything, but borrowing trouble wasn't on my menu either. Duncan's Duncan, and that's enough."
Rose gave her a bright smile then. "Good shot, kid." She headed for the door. "Oh yeah...don't touch Di...she swings."
"So does he, normally," Mercury said with a shrug. "Thanks, though." //Not like she'd hit me...//
Rose walked out of the room, leaving the hospital entirely so she could use the phone without being watched. It was very simple to evade those junior League members already detailed to watch them.
"Daddy. Just checking in." She drew in a deep breath, found a cigarette and lit it. "He's got internal injuries..." She started listing off every injury and how they were handling it to the man. Slade listened attentively, not interrupting her. When she got to the end, he considered just how tough his progeny were when it came to injuries.
"They've got League watchdogs. Dinah quit, by the way, and she's still kinda pissed but she's trying to hide it from Duncan."
"Won't work. Tell Duncan not to worry. I'll be nearby. And I'll handle things."
"Night, Kitten. Stay with them." He hung up and began considering options.
Cerdian nodded politely to Dinah as the door opened. "Miss Lance, thank you for letting me come. Grandfather says hello, by the way, and extends an invitation to come see him."
"Thank you, Cerdian; tell him I appreciate it." //Wants the story from me, no doubt.// "Duncan is in the second room on the right."
Cerdian nodded and continued back to Duncan's room, knocking.
"Yeah?" The voice sounded... remarkably strong, given the amount of time it had been since the battle.
The Titan leader walked in, and gave Mercury a small smile. "So this is where you've been," he said, trying his hardest to be easy going.
Duncan tensed slightly, but saw the effort he was making and settled down, propped up against his headboard. "Hey, Cer."
Mercury flicked a smile at her 'official' lead, nodding once, "Yeah. Things are kinda... icky at home, and they don't mind having me--I don't think.."
"'Ry," Duncan growled. "Of course we don't... besides, having you around can be real nice..."
Cerdian hid the smirk at that; he wasn't one to talk, now that he and Lian were actually admitting in certain company a general tolerance for one another. "Duncan...we've got to discuss the other day."
He nodded, and pushed himself further up, face falling into lines that looked more like his father than he really ought to. "I know."
Mercury tried not to flutter too much.
"Why didn't you tell me that was how you anticipated the targets? You damn well should have been taking point in the fights!" Cerdian said fiercely.
Duncan shot him a very long, very level look, shaking his head. "If you didn't notice in our training sessions, you weren't going to listen until I proved it... I think this proved it. Not like it's easy to talk about, either. It just... is."
Cerdian nodded, and drug over a chair. "Try and explain it to me, so I can understand how best to utilize it."
Duncan nodded. "We've called it battlesense for years. Rose gets premonitions and visions, I just get the next couple of seconds, any time I'm in a fight. Not far enough ahead to really call it precognition, but enough to be a big advantage. Gives me just enough time to get set, or to warn someone else."
Cerdian nodded. "Definitely putting you on point then, from now on." He glanced over at Mercury, then back to Duncan. "Save your hands a bit of talking under my orders?" he said in a sly tone, admitting he had seen it and not acknowledged it.
He nodded. "Yeah, it will. Didn't see the point in making waves, Cer. You're a good field lead, but this'll be a lot more efficient."
The Atlantean prince reached out his hand to Duncan, his face open for once. "I'm proud to have you on as a Titan."
Duncan's smile widened and he wrapped a hand around Cer's. "Thanks. Nowhere I'd rather be."
The older Titan stood up. "Just so you know...I don't forget when I owe my team's lives to someone," he said seriously, skirting the issue that all the adults were going nuts over. "One free ride from the scene is not quite enough to pay it, either. I won't forget." He nodded to both and walked out before Duncan could answer that, his pride stiffening his back, at having to acknowledge a debt, though he was still pleasant when he passed Dinah again.
Mercury nearly fell over, staring at the door with her jaw dropped. "I thought he'd chew me out..." she whispered, stunned.
Duncan shook his head, amazed. //Wow. Now maybe I see what Lian sees in him... Hm. He thinks he owes Dad one... could be useful.//
It hadn't taken Nightwing long to pick up on that he was being watched... and it had taken even less time to, hmm, persuade the watcher that it wasn't really that smart to be attempting surveillance on him, especially for no better a reason than they had. A little twisting of arms had done that fairly nicely... and his frustration with the situation had actually sent him back into Gotham and down into the Cave to deal with the source of the problem. Said source was flicking through remote camera lookouts around Gotham, setting up in his mind just where his presence would be needed most heavily.
"Bruce. Not happy with driving just one of us off the League, looking to make it three?" Dick asked, leaning against the computers.
"You use any tool you have at your fingertips," the older man growled. "You are less likely to lead to a good capture, but it was worth showing that we were serious this time."
Dick rolled his eyes. "Like he's stupid enough to come around me right now? Please. You're just pissed off that you didn't know, and taking it out on everyone else. Get over it."
Batman slowly turned, face a mask of anger where it appeared beneath the cowl. "You could have brought him in years ago if you had not let him blind you!"
"I hadn't seen him in years, no more than Dinah had... and in case you've forgotten, it takes a lot of people to haul him in!" //Like all three of us? And he was out within weeks? Come on, Bruce. Don't be stupid.//
"I have forgotten nothing." The voice went flat and cold, losing any semblance of passion or emotion. "You can go now, if all you wish to do is whine like a child about measures I deem necessary."
"Whine? No, not interested. Tell you you're being a) petty and b) ridiculous, yes. On a different topic..." Several months of checking photos, friends, and trying to pin down just what had happened to them had lead Dick to complete dead ends, and he'd dropped it for a while, but seeing Bruce still so young himself had brought it back to his attention. "If you didn't know me... how old would you say I am?"
Batman turned to inspect Dick, pulling his cowl back to be objective, ignoring the rest of the speech. "I'd say about 15 years younger than I know you to be."
"Yeah... that's about what I'd have said, too... and about you. And Roy. And Tim... and Alfred. Any idea what the hell did this?"
"Jason." Bruce said it with the 'I Hate Magic' tone he had perfected over the years. "I had noted it in Alfred. Myself, when I cared to think about it. But I don't see you or Tim very often now." Despite being League, they moved in different circles. And Tim...was very much an Outsider.
//Hmm... and whose fault is that, Bruce?// Dick tilted his head, considering. "Blood, huh? Guess that kind of makes sense..." //So, why Roy—not that I'm complaining!//
"I will remember to look into it more fully, to be sure there are no...complications." Bruce's tone was dismissive.
"Thanks. I've been trying to figure out who hung the ax over my head, and what they wanted in return. Nice to know it might be an ally." He wasn't going to bother to fight with him, not now. If he hadn't paid enough attention to realize that there was a large part of the story he didn't know, it wasn't worth the effort. And Dinah didn't need or want him to fight her battles for her. Batman grunted as he returned to planning his night. He would not get into this matter with the accomplice.
Dick sighed in frustration and headed upstairs, wanting to see Alfred. Just because Bruce was being... Bruce, didn't mean he couldn't spend time with Alfred. As long as he didn't have to deal with Talia's brat--//and thank God Tim hung on to our name//--the night still might not be a total loss.
Alfred was just setting a sandwich and cookies down next to a glass of cold milk, smiling when Dick entered. "Master Richard."
"Hey, Alfie. Sorry Bruce's probably been a bear to live with..." he hugged the old man gently, so very grateful to still have him around. "Good to see you."
"And a delight to see you. How are Master Roy and Miss Lian? Miss Mar'i?" Alfred shrugged off the apology on Bruce's behavior; it was normal.
"They're all fine. Roy's... well, Roy," with the smile that said he was still as crazy about the man as ever. "Lian's maybe, kind of, acting like she and Cerdian might try and have something." That was news, after all. "Both the girls are cranky because they're hurt, but neither one got too badly injured, so it's mostly show."
"How intriguing. I always presumed that Miss Lian's fondness for the boy Cerdian only went so far." Alfred smiled. "I am aggrieved to hear they were injured at all."
"That's what I thought, too. Apparently not.... and we all were, Alfie. They shouldn't have been up against him... but, they did pretty well." He shrugged slightly.
Alfred nodded. "I did hear there were...repercussions."
"Just a few," Dick muttered. "And half of everyone's too busy freaking about his parentage to notice that we got--pardon the language, Alfie--one hell of a hero out of it."
"Master Duncan's parentage is hardly a factor when he is, after all, your student, a factor they should remember."
Dick beamed at him, absurdly flattered by the compliment. "Thanks, Alfie... you're right. They ought to. Some of them will, eventually."
Alfred nodded. "Will your family be coming for the next holiday?"
"I dunno, Alfie. That kind of depends on if he's gotten over me doing my best to make sure we got a hero out of Dinah's deal, doesn't it?"
"No, Master Richard, it depends on if you wish to come home." Alfred's voice was firm on that point.
"Alright, Alfie. Alright. We'll see. Here's hoping. Speaking of, I ought to get back to New York." He hugged Alfred, left the crumb-scattered plate, and headed towards the door, making sure Alfred didn't have any other words to say, first. The older man merely smiled; he would make sure things proceeded better than the first salvos in this latest round indicated. Or Master Bruce would shortly find himself without Alfred's help.
Mercury fluttered around, watching Duncan worriedly. It'd been over a week since they'd gotten mauled, and Duncan's quick healing had him kind-of up and moving... which meant he was pushing himself too hard, in her opinion. He was in the gym, exercising, despite the cast still on his leg and the fact that his ribs weren't done healing... but he wasn't going to listen to her arguments, no sense in wasting her breath.
"Ry... I'm... fine," he gritted out, despite how much it hurt. He wasn't going to get better if he didn't keep pushing.
"You're not fine." Dinah walked in and over to him, taking his hand. As she did, he felt her push a slip of paper into it. "Tearing your body up while it is still broken is stupid, as you have told me a few times, Duncan." She loved on him briefly. "Go get a shower...and Mercury, you need to go be near, just in case."
Duncan palmed the slip of paper as he sighed and reached for the single crutch. "Alright, mom, alright... I'm not going to fall," he protested, and flushed (though it was staged) at his mother's last words.
Mercury blinked, confused, but it wasn't as though she was going to argue with being told to stick close to her... boyfriend. She was still grinning like an idiot at that things were officially that way now, and she hovered near him until they were both through the bathroom door. "So what's really up?" she asked softly.
"Mom slipped me something..." Duncan breathed, finally bringing the slip of paper to where he could see it. "Think you could go grab me the clean clothes off the bed?"
"Sure, D." She went and came back quickly.
The slip of paper had an address on it, upstate, and a time to be there. It was in Rose's handwriting, but the address was possibly the place Slade had taken him to the very first outing they had shared.
"Not long... okay. Up to running me?" He asked, smiling at her hopefully.
Mercury sighed. "Sure. I can do that." She quite unashamedly watched him change, then picked him (and the crutch) up, wrapping him in the speed force as she blurred down through the back of the building and out of the city. Didn't take her long to find the right spot, and she ran into a center hallway of the building. "Here's hoping they didn't spot me moving..."
"Duncan's mother was rather sure you would not be seen," came a steady, very masculine voice. Slade stepped into sight from a back room. "You are welcome to stay," he added. "But Duncan will not be going home until I say so."
Mercury watched him with wary eyes, nodding once. "Probably better if I stick around, anyway..."
Duncan smiled at his father, leaning on the crutch. "Hey, dad," he said as he headed towards his father.
Slade let him close the distance, then drew his son into a rough embrace. "Good to see you, boy." His single eye fixed on the speedster. "Pretty thing you picked for a companion," he said lightly, letting go of Duncan. "Your mother got it to me that you are not being very smart in your rehab."
Duncan leaned against his father. "Good to see you, too. Missed you..." His face went indignant, "I know where my limits are," he protested. "Haven't hurt myself," //yet. much...?// He then backed up and grinned at the compliment. "Isn't she? Mercury, you kind of met, but this's my dad. Dad..."
"Kayla West. But then, you probably already knew that," she said with a grin, actually offering her hand to him.
Slade accepted, shaking it briefly, before nodding. "Settle in today; see the house. No working out." His glare fell evenly on both of them. "Tomorrow, Duncan, you begin fixing your body correctly. Under my care."
Duncan wasn't even going to attempt to argue. "Alright, Dad. Same room?" He figured so, but easiest to check. "If 'Ry can stand me limping around, I'll show her the place. No you are not packing me all over the house," he growled at the impish look on his girl's face. "No."
She grinned, amused. "Alright... I'll remember you said that when you can't walk tomorrow, too," she promised sweetly.
"Smart girl, too," Slade said, agreeing with her assessment of Duncan come the next day. "Same room. The one across from it is available for Mercury." He afforded her the dignity of the name she preferred. "I have work to finish." He returned to the room he had been in, closing the door behind him.
Duncan grinned, and headed towards his room, waving a hand at rooms as he passed them. "Dad likes you!"
Mercury tilted her head, "Yeah?"
"'Ry. He complimented you. Twice! Yeah, he likes you." That pleased him immensely.
She thought about that for a sec, then grinned. "Guess that's cool. This place is big..." She hadn't meant it. If he couldn't walk by the time therapy was done, she most certainly would carry him, unless he got stupid and male about it.
"Yeah, I'd noticed. Didn't seem near this big when I wasn't stuck using this thing," he tapped the crutch in frustration. "Here's my room, that'd be yours..." He really, really wanted to sit down, right now.
Mercury nodded, stuck her head in, then followed him into his and stretched out on the bed next to him. "Are you sure about being here?"
"Yeah... probably smart. Dad'll make sure I don't overwork, mom wouldn't."
She shook her head, and nuzzled into him, curling up against his good side. "Okay. Long as you're sure." //God, people are going to go ape. I don't care. Duncan says it's safe.//
"Dinah." Oracle's voice was firm. "Why hasn't Duncan been out in two days?" She suspected she knew the answer.
"I sent him somewhere to recover, O. Without my hovering, or his teammates worrying."
There was a long pause. "I see." Oracle sighed. "He's a mass murderer."
"Only if you add all his victims together. Tends to take them on in very small numbers typically."
It was clear that Oracle had seen through the evasion, and equally clear that Dinah had confirmed who had her son...their son, Oracle forced herself to think.
"O...don't interfere in my private life. I'm coping with the watch dogs on me, but my son needs his father right now. Let it go."
Not long after Oracle's comm call, Dick came knocking at her door. Dinah opened it and let him in, giving him a tired smile. "Hi Dick."
"Hey, Di. I'm kind of surprised you haven't called me to come drag Duncan out of the gym... is he actually behaving?" Dick didn't look like he'd been sent... he looked worried.
Dinah sighed and led the way to her kitchen. "Rose handled things for me."
Dick's eyes widened, "He's... okay. Well, then." He wrapped an arm gently around her waist. "You doing okay?"
She leaned into him, feeling heavy. "No." She sighed. "I swear to god this is driving me insane. I'm feeding the juniors they send, and they keep quitting, but Bruce just won't get the hint."
Dick ran his hand up to her shoulder, and started rubbing it, feeling the tight knots of stress there. "I'm sorry, Di. I tried... I'll give it another shot, though." If he had to, he was going to go over Bruce's head. He frowned, rubbing her back. "He took this personally... really personally, and I still don't understand why--you don't have to tell me, either."
Dinah's eyes darkened slightly, memories of an almost might-have-been there. He had come the closest to luring her from the one she wanted to be with right now, but his mission had demanded more than she was willing to give to him. "It's no real bother, I guess. It's not like I should be seeing Duncan's father anyway."
"It is a bother, and it's not right. He wouldn't do this to anyone else, and he shouldn't be doing it to you. I'll see what I can do." He kept an arm around her, shrugging. "Maybe you're right... but it's hurting you."
She shrugged it off. "It's not worth it. There's a history there, and he does, in a way, have a point."
Dick snorted. "Point or not, you don't deserve this... and then there's the fact that none of those kids could possibly handle Slade if he decided he wanted to come to you." He shrugged. This was getting dealt with, one way or another.
Dinah slid him a drink and a light snack, taking one for herself. "I know. The watching...it's not really there to catch Slade...it's to keep him away from me."
Dick shook his head, and ran his hand over her shoulder. "Which is just several levels of wrong... You're really missing him..." it wasn't, actually, as idle an observation as it sounded. He was worried about her.
Dinah looked down, hiding her face because she could no more lie to Dick than to Roy. "It's wrong of me. Wrong on so many levels. I'm fully aware of Deathstroke's list of crimes, both known and suspected." She shook her head. "But when it's Slade, none of that seems to matter." She was deeply in love with an amoral, cold-blooded killer, and it cut across her own morals to admit that.
"He can be two very different men. I know... and you can't control who you love, Dinah." He kept holding her gently.
She laughed bitterly. "I sure know how to pick them. From an irresponsible playboy to a brooding crusader to a sociopath."
//Ooooh. So that's it.// Dick sighed. "I'm sorry, Di... You know, you really can just talk to me," he offered. "I do listen pretty well, and I'm worried about you."
"Not really much to say. I'm in love with Slade, wish to hell and back I could change the world so he was that man I see in him all the time." She hugged him tight. "But wishes don't come true when you've already gotten so many miracles in life."
Dick hugged her back. "Mmm. We've gotten a few. Okay, Di. Let me know when Slade sends him home, okay? I have some bending of the brat's ear to do."
Dinah grinned at that. "Alright."
He petted her hair gently, then headed back towards the door. He needed to make a quick trip home, then he had a visit to make. It took a bit, but before long he was transporting up to the WatchTower.
As usual these days, the WatchTower was humming. While the children had been growing up, other heroes had appeared, made a name, come into the League. It seemed like there was not a city in the World that could not boast at least one costumed hero. And at the center of all of it, there was J'onn, still teaching, still comforting, still watching. Nightwing headed down to the Monitor Womb, figuring that was where J'onn would be. He couldn't believe the martian would be involved with this, and figured he was probably his best bet for getting this taken care of.
When he arrived, the man was watching the rack of screens, but he focused on Nightwing. "Yes?"
"Hey. Do you know what Batman's got some of the junior League members doing?"
"He borrowed several younger members for monitor duty," he said in turn. "Surveillance to gather information, he told me."
"Tell you on who?" He was very carefully keeping his temper under control out of courtesy to J'onn.
Now J'onn looked directly at the Former Boy Wonder, reading certain tell-tales. "I have a distinct feeling this is not something he cared to inform me."
"You're probably right. They're watching Dinah."
J'onn's face flickered with annoyance. "Thank you for informing me of this." He turned inward, and contacted Bruce, Diana, and Clark, letting them know he would expect them in the briefing room in half an hour or else.
"You're welcome... didn't think you'd be part of that... and you might want to remind certain people that if Deathstroke wanted, those kids would be dead. I thought about it. See you later, J'onn."
"Be safe, Nightwing." He nodded at the implications.
"Of course." He headed back down, whistling cheerfully to himself, to the utter bafflement of several passing League members. Roy was going to be rather pleased with this bit of meddling, or his missed his guess by a mile.
Dinah was in her flower shop, tending to a more delicate arrangement than usual, as her clerk tended the customers. The bell above the door rang as a statuesque, elegantly dressed woman walked in, blue eyes searching the shop. "Is Miss Lance in?" her voice asked the girl at the desk.
Dinah's ears pricked from the work table, and she glanced up. She stiffened minutely, then rose from her bench. "I am, miss..." She was adept at playing the identities game now.
"Diana Prince," the other woman said with a small smile as she walked over to offer her hand. "I believe we have some friends in common..."
"Come; I have an office that is comfortable." The blonde led the way, letting Diana enter before she closed the door, and let her temper show in a brief flash of her eyes. "Why did you come? I have done nothing!"
"Your watchers have been removed," Wonder Woman told her, her own eyes dark. The meeting between the Manhunter and her old friends had... not gone well for them. "Much as I... dislike your choices, we have no right to so invade your private life."
Dinah carefully masked her surprise. "Fine. I'm just glad they aren't wasting their time anymore."
Diana nodded once. "That point was also made. It was... unbefitting any of us, and... I am sorry. I still don't understand... but that makes no difference. Be well, Dinah."
Dinah shook her head at that. "Be safe, Diana. I'm here, if you ever choose to use my skills."
Her eyes flared a moment, but she nodded. "We'll see." Message and apology delivered, even with most of her pride intact, she turned to go.
Dinah bit back the sharp, biting comments that had bubbled to the top of her mind as Diana left. She had her pride as well, and she was neither going to insult this woman nor try to make her understand. With the watchers removed, she would not feel so trapped.
Slade watched as his son shakily dropped to the mat, exhausted from the difficult positions he had worked through. It had been a strenuous week, as Slade taught him how to work around the injuries, then retrained him to use the healed muscles and bones as well.
Duncan rolled enough to look at his father, panting. If he didn't know just how important this was--and that no-one had ever accused his father of sadism--he'd think the man was enjoying this... but neither one of them were.
"Please tell me we're done? At least for now?" Practically everything he had hurt... but he knew it hurt a lot less than he would have if he'd been doing this on his own. And dad understood the enhanced healing he was working with, too, which was another plus to being here.
"Get that girl of yours to work the muscles again." Slade tossed the boy a towel, letting some pride sneak into his eye.
That drew a grin, even through how much it hurt. "That sounds like the best idea I've heard all week," he said as he mopped his face and neck with the towel, slowly twisting around enough to sit up. "Soon as she decides to come out of the shower, I will. Have I mentioned that I really, really hate this?" He prodded his still-damaged leg in frustration. "Not the time with you," he amended hastily, "just the being hurt." //I am so tired of not being able to go with her!// Mercury'd gotten a Titans call a few hours ago. She was back, now, and safe, but knowing his team was out there without him... was a big part of what had driven him to yet another session.
Slade nodded. "That shower'd do you some good too...the water's already hot, after all." The older man kept a perfectly straight face. If the kids were or were not sleeping together, he could care less. But it was a father's prerogative to twit the boy over his relationship.
"Da~ad!" Duncan yelped, flushing at the insinuation--and trying to hide just how appealing the idea was. "I swear, you and mom both is more than anyone ought to have to put up with!"
"I'll be sure to tell your mother, when we see her." The man managed to repress most of the fact he wanted to see Dinah out of his voice, but Duncan was not the student of Dick Grayson for nothing.
"Good. Maybe if you're there she'll leave me alone about 'Ry." He didn't sound like he held out a whole lot of hope along those lines, though. //Hope someone gets something done about the stupid people watching the house...//
"Can you walk to your room, or need a hand?" Slade had made it clear he did not look down on accepting help that was truly needed.
"I... think I can walk, but I'd take a hand up..." He'd be much happier just staying on the mats for a while, but he really would be better off in bed, so... He reached up as his father came close. The strong hand that helped him up then reeled him closer, offering assistance as Slade sensed his son was putting on a tough face again. "I'm going out tonight. Make sure you and Mercury stay inside."
Duncan didn't argue. The standing up had made his head swim a little, and he let himself lean on his father as they moved. "Okay. I can do that..." //Wish you wouldn't. Really wish you wouldn't. You know they're hunting you... Why do you keep doing this?// "Be careful?" was all he would let himself say.
"Just need to meet up with someone," Slade told him, offering an explanation to ease Duncan's conscience and worry. //Damn, kid...got me going soft in my old age. But hell, the hunt gets less challenging every year.//
"Aah. Okay. We'll stay in, anyway." //That's not so bad...// He leaned against his door before he opened it, and dropped onto the bed once they reached it. "Thanks for the help in."
"Anytime, kid." Slade squeezed the boy's shoulder and left, going to keep his meeting with Dick, wondering just what his Robin wanted.
Dick walked into the park, eyes casually searching for Slade. He'd picked the open location in the small town because the... discussion just might get more interesting than either of them would want to have observed, or overheard. But this late at night in a small town, no-one else ought to be around. The mercenary stepped out of the shadow of a tree and walked over, on guard. He had already surveyed the park and the town three times, and been convinced this was not an elaborate trap to bring him in.
"How is he?"
"Who's surprised by that?" Dick asked, fighting the urge to sigh at the terse, tense tone. "Would you relax? I'm alone, not wired, and worried about my student and his mother."
That drew a reaction, even if Slade did clamp down on it. He shifted and stood slightly more relaxed. "Duncan is safe. What is wrong with his mother?"
"The League was having her watched--I'm sure you knew that one--and it... upset her more than I've seen her... ever. They've been called off... at least for now, but..."
Slade grunted. "She's a private woman in some ways." He crossed his arms on his chest.
"Yeah. She is... and missing you is hurting her enough that she let me see it." He looked right back at him, arms lightly at his sides. "It tore her apart to leave you the first time, and she won't do it again... but I'd love to know how you can stand to make her suffer, if you care half as much about her as she loves you."
Slade could not quite hide his anger at the words Dick threw at him... or the fact they had hit so well right on target. "She's one of you, and I am me...not exactly a match that is appropriate," he said in a very cold tone.
"Then either let her go--and break her heart for good--or do something about it, you stubborn--" he snapped his jaw shut, shaking his head once. "You're as crazy about her as she is about you, and you know as well as I do there're ways you could fix that damn record of yours, if you were willing."
Slade watched him silently. He knew just what Dick was referring to, knew he could broker the right kind of deal to give him license to hunt, and to have his family in the clear. He also knew Dick was right; When Dinah had chosen him as a lover, neither of them had ever meant for it to be more than a way to blow off the tension of their shared adventure. It just had been too easy then, and even more so now, to respond to one another on deeper levels.
//Oh, Joey, forgive me for this one...// Dick's eyes narrowed, watching Slade watch him, seeing the knowledge in his eyes, and took a breath to take his last, best shot. "You're going to have to decide, Slade, one way or the other... your family, the son that loves you, and is probably worrying about you... or your pride and your hunt. I really hope you've got the sense not to make the same mistake twice--they both deserve better."
The man made a small grunt. "I'll consider what you've said, Grayson." His voice was gruff, displeased that the younger man had pushed things into such personal territory.
"Good." Dick moved closer, into his space despite the danger that put him in at the moment, given what he'd said, and looked up at him. "It'd be nice to have you around more." He missed the challenge of fighting Slade, but the stakes were too high right now, had been too high...
"Kid, you might want to be careful what you wish for," Slade said in a tone that let Dick know the matter had eased from direct confrontation to a latent reminder why it was never good to bait Slade on his emotions.
"You ever going to stop calling me that?" Dick complained lightly, then shook his head. "What's playing it safe ever gotten me?" //Yeah, I know you're pissed, but you're listening, too. And I can say what Dinah won't and Duncan can't.//
"I could go back to calling you 'Robin' in that tone of voice you always hated," Slade pointed out. "And you let your mate still call you far worse." He reached out, just to show he was still Slade, still the man that had always been on the edge of Dick's life, and ruffled the still jet black hair. "You're a kid, just a kid who did pretty well for himself."
Dick glared up at him at that almost-threat, teeth skimming back from his lips in frustration. "Don't even... and, well, I've got an equally long list of insulting things to call Roy when he starts in on me." He'd held still for the touch, even leaned into it, amazing on the surface... and not at all to anyone that knew either of them. "From you, I'll take 'pretty well' as a compliment."
Slade gave just a hint of a smile. "I should head back. Don't want Duncan getting it in his head to hit the mats without me, and don't trust him not to take advantage of my being gone."
"You probably should, yeah. If he has... let me know about it. I'll have a chat with him when you bring him home."
Slade nodded. "Dick...you did good by my son." It was the closest he could come to an honest 'thank you' before he turned away to leave.
"I tried. And had a good kid to work with," Dick said with a smile. //He was yours. How could I not?//
Slade just smiled to himself and went back to his car, mulling over the issues Dick had raised. Dick headed home, more than fairly well pleased by how things had gone. At least he had the man thinking about it. He'd taken a risk, ripping open those old sore spots... but if it got them to somewhere that Dinah was happy and Duncan had his father without needing to resort to his speedster girlfriend to visit him, he'd consider it a job well done.
Duncan tried to stay still under 'Ry's strong hands as she worked down his back, laying across the bed in his father's safehouse, but ow... "Jesus, 'Ry, takeiteasy!" Her habit of slurring things together was apparently contagious. Of course, she hadn't left him alone for more than a few minutes since he'd gotten out of the hospital... that'd been interesting.
"You know this needs done," she replied unhelpfully as she worked a knot out of his lower back, hands just above the waist of his boxers. "If you wouldn't let him push you so hard--or push yourself just as bad, seeing that he's not here..."
"I wouldn't be getting better as fast," he growled into the pillow.
"So hush and let me work on you. Y'don't get to complain when y'did it t'yourself."
Duncan growled over his shoulder at her, making her push his head back down, "Stop that. You'll undo my hard work."
"Remind me why I put up with you?" he said, teasing with his face shoved down into the pillow again... and her hands slid slowly, wickedly up his sides. He shuddered slightly--this was still so new, and she seemed to be perfectly tuned into how to make him react...
"No idea," laughter rippled through her voice as she petted a spot low against his right hip, making him twist into it. //God, 'Ry...//
"None whatsoever," he agreed idly, and felt the bed shift as she shook her head, amused.
There were moments he still just stopped and couldn't believe she was his, that they'd finally stopped dancing around the very mutual attraction... His eyes closed as she went back to work, and the scene in the hospital started to play behind his eyes again.
//Ugh...// as far as first thoughts went, it was better than ow... but not by much. He fought to get his eyes open, feeling the sick numbness of the drugs that weren't wanting to stay in his system and the dry nastiness of the oxygen tube under his nose, and the all-over ache even the drugs couldn't stop... He shifted, mentally cursing the IV in the back of his hand--//I hate these you know I hate these...//
He found his mama settled in a chair by the bed--she didn't look great, but better than the last time he'd been awake... and Mercury's silver-gilt form was flickering back and forth in front of the window, teasing the edge of his battle-sense... but the drugs were apparently getting in the way. //I don't like this...//
"Hi," Dinah said softly. "Doing better?"
"Mm... a little. ...Sis?"
Mercury was suddenly settled on the edge of the bed near his non-IVed hand, her fingers light on the back of his hand, the expression one he knew well, even behind the lenses that half-hid her eyes. She needed to talk to him. He turned his hand under hers, wrapping his thumb up over her fingers. //Sokay, 'Ry...//
Dinah watched, saw the barest flicker in her son's eyes she had learned to read from his father, and stood slowly. She bent over, kissed his forehead, and smiled. "She had to step out. Since you're awake, Duncan, I'm going to go say hi to the latest watchdog." Her smile took on a cold edge to it. "Mercury, I'll be back. He's yours to watch for now."
Mercury nodded. "Can do, Canary."
Duncan turned his head into his mother's touch, not away from it, and watched her go, filing the 'latest watchdog' comment for later research as he looked up at her. "It's okay, Ry..."
She shook her head violently, fine tremor running all through her--more than the usual, that was the shudder of nerves--and clung to his hand. "No, D, it's not... I... you scared me and I'm mad atyouandican'tbelieveyounevertoldmeandhetriedtomakemeleaveand--"
"Whoa, 'Ry. Some pity, I'm drugged, slow down..." //Wait, what was that, which he? Wally?//
"I'm mad at you, I can't believe you nevertoldme, and dad tried to make me leave the Titans because he doesn'twantmearoundyouand--" her voice speeded up again, almost too much, but he'd still caught that and felt his expression go hard as he freed his hand to pull her down, get her closer...
She stopped for a moment, eyes wide at something, he wasn't sure what, then plastered herself against his side--which hurt, but so what? He worked his hand under her to run it into her violet and gold streaked brown hair, "Shh-shh-shh Ry... Shh, Ry..."
This wasn't the first time he'd held her while she shuddered out her anger at her always-absent, condescending jackass of a father, he'd been doing that since she first got her speed, but... this was the first time it had been about him. "I'm sorry..."
"NOTyourFault!!!" she snarled against his throat, her hand laying high on his chest. "Okaypartyourfault,butmostlyhis!"
Duncan closed his eyes, running his fingers through her hair as she buzzed with tension next to him. "Mom didn't want anyone to know, 'Ry... I.. should've told you, though."
"Yeah, you shoulda," she snapped as she pushed up on one arm to glare at him, the mask/headpiece of her suit shoved back to reveal her eyes--her real eyes, stormy gold-flecked hazel, none of the colored lenses she changed out so often--so that she could really glare at him. "What'dyouthinkIwasgonnado,huh?"
"Ry... I just..." he shook his head and the dizziness made his hand tighten in her hair and the bedding until he could make the world stop spinning. "Never meant for it to come out... Didn't really matter..."
She'd bitten the shimmer-gloss she used off her lips, he noticed as they set tight together, eyes sparking, //God, she's so beautiful,// flashed through his thoughts--and his face--before he could stop it, and it felt like his entire world shifted as the crush his mother had teased him about became real, became something he needed...
"Didn't--" her voice was hardening again, but she tossed her head and forced it back, "Nevermind. Not gonna fight with you when you're hurt... god, D, you scared me so Bad..."
"I'm okay, 'Ry. I'm okay..." his hand moved in her hair again, trying to calm her down out of the quicksilver shift of her moods. "I hurt, but I'll be okay..."
"It was so close..." the tone was almost a wail, though low, as she clung to his shirt and shoulder, tears standing in her eyes.
//Don't cry...// He reached up with the other hand before he remembered the IV lines and they tugged painfully as he wiped at the corner of her eye, careful of the makeup, and wiped at the tears. "Shh... I'm ok--"
His shoulders tightened in shock as suddenly she wasn't under his hand, but against him again, her mouth sealed over his as she kissed him, one of her gloved hands wrapping into his hair, but he couldn't not kiss her back. His hand tightened against the back of her neck as he opened his mouth--//Wow, she doesn't taste anything like Mar'i... shoulda known//--
He deepened the kiss hungrily, trying to figure out how to get her closer and make this better... He really, really wished his head was clearer, because this was more than he could keep up with, the lightening-fast flickers of her lips and the hot brush of her tongue, taste of... sweetness and something else, something he didn't know how to name. It felt like forever--like not long enough--before she finally pulled away, and he gasped for breath as he held on to her, pleased that she was gasping just as much.
She started to blush—that he hadn't seen in years--but her eyes stayed locked with his, "Stop with the 'I'm okay'. I know you're gonna be okay. Doesn't mean you didn't scare me... don't scare me like that again!"
He looked up at her, eyes level, "Can't promise that, 'Ry... You know better." He wished he could, but...
Her hands tightened where they were and her lips--kiss-bruised, darker and fuller, he wanted--tightened again. "I know it," the words were almost a growl, "but..."
"But," he agreed softly, hand in her hair, looking up at her. "Kayla..."
"Yeah?" Her eyes had widened a little, as if she was afraid she'd hurt something between them...
"My girl?" He watched her face... and couldn't help but smile back as one like the sun coming up broke across her face, making her look even more... radiant than she normally did.
"Always, D... though, could just as easy say you're my guy..."
//Mm... true enough... Mine, though.// "Guess so." He tightened his hand, trying to bring her back down and kiss her again... and she settled against him, under his arm curved around her shoulders, her hand tangling in the hospital gown again, face tilted up to his kiss.
Other than for Titans missions, she'd hardly left his side since, and they were both learning just how best to make each other react... but the cast-wrapped leg was getting in the way. He couldn't move right, couldn't quite lay with her comfortably... And besides, she meant too much to him to treat this casually. With his father's open permission, though, she spent the nights held in his arms, both of them teasing each other to the breaking point--when he had the energy left, that was.
"What were you thinking about?" 'Ry asked him, petting down his shoulder, her touch curious, and he couldn't help the smile.
"You," he told her, slowly twisting around under her, bad leg an awkward pivot-point, and her fingers skated over his chest as she grinned at him.
"Really?" Her voice sounded almost surprised, but happy.
"Yeah, really," he ran both hands up her sides, tugging lightly against her shoulders to bring her down against him. She braced on one arm, other hand still on his chest, and leaned down, her eyes sparkling as her lips brushed over his, then her head tilted. "What about?"
"You kissing me," he answered as he shifted his elbows back slightly, bracing to raise up and kiss her instead, hands still flattened on her back, holding her close possessively. She practically buzzed with pleasure under his hands and kissed him just as deep, twisting to let her legs lay down alongside his--and he shifted against her as that pressed them together just about perfectly... //Oh, 'Ry...//
He moved a hand, running it up under her shirt, petting across her lower back--god, he loved the way she moved into it, gasped into the kiss... //So perfect...//
Her hands wriggled under his back, clutching him close as she rubbed against him with these quick--horribly slow for her, he knew how much she was holding back--little moves that dragged her breasts and her ribs against his chest... That made her mewl some more and break the kiss, her head going back-- He couldn't help arching up to bite gently at the line of her throat--and one of her hands latched in his hair the moment his lips touched her skin. //My 'Ry...//
Both of them heard as the front door opened and closed firmly. It had been two full days since Slade had gone out for his meeting. The sound of the door had been the only polite warning he would give that he was back in the house.
//Damnit, dad..// he growled softly, bit her throat a little more in promise for later, then pulled away despite her whimper, petting her back, "Easy, 'Ry..."
Her eyes sparked indignantly at him and she rocked slow and deliberate against him again, pressure so perfect it nearly stole his breath... The smirk was still on her lips when he managed to open his eyes again and push at her hip, getting her to move off him. Laying together was one thing, but... no. Despite that his father obviously didn't care if he was sleeping with her or not, if Dad wanted to talk to him he didn't want to get caught making out with her.
"Duncan! Mercury!" Slade called, from the stairway leading up to his private area.
Duncan sighed and moved to get to his feet, picking his shirt up from the side of the bed and ducking into it while Mercury quickly checked her lipstick and settled down her hair. She was still headed for the door way before he was, but he wasn't that far behind. He followed her out and down towards his father. "Yeah, dad?"
"Pack up. We're leaving." Slade left it at that, a neutral tone in his voice.
"Trouble?" His eyes were suddenly wary.
Slade passed him a look that clearly said 'no questions'. "Just do it, kid."
He kept his face level despite the 'dammit, what are you up to?' that flashed through his head and nodded. He was used to this kind of thing from his father, but he really, really didn't like it... "Okay."
Ry blurred away from beside him while he was turning, and by the time he made it back into the room, she was grinning at him over the duffels. "Packed!" she chimed, probably loud enough for Dad to hear her, her eyes dancing.
//Smartass kids.// Slade just continued, grabbing two separate bags from his ready room, thinking over just how this was going to go down for them all.
Duncan chuckled softly, "You're so bad, R--"
Before he could finish the comment, she was wrapped all around him, kissing him again. "And you love me for it..." she purred softly, petting his hair before Slade made it back. His father was carrying a kit bag for both his lives, apparently.
She snatched up the bags and dashed down to the garage, silver blur in her wake, leaving him shaking his head as he found the pair of pants she'd left for him. "Just let me get dressed, dad, and I'll be down..."
"I think I could spare you five minutes for that," Slade told his son, with a completely straight face. Duncan nodded and disappeared to do just that, then got himself down to the car.
Slade was quiet as he headed back toward New York City, not really in the mood to share what was on his mind.
Ry gave her boyfriend a long, worried look, recognizing the basic path they were taking, and where they were headed, and Duncan's hands moved, ::As worried as you are, 'Ry. Dunno what's going on.::
It was a long drive in in the silence, and not long after they entered the city, Duncan knew. They were headed directly for Dinah's shop, for Duncan's home, and it was very apparent he was not being discreet about that, even before he parked in front and tossed Mercury the change for the meter.
"Dad?" Duncan's stunned voice asked as he struggled back out of the car.
"Just follow me in, boy." He got out of the car, not worrying with the bags just yet, and strode up to the front door and inside. The shop was as busy as it normally would be, but both customers and the clerk grew quiet as Dinah let a small bud vase fall on seeing who had just walked in.
Duncan trailed his father, looking over his shoulder at his mother with a look of 'not my fault!"' plastered all over his face. //I don't know, mom...//
Dinah slowly moved from where she had been working, smiling at her customers, still very unsure. "Sorry about that...clumsy these days." She moved with grace across the floor, to where he was waiting for her, in the middle of her store. A half thought of turning on her communicator passed her mind, but it faded as she reached him.
"What's going on?" she asked, uncertain and letting it show how badly she was confused.
Slade gave a small smile then. "Your office, Miss Lance?" he rumbled.
Mercury came in--well, Kay did, anyway--and ducked under his free arm to help hold him up, watching them both, tensed under the lay of the clothes, wary of what was going on.
"My office." Dinah turned, her hands shaking as she fought the urge to touch the man. "Duncan, why don't you and Kay go on upstairs?"
Duncan nodded. "Okay, mom," and started for the stairs. As soon as they were out of sight, Kay snatched him up and buzzed up the stairs and straight through the door, settling him on his feet in front of his computer. "Read my mind."
"Not hard." She stayed close to him as he flicked the power on, leaning over the chair, his fingers dancing over the keys as he logged into his system, fully expecting to hear someone's voice freaking out within a few moments.
Slade followed Dinah and waited until the door closed before he simply handed her an official piece of paper, crisply written and signed. Despite the layers of insulation between the shop and the apartment, Duncan clearly heard the shriek about the same time he heard Oracle growling about the fact that they could not touch him, that the man was absolutely free and clear.
Duncan blinked, staring at the screen and the speakers baffledly, and pinged her through a message server, "HOW!?! Mom's shrieking..."
Oracle took a very long moment to answer him. "I'm assuming the paper he showed her was a presidential pardon. He cut a deal with Waller." She hissed a few profanities at that. "Had to have been Waller...she's the only one stupid enough..."
Duncan filed away the new curses cheerfully, blinking slowly at the thought that his father had somehow managed to acquire a presidential pardon...
Mercury spluttered beside him, listening as he spluttered. "He... she... oh my god..." //I don't believe it!// the stunned boy thought.
"Your father is a free man." Oracle could barely believe it. "And the American Government just acquired the deadliest mercenary they could."
Duncan's head tossed back and he whooped in glee, turning to kiss the breath out of his girlfriend, dragging her up close against him with the arm not holding the crutch, joy bubbling through him at the fact that he wasn't going to have to hide to be around his father, that his mama wouldn't have to hide anymore...
Oracle made a sound of non-happiness, but then she sighed. "Well, at least you can be a family, dysfunctional as I think it might be."
Down in the office, Dinah's initial shriek had given way to a full body embrace, as she realized just what this meant for her, for Duncan...and just what it meant to Slade to have them.
Duncan broke the kiss at her words, "Family... ROSE! Joey!! Ry!" He was looking over at the phone he'd left there... and she dropped the phone into his hand, shaking her head as his thumb flashed over the keypad. "Cmoncmon..."
"You sound like me," she laughed at him.
The phone was picked up and a very low, purring voice answered. "Duncan, you better have a damn good reason to call me right now," Rose said.
"I think I do. You won't believe what dad did!"
"I can believe a lot where our father is concerned." Rose moved away from the warmer bodies in the bed, getting up to go walk so her voice did not bother them.
"He, um... hegothimselfpardoned!"
"WHAT?!" Her voice jerked both her lovers up out of their drowsing. "Daddy did what?!"
Tim's eyes went dangerous as he sat up. //Who's dead this time?//
"He did something, he's free and clear... since I can't hear mom shrieking anymore I figure he's getting kissed... He's clear, sis..."
"God damn it, boy...you must be hella convincing," Rose said, starting to laugh at the news. "Let me know when he comes up for air, would you? I'd like to see him. And shit, Joey's gonna flip. He bet me years ago Daddy would go down as a wanted man to his grave."
"I didn't do anything," Duncan protested weakly, grinning like an idiot. "Sure, I'll call ya when they surface." He laughed, "Guess he owes you, then...." His arm was wrapped tight around Mercury's waist, keeping her close--with her eager assistance.
"Talk to you later, little brother." Rose was smiling with a seductive tilt to it as she walked back to the bed.
Duncan grinned. "Want me to let you tell Joey?" he got out before she hung up after telling him yes.
"What are you grinning so much about?" very much Robin's voice as he watched her saunter back towards them, looking as satisfied as he'd ever seen her. Kon wanted the answer to that one too, but Tim was already doing the talking...
Rose cat-crawled across Kon to get to Tim, straddling his hips. "My father is a free man. Not your cup of tea, but it does make me happy, which leads to other things..." She moved suggestively, as if they had not worn themselves out not half an hour before.
"And it'll make Dick--my brother, Rose--happy, so I'll deal," Tim replied, pulling her down against him to kiss her. She was a very willing accomplice in the kissing, and purring when Kon joined in.
Duncan was still grinning like an idiot, 'Ry curled around him with a smile of her own at seeing him so uninhibitedly happy, though she tugged him over to the couch to make him sit down.
They both heard the elder couple come upstairs, and just as clearly heard the door to Dinah's...their...room close. Duncan knew that room had the best soundproofing in the building, too.
"Going to be a while before they surface, I guess," Duncan said with a shake of his head. "I ought to go mute the phones bef--"
Ry was up and moving, blurring around the apartment before he finished the sentence, an back in his arms within a few moments. "There. All noise-boxes shut up."
"I could have done that."
"Uh huh. And I can do it faster, so what's the problem?" she asked as she cuddled up against him.
Dinah picked up the phone, humming, as she dialed Dick's number, looking through her kitchen to decide what she wanted to cook for the family.
"Get yourself and Roy, Lian and whoever she's with this week over here for dinner tonight."
"That's Cer, still... but they're out at the Tower... Di, you sound..." //So much better, not like half the League's pissed at you; like you got--stop right there Grayson...//
"Well, I'm sure Duncan thought to call his big sister...probably both of them." Dinah grinned as she found enough food to feed everyone. "Invite Rose."
"Apparently it's an occasion?" Dick asked, cat-curious, as he went to go find Roy.
"Yes," she purred. "And Dick...thank you."
He blinked as he walked up behind his mate and wrapped an arm around him, "For what?"
"For him." She had to blink back tears as the emotion swung hard toward near disbelief. "You had to have been the one...the only one that cared who could reason with him."
"He actually did it?" the question was honestly stunned as he froze against Roy's back.
Roy felt that and turned in the loose embrace, face curious as to why.
"Yes!" The word was low and full of a million emotions. "He came into the shop today, with the kids."
"Son of a bitch," the oath was delighted as he tucked his face against Roy's throat, "I don't believe it..."
"Slade?" Roy questioned, trying not to tense up. "What's he done?"
"Just...come and celebrate, please...Duncan would love to have you over here." Dinah was trying hard not to think about the fact that Slade was, even now, legitimately in her home.
Dick laughed softly, "We'll be over soon, Dinah, I promise... See you in a few." He hung up the phone and arched up to kiss Roy hard, practically radiating self-satisfied delight. Roy clasped his lifemate close, not pleased that Slade had anything to do with the mood, but willing to take advantage of Dick in an even more touchy-feely mood than usual.
Dick tossed the phone to the couch and pressed even tighter, purring to himself and at his mate as he kissed Roy until he absolutely had to breathe, smiling at him even as he panted for air, hand tangled in Roy's hair.
"Gonna tell me, Shortpants?" the archer asked, lazily cupping Dick's backside.
"Mmm... sure..." Dick purred as he pressed back into Roy's hands. "Promise not to go postal?" as he leaned in and licked at his throat.
"Conversations that start that way, with you seducing me, never end well." Roy smiled though, tipping his head back. "Tell me."
"Slade went to talk to Waller, got himself pardoned, and Dinah wants us over for dinner."
Roy blinked. Then swore in his first language. And sighed. "Fine."
Dick purred at him, nuzzling at his throat again, cuddled close. "You'll play nice?"
"You put a bug in his ear, didn't you? That's why you're all flighty about it." Roy asked after a moment to think.
Dick pulled back, looking all Robin-earnest and innocent. "Would I do such a thing?"
Roy shook his head. "You did."
"Asked him how he could stand hurting her, told him to either leave for good or do something about his record, and asked him which was more important, his pride or his son..." He shrugged slightly, as though it was nothing big.
"Are you insane?!" Roy got angry, scared/nervous, even though it was already said and done. "Do you know what he could have done?!"
"Yeah, I pissed him off pretty good," Dick admitted, and nuzzled against him. "And yes, I know what he could have done... and what he wouldn't. Not now."
The redhead sighed softly. "Dangerous ploy." //You're insane, love.//
"Yup. Gave me a couple nervous moments... But I was tired of seeing Di hurting, and D having to hide to see him... Rose too, far as that goes."
Roy nodded. "The minute he hurts her...We're kicking his teeth in," the archer growled.
"I'll help with that," Dick agreed. "But... look what he did for her, Roy."
"I'm not blind. But I'll bet you he was just as much bored with life since he stopped actively hunting us Titans as it was interest in being around them," he told Dick with his cynicism on full display.
"Hm... you might have something of a point there," Dick had to admit. //And then there's that he gets to twist the chain of everyone that hurt his lover... yeah, labyrinthine motivations as per usual....//
Roy smacked his ass hard. "Go lay out clothes for both of us and start a shower."
Dick bucked back against the slap--and bit hard at Roy's shoulder, growling at him in aggravation. Roy laughed it off as he evaded Dick and found the phone, to check up on Lian and see if she had heard.
Dick twisted around and snapped one foot out, stopping the blow just after the heel of his foot made contact with Roy's ass, then dodged well away and went to dig them both clothing out. He considered giving in to the running jokes about his lack of taste, then behaved and picked out clothes to flatter his lover, and himself while he was at it.
Lian picked up on the third ring. "Yes, Dad?"
"Heard from Duncan recently?"
"Yes." Lian listened closely to her father. "Are you okay with it?"
"Gonna have to be, Dart," he said after a moment.
"My thought too." The girl was not too sure her favorite aunt's head was on tight, but it was her life.
"We'll see how things go," he said, shaking his head slightly.
"Catch you later, Dad."
"Later Dart. You'll have to tell me what the reactions are like out there."
"Can do." So far, there had been a singe irate scream from Beast Boy's way.
Roy nodded and hung up, hearing the water running, and went to go join his mate, then go... "play nice" with Slade-goddamned-Wilson. //Thank god Dinah never tried adopting me!//
Duncan was the only one not busy when the doorbell sounded, as his mother was still cooking and Slade had been roped into fixing the table, so Dinah could keep chattering at him.
That still amused Duncan, just how easily his tiny mother could wrap both he and his father around her fingers, and he was smiling as he went to get the door.
Roy and Dick were on the doorstep, with Rose behind them. Roy handed over the bottle of wine they had brought, trying not to look like a man at his own execution.
Duncan chuckled softly and took the bottle, grinning over Roy's shoulder at his sister. "Hey, teach, Roy, sis. Come on in," as he got out of the way.
They moved inside, as Roy messed with Duncan's hair. "Heard you have an extra running around," he said, mostly light-hearted. He knew how much Duncan had wanted to have his father around.
"Good to be here, officially," Rose told him with a grin. "Daddy called me; told me the news."
Duncan leaned into his favorite uncle's touch, grinning, "Yeah. He's in there with mom."
Dick smiled and headed that way, leaning against the kitchen doorframe, watching the two of them. Slade being oddly domestic and Dinah practically glowing with her happiness... it was good to see.
Slade looked up at Dick, seeing the boy he had once known in those eyes, the lines of his face. He gave a brief smile and walked over, running his hand behind Dick's neck and squeezing.
"Glad you could come."
"Like I wouldn't? Good to see you," and the flick of his eyes around said 'here, free'. He wasn't about to make a big deal of the fact that Slade had done what he wanted--that was a sure-fire way to annoy the hell out of the man, and that wasn't what he wanted. "So what're you feeding us, Di?"
"Cantonese, tonight. Only thing I had on hand." She smiled warmly. "Slade, keep an eye on it, would you?" She gave up the spoon and passed Dick, hugging him just a moment, to go see her boy-o.
Dick smiled, hugged her back, and let her keep going.
Roy was standing there with Rose, chatting idly about what the Outsiders were up to these days, when he noticed Dinah coming and turned towards her, pulling her close. She pressed into his hug, sighing happily and smiling as she looked up at him.
"You know, Roy, I think I can't get much happier."
Rose grinned at the thought her father was the cause of the very dynamic Canary being so…femininely bemused.
"As long as you're happy, Di," Roy told her, kissing her cheek. He wanted her happy, after all, and if Slade could make her happy--which, obviously, he was--he'd deal with it.
"It's good to hear my father at peace," Rose said, before hugging Dinah as well, once she moved from Roy's side. Dinah returned the hug, and then ushered everyone to the dining room. Drinks were poured all around, and Dinah vanished back into the kitchen to get dinner.
Dick was brilliantly cheerful, Duncan not in the slightest better, and Mercury flicked back into the room to settle a tightly-closed bowl of something on the table, then perched with Duncan, waiting for Dinah to come back out, looking somehow pleased with herself and aggravated at the same time.
"Did you find something, Mercury?" Dinah asked as she settled the main course and side dishes for everyone to serve themselves. She took the chair next to Slade's, smiling at her son's girlfriend.
"Finally! You've gotta teach me more of that, because I think I annoyed everyone in the food district... but it smells like mangoes and tastes absolutely divine, so..."
"Thank you. And yeah, I can teach you more." She smiled. "Dig in."
"Dinah, the day you learned to cook is the day I learned to love food," Roy teased. Rose rolled her eye.
"Then she must have learned cooking a long ass time ago, because you ate ten times what me and Lian did when I helped out."
Dick snickered, amused, "Speedy, you were a vacuum from the time I met you..."
Mercury smiled, "You're welcome. There're days my fleet feet are useful."
"Indeed." Slade inclined his head at the girl. "Duncan, what do you think Cerdian would say to an offer of me teaching there every now and then at the Tower?"
"Cer'd bristle, growl, grumble... and then say yes. He's not... the type to turn down an advantage like that."
"So, teaching the Titans…again," Roy said. "Sounds like the old days."
"Yeah, it does," Dick said with a grin. "And oh, man, is the League going to be frosted..." Despite the fact that he was officially Justice League himself, he sounded pretty damn pleased by the thought.
"They're already frosted, so screw them." Dinah sniffed.
"I take it, you won't be going back?" Rose asked, showing a little eagerness.
"No, but I'm not switching over to the Outsiders either." Dinah looked amused. "Better or worse, I'm a Bird."
"Pretty sure Dad'd prefer you not, mom," Duncan teased, grinning, amused.
"Duncan!" Dinah laughed at her son, even as Slade smirked.
"What? Don't tell me you weren't expecting someone to say it," he grinned.
Mercury elbowed him in the side, "Probably not you, though."
Dick shook his head, "I wasn't about to..."
"I'd really rather not think about it," Roy admitted, getting an actual laugh from both Slade and Rose.
Dinah flushed furiously. "Well, yeah."
Duncan shrugged, amused, and looked over at Rose, "Hey, so who were you all tangled up with that you growled at me when I called?"
Dick's lips curved in a smirk he was trying desperately to hide.
Rose gave him an enigmatic smile. "Wouldn't you like to know, little brother? But, no offense to Mercury there, I prefer not to flash my relationships."
Slade shook his head at his daughter. "In other words, it is someone that you can't fully corrupt to your exhibitionist nature."
"Yes, I would like to know," Duncan replied, smiling over at her, //and now I know it wasn't just a one-night stand, so I can see what I can find...//
Dick devoted his attention to his food as though he actually needed to pay attention to the chopsticks.
Rose shot a look at her father, then relaxed into playful mode. "Like you were any better, Daddy. I never once heard a whisper of a rumor that you and the Canary had been involved."
"Damn straight on that," Dinah agreed, taking her lover's hand under the table. "No one could know; it wasn't good for his business or my health, back then."
"Agreed." He squeezed her hand gently.
Dick relaxed when they got off that topic, not wanting to breach his brother's confidence, but the comments they were throwing... made him wonder if Slade knew, but if he even looked the question, it might give him away... "No, it wouldn't have been."
"Still…" Slade turned to see Roy and Dick better. "Thank you both, for keeping her safe, and raising my son so well."
Dick shrugged at him, "Nothing else I could do."
"Not with it being Dinah, for me." Roy gave him a smile. "Could have knocked me over with a feather, but…it's Di."
"Thanks, Boy-o," Dinah murmured.
'Ry shook her head and tucked her face against Duncan's neck, not thinking about her own screwed-up family.
A rhythm settled over the family after that. Mercury was staying almost completely in the apartment with Duncan, Slade was in and out on government contract. When he was in country, he went with the kids to the Tower, where Cerdian had assented to his training.
Getting Beast Boy, Raven, and Cyborg to agree to that had taken a long talk from Nightwing, but in the end, Gar was able to put the past aside and stop growling. When he watched Slade for that entire first weekend, like a hawk, Raven did worry some. But as Duncan and his father were getting ready to leave, Gar made his way to the elder man, and hugged him tight. The younger Titans were stunned, because Slade actually returned it.
From that point on, life seemed settled into a routine. Joey came out a few times to the Tower to visit, Dinah made her way out to meet him and his family. Oracle got used to the fact that Deathstroke was living with her primary operative.
Then Dinah got injured on a mission, severely enough that the League was called in to evac the Birds from the hostile situation.
Wonder Woman was keeping as much of her distance as possible, helping the others, but Arsenal was a very different story once the battlefield was cleared, practically hovering over her worriedly, leaving Bart to keep an eye on things. "Di, damnit, thought they'd taught you to duck..."
"Don't…" she started, trying to reassure him, but then her teammates were trying to get her on the stretcher, and she could not quite repress the pain.
"Haven't seen her this bad…" Liberty Bell said softly, as Gypsy nodded.
Roy nodded, worried, and moved to help carry the stretcher. "Wonder Woman, she needs help, and she'd be better off in the Tower's med wing. Hell of a lot faster, too."
"Take her up, Arsenal." Wonder Woman nodded. "Flash, let's get Bell and Gypsy back to their plane," she added. Bart nodded, scooping up Gypsy to make the run as Diana swooped down for Liberty Bell.
//Thank you, Diana.// He really didn't want a fight with the Princess, and hadn't been sure he wasn't going to get one. He hit the comm to call for a teleport for them both, calling for aid from the Tower staff the moment he came through the teleporter. "Lay still, damnit Dinah..."
She was trying to reach for his hand as the staff came, trying to say something when they pushed a hypospray into her shoulder to put her out. Her eyes focused on him one long moment before closing, the pain still written there.
"Take care of her," Roy said harshly and went to teleport back down. Once they had her stable, he'd get her moved to a normal hospital, but right now she needed the help the League's doctors could give. He needed to get to Duncan before the news hit from Oracle--Babs didn't do sympathy well.
He used the comm link, thanking whatever fates had let it be a weekend.
"Titans Tower," Offspring answered. "How may I direct your call, oh mighty Arsenal?"
"Send Hermes to the wharf to get me."
"Thy will be done."
Roy was pretty sure he had beaten the news, as he watched Duncan join him in the briefing room Hermes had stuck him in.
Condor cocked his head at his uncle curiously, "What's up? Thought you were pulling swing shift for the League all weekend."
"Had to respond to an evacuation call," Roy told him. "It was Birds."
Duncan's face went white and set before he tried to pull himself together again. "Mom?"
"She's on the Tower. Took some pretty heavy damage, from what I could see. When they get her stable, we'll get her down Earth-side." Roy's voice was quite controlled.
"Okay. They're working on her?" //Mama!// Everything he wanted to ask was written across his face. "I... they probably don't need, or want, me in the way up there, huh?"
"I could probably swing it for you." //Don't ask for your dad, kid.// "Let your lead know, and we'll go." Roy hated this with a passion, hated he had been the one on call, and yet…at least he knew, he wasn't being told, like Duncan.
"No, Roy. I need to get to dad. We can hang on until you can get her down here. Not like I could do anything up there but worry, anyway."
Pride flashed through Roy's eyes. "Thanks, man." The elder hero nodded. "I'll get back up there, and get her down as soon as she is stable."
"Alright. I'll probably be at the house." Condor shook his head and headed towards the door with him.
In the hallway, Menagerie was trying hard to hide the fact he was waiting out there, and down further, the rest of Duncan's team was hovering. Roy figured at least Duncan had support, and got himself back up to the WatchTower.
Condor shot Tommy a look and reached out to ruffle his hair gently. "Sorry, Tommy. Didn't mean to freak you."
"What's wrong with your mom?" the youngest Titan asked, as the twins and Night Star joined them, ringing him and Tommy in.
//It came through that clear?// "Mission went bad. They've got her up on the Tower trying to get her stabilized. The League swing-shift had to go get them out. I've got to get back home, guys."
"Wondered why he didn't just beam down," Hermes said. "Sis?"
"He's more polite than that," Duncan said with a shrug, even as he reached out for his girl.
"Duh, Bro," 'Ry said in annoyance as she reached out and gathered Duncan into her arms. "Hang on, babe." She took off at a dead run with him, going across the bay, then dodging through her usual route through the mountains to bolt across the plains at a dead run, pretty damn worried herself. She slowed to under the speed of sound outside the city and ran the rest of the way in.
Duncan unlocked the back door and headed up that way, hand tangled hard through 'Ry's.
Typical to the rare times Slade had the apartment to himself, he was in his office, sorting through business. He looked up as the teens came to the open door, and frowned.
Duncan let go of 'Ry to go to his father. "Don't know a lot of details, but Roy beamed down from the Tower after having to go pull the Birds out of the fire. He said they're working on getting mama stabilized so they can transport her down to a hospital here. He... looks worried."
Slade's face went dark, then carefully neutral. "I see." His guts were knotting up on him, in that cold way of seeing the universe dumping his careful plans down the toilet. "She's in good hands, I suppose. All we can do is wait."
Duncan nodded, "Yeah. He offered to take me up to the Tower, but... I thought I'd better tell you. Can't do anything up there, and didn't really figure Oracle would think it was a priority..."
"She would be handling the team's reaction still," Slade said dismissively. "Harper will keep us informed." He turned back to his computer, focusing on work. "If you're staying home, why don't you make a bag for your mother, for the hospital, when they do transfer her down? You'd know what things she prefers to have. If she was bad enough to go to the Tower, it might be a long stay."
//Damnit, dad, would you re--oooh. Oh. Okay.// "Yeah, dad. I'll get on it. Where do you want her transferred to, and I'll let Roy know."
Mercury stared in confused frustration at the two of them, not understanding in the slightest how he could be this calm, when any idiot could see how much he loved Dinah...
Slade told him the hospital he preferred, and then saw both teens out of his office, firmly shutting the door behind them. Only then did he sit down, hand going to his face as he considered the implications in Dinah's latest injuries.
Duncan shook his head, staring at the office door, then went to do what his father had asked, trying to keep it together.
"Whattheheckisyourdadthinking?" Mercury hissed in disbelief, tongue getting away from her.
Duncan shook his head. "It's dad. He had to get us out of there so he can deal. He'll come out once he's dealt with it."
"But... He doesn't normally act like Father." She really, really wasn't impressed.
Duncan turned and looked at her, "He doesn't... it's dad, 'Ry. It's just how he is."
It was almost an hour later when Slade did come out, on the phone in German. He was getting his best doctors to recommend the best staff members at the hospital he had chosen, making sure his information was up to date.
Duncan's phone finally rang four hours after he had gotten home, a long time to wait for news, but it was Roy's number showing.
"Arsenal. What's the word?"
"She's stable. We can switch her down, but it has to be by shuttle." Roy sounded very tired, and emotionally wiped.
"Alright." He relayed the hospital information. "We'll meet you there."
"Yeah, see you then."
Slade kept himself under tight control as they were allowed back to the ICU ward. Duncan was joining him, as Roy waited with Mercury. Only two visitors, even family members, were being allowed in with Dinah at this point.
Duncan had switched into civilian clothes after packing his mother's bag, and was trying to keep himself from clinging to his father. He managed it pretty well, until he got a good look at his mother. She... didn't really look like his mom, not laying that still, with all of the medical equipment attached to her, and his hand went out to his father's shoulder, clinging with all of his strength.
The older man took his son by the shoulders and pulled him under an arm, just as shaken for all he was holding himself together. He did not want to lose the fiery woman this soon after having regained her, and the machinery reminded him she was only mortal.
"Dinah, you have to get better," he rumbled softly, taking the hand that did not have an IV in it.
"Mom," Duncan said softly, tucked against his father's shoulder, reaching out to lay his hand over theirs and cling.
The woman they both loved just laid there, letting the machines assist her against the various injuries she had taken. The longer Slade was in the room, the angrier he grew that this could happen, when he was playing by society's rules for a change.
The angrier his father grew, the more Duncan's unique gift twigged the edges of his thoughts, until he couldn't help but react to the danger in the room, his own body tensing, "Dad?"
Slade looked at his son, and forced his reactions to a lower level. "She'll heal, Duncan. And then I'll have a talk with her about this."
Duncan nodded, willing to listen to his father's reassurance, hoping he was right, settling when his father pulled his anger under control. //Not sure what good you think talking to her's going to do. She won't stop...//
When Dinah first woke, that night, only Slade was with her, having firmly sent Duncan home with Mercury to Roy and Dick's, when Dick coaxed Roy home. The mercenary responded to her eyes fluttering open by shifting closer, his one eye fixed on her face.
"You ever going to remember you are not invulnerable?"
Dinah sighed, trying to bring her free hand up to his face. He took it in his, placing it there and holding it close.
"Won't lose you, my little bird," he murmured softly. "Lost too much time from you already."
"I'll... be alright, Slade," she whispered back, stroking his face with her fingertips weakly. "Missed a dodge..." //Or three...//
"So you did. We'll fix that." He had a very intense look to his eye and face as he said that, slowly drawing her hand to his mouth to kiss the fingertips. "You need to rest, now. The more you sleep, the quicker you will heal."
"Slade…what are you thinking?" Dinah managed softly, but sleep sounded so good.
"Shh, little bird. Sleep."
Duncan and Mercury were on vigil the next day, when they came to unhook the majority of the machinery. Dinah had been alert that morning, but Slade had been gone, having told Duncan as soon as he arrived to watch over her, that he had something that had to be tended.
Duncan watched the doctors with wary eyes, making very certain they were taking good care of his mother, not caring if he made them nervous, and not much approving of their timing--mom had just gotten back to sleep when they came in.
Dinah just gave a weak smile at the tech doing the work while the doctors monitored and commented about her injuries and the rate of recovery.
"Miss Lance, your recuperative ability seems to be slowing down. We have the notes concerning your past hospitalizations. Whatever effect you enjoyed from the chemical accident seems to be wearing off now."
"It's to be expected, I suppose," she said softly.
Duncan made a worried note of that, and decided to make sure he brought it up to his father. His mother had this habit of keeping secrets, one she'd picked up from her partner over the years.
"Still, I see no reason not to move you down to Step Down care today," the doctor told her. "They'll be by later to do that." The team moved out, and Dinah looked at her son and Mercury.
"See? Getting better," she told him.
Duncan shot her a frustrated look, sighing. "And not like you should be. mama you scared us."
Dinah shook her head one time. "It happens, son. No different than any other time I've been hurt." She did realize this time was even more severe than when Slade had left her injured the last time they had fought, before Duncan had brought their lives back together the way they should be. She just did not want her son worrying so much.
"It's worse, this time..." worried whisper. "But you're going to get better."
"Yes, baby." She closed her eyes. "You'll see; I'll be out of here in a few days, and back to kicking ass a week later."
Duncan settled down, then, not wanting to keep her awake, and reached for 'Ry's hand. She took his hand and squeezed, just as worried as he was for the woman that had welcomed her into her home with no questions asked.
Slade carefully gathered Dinah into his arms, laying her over his chest. It had taken two weeks in the hospital before her doctors had been satisfied, and he had let her have another day to relax into being home. Now, however, she was very much at the center of what he wanted to discuss.
"Something's bothering you," she whispered.
"Almost lost you, my little bird." He stroked her hair, staying remarkably calm. He had been to the best minds he could, sharing a long guarded secret to get an opinion. The news had been in his favor; the thing that set him apart, the thing that had let Rose survive was not a specific gene from him so much as it was the gene markers that identified him as meta. Addie, much as he loved her, had not been meta.
They said he was, that it had likely been latent until the serum activated it. And both his children conceived after the serum had been born with the markers active.
Dinah, as everyone knew, was very much an active meta.
"It was a small mistake on my part. I came through it," she pointed out.
"I did say 'almost'... and not such a small mistake, love. Especially given the rest of the news the doctors had for you..." His hand stroked down her hair again, keeping her close, while he considered how to further broach the subject.
She sighed. "So the Pit's effect is wearing off. Was bound to happen eventually; we know R'as was more and more dependent on them before he died."
He kissed her hair gently. "Yes, we did... but it made me think, Dinah. And go talk to some old acquaintances."
She kissed the underside of his jaw gently. "You thinking means big things, love."
"Only sometimes," he replied, shifting to look into her eyes with his. "I was mainly talking to genetics researchers, though a few doctors were involved. I... don't want to lose you, Dinah."
Her blue eyes grew shadowed as she realized he had finally decided to face the difference in their life spans. "Nothing's sure in our business, Slade. Despite everything, it might be you who doesn't come home to me." Just saying it made her throat dry, her stomach knot up, and this deep fear rise up.
"It might... but it's much less likely. Especially given your tendency to apparently believe you're invulnerable," he replied as he felt that run through her, and he held her closer.
She nuzzled into him. "I don't think that. I really don't." Her hand roamed over his chest, thinking to distract him from his worries, and his hand tangled with hers, stopping her gently.
"Oh?" Then he shook his head slightly, refusing to be sidetracked from the topic actually under discussion. "The belief had been it was something particular to my blood that allowed me to survive the initial treatment. It's not. They found that it has more to do with that I was latently meta, and Rose came through because she was actively meta, not specifically because she was my child."
She raised up to look at him more clearly. "You've been asking questions about your serum?" She could almost see his direction, but her mind refused to process it. Here it was, almost a year after they had reunited, and she still could not believe he had opened his heart so much to her.
"For some time, but more... intently, now, yes. Not that I want the information spoken of... but they have reason to be discreet in what they learned. And had no access to the original treatment regimen." He stroked her back, his eye watching her face. "I don't want to lose you, Dinah."
She closed her eyes, pressing close to him. "Slade…are you saying what I think you are?"
"That I want you to think about taking it? Yes. I am. Dangerous, yes... but so is what you do every night."
"Dangerous?" She thought long and hard about that for a long moment. "Slade…I can't. We've talked in the past about the side effects, about how it affected Rose…I can't take that risk while Duncan is still a boy." She held onto him tightly. "As much as I love you, I have to put our son first."
"Our son would object to the phrasing," Slade told her with some amusement, then stroked her hair again. "Think about it, Dinah." His voice made it almost an order... the look on his face was anything but as he held her. "And about the kind of danger you put yourself in about every third night."
"That's the kind of danger I know." She stroked his chest slowly. Her thoughts were tumbling; the idea that he wanted to give her that, to make her like him floored him. "Slade. What happens when you decided government hunting isn't enough for you?" she whispered. "If I were to do this, and come out of it okay? I mean, I never held any illusions about the changes you made being strictly to have us in your life."
Slade sighed softly at that question, then looked at her again. "I find myself enjoying the challenge, Dinah. ...and there are governments less concerned than ours with how some things are accomplished, that are... more willing to give me a freer hand. And we don't know how the world will change, love." //But I would rather face it with you at my side.//
She knew Slade was facing a potential immortality. She was one of only a handful of people who knew the theoretical way to kill him. She knew a good part of his manipulative games with the Titans and others had been ways to keep life fresh and interesting. To even think of joining that kind of ennui…and yet they would have each other.
Then there was Roy. Her first 'son', in some respects, had long ago extracted a promise that she never leave him. Even though he had adjusted to a point his abandonment issues rarely surfaced, Dinah did not like the thought of him facing her death, not when he would remain young and vital for decades by the nature of the magic on the Bat family.
She shifted, trying not to let any lingering pain flash in her eyes as she slipped down to his side, pressing hard against him, head pillowed on his shoulder. "I'll tell Oracle we're going to need to look at the roster better. Try to take fewer chances, until Duncan decides he's ready to move on." She did not say what her words implied, that she would accept this, to be his and like him, once their son was grown.
He held her close, stroking her back, nodding once at what she hadn't had to say for him to understand. "Good. He'll appreciate that... as I do." He had the time to wait, now that she had stopped arguing.
She snuggled, her breathing slowing as she let her body relax fully. She could not see how they had evolved from antagonists to this, but it was her fairy tale, complete with flaws and strange magic, so she would continue to enjoy her happily ever after as best as she could.
The low conversation he'd overheard between his parents was preying on Duncan's mind, and not in ways he enjoyed at all. On one hand, anything that kept his mama healthy and strong was definitely good... on the other, there was a very real chance that she might not survive, despite his father's apparent optimism. The thought of his mother slowly growing frail and weak troubled him, but he'd learned early there were always costs to this kind of attempt... and the thought of her death frightened him more. He dropped to the nearest chair, planting his head in his hand as he thought about this.
"D?" Lian, who was staying to keep an eye on things for Roy, wandered in and then frowned. "What's wrong, little brother?"
He shook his head, looking up at her, "Don't worry about it, sis. Just thinking."
"Not good with you. Your thinking got us into more trouble…" She sat nearby and grinned at him. "Need to talk, I'm here."
"I know, sis," he leaned to wrap a hand around her forearm for a minute, feeling her hand curve back around his, then let go. "Not really about me, 'cept around the edges. Stuff with mom and dad."
Lian nodded at that. "Parents are so hard to keep straight. Tend to cause trouble."
"...Can I just point out that your parents aren't straight, and as far as I can tell, never have been?" Distracting her with humor worked about half the time.
"They used to pretend though." Lian shook her head. "This is eating at you. Is it just Aunt Di getting messed up, or something else?"
"Mostly that. And the reactions. And that mom isn't getting any younger."
"Oh." Lian understood, at some level. Whereas Jason Blood's trick had been explained to Roy and Lian, they knew it only extended to them. Dinah, who had barely aged through Lian's life, had begun to show some signs finally that she was not a young woman anymore.
"Yeah." He sat up straight, trying to put the mood away. "Come spar with me? I need the workout, after the last couple weeks."
"Gotcha." Lian would let the matter drop, work her 'brother' over, and just keep an eye out for them.
Worn out from the workout Lian had put him through, Duncan lay there staring at the ceiling, thinking over what he'd heard. He just kept running into all of the same problems. Mom could die trying this--but she could have died just as easily on that mission. It might not kill her but just make her crazy, the way it had his father's first wife--but Dad sounded so certain it wouldn't. They would be taking such a chance--but Mom was getting older, even faster now, and Dad... Dad was Dad. And if he had to live through losing Mom... the black-haired boy shook his head hard. That was going to be very, very not good.
The choice wasn't his, anyway. The choice was Mom's, the risk was hers... and the sooner she did it, if she was really going to--and it sounded like she was--the better. Not that he expected her to go downhill fast now--//please Gods no//--but.
//It's better if she does this now, if she's going to... Which means I've gotta talk to her.// He sighed. //In the morning. Once I've gotten some sleep. If I don't decide I'm insane and she shouldn't even consider doing this while I'm asleep. Which might be better anyway.// He rolled over, buried his face in the pillow, and tried to go to sleep.
//Okay, mom... where are you?// Duncan moved through the apartment, looking for his mother. The door leading down to the shop was open, and he could catch the sound of her talking pleasantly to the delivery men bringing in the exotics. //Ah-ha. Shoulda known.// He headed that way, leaning on the wall.
Dinah finished signing for everything, gathering the invoices, and headed for her office to make sure everything was entered correctly. One good thing about leaving the League had been a little more time to run her business personally.
Duncan trailed her into the office, leaning against the doorframe.
"Duncan." Her voice was cheerful, not showing any sign of the pain she had to still be feeling.
"Hey mama..." he tried not to look guilty over the eavesdropping that he really hadn't intended, but seemed to be making a habit of. "Can I talk to you?"
"Of course." She settled in behind her desk, laying the invoices down and giving him her undivided attention. "What is it?"
"I came to talk to you yesterday, but you and dad were already talking..."
A flicker of emotion crossed her eyes. "Yes, we had a long talk yesterday."
Duncan nodded. "Mom... I'm not a kid anymore, really. I've got my team and everything, and... I was kind-of thinking about going ahead and moving out to the Tower soon..."
She cocked her head to one side, not looking especially pleased. "Why?"
Duncan sighed softly. "I know it's not like 'Ry or Hermes couldn't have me to the Tower in a couple minutes at most, but... you and dad deserve the chance to really be together, now that he's cleared, without me being in the way, and Cer's been pushing me to take more on, now that he's not so suspicious of me. And..." he let himself flush slightly, looking at his mother from half-dropped eyes, "it's kind-of... weird... to have my girl in the house with my parents, and..."
Dinah took a long, deep breath. "You're only sixteen," she said, trying to be steady, but her voice broke. "Didn't expect this just yet...but, I should have..."
Duncan went to his mother, pulling her tight into his arms. "Almost seventeen. It's okay, mama, it's okay... You know I'm not like most kids my age..."
She gave a small laugh, fighting back the tears that wanted to spill. "I know. I know." She pulled herself together and away enough to look at him. "You want to go...you go. It's not like you wouldn't have a room here anyway."
He held on to her, hugging her. "I know I will, mama. It'll be like you've got another college kid, dropping in on the weekends and stuff, like sis used to."
"True. Only...try to be around a little more often than she did? At least at first?" She loved Lian as much as if she were Lian's birth mother, but the bond to her son ran deeper, forged in the years of hiding him from his father.
"Sure mama. I can make the trip quicker, after all, long as my girl's not mad at me..."
Dinah laughed softly, before hugging him very tight, holding onto him.
He settled against her, holding her close. "I love you, mom. ...'S wierd. I might see more of dad than you, if he keeps coming out to run us ragged..."
"He will." She ran her hand over his hair. "Go on, Duncan. You need to get your buddies to help you pack, and I've got invoices and payroll."
"Okay, mama." He pulled away, kissed her cheek, and headed back upstairs, breathing a sigh of relief. //Didn't have to tell her I was eavesdropping... but I think I'd better go find dad.//
Dinah settled back to work, trying very hard to ignore the tears that kept blurring her vision, as she realized her only baby bird was leaving the nest.
Duncan went looking for his father, hoping he was actually still home for a change, and found the man cleaning one of his guns, a task Slade often saved for when Dinah was down in her shop. "Dad?"
"I... went to talk to mom about maybe moving out to the Tower with my team, and I think I upset her..."
Slade's steps carried him down to the shop and directly into the office, where he closed the door, and went directly to Dinah's side, drawing her close when he saw the tears. She leaned into him, holding on tightly, as she let herself just be a mother for a few minutes.
Slade's hand ran over her back, her hair, keeping her close while he considered how best to deal with his son about this later.
She finally got herself under control and looked up. "Duncan is moving out, Slade. Wants to be near his team, mostly."
"He mentioned as much." Slade didn't sound particularly impressed, either.
She smiled softly. "Was wondering if you had gotten telepathy on top of all the things you can do," she told him, voice softly teasing, even though her head was starting to hurt from being upset while controlling the pain at sitting up. "Well, he's more than mature enough."
"Apparently not, and hardly."
Dinah gave a sniff, but smiled. "I can't stand in his way, Slade. And he'll be here to visit...but most of his life is there."
"I know that, Dinah. All it takes is seeing him with them to understand that... and I also know you won't stand in his way. Neither will I." //We're just going to discuss his sense of the appropriate.//
She nodded, running her fingers over his chest briefly. "Well, let me finish this mess, so I can go lay back down."
Slade nodded and released her, settling back against the wall of the office until she finished.
She turned back to the computer, putting the last of the numbers in, then dealing with payroll. A whimsical thought crossed her mind, bringing a smile to her lips, that with Duncan living at the Tower, she could afford to give her clerks a raise off what she'd save on food. Slade saw the smile curve her lips and wondered, but didn't ask, waiting for her to finish her work.
When she turned the computer to standby, she turned and reached toward him, indulging herself in having him back in her life by letting him help her get up.
He moved to her, easily helping her up. "Are you going to be stubborn and insist on climbing the stairs by yourself, or let me help you?"
Dinah gave him a look of complete amusement. "Slade, when has my being stubborn ever kept you from doing just what you intended in the first place?"
"Most of the last fifteen years." The words were out before he could bite them back.
She faltered, then moved very close to him, her face burying in his chest. "I didn't know then..." //Didn't know I could be this free with you, that you really, truly loved me like this, that you'd fight tooth and nail to protect another child from ever being harmed like the others.//
His hand stroked down her hair, "I know, Dinah. I... am sorry. Thoughtless of me, if true." He kept her close, holding her possessively against him for long moments before lifting her into his arms.
She curled into his arms, cradling her head on his shoulder, as she let her eyes close and just accepted that she could never, ever make up to him what she had stolen from him.
He carried her up to bed, completely ignoring his son's presence, and laid down with her, kissing her gently. "Dinah... I've apparently become a little too accustomed to giving you the truth. You didn't need to hear that."
"Yes, I did. I need to be reminded of what I did to us," she said, her voice soft. "All the time I stole from us, when I have so little to give you..."
He shook his head once, firmly, fingers laying lightly over her lips. "You were doing your best to protect our son. I do understand."
She kissed his finger, his conversation with her the day before preying on her mind. As she tumbled over her answer to him, her eyes went wide. "Oh, Slade! That little...." She broke off into half amused, half angry cursing in Vietnamese at their son.
Slade cocked his head curiously, his lips curving at a few of the more interesting insults. "What, Dinah?"
"He heard me! He heard what I told you!" It clicked fully in place that Duncan's sudden push to move out had to be prompted by her promise to consider Slade's option when their son was grown.
"And decided to push, apparently..." A few interesting German phrases ran through his own mind. "The boy makes a habit of interfering. Is he that much of a meddler in everyone's lives, or just his parents?"
Dinah laughed softly. "Comes by it honestly." She met his gaze. "Look at all the meddling you did in Titans' lives."
//I did not.// "Testing. Not meddling."
Slade snorted dismissively. "I can think of a few times in your own history, little bird..."
"Me?" She touched her hand to her chest, looking as innocent as she could, before laughing with a deep rich sound, until her mending guts protested.
"Yes, you." He smiled with her, relieved to see her coming out of the depression he and his son had put her into, then stroked his hand over her side gently as she tried to stop laughing.
She snuggled into him once the pain subsided, her eyes closing. "Tired, my love," she murmured. "Still so very tired."
"Go to sleep, love. I'm here."
She relaxed slowly, making sure to touch him even as she shifted to find a comfortable, flat way to lie so her healing could continue. Slade settled with her, hand on her.
Getting Duncan moved was fairly easy, between his family and his team. Dinah was visibly strong, accepting the need to move as part of growing up. The fact Duncan had been sore as hell the day after that little talk had been a subject of discussion between her and Slade, but she had at last conceded his right to counsel their child on appropriate timing, while carefully not calling Slade on his upsetting her two days running.
The kid in question hadn't minded the lesson, though it had been less about timing by that point than about his meddling in his parents' affairs again. Those Vietnamese curses of his mother's had carried fairly well, after all. He hadn't even made the arguments defending himself he'd thought up during the rest of the day.
When the door shut on the last of the hugs they had passed, Dinah turned away from the door and started back toward the bedroom. She was grateful Slade had decided, under her strong urging, to go help Duncan settle in, so she could be alone, and just spend the rest of the day looking over the memory books she had made over the years.
Duncan had been settled in at the Tower for almost three months, and Dinah back on active duty for two, when she came home very early one morning and went straight to him. He could smell the blood and sweat of a fight on her, could see the shaken look in her eyes, as she moved to sit on his lap, knowing he would forgive her for the muck still on her armor.
"What is it, my little bird?" he asked as he wrapped his arms around her, body language suddenly radiating possessiveness.
"Gypsy..." She had taught the younger illusionist so much over the years Gypsy had run with her team, had been fond of her for the fact that J'onn adored her. "She got hurt, so badly, tonight."
His hand stroked down her back, keeping her close, understanding the bond there. "Tell me."
Dinah looked down, and her entire body language was one of failure. "Didn't move fast enough..."
"Dinah..." the tone was mildly chiding as he stroked down her back. "The girl is going to recover?"
"She's stable now," Dinah said softly, a far away look in her eyes. "I had to tell J'onn. I had to watch him pace in the corridor, not knowing if she'd survive, watch him try so hard to keep her mind tied to his so she wouldn't slip away from him."
"It is not your fault," he told her calmly. "Your team is professional, and the girl not inexperienced. People get hurt in this lifestyle. You know this."
She looked back at him. "When I saw J'onn, I thought of you, of us. He's going to outlive us all, from my team, unless his noble impulses get him killed. But seeing him worry over Gypsy...I know when he loses her, going on will be harder than when he lost Barry or Ollie or any of his teammates."
"From what I know, he practically considers her a child... that does hit much harder than the loss of friends or allies." His voice was almost disturbingly level.
She laid her hand on his face, meeting his eyes levelly. "I want your offer. Not for myself, not for Duncan, not even for my Boy-o, though god knows that is a factor." She leaned into him then. "I don't ever want to leave you alone again, if there is any way to head it off."
He folded his hand up over hers, sliding his fingers through hers, nodding. "All right, Dinah. We'll see it done."
She then pressed close to him, closing her eyes against it all.
He held her close, mildly regretting that the girl had been hurt, but well pleased with the fact that Dinah had accepted the offer he made her. Eventually he lifted her and carried her to the shower, stripping away the bloodied costume and pulling her into the spray.
She gave herself over to him, letting him get her clean. About the time he rinsed her hair, she seemed to shake it free, and then her impulses turned to reminding herself just how alive they both were, which suited him perfectly well.
The day the League finally sucked up their collective pride to come ask her to reconsider her resignation, was the day after Dinah and Slade returned from an extended honeymoon. She was still very bright and cheerful as she opened the door to admit Starfire, just as glad Slade had gone to see Joey for the day. She watched Starfire take in the pale, pale hair, felt her watching the way she moved, and almost smiled as she picked up half a dozen other indications that Starfire could see the changes.
Starfire studied the woman that was her daughter's favorite aunt with wary concern. "Dinah?"
"Yes, Kory?" Dinah met her eyes evenly.
"Is... all well?"
"Very." She smiled then. "Come on, I'll tell you over lemonade."
Kory followed her in, unable to keep from watching her warily, but the offer was as familiar as the smile, and there seemed to be no madness in her eyes.
Dinah poured them both a glass, pulled out the kind of cookies Kory preferred and sat opposite her. "You heard about Gypsy last month? And me, three months before that?"
"And Duncan before that, yes, of course."
Dinah nodded. "I was faced with just how Slade was going to handle my mortality. And he... had been researching his serum."
Kory gave a soft sigh, shaking her head. "Insane. The man is insane--I don't care if it was successful, it was still insane."
"Possibly. But he was very sure, before he ever offered it to me, that I would be okay," she stressed. "And between not being fast enough for Gypsy, and seeing how it shook J'onn...I couldn't say no."
Kory sighed, reaching across the table to take one of her hands. "All right. I... can see why..." Watching her own friends aging so quickly compared to her people was beginning to be a source of pain, but at least her daughter's fathers were not leaving her so swiftly, and she had Donna.
Dinah squeezed, already careful of the strength involved. "And, as he so eloquently put it, I'll be around to keep him in check, with at least my smart mouth if nothing else."
That made Kory laugh, rippling amusement rolling through the room. "You do seem good at that."
"So, how have the kids been? We only just got back from the honeymoon yesterday."
"They've been fine. Handling themselves very well."
Dinah nodded, settling back to talk to the other woman, reassuring Kory that she was, very much in control of her new gifts, until Kory finally remembered why she had come, to invite her back to the League.
Kory tilted her head at her, "I did have more of a reason for coming than to offer my congratulations on your wedding again..."
"Oh?" Dinah got more guarded. "Why then?"
"I was asked to come and ask you to come back to the League."
Dinah snorted. "I resigned, remember? My choice to leave."
"I know. And I was asked to ask you to come back, so I have."
The small woman considered, then shook her head. "Tell them...tell them no, that I have a life with too many calls on it right now anyway."
"All right. I do wish you would come back, but... I can understand."
"Thank you, Kory. I'll be there in a pinch... but the League is more than strong enough these days."
"True enough... but your skill is missed. I will let them know," as she reached for another cookie.
"Thank you." Dinah was just as pleased to have free time, considering Slade and she were hammering out a compromise between their ideals that involved work a lot like what the Birds did, for profit, once his contract with the government was up.
Kory dropped that topic, turning the conversation back towards the children.
'Ry skidded to a halt at the building door, Duncan in her arms, and the two headed back through the shop and up--he'd missed his parents more than he'd really thought he would. He called out as he unlocked the door, "Mom, Dad? Decent? Or should we go away for a bit?"
"In here, Duncan," his mother called from the gym. They headed that way, and Duncan froze in his tracks in the doorway.
Dinah looked at the pair, a soft smile touching her lips at the shock on her son's face. "Something wrong, Duncan?"
"No... no." He was back into motion in another moment, going to his mother with a smile on his lips as he hugged her tightly. "I guess I shoulda known when you were gone so long..."
"Yeah, considering your little manipulation of events," she teased him, hugging him tight.
"I have no idea what you're talking about, mom..." smile on his lips completely ruining the attempt at an innocent look. As did the fact that he pulled her tighter against him for a moment. "So glad you're okay, mama..."
"Perfectly fine, Duncan. Your father took damn good care." She let go of him to look at Mercury. "So, should I keep the hair, or darken it?"
'Ry giggled, "Streak it, mom. You know... orange and blue. Tweak the League a little more."
That sent Dinah into a long fit of laughter, showing just how happy and de-stressed she really was now. Slade chuckled, flashing an amused smile at the girl that would very likely be his daughter-in-law, and Duncan followed his mom right into that fit of laughter.
"I think, 'Ry, I'll leave that to the new armor I had made up," Dinah finally said.
'Ry shrugged. "Okay. Leave the streaks to me."
Dinah hoped Kory had not gotten to Roy in the three days since her return as she stood on the porch and knocked. Roy pulled the door open after a couple moments, stopped, stared at her, and his lips thinned at the pretty unmistakable proof of how thoroughly she belonged to the man he still really didn't like.
"Hi, boy-o," she said softly.
"...Hi, Dinah." //And he'd thought the orange-and-blue of the flowers at the wedding was bad!// "C'mon in. You look happy..."
She walked with him, slipping against his waist just like things were normal. "Damn happy, Boy-o. Saw D yesterday and he's doing great."
He wrapped his arm down around her, pulling her close, stopping to turn and run his other hand through her much paler hair. "Di, this... Weren't you taking a hell of a risk?"
She hugged him tight. "Maybe. But not without him being pretty damn sure it wasn't that bad of one. Roy, he let scientists analyze the stuff."
"He... what?" Roy was... stunned would be putting it mildly.
"He had a theory, got a scientist who owed him, ran the theory through some tests...all under his eye, and all notes absolutely destroyed."
"Been busy with that, then..." Roy just shook his head, holding her close, refusing to be relieved by this.
She nuzzled into him. "Roy...after seeing what Gypsy's close call did to J'onn's frame of mind...I could not risk doing that to him, to Duncan...to you."
Roy sighed and pulled her closer, somehow. "Not gonna argue with you, just... I... I'm glad you came through it okay..."
"Perfectly fine..." she told him. "So, catch me up from while I was gone?"
Roy nodded, let her go long enough for them both to sit down, and started filling her back in.
It did not take them long before she was curled up against his chest, and they were just telling each other stories. Dick wandered in before long and settled against Roy, just listening.
When Dinah was ready to go, she had to pause, and then hug both her boys tight. "Just think where we've wound up, from me running blind all those years ago..."
Dick hugged her close, "Turned out pretty good... and we turned out a few damn good heroes, too." //Lian, Duncan, Mar'i...// The daughters of his heart and the boy he loved like the son he'd never had.
"Including one who will still claim not to be," she teased, kissing Roy's cheek.
Dick just shook his head, laughing. "Of course."
The small woman walked out then, leaving Roy to pull his lover close. "It's damned insane," he murmured against Dick's ear. "But it's done."
"Yeah, it is... Never would have seen this coming, all those years ago, but it looks like it's worked out..."