Adeline was handling the men sent after her son as best she could, but there were too many. One had Joey and she couldn't get a clean shot. Just as rage and fear for her son were getting too powerful a hold, another fighter joined the fray. A small woman, dressed in black and gray, black hair showing and a flash of gold on boots, gloves, and at her throat, dealt with the one holding Joey before defending the small boy from those trying to reacquire him.
Adeline did not recognize the unexpected assistance, but she was too much an old soldier to refuse help she could ill afford to turn down. The unknown woman was protecting her son -- with, she noted, a great deal of skill.
She did not divert her attention from Joey. She had no reason to trust this woman's motives. But between the two of them, it took very little time indeed to finish destroying the forces around them.
She was woefully out of practice, Adeline thought, glancing at the damage and the bodies of dead and unconscious men as she moved for her son, if she had needed help in wreaking this much havoc.
The stranger immediately dropped back to a nonthreatening stance as Addie went to her son. She looked at all the men taken care of, and quickly moved to zip-cuff the ones still alive.
"These were only part of the danger." Adeline shrugged one shoulder, hating the fact that she had to force herself to remain in good posture, to keep her breathing even. Once her body had known automatically to shift into some of the patterns her father had taught her to stabilize itself again. The fact that it no longer did was no one's fault but her own, even if she hadn't expected to need them again, and why *did* she? "You had excellent timing, Miss."
"No, I'm not a Trojan gift horse. Call me Dinah, Mrs. Wilson. My cape name would just confuse things worse." She looked at Joey, glad the boy was calming quickly with the resilience of youth. "I knew when to be here because I'm a little upside down in time."
"Dinah," Adeline repeated, nodding. "Well. I would say I owe you a debt, certainly." She had no reason to believe this woman, but there was something in the eyes, in the way she held her body... Adeline had reasonable accuracy in judging someone's mettle. She did not always do wisely with her information, but it tended to be accurate, save one incident. Dinah did not strike her as someone that would hurt her son. Upside down in time was an *interesting* phrase, but life could be so. Especially as a cape.
"No. You owe me nothing. I did it... for someone I cared for." Changing this probably meant not knowing him later, but this had begun most of his problems, and led into a madness that fed greater strife than her community had ever known.
Adeline did not permit her eyes to narrow. Upside-down in time how *long*? The persons with a strong stake in Joey's safety were herself, Slade, Wintergreen, Grant, and Joey himself. Dinah had specified male; Slade was hers, Wintergreen was... himself, and Grant or Joey would mean the woman was from a not insignificant portion of time forward.
Capes. Childhood fascination with Wonder Woman aside, adolescent infatuation with Black Canary aside, they gave her an incredible headache. "I am sure he is grateful."
"If I do it right, he'll never know," she whispered. "Now what? I'm lacking resources."
Really... ? Not Joey, then. She thought, from the way he was still huddled against her chest, that her son would remember tonight for as long as he lived; she could quite cheerfully kill every opponent still alive, and anyone associated with sending them, simply for that. "Oh?"
Her children were never supposed to have been touched by Adeline’s life in any fashion more concrete than that they would be better fighters than most. That was not relevant right now, could not be allowed to be.
There were no longer any large-scale teams that Dinah could go to for answers. Scattered capes here and there, but nothing like the JSA had been at its peak, or its decline. Adeline did not have inroads into their communities; she had no method of repaying her debt.
"I can't affect much, and the temptation would be too strong if I go to my people." Dinah took a deep breath. "Your husband should be back soon. He has the resources."
The barest, barest edge of something strange in Dinah's voice as she said 'your husband' made Adeline's stretched nerves ring like a harp string.
Slade's resources should not be much better than her own, if they were better at all. Why a time-tossed cape thought *he* had the resources...
Perhaps it was not quite *her* life that had made Joey a target. "Slade can be very useful."
Dinah laughed, full and rich, at that asessment. "Oh, I can imagine his face." She shook her head. "He needs to talk to you. More than that, I'm not saying. I'd like to stay in case of a second strike, until he returns."
No one had that tone of exasperated, bemused affection in their voices -- Dinah doubtless did not even know precisely how her voice sounded -- for Slade unless they knew him very well.
Loved him very much, in some fashion or another.
Time-tossed, Adeline reminded herself, and tried not to wonder precisely what had happened -- would happen, would have happened; English was not designed for this sort of tense -- between Slade and herself that Dinah would have had time and opportunity to develop that sort of unconsciously loving tone for Adeline's husband. "I am beginning to grasp that Slade and I need to have quite a long conversation.
"And I would appreciate it if you did," she made herself finish. "It has been... some time since I dealt with truly strenuous opponents." She would very much like to spar with Dinah. The other woman had a grace to her, a sort of economy of motion, that Adeline rarely saw.
"Since I'm sort of stuck here... god, I hate time travel... I'd love to be helpful. Like having a chat with a few men when they wake up." Her eyes glittered dangerously.
Adeline's mouth curved into a sharp smile. "I understand that urge quite well." But she could not do what she wanted to, what she needed to, not in front of Joey, and she could not leave him alone, could not even put him down.
Dinah looked at her, and the curves of her mouth, the sharp line of her eyes, softened. "I give you my word to act only in your interests, if you want to take Joey away from these, settle him down."
"And is your word *your* bond?" A trifle petty, to let her burgeoning temper snap out in the words she had heard Slade say a thousand times, to his safari clients, to Grant, to anyone who questioned whether he would keep some petty promise. Unworthy of the favor Dinah had done her, regardless of what Adeline was almost sure she knew. "I apologize for that. It has been a more interesting evening than I had anticipated."
"I do understand, Mrs. Wilson. And it has been, for a very long time. He's not the one with the patent on it, you know?" She said the last with a saucy, distinctly Gotham twist on the words.
Not quite confirmation, but close enough. It was for Slade that Dinah had interfered.
The Gotham accent made her blink, reassess Dinah's fluid, naggingly half-familiar grace -- no. Surely not. The costumes were nothing alike, the hair was wildly different, but the stances were the same. The fighting style was similar. Dinah's was better, based on the level of control she had evinced.
Adeline had, once upon a time, had any and all data available, including photographs, of Gotham's Black Canary. Dinah was not her. She had been, perhaps, trained by her, or by someone who had studied with her.
Piecing information together, the blood still drying sticky on her hands, felt like coming home after too long away. Settled in her skin, and comfortable.
Dinah started moving the live ones out of the mix, without disturbing the dead bodies. She knew that was a detail Addie would have to cope with once her son was secure.
Adeline would have to let Joey out of her hold sooner or later. Best to do so now, so that she could rifle the corpses' pockets and see what, if anything, might be there. She did not expect identification of the traditional sort, but the weaponry they did or did not have would give her more information than she had now.
"I need you to stay here," she told him, half-kneeling to keep her eyes on his wide ones, his chubby cheeks still stained with dried tears and his pupils blown widely black. There was a handkerchief in her pocket, and when she spat on it to wipe his face clean she could see the normalcy of it relaxing him, even as he attempted to dodge. "I need to work now, and I need to know exactly where you are so that I can do that. Will you?"
Joey nodded, and Adeline kissed his hair before she moved to begin working.
Dinah approved of that motherliness in the face of disturbing events, while concentrating on her task. As soon as they came around, she'd start asking quiet questions based on what she did already to know.
The gas pellets in the pockets of the men Adeline had stripped of their weaponry made her frown. Had Dinah been a moment later, would these have been used? Very likely.
None of these opponents had been aiming to kill either her or Joey. It had been a useful advantage, but now it made Adeline's hands shake very slightly as she worked. She did not enjoy the thought of either herself or her son being used as hostages.
It did increase the probability that it was not *her* life that had resulted in her so-interesting evening. She and Slade would have *words*.
A time-tossed cape thought a safari hunter would have the resources to either find some way to get her to her proper time or find someone else who could do so. Fully two dozen quite well-trained men had come to her *home*, attacked her and Joey -- it would have taken fewer had fatalities been the point.
No safari hunter made enemies like that, had resources like that, and a team this well-trained with this much money and power behind it would not make rookie mistakes like coming after the wrong targets. No. They had *known* her style, had known the way she tended to fight as though they had been drilled by her personally.
They knew exactly who they had been going for. "Dinah. Before they wake, will you share any information you already have?" Such as how she had known the date and time so precisely...
"My information is second- and third-hand, but yes." She started telling the story as Roy and Slade had told it to her, omitting only what happened to Joey and the consequence for Slade. She also managed to slide around the edges of Deathstroke, and finished with, "I'm sorry." She knew what it was like to be lied to.
Adeline lifted her head, turning to look at Dinah. "... I believe you."
That Slade had lied to her was a cold, painful ache of hurt solidifying in her heart, but she could work through that. She could function through that.
Her hands were steady now.
Dinah wasn't able to get much useful information that she hadn't already known. These goons didn't know locations or much else beyond their job parameters. The only clean clue was where they would have handed Joey off at, but that was a timeline issue. If one of the women left right away, they might be able to learn more from the hand-off men. Dinah realized that, and looked to the other woman once the men were out again. Right now, Dinah’s glad to be Star City more than she’s Gotham -- Lady A’s fast with that knife, and the way she looks at the corpses she’s made tells Dinah more than she needs to know about how badly trying to stop her from taking them out would’ve gone. "Should I go, or do we wait for your husband?"
Adeline considered for a moment. The odds that a second strike team would come tonight -- the odds that they would have been necessary without Dinah's unexpected intervention -- were not terribly high, and she... did not wish to discuss things with Slade with Dinah there.
And splitting up, with Dinah's greater knowledge put to use elsewhere, was a better plan. "See what else you can find out somewhere else. And... I know you didn't help for my sake, but you have my gratitude. If you need my help at some point, it is yours."
"Just... listen to him, and I'll consider it paid in full," Dinah told him, taking off quickly to make the rendezvous point.
Dinah did love Slade. To some degree, and in some fashion -- perhaps no world-ending passion, but she wanted him safe, cared enough to use her favors up for his sake.
The thought was a strange flicker of pity behind the ice locking down the knowledge of some unknown number of lies, keeping her hands steady.
Adeline moved back to her son, lifting him back into her embrace, settling on one of the chairs that hadn't been destroyed to wait for Slade, humming under her breath to keep Joey soothed.
Joey, despite the excitement, slowly dozed off. It was not much past that before Slade was in the house, moving with deadly silence until he had assessed the situation and moved to where his wife and child were.
"Addie?" he questioned, his guts twisting up behind the control he slammed into place.
"Hello, Slade. How has your evening gone?" Adeline's voice and expression remained even, calm, conversational, even though the sight of him sent her hurt, her fury, spiking.
"I don't think my night is relevant." He indicated the house. "What happened?" His tone was more 'report' than concern, the soldier heavy in his voice.
Adeline snorted, permitting her eyes to narrow visibly. "I disagree with you. Two dozen armed men tried to steal Joey." Her arms did not tighten on his body, unwilling to disturb his sleep.
"Which is why I need a detailed analysis, so I can go handle it." She chose family over career, he needed what he did. It had been very clear in his mind when he chose not to tell her.
"*You* have handled enough, I would say.
"Target, possibly targets, was intended to be incapacitated but not permanently injured. They were familiar with the target's place of residence and knew who would -- and would not -- be present. The mission was intended to be a quick snatch; two dozen was meant to be overkill." She continued briefing him, watching for any tell when she mentioned the codename 'the Jackal'.
Adeline did not mention Dinah yet.
He considered what she had said, face going hard at the mention of the Jackal. He then nodded. "You did a fine job of defending our home and family. Is Grant safe?" He would have to check on Frannie, already knowing Wintergreen was safe from his last check in.
The almost paternal tone merely honed the edge of her temper. "No. I did not. I had unexpected aid."
"Aid?" He looked momentarily startled.
"Mm. Gotham brunette. Quite good." Professional admiration colored Adeline's tone. "Had she been a trifle later, I would have lost. From their usage of knockout gas, if nothing else."
Slade made a low growl, but readied his gear bag to go change. "I'll deal with it."
"I believe that you mean we will deal with it." She was no longer even pretending calm, but her hurt remained hidden under fury. Adeline would listen to him, when he explained his reasoning for lying to her. She had to; it was the only method of repayment Dinah had given her.
She did not have time for him to explain right now.
"Someone has to protect Joseph," he said quietly.
Slade was fresher, would do better at that than she would, and if Adeline said so he would point out with perfect logic that that was an excellent reason for her not to go into a fresh fray.
It was very neat work, and a shimmer of pride in him dusted over the hurt she still refused to let him see. "Your point is well-taken."
He left her to go dress in his gear and make two phone calls. One to his stepmother to verify her safety, and one to send Wintergreen to guard over Grant at a distance.
Here was not sufficiently secure for Adeline to wish to stay, now that she had successfully rendezvoused with Slade. She was no longer in the habit of keeping an evac bag as a matter of course, but it still took her very little time to retreat to the store of weapons she had not been able to make herself give up or lock away and arm herself more heavily.
Adeline had known this particular purse would be useful, but it had not occurred to her that she would be using it as a makeshift evac bag. If she had known, she would have gotten a larger version.
Her first choice would be Annie's hotel, but an opponent who knew their schedule and home so well as this one did would probably know of Adeline's friendship with Annie. Third choice, Wei-san's tea house, would most likely be safest.
"You checked on Frannie and Wintergreen?" she asked, when she heard Slade move behind her.
"Wintergreen is en route to Grant. Frannie is assisting me." She would provide more intelligence. "You are evacuating. Contact her with coordinates."
Adeline's pride flickered insult at the order, but in the field was not the proper place to contradict the soldier with more experience.
It was no one's fault but her own that she had let herself slip so far. Had she known that he was engaged in activities which would have made keeping her edge *necessary*... that was for later. "Understood."
He turned to go, all professional soldier in his garish gear.
She had not been afraid of Slade in a long time. Adeline was, watching him leave as she moved out, distantly aware that her too-fast heartbeat was attributable to fear, and that it was due to him.
She did not put that out of her mind, but she did dismiss it for long enough to contact Frannie, informing her in crisp, flawless German of Adeline's location, describing Dinah in more detail and requesting that she pass the data on to Slade.
Dinah had prowled carefully around the rendezvous point, and thought she had all the men scoped out. She would have to hit them hard and fast, counting her smoke bombs and electronic canary cries in her head. Placed just right for maximum chaos, and she was fairly certain she could incapacitate the five men she had counted. No cell phones in this day and age was definitely a factor in her favor right now.
Slade moved, almost on top of the coordinates Addie had given him -- six heartbeats, one a little faster than the others, like it was anticipating something active. His lips pulled back from his teeth under the mask in a snarl; anticipating, huh? His *son*, his *wife* -- safe, safe, thanks to Addie and her mysterious Gotham brunette in the gray-and-black.
Oblivious to the dangerous new entry, Dinah primed three Cries and two smoke bombs for timer use, and started moving to get them planted.
Five heartbeats were still. One was moving, and he could hear it now, those soft, soft shuffling movements -- somebody was *good*, he thought, distant under the cold wash of fury. Maybe that was Addie's brunette. Frannie had passed on her report that 'Dinah' had gone ahead.
He'd keep an eye out for small, fast, dark-haired women. Everybody else could die.
A few moments later, and there was a smoke cloud building on one entrance, followed by an echoing cry at a high sonic range, before a second cloud burst in the path the five men had run to escape.
Slade winced, shaking his head instinctively, the sound feeling like it was digging its way into his brain -- but he moved, jumping down into the cloud. Five heartbeats, all men, none of them were Addie's Dinah and he could do whatever he wanted.
He wanted them *dead*, wanted to tear their throats out for daring to come after his family, but Addie's eyes narrowed in the back of his head -- strategy, not tactics -- and he growled at her and settled for knocking them out instead.
"Saved me a bit of exercise," the sixth heartbeat's owner said, leaning safely on a wall far from him. Her eyes drank him in, noting the lack of a patch, the blond hair. She knew the latter was colored, because the experiment was why he went white, but it reinforced the seemingly younger aspect.
Slade glanced at her, noting the muscle under the gray-and-black suit, the short, dark hair, and the easy confidence of her smile. "Needed something to do." This might not be Addie's Dinah. He wouldn't really mind if it wasn't. He wanted something else to hit, something else to hurt. Couldn't get Addie's pale face out of his head, the ice that had been running all through her, her hand clenched tight in Joey's hair...
"Nice work on not shooting everything in sight." She moved then to the one closest to start securing him uncomfortably.
"Can't get anything out of a corpse unless you're JSA. Heard a couple things about them. Might've just been rumors."
She tensed just slightly at his mention of the JSA. "Rumors, huh? Well, we'll get solid facts when they wake up, to get to the bottom of this mess."
Something in her eyes that he liked, that he trusted, but this might not be Addie's Dinah. "When you showed up, how many had she already taken out?"
"Hell if I counted, Slade. Two were too close to taking Joey back after I got the one with his mitts on him." She looked back over her shoulder at him, knowing he did not trust her. "Use those senses of yours. I was in your wife's company long enough there should be a residual scent of your home under the muck."
"So were the ones she fought," he pointed out, keeping his voice lazy, despite the way he wanted to tense. She knew so much. His name, his powers, even the way he thought. Time-tossed, Addie had told Frannie. She hadn't said that in her future Dinah had known him -- and she did smell like Addie, like Joe. "But you've got a point, sister."
Dinah closed her eyes, before turning her face back to her task at hand. Never to hear him call her that again...but the gain for so many could be so high.
Slade frowned behind his mask. She'd tensed for a second, and she smelled sad suddenly, hurt. It didn't matter. Nothing mattered but getting this fixed. Finding out who had sold his name, hunted his family, tried to wreck his life. Threatened Joey, threatened Addie.
Dinah knew two names, but she had to make Slade and Addie do most of this themselves. She had interfered to a small degree. Hopefully they could find the rest.
Too professional to have ID on them, Addie had said, but Slade went through their pockets anyway. It gave him something to do.
She'd made a point of telling him that they hadn't had weapons. These guys did. Knives, nice ones, ones he had, a gun or two -- they weren't armed for a real fight, just enough to be for show.
To, maybe, have a knife at Joe's throat, a gun to Addie's head. Just enough that he would know they meant business.
"The weapons and uniforms were bulk purchased." The uniformity of their issue was one clue Dinah could pick up on. "Maybe one of your contacts might be able to figure out which supplier?"
"Probably," Slade agreed, his hand tight around the hilt of one knife. He would break it if he kept squeezing. "Addie mentioned a few things that got me wondering."
"I listen quite well, and I've been told I'm smart sometimes," she told him, watching all five men for any signs they'd recover soon.
"... They'd been trained to fight her. Not just that they were good fighters, they were trained to fight *her*. Knew exactly who'd be there, knew exactly how she fought. She hasn't been fighting in... a while. Whoever set this up knew her long before Jackal got started."
She almost smiled, but Dinah was part Bat when it counted. "One more piece. Add in that they've been able to observe her and you without triggering your awareness long enough to know when you headed out this time, and to time the kidnap for when you'd get back, near enough, so you'd know it had happened fast."
Slade tilted his head, thought about that. To blend that well in the society he and Addie ran in now meant money, meant power, but more than that, it meant military. Ex-soldier, current soldier, something. "Only somebody who'd been military while she was would know how she fought. We already know that." Military while she was, and close to her. Addie had been reclusive. She'd worked, and she'd done nothing else, from the stories Slade had heard around Camp Washington. Done nothing else until he'd shown up.
Dinah raised an eyebrow. "Possibly someone from close to the end of her career, who knew she'd gone family?"
Slade glared at her. "You already know."
She glared right back at him, absolutely unafraid of him. "And you can figure it out. I tell, and that might catch attention I don't want until this is resolved!"
"You tell, and I can fix it faster." He was thinking anyway, trying to narrow it down. Dinah's suggestions made sense. Addie was always making herself sharper, making herself *better* -- had always been, he corrected. It had to have been somebody from Camp Washington setting it up. Somebody who'd hated her, or him, or them both, maybe one of the ones who'd washed out. Couldn't take her discipline, her training, or just couldn't take it from a woman.
"I have to know how it turns out, in case I do get to go home." Dinah tried to wrack her brain for clues that would make it clearer. "Follow the money. Bulk military surplus buys leave a trail. So does transportation, I bet, for a guy who wasn't quite as good as you."
Frannie could find anything. If a rat burped in Europe, she could tell you the color and what it had eaten. 'Not as good as him' -- dammit, why couldn't she just come out with the damn name? Somebody else Addie had taught, somebody that had come in with him, somebody who couldn't take it, couldn't or wouldn't learn from *her*, who had hated them both. He'd made enemies in that class, and he knew it, but he hadn't seen any of them in years. Who would bother hating them that much?
Dinah watched him, knew that this Slade still could be a trusting man... And the light bulb went off in her head. "Some friends change over time."
His head jerked up, staring at her. Not an enemy? Somebody he'd trusted, somebody he'd worked with, fought beside -- but had started hating him. Hating her. Somebody not as *good*, who... couldn't, or wouldn't, learn from a woman.
Lost to a girl.
Dinah let the relief show all over her face. //Derail him, make Slade a little more suspicious this young...and pray he sees Wade sooner as a real threat. Or find a way to warn him...//
The look on her face was enough to show he'd been right. Slade nodded slowly, consigning the memories of a man he had genuinely considered his friend to a deep grave. Bill was already dead. Slade just had to prove it to him. Some friends changed over time. He'd remember that, for later.
"Hopefully this lot of sorry souls knows more than the last one," she said cheerfully, as his ears told him the one she was moving toward was waking.
She had good hearing, too, or she just knew how long they should stay out from how hard he'd hit them. But Addie had said she was good, and Addie didn't do unearned compliments. "They'd better."
"Complete agreement." She had judged by the blows, too used to his non-lethal style and strength to not fall into old patterns.
Slade casually crouched over the man, leaning in, trusting his speed to get him away if he recovered too fast. He wanted this interrogation to start intimidating. It was only going to get worse.
Dinah decided he could handle this part alone, and went to perch and wait. Her fingers idly played with the canary pull on her gear, glad for so many reasons she had been in that outfit for her mission when the portal appeared right in her way. It had taken her all of a look at the local paper, in German, with its damning date to make her start moving. She was not one to waste opportunities, and if something had given her a key to the past, surely she was meant to affect what happened at that date.
It wasn't, Slade decided, looking at the terror on the man's face, grinning for it, that Dinah didn't have the stomach for an interrogation. She wouldn't have sounded so coldly pleased, or so bubbly-happy-*cheerful*, at the men waking up if she couldn't take it. He had the feeling Dinah could do whatever she thought she had to. More that she just didn't think she needed to.
That was alright. He could manage.
Adeline lifted her head from contemplating Wei-san's newest tea set when she heard the whisper of Slade's movement behind her. She could smell the blood on him. "I take it you met Dinah. Did your rendezvous go well?"
She had made herself calm, *focus*. Locked the fury away, and the hurt, under ice that let her remain serene.
"I got what I wanted." Slade wanted to be clean now, so he could travel. He needed to talk to Frannie, and needed to be ready to move on her intelligence quickly.
Slade had the anger and need to be doing things to tide him over, but she needed to be briefed. "I'll tell you and you can pass it to Frannie while I scrub my gear and myself." He began reciting detail after detail in perfect recall.
Adeline listened, keeping her eyes on the gleaming glaze of the teapot. Slade was very good at what he did, better, by all rights, than a safari hunter ought to be, and it was more confirmation that she did not require. She did not stiffen when he mentioned Bill Walsh's name. "That is unexpected, but explains the familiarity with my methods."
"I would not have gotten to him if the girl hadn't thrown a blazing piece of a hint." He was still angry that she would not just tell him.
Adeline shrugged slightly, lifting and lowering one shoulder. "It has been years since he came to mind. Don't call her a girl. She is not so much younger than you, I think, despite the face."
Slade ran her details through his mind again. Face was lacking the lines and creases of any true maturity, and she'd seemed very young around the mouth, one usual telling point. But skill, motion, and the eyes themselves agreed with Addie. "Granted."
"... Get cleaned up. I don't want to ask you other questions while you're this tense." It was as much a concession to the fact that she could nearly smell the adrenaline still coming off him as she could make. In her lap, her fist clenched, her nails biting her palm before she opened her hand again. Calm.
"Yes, Adeline." He stalked to the bathroom and removed his gear, tending it first so it could dry while he bathed himself.
Her name, this time, not the nickname she always heard from Slade, and her fists clenched again, tighter. It took her a moment to open her hand again; her breath caught ragged in her lungs before she returned it to its proper rhythm.
Slade was not letting himself focus on his wife's distress yet. He had a mission to complete, and could not be sidetracked. Slade wanted her to get Frannie on the trail of the money. If she handled that part, he could get sleep for an hour or two while Frannie confirmed location and maybe narrowed it down. And if Addie made herself think about the job, she wouldn't be distressed until there was *time*. Slade knew his wife, and nobody could shut her heart down like Ice Captain Kane.
Adeline remained where she was, her hands loose in her lap, her breathing even. She was thinking. Slade had intimated very strongly that he could find Walsh. That required far more resources than he should have.
Of course, so did armor like what he had worn.
Bright armor, garish and loud and intended to catch and hold the eye. He had moved in it so gracefully. She had seen, looking at it, that the plates of such armor would be heavy. He had moved as though it weighed no more than some shirt she bought him.
His military-issued armor had not, Adeline was certain, been of such high quality. That surety did not speak well for her understanding of what Slade had to have been truly doing when he had told her he was -- well. She supposed he would have been hunting, at that.
She did not laugh.
Adeline rose from her chair, requesting Wei-san's loan of his phone in polite Japanese, and called Frannie to inform her of the information Slade had gained. Wei-san was as close to secure on her own end as she would have.
The older woman took it all in, adding it to the profile she was building, getting this entirely too personal case tied up.
When she had finished, when Frannie had extracted all of Adeline's knowledge, memories, assumptions, and ideas, Adeline hung up and returned to her seat. She did not know how long Slade had been doing this, how long he had been running in those colors, how long he had been lying.
How long he had been exactly like everyone else, when she had thought him different.
Adeline's fist clenched again, her muscles tensing, and her breathing hitched once before she locked that pain away with the others and relaxed her muscles.
The man in question returned, wearing a pair of loose pants and a tee shirt, hair still damp. "Did she give anything to pass on to me?"
He had heard her conversation. Interesting. How -- no. No. Not right now. "No. She appreciated the extra data."
"I should have time to sleep." He was a soldier still. Oldest lesson in war; sleep when you can.
"Very likely," Adeline agreed evenly. "Wei-san keeps his tea house quiet. I will keep a watch regardless."
Slade truly looked at her then, seeing the woman he had fallen for in those eyes, in the rigid posture. "Alright, Addie." Better to not say he'd be aware of trouble before her.
Adeline tilted her head, her mouth curving. The smile did not reach her eyes. "You will, I think, hear anything coming before I do, but you will probably sleep better if you know there is someone else awake." It had been like that after Vietnam, in the nights that Slade could not sleep, and Adeline had stayed awake with him and stayed awake when he had dozed off, her wrist clenched tightly enough in his hand that she had worn red marks all the next day, and they had not entirely faded until the day after that.
"That it's you does help," he said, the closest to softening from his Army-trained stance yet.
He would rest, perhaps fully sleep, and be fresh for the next fight. Truth. Adeline knew that, knew him -- or, at least, she had. Once. What he was saying was *true*.
Of course, if someone had told her yesterday that Slade kept secrets from her, lied to her, she would not have believed them. So what did she know of Slade and truth, now? "Go to sleep, Slade. I will be here when you wake up."
He obeyed that suggestion readily enough. It had been a long few days, between his job and coming home to this.
Slade's breathing evened, slowing and deepening to the rhythm Adeline had memorized years ago, as he began to slip into sleep. He relaxed into it only so far, another trait brought on by Vietnam.
She lowered the light and returned to her chair, sitting awake in the dimness, watching him sleep.
The phone woke Slade, and she had the impression it had jarred him. No shift in pulse or breathing to precede the noise, but even that impression faded fast as he moved alertly to her side. Frannie, it seemed, had three addresses in one city for them.
Adeline's head tilted, her breath huffing out between her teeth, a sound of mingled aggravation and amusement. "Split them up evenly, or take them one by one?" She was, for the moment, the weakest physical link between herself, Slade, and Dinah. No one's fault but her own, she told herself again.
Slade considered, and decided one to each, with lines of communication, made the most sense. "Not so far out of the way to place Joey with Frannie for the duration. She'd have radio handsets that would be secure. Do a recon, and then regroup at the right one." He might be more likely to handle this his own way if he picked the right one.
"Your word that we will regroup together, at the right one. No handling this yourself." Adeline said it lightly, but the ice in her tone remained. She wanted, very badly, to kill something, to tear it apart, and she did not want to risk that she would be at the wrong location.
He stiffened just enough that she knew he had been contemplating handling things alone. "My word, Addie."
So Adeline did still know him. Well enough for that.
Such a minor thing should not relax her as much as it did.
"Let's move, then. Joey can finish sleeping in the car."
Adeline did not bother with a verbal agreement, moving to thank Wei-san for his time, knowing Slade would have Joey tucked in the curve of one arm when she turned around again to leave with them.
Slade did just that, gear bag in one hand in such a way as to swing it hard as a weapon, the boy tucked in against his chest by the other arm.
Adeline flanked the side Joey was on, an extra shield, and her hand was on the hilt of her throwing knife as they walked to the car. She was tired, and she knew it, but she was perfectly capable of dozing while Slade drove.
Slade laid the boy across the back seat, using the belts creatively to make a harness in case of rough driving, and then got in on the driver's side, gear bag between him and his wife for easy access.
Adeline remained upright in her seat, her posture perfect, her eyes open, for long enough to Slade to start the car and begin moving. Then she let her eyes close, slipping into a soldier's doze.
Slade made no unnecessary noise as he drove, going to where the Gotham woman had said she would be at. He barely slowed when he saw she was on the lookout for the car, and started her motorcycle up to follow. He gave her full marks for that readiness while wondering how rested she would be, how much of an asset she would be. After all, Addie had handled most of the people sent, and Dinah had done little more than diversionary work at the rendezvous.
The almost imperceptible sound of a motorcycle had Adeline opening her eyes. She glanced at Slade, measuring his tension levels, and when she saw his calm she closed her eyes again, slipping back into her doze.
They did not stop again, not until Frannie's place was almost in sight. "Addie."
Her eyes opened again, her body relaxed, her muscles loose. "Dinah is on the bike behind us?"
"Yes. I want you to drive Joey in, while I scout, just in case." He trusted Frannie's skills, but he needed to know with his own senses.
"I suppose your other senses match your hearing?" It was not an argument, merely a question. The logic of sending her ahead with Joey was sound; he could find threats she could not.
"Everything that was 'on' so potently when I was... ill. It's still with me." He told her as part of letting her know what he could do, so she would not misjudge him when they ran together.
Adeline did not permit her surprise to show, merely nodding. "Strength, speed, reflexes, hearing, sight, smell, et cetera. Anything else I should know for this mission?"
"That will be enough, I believe." Slade came to a stop in a turn that was well guarded from easy spying, and was quickly out of the car with his bag. The motorcycle slowed, but when Adeline moved, it kept the same careful distance.
Good instincts, Adeline thought, glancing at Dinah behind her as she drove, the car moving smoothly and easily as she matched Slade's driving style. But she'd known that already.
Slade moved at a frighteningly high speed to canvass, wanting to be sure his family was going to be safe here. Frannie'd probably take it out of his hide for not leaving it strictly to her, but his paranoia had found new levels.
She could not see him. Speed, Adeline thought again, and wished for a moment that she had his senses simply so that she could orient herself. She continued to drive, smiling to herself at the thought of Frannie's likely indignation when she discovered Slade scouting.
The house was the same as Adeline remembered, though some of Frannie's defenses seemed more obvious in her present mood. Once on property, Dinah brought her bike closer to the car, so it was obvious she belonged.
One of Frannie's people met them, a new woman, one Adeline had not seen before. Almost as tall as Slade, but her smile was warm in her dark face. "Mrs. Wilson. I'm to bring you and the kid and your guest in. You didn't bring your husband?"
Very, very fast, if Frannie's system had not caught him -- assuming, of course, that this was one of Frannie's people. "I'm sure Francine will see him eventually."
Shock and surprise in the dilated pupils of the woman before her, wariness in the way her eyes narrowed, though she did not betray herself by anything so crass as a movement towards her weapon. Adeline relaxed a trifle. That she had caught Adeline's usage of the wrong name indicated familiarity with Frannie's means and methods.
The woman behind her was focused, reading everything carefully, and the tall woman ahead of her frowned, not liking the sound of that. "This way, then."
Adeline followed, almost feeling Dinah's tension levels behind her -- she used one of Slade's old signals, one of the ones he had used in Camp Washington, a subtle shift and turn of her hand to signal an all-clear. Walsh had never met Frannie, and none of his people would know that no one, ever, addressed her as Francine.
Except Wade, and why was she thinking of a corpse now?
No matter. The signal had worked. Dinah relaxed in her awareness, and followed.
Dinah kept the fact she was meeting yet another person who shaped Slade carefully tucked down inside her soul, while privately thinking it was a good thing Deathstroke had not made a habit of running with Frannie's resources for his own network. What she saw as she went inside was enough to tell her that her way of business had probably influenced how Slade's network was structured.
Frannie, Adeline could see, wanted to hug her, Joey, reassure herself with touch that they were both alive and well. Neither she nor Frannie moved to do so. "Slade is testing your security levels, Frannie." Faint trace of humor in her voice.
"That arrogant boy and his ideas!" Frannie grumbled. "I'll have his hide."
Dinah managed, by the edge of her will, not to smile at that, but it did light her eyes. Frannie noted it when she took in the stranger, and wondered, but Slade was a good boy. Nothing like his father, damn his soul to hell again.
"He knows," Adeline agreed, catching the flash of curiosity in Frannie's eyes when she glanced behind her at Dinah. Tilt of her head and a quirk of one eyebrow, signaling 'later'.
Frannie accepted it and moved on. "What ideas does he have for the information I supplied? Or are you handling the tactical side this time?" Frannie asked Addie.
"The current plan is for the three of us -- assuming, Dinah, that you had no objections -- " half-shift of her body to invite Dinah into the discussion. "To do recon separately, one to each address. Regroup at the proper address and go in together -- Slade," she added, "has already given his word not to handle the problem solo should he find the correct base first."
"He would, wouldn't he, for this kind of thing? Never even considered that," Dinah said softly. "That's a good plan, as each of us is skilled enough in surveillance to not be noticed until the other two arrive." She conceded her awareness of Addie's skill with a quick smile and nod toward her.
"While I keep my grandson here safe with me," Frannie said, locking her curiosity down. "That major friend of Slade's contacted me that nothing has been sighted around the school. He's staying there until Slade gives him an all-clear."
Dinah did not know Slade, perhaps, as well as she thought she did, if the thought had not occurred to her. Or Slade had performed a miracle of growing up in their intervening timelines. Adeline accepted Dinah's compliment with a nod, and a flick of her own smile before looking back at Frannie. "I trust you and Wintergreen for that."
Frannie made a small sound of pleased approval. "Now, do either of you need anything?”
"I think I'm good," Dinah said, touching the compartments on her belt in turn as she recalled what was in each. She still had her voice, but that was last-ditch effort. The little Cries she carried were more effective for delayed reactions.
"Long-distance weapons," Adeline said promptly. "I only have knives with me, and I prefer your guns to Slade's, Frannie. And a hair tie." She gestured at her loose hair -- she'd been able to brush it, pick it clean, but Wei-san had not had a hair tie that she had been able to borrow.
"Right this way," Frannie said, leading her to the back of the house to get what she needed. Slade arrived about the time they came back with her properly outfitted, and Frannie immediately glared at him. "No trust in me, boy? I've been handling things like this since before you graduated Basic."
Adeline, leaning against the wall, permitted her smirk to be visible. It was easier to focus if she ignored the humor of Frannie yanking Slade to heel, if she locked that away with hurt and exhaustion and fury, but if she did so Frannie might decide she was too compromised to be on this hunt, and that... was not an option.
"It's my family at risk, Frannie," Slade said, not backing down one bit. He saw her take in the garish gear, the mask hanging from his hand, and visibly decide that now wasn't the time. He could deal with her later.
"You and I are going to have a long damn talk, Slade Joseph Wilson!" Frannie informed him. "The three of you need to move, though, as those locations might get antsy."
Dinah knew that face, the all-business mask Slade had perfected over the years. She knew her own was on the verge of mirroring it, after just a few runs at his side in her proper timeline. The island, Gorilla City...
"Addie," Frannie added, "Take one of my bikes. It's less noticeable than your car."
Adeline inclined her head in agreement; Tisha fished keys from her pocket and tossed them. "Red bike out front. Gas tank's full, and the side compartment has a couple toys in it."
"I'll take the car, in case of injuries," Slade told them.
"Good, because neither Adeline nor I want to lug your heavy backside anywhere," Dinah said sweetly, surprising Frannie.
Her cheek even made Slade crack, breaking the Deathstroke calm on his face in a flash of surprised amusement. "Point taken." His tendency to go in first, to bring the firepower down on himself, was likely to be amped with his wife there.
Adeline did not blink, did not react to the flash of humanity, of humor, in his eyes. Her own face remained coldly serene. "Headsets?" she requested, watching Frannie's expressions shift minutely.
"The latest in communications," Frannie announced, bringing in belt-worn transmitters and headsets. She set them to a frequency, and Dinah quickly added hers to her utility belt. Slade worked his in, after masking.
"Thank you," Adeline murmured to Frannie, taking the hair tie that had been added to her bundle. "What is their range?"
"Can cover up to twenty city blocks easily, and all three locations fall inside that range," Frannie said with pride.
"That's very good work, ma'am," Dinah said, remembering her father's surveillance sets that had been much poorer quality just a couple of years from now.
Adeline smiled sharply. "Frannie has certain skills." She had not known what Slade was doing, Adeline knew. The surprise on her face, well-hidden but not hidden enough, when she had seen Slade's armor, had been genuine. Foolish of Slade, to leave behind a resource like Frannie.
"It's been an honor to meet you, ma'am," Dinah said, sincerely.
Frannie took that in, parsed out the way the girl knew Slade and yet didn't, and then worked in all that Addie had said. "Just an old woman making a living," she replied, but in a kinder voice than she might have. "Go on, all of you."
Dinah moved to the door, Slade ahead of her, to get moving for their targets.
"Addie, which one?" Slade asked her, once she had keys to one of the bikes.
"Slade, you take the address furthest from the other two. If something goes wrong, you could run the distance, if necessary. Dinah, you take the address on the wharfs. I will take the location between the two."
"Yes, ma'am," Dinah said, a smile flicking on her lips, before she was on her bike and moving.
"On my way," Slade managed, only barely biting off the 'captain' at the end of it.
Adeline moved, the moving rush of a coming fight humming in her system as fast and as steady as the engine under her, thinking and plotting as she drove. Walsh had always underestimated women; she and Dinah would be the best opponents for him. He would be sloppy, doubtless transferring any rage he still felt for his shift out of Camp Washington and subsequent slow decline onto her. She, Adeline decided, would be the primary antagonist for Walsh himself. Slade could handle any backup Walsh had. Adeline would break his neck herself.
Dinah had shifted her priorities in the coming fight easily. Slade or Addie had the most right to finish this off, and she doubted either one would keep from being lethal. Her job, she decided, was to keep anyone from getting lucky enough to hurt Addie. The world did not need the result of Addie getting hurt, seriously. She wasn't risking history going back to everything Deathstroke estranged from his family meant for her Boy-o and the world, not when Dinah had managed to keep Joe safe.
Slade would scout his location and if it was empty, immediately go for Addie's. Even in the midst of all his professional pride, there was worry for her, even if he would not admit it. She was not in the best shape she had ever been in, and she was far out of practice.
The knowledge that she was still the weakest link among the three of them burned Adeline's pride as she drove, but it was true. That was why she had selected the middle location as her target; should she require backup, it would be easy for both of them to reach her.
Pride could get you through a fight, but it could also get you killed. Adeline did not intend to pretend to a level of skill she no longer possessed.
As it turned out, Adeline knew almost upon arriving she had the target location. Men were moving around with the precision and wariness she expected from paramilitary forces, and orders were being carried out, from the way the radios were being used in the compound.
"It's mine," she murmured into the headset, keeping her voice low and precise, counting off the number of men she could see as she moved, their weaponry, their tension levels. Cold clarity went running through her as she observed the base, seeing its weak points, detailing a plan of attack almost under her breath. She was unwilling to penetrate it yet, entirely aware of the fact that adrenaline and fury did not make up for a lack of sleep and food since the previous evening. She would wait.
"Copy that." Slade's voice was cool and precise as well. "En route."
"Likewise." Dinah's voice was far less bubbly now, more calm and ready for action. It would take both a few minutes to get there, ditch vehicles the right distance away, and then join her.
Adeline continued to move, learning the perimeter. Careless of Walsh to have not had better security out here, especially since he would have to know by now that his men had been routed, but he had always been careless. A very good soldier, but nothing like the caliber that had been required in Camp Washington.
It crossed Slade's mind that a frontal assault once he arrived would draw the fire his way, let the women move around the edges, the same way Dinah's diversions had let him enter the fray the night before. However, it was a compound, with unknown interior defenses, and he did not relish the thought of his wife trying to sneak in without his senses or her old skill to guide her. He settled for getting to her. Addie could decide what to do with the weapons available.
Silent movement behind her, too *close*, and Adeline's hand was already on the knife, she was already moving to get away -- the gun was too loud, but Adeline had spent a long time learning soundless ways to kill, and she had not forgotten. No one forgot Black Ops. The flash of orange and blue as she moved stayed her hand, relaxing her down from the lethal spike of adrenaline. "Bang, Captain... ?" she mouthed.
Under the cloth of the mask, she saw a smile touch his mouth, and the carriage of his body relaxed toward her in a way it had not since this all began. Slade surveyed what he could from this vantage, then spoke softly to her, moving close enough that the sound fell on her ear alone. "Have our ally strike, and we move in behind it," he suggested.
"Walsh and his men would not be used to her methods," Adeline agreed, equally quietly. "She or I should deal with Walsh ourselves. He underestimates female opponents; if he fought you, he would be less sloppy than he would be fighting one of us. And your speed and greater strength will be more useful dealing with his men than with him."
Slade made a noise in his throat, half of a mind to argue, but he cut it off. "Yes, ma'am." He shifted the headset mic back and relayed the order to Dinah, who agreed to be the distraction they needed.
Adeline could see the wish to disagree in him, but even his ridiculous protective streak had to admit that her logic had been sound. Slade's greater speed and power made him far more suited for a melee than a one-on-one battle, and Walsh's dislike of Adeline, his disrespect for her, would make him a far less skilled opponent if she were the one fighting him.
The distraction came a few minutes later, as a fuller, throatier version of those sonics the night before hit the front door, and the door gave way. Pandemonium ensued, as these paramilitants jumped to try and defend their compound from an unknown assailant.
Adeline laughed softly, low in her throat and cold, watching the quality of Walsh's men deteriorate -- in controlled situations, doubtless, they were quite good. Her opponents last night had been very well-trained. Dinah was decimating them with their own panic. Penetrating the base would be reasonably easy; she was already moving.
Slade was there with her, taking the lead, and turning all his senses loose to find the true target. His ability to handle opponents in the way looked almost like they were mere afterthoughts to the true course he followed.
He had gotten much, much better, and the sudden urge to spar with him now was surprisingly difficult to lock away under the ice and Adeline's amusement as she dealt with the opponents that he somehow managed to leave behind them. Bless Frannie and her willingness to loan out her guns.
Behind, and eventually above them, they could hear the chaos as their ally wreaked havoc with confusing tactics and gadgets she had tucked away in her gear. Slade was focused, though, and guided Addie deep into the compound, where he could hear orders issuing from.
She could not have done this so swiftly on her own, Adeline knew, without prior information. Not now. Five years ago... was a pointless thought to have. Schemes ran through her mind as they ran; the probable setup of Walsh's command center, likely ways to destroy it from this deep within.
"I want his files," Slade suddenly told her, as the thoughts in his mind ran in circles. Why now? What pushed him? Was he working alone?
"Obviously," Adeline replied softly. "When would I ever destroy data deliberately?"
He snorted at her. "Clear communication, Captain."
"Noted, Major," she murmured, letting the flick of humor show in her voice. "You may have the files when Frannie and I are done with them."
"Wintergreen should be in on that," Slade corrected. His old friend kept up with most of the intel side of things for him.
Adeline kept the flash of outright fury locked behind her teeth, with the simmering rage and hurt of the other day. So he had known. How long -- no. No. Later. Wintergreen's skills were better suited; between herself, Frannie, and Wintergreen, any of Walsh's allies would be flushed out. "Understood."
Slade kept moving until he had the command center doors breached. Walsh was right there in front of them, focusing not on her but on Slade. Stupid, Adeline thought coolly, watching the way Walsh's eyes stayed on Slade's bulk, his hand quivering -- fear? rage? misplaced triumph? -- on his radio controls. As though he did not even see the woman next to him. He was always stupid. It made shooting him -- once in each shoulder, and one shot in his left knee -- very easy.
Slade felt a flush of pride for his wife suffuse him, hot under the need to be Deathstroke, at those well-placed shots and strode across the room to relieve the screaming man of his weapons and communication gear. "Secure him and then go mop up?" he queried the woman at his back.
"Yes," Adeline replied, cutting strips from Walsh's clothes to bandage his shoulders. If she meant him to die this quickly, she would have gone for a chest shot. "Maintain contact, just in case."
"Yes, ma'am." Slade made sure the treacherous man was secured and then left to go see what he could do to finish off the fight. Gas pellets, smoke pellets, and some effective hand to hand, plus the passage that Slade and Addie had already cleared, were taking a toll on Walsh's organization.
The knife she pulled from its sheath made Walsh's eyes widen before he sneered, spat. "Ice Captain, you don't have the balls -- Ice Captain, my ass, fucking Wilson, I could've had you if he hadn't been there --"
"Hush," Adeline told him, slamming the hilt into his cheekbone casually. Polite absentness, she knew, was one of the better ways to deal with a bug like Walsh. His arrogance would break him long before pain would.
Regrouping at Frannie's let Dinah observe the edge under both Addie and Slade discreetly. Data had been pulled, Frannie was working resources to get the entire thing swept away in the eyes of the law... she had awesome resources, apparently, and people who owed her... while the three fighters dealt with minor scratches and bruises picked up in the course of the fight.
Adeline maintained her serenity, having cleaned her weapons and herself before doing anything else. She hated interrogations. That had not stopped her from being good at them, and they were not skills one forgot.
Slade saw to his own gear with efficiency, then called Wintergreen to tell him to hold a 24-hour watch before moving out, just in case they had missed anything or any lone agents.
Adeline would have words with Wintergreen later. After she had -- repaid Dinah. Her hands did not clench, and her breathing remained even, though her pulse sped.
Slade's eyes flicked to her, and he had a look that was more human, less remote now. Once he was in clean clothes, he went to find his younger son, being the doting father with ease that made Frannie frown, wondering, at his back.
Thankfully, Frannie was watching her stepson, and didn't see the hopeless look in Dinah's eyes before she focused on repacking her belt's armaments.
Adeline, maintaining her attention on the entirety of the room -- it was easier to focus on that, easier to keep field readiness, than to let go -- narrowed her eyes at the look of dull-eyed, despairing grief that flashed across Dinah's face. She had known Dinah loved Slade, but that was... that was more than a woman giving up a man she loved. There was something else underneath it. Something old that had never quite healed.
"Ma'am?" Dinah asked, once Frannie looked back their way. "May I beg a room to sleep? I'm all but wiped."
"Certainly, young lady. This way. May even have a nightgown for you, after a shower. Can't sleep with those muscles still in a row from the fight...." Frannie's voice faded as she guided her guest to sleeping quarters.
Slade looked over at his wife, still holding Joey in his arms, wondering where to go from here. There was no battle plan now, no foe, though the files still remained to go over.
"I do not think a watch is required," Adeline said softly, her voice cool and even, her posture still ramrod-straight, her muscles still in battle fluidity. "Take the chance to rest in a secure location while you have it, Slade. I do not think this is quite over." A shower, for herself, and the loan of a pallet, if they had stretched Frannie's house to its limits. She would have to use some of her father's meditation techniques in order to sleep, but her system required it.
"Probably not," he agreed softly. "Frannie said we could use the room we did on our last stay here. It has its own shower." He made no move to go put Joey down, though, asking his son to tell him how he liked being at his grandmother's.
Adeline nodded, slipping out, moving for the shower. If they were to share a room, and she were to both sleep and not kill him, she needed to leash her emotions again. For that, she needed space. Breathing room, preferably where the pounding water would hopefully keep Slade's senses from hearing... anything. She did not know their limits. She despised not knowing -- no. No. Later.
Slade was deliberately giving his wife time, even as he hoped that didn't backlash on him too badly. He wanted her rational -- she almost always was, but when Addie got in a temper she was *vicious* -- when they did finally tackle the elephant in the room. He waited for Frannie to come back, letting his face tell the woman who knew him better than any other that he was not in a place where he could discuss things with her yet, and she seemed to accept that. She did, however, take Joey away from him to go make treats in the kitchen, and that meant Slade had no excuse to not go clean up and rest.
The water was too hot, and Adeline knew it, burning on her skin, but she stood in the pounding spray and breathed, resting her head on the tile. It was an old, familiar pattern, albeit one she had not used in years. Adrenaline ebbing out left her hands shaking, but she ignored it, draining the hurt and fury and betrayal into a cold core in the back of her mind.
Slade could smell the heat of the water on her, could almost taste the way it inflamed her skin to an angry red. He stripped down to his briefs, waiting for her to be done with the water. If she left him any hot water, he'd be surprised, but he wasn't laying down until he had been under the spray of a shower.
She had rinsed most of Walsh's blood off her already. The shower was for her hair, and for the chance to meditate. She had not heard Slade come in, but she did not let herself evince surprise upon seeing him when she stepped out, maintaining her calm. "My apologies for using most of the hot water. There may still be a little, depending on how much of the heater Dinah drained," she added, drying her hair carefully.
He made a soft noise of acknowledgment, looking at her with a gaze of a man who wasn't sure if he was seeing an old friend or a stranger. She was every bit as beautiful as the day he had first seen her. Motherhood had added new curves in places, but she was still fit. Today's excursion had achingly reminded him of her talents, and it made him wary to know their future was in limbo because he had held back the truth.
He got up and padded into the bath, slipping into the shower to shake those thoughts.
The way Slade had looked at her made it hard to keep herself focused, keep herself calm. Adeline took a three-count to breathe deeply and evenly, forcing serenity back through her muscles, and slipped back through to the bedroom. Someone, most likely on Frannie's orders, had brought her a spare change of clothing. Frannie must have noticed her tension and known Adeline might not be able to sleep. Kind of her, Adeline thought, grateful for something clean.
Slade made sure to scrub his scalp, then attacked the rest of his skin. The water did cool before he was done, but he slipped free of the shower feeling much better.
He made his way back to their bed, moving with the careful, quiet noises of a graceful man not trying to be stealthy.
Adeline had turned her body away from the bathroom, giving Slade her back, and his careful quiet made it easy for her to remain still. A portion of her system wished to keep going, prowling through Frannie's home and information, anything to continue giving herself something to focus on. Adeline forced that down. She needed the rest. Sooner or later, she knew, as she continued to keep her breathing steady and deep, slow and even, exhaustion would win out.
Slade was tired, bone-tired, from his last run and coming home into this. He knew better than to keep draining himself, or to shy away from his wife at this point. The only concession he made to her mood was to put his back to hers as he laid down.
Furious she might be, and hurt, and her remembered fear was vile in her mouth, and the ice low in her gut was a slick core of pain, but the warmth of Slade's back against hers still drained off lingering tension, and Adeline went to sleep with the knowledge that she was safe, sufficiently unto the moment.
Slade was trying to maintain a light sleep, but this was Frannie's home, her stronghold, and it was so easy to just sleep...
Adeline dreamed of Morel. His smile, and his later sneer. The data she had uncovered about the man she had so swiftly married. The pain of his strike had been nothing compared to the humiliation of understanding her own stupidity. She dreamed of Wade, and of Pierre, and of every man and every woman she had fucked and left when she had realized just how much they were lying to her. She dreamed of her Joey, hurt and scared, used as bait for her husband in orange and blue, one more man she had known and no longer entirely recognized.
Slade shifted restlessly, not quite sure why. He was half-awake when he rolled toward his wife, watching her shoulders, the line of her neck, and then he drifted again. So right to try and pull her back into his chest, so normal, and he needed that right now.
The hand wrapping around her snapped Adeline awake, and she sent her elbow slamming back automatically, twisting out of that touch to land in a crouch on the floor, a snarl rumbling in her throat and the dregs of her nightmare still curdling in her blood. Slade. It was only Slade who had touched her, only -- only one more in this be-damned *parade*.
Slade managed to awaken enough to not react to the blow, to control Deathstroke, who right now was a hair under the surface. Right now, he had to be Slade Wilson, husband, not the mercenary that was fast building a hard reputation. He sucked in air, and sat up, eyes going to his wife, and voice gentling. "Addie. Addie, come back to bed."
"I will not sleep again." Her voice was low, and rough with the lingering terror and fury of her dream. "There is no sense in returning to bed."
"Except it would make more sense for us to talk here than out where someone might overhear," he patiently offered her.
Adeline did not permit her hands to clench, but her eyes narrowed. "Frannie has all the information I had."
Slade counted to ten in Japanese, the latest language he was trying to become fluent in. "Addie. That information is being looked at by some of the best heads not your own. Please, do not dance around what is standing between you and me."
He had brought it up first. Very well; she did not object to the fight coming to her. "Tell me why you lied to me." Damnable, awful lapse in her own control that Adeline's breath hitched, though her voice remained even. "Why you thought it acceptable to put our family in danger."
"I did not. I did all I could to keep from endangering you or our sons," Slade said evenly. "I lied to preserve the life you had chosen for us."
Her mouth curled in a sneer. "Your work was clearly ineffective." The life *she* had chosen -- it was not her who had opted for that blasted experiment. Adeline had only taken the wreckage and attempted to salvage something from it. Some kind of life, even if it was not the one either of them would have chosen.
"I made a mistake." Slade's voice unconsciously went colder. "I trusted in friendship. Our enemy had unprecedented advantage on being able to see the truth."
"Our enemy had the advantage of being able to ambush me, because I lacked data." Her tone matched his in ice, Adeline's jaw tense with rage. "You did not trust in friendship. You were simply arrogant."
"When the woman I married chose to be a socialite, how could I trust her with the data?" Slade asked in even, quiet tones.
"*I* -- " Adeline cut the fury off ruthlessly, her nails biting into the skin of her palms. Her voice was softer than his when she replied, "I made my choices in the attempt to protect my children. You, clearly, had different priorities."
"If you fail to see that I would have been making every attempt to protect my children and wife, then you have grown far blinder than any of us men you tried to teach at Camp Washington." He was furious, on a gut level. How dare she choose a life that tied his and her hands on all levels not involving who and what they were, and then claim he was deliberately sloppy when he found his way to be who he truly was?!
"If your wish was to protect us," she did not spit out 'protect,' but only through locking her fury back behind the ice with her hurt, and her pain, and her own self-castigation at having let herself be lied to again, "Then your work was sloppy beyond all belief. Did you truly think that no one would ever find you? Did you think you could simply wear your garish mask and armor and that would keep you safe?"
"There was far more to it than that, Adeline." His voice showed his scorn for her dismissal.
Her own scorn easily outmatched his. How had he dared go back, when she -- did he think she had not missed it? Did he think that, some days, she had not wanted to take the life she was living and set it afire? She had let him have his safaris and his hunts, but she had never gone along. She had known that if she had had a gun in her hands again, she could not have put it aside. Adeline could not care that he had used her complete name again, too filled to bursting and breakage with scorn and rage and betrayal. "Really."
"You taught me." He met her gaze fully, and she saw the leashed restlessness there, the soldier without a war to fight, the man who was the best...that she had made better.
Adeline knew that restlessness. It had burned in her own system, made her hands ache with the weight of weapons she no longer carried. She had hobbled herself, hamstrung herself, and she had known it. It had been worth it, for a settled life for her sons. If she had looked at him as she looked at an opponent, would she have seen what he was doing? If she had not loved him, and trusted him, and made herself be nothing more than wife and mother, would she still have been as blind to him as she had been to all the others?
Her nails bit more deeply into her hands, her breath hitching again.
The sound of her, the hint of blood rising to the surface of her skin under her nails... it pushed Slade. This was the woman he loved... even now, when she was so far in some ways from the one who bested him on a training course from hell. He drew in a deep breath, trying hard to lodge the fury back under the leash he had learned in Korea. It was harder, so much harder, when he still reacted to all five of his senses on a far more primal level than was sane. "I could not take away what you had shown me as your desire, Addie. But I also could not use this for the Army, so I turned to the lone path I could see... father to my children, husband to you, and mercenary to still the need."
"Did you think I did not miss it, too?" Her voice was flat; if she permitted emotion, Adeline knew, she would scream. "I never went on your hunts with you. If I had gone, I could not have stopped. I knew that. Grant and Joey... their needs mattered more." He was giving her honesty, and for that she bit back the viciousness of her thought.
"You hid it too well," Slade told her. "Because all I could see was that I had actually married Lady Kane."
His tone was very nearly apologetic. It was enough payment for locking acid behind her teeth. "I could not be Captain Kane and Mrs. Wilson both." She could have, if there had been only Slade to think of. But there was Grant, and then there was Joey, and Adeline did not have the steel to take the whispers and the rumors and the attacks of gossip that would have come to her had she been the weapon she had made herself into as well as Slade's wife and the mother of her children, did not have it in her to be so cruel to her sons as letting them grow up to hear such poison would require. Freelance had been an option, but she could not have risked her children so. That she had lied to them, and to herself, and to Slade well enough to fool all of them except herself was on her own head. That he had been unable to do the same... the bitterness of that, of how much she wanted to have been running with him, twisted in her gut.
"The lie was self-defense, and probably the wrong tactic. But I want my family and the action," Slade admitted to her.
"Only probably?" Joey could have been killed for Slade's lack of self-control. That he had lied to her was... no, it was not something Adeline could forgive. Her own fault that she had let him do so, that she had let him be another Wade, another Morel, but it was a slick, sick ball of pain to know that he was no different after all. But that he had lied to her was minor compared to the threat to their son.
"Yes, probably. Given the way you are reacting *now*, I can only imagine how you would have reacted before there had been concrete proof that my defenses were less than adequate... protective mother jumping at the shadows was all I could see."
From the cold locking her hurt away came the acknowledgment of his point. He was wrong, but his logic was understandable. Had she known what he was doing... God, had she known, Adeline would have been running with him, and the hunger for that went through her like a knife.
His nostrils flared as he scented the sharp spike of adrenaline in her. He then shook his head, wishing now that Wintergreen had pushed that argument the one day it had come up. "Addie... if I say I was wrong, will you go over the set-up of what I do to guard you all, and help me fix the hole?" he offered, the only way he knew how to reach out, to say 'I want you here, in this life too'.
The threat was already there, already real. Walsh would not be the end; if one person could break Slade's secrecy, another would. The fact that Wintergreen knew... was something Adeline would discuss with *him*. Later. Later. "I would go over it regardless. My sons are at risk."
"I want our family safe," he agreed, a slight inflection on the pronoun. He would not quit without a fight, no matter how angry at him she was.
The near-apology, the request for her help, let the clawed pain in her loosen a trifle. It was something none of the others would have done. Something Adeline could hold against the serrated edge of betrayal.
Slade moved then, a slow even slide off the bed, toward her, hands open in peaceful intent. "Addie..." The question in his voice was giving her the full power on whether he would touch her or not.
"Don't. Not yet," she added, her voice remaining soft. Adeline did not know what would happen if he touched her, whether she would break or even how the blast pattern would go.
He nodded, drawing his hand back. "As you wish," he said.
His respect for her boundaries thawed Adeline's icy hurt a trifle more. "I will spar with you. Not now. Later. But I insist on sparring with you." In the midst of a fight, he could not lie to her.
He half-smiled at her. "Yes, ma'am," he said.
Adeline had never been able to ignore the flash of his humor, and letting her own smile flash back only made her think again of his brother, and of her first husband -- the ways in which he was not like them, had never been, and then this way, in which he had proven himself the same. But Slade had meant only to give her what he had thought she had wanted, even if he had chosen the most insulting method possible. She had lied too well, and that was not a blame she could lay at his door.
"Will you at least come try to rest a little longer, Addie? I can move to a couch, if you prefer." Now that they had half-talked, he was willing to give her true space, for now.
"I do not think an attempt would be successful," Adeline answered, straightening her spine, pulling on posture and stances she had not used since Camp Washington. If she could not have calm, she could at least maintain the illusion of self-control. "Nightmare. You understand such things."
His blue eyes deepened in response to that, all too many of them in the back of his mind. Now there would be new ones, ones about her lying in pools of blood, or of Joey the same way. It cut deep that he had put them all at risk, because he misread her, but the cut blazed alongside anger that she had lied as blindingly well to him in the first place. "As you wish, then."
He had given her honesty, this time. For that, and for the debt she still owed Dinah, Adeline gave him honesty in return: "Not about this."
Her words made him cock his head to one side, and then he decided to resettle himself, up against the headboard of the bed, his body language open and inviting to her if she would accept it. "I do know how to listen... I think you finished knocking that skill into my thick skull."
"Obviously, I did not do so as thoroughly as I would have hoped." Adeline's words were intended to slice, and she used them deliberately, coldly flat. This was not the moment for Slade's charm -- she had not forgiven him yet, merely acknowledged her own fair share of the blame for the situation. But she did share blame, and this was Dinah's price for her aid, and she -- fool, oh, fool of a woman, would she never learn that no man was worth what they would, inevitably, do -- still loved him and wished to avoid his pain, and so Adeline moved forward, settled onto the foot of the bed.
That made him shift, sprawl out on his stomach so his head was nearer to her, propped on his arms. "Maybe I need a refresher," he admitted, and this was honest too, not the tease it could have been. He did not want to lose her; she was the one woman in all the world that was truly all he could hope for, as far as he was concerned.
For a moment, Slade in that pose was the hotshot major Adeline had seen first, had feared and desired and known absolutely that he would be the finest weapon she would ever craft. His respect for her had always broken her hardest. Perhaps it always would. "Maybe we both do. I am biased in my response to your actions regarding that you lied to me, and cannot be objective."
"I'm not coping so well with not reading you right, Addie," he admitted softly. "But we can work through it."
Can? Yes. The question, of course, was 'will we'. Adeline had never given anyone a second chance to betray her, once she had known of the first transgression. The ring on her finger felt heavy, a trap or a chain.
Adeline thought suddenly, irrationally, of one of the many times they had made love before their marriage, when she had thought she could be Captain Adeline Kane and Mrs. Slade Wilson both. Telling him that he loved the soon-to-be Mrs. Slade Wilson, and his response, that he loved her in every way possible. She had known then that it was true. Everything she was insisted it was still true. And that mattered. "Yes," Adeline answered, quietly firm, and knew the word was one more promise she had made to this man.
He let his breath out in a slow, controlled exercise of calm, but she could see the tell-tales of how much he had prayed she would answer that way, despite his control. "Talk to me about the nightmares?"
"A trade. I will tell you honest answers to questions you ask, in exchange for honest answers to questions I will ask in return. Agreed?"
"Should I call myself Faust in this one, wife?" he queried, short twist of his mouth. "Truth for truth, Addie. My word to you."
"I hardly think Mephistopheles is a role that suits me, Slade." Adeline did not permit the bitter thought that clearly, his word mattered little. That was unworthy of her, emotion and hatred clouding objectivity. His word yet remained his bond, in some form or another. "What would you like to know about this nightmare?
"If it's not involving Joey, then what was it?" He wanted still to reach out, to touch her, but she had forbidden it, for now. Later, with her sharp blows and fast reflexes, he would have her touch, be able to touch her in turn, but for now, he kept to himself.
Sometimes he made hurting him far too easy, and she was still furious enough, hurt enough herself, to take the blow. "My first husband."
He stilled, utterly and completely, face going to that mask of utter... cold neutrality of earlier. It was a blow to his concept of self and ego that she might have been married before, and never told him. "Oh?"
"I was young, and very, very foolish in the way of children who have never been thwarted and think that they are adult." His expression hurt her, another layer of cold pain added to the slick, clawed hurt low in her belly, but Adeline was adult enough to admit that it scared her as well. She no longer had the skill to match him, and his speed and strength, by all her current data, outmatched her considerably. Very little was as dangerous as Slade gone cold. "It was a serious mistake."
"I see." Slade mulled the idea around in his mind, tried to put it into place for what he knew of her. "Why?"
"Was it a mistake, or why had I made the mistake in the first place?"
"Was it a mistake? What happened?"
"I discovered data about his true activities and personality. He reacted poorly to my knowledge. I destroyed him."
Slade's eyebrow rose. "You destroyed him." He did not take that as a threat to himself, not yet. "What had he done?"
Adeline shook her head, taking a deep and careful breath. Detailing her own shame and stupidity required payment. "I believe it is my turn for truth, Slade. Did you ever intend to tell me?"
Slade gave her words considerable thought, because none of the immediate answers were quite the truth. "I hoped to have reason to," he finally decided. "I hoped you'd see the edge of it, and ask me. Until then...I thought you were happy." He grimaced. "My largest mistake in this, I think."
It was an acceptable answer. That he had wished to... Adeline did not forgive him for the threat to Joey. She could perhaps consider eventually forgiving him for a betrayal he had thought she wanted. "I was... not discontented. But I was not happy."
He nodded, sharp and as a concession that he would take that to heart now. "So what did the man do?"
"He sold French state secrets. He sold underage girls as prostitutes. He sold drugs. He very much enjoyed doing so. He presented two faces -- one was the man I had met and far too swiftly married, whom I had to an extent trusted, and one was this waste of resources. I found out. I was unimpressed." Adeline lifted one hand, spread the backs of her fingers over her cheekbone, where a remembered backhand had landed, knocking her sprawling from the surprise and the insult of it more than the damage. "He was unimpressed with my discovery of what he thought he had hidden, though not particularly threatened. In retrospect, I imagine he wishes he had killed me rather than simply striking me."
Flare of intense anger on her behalf from the man on the bed, a coiled and leashed rage, but there nonetheless. "I am certain you made him regret it," he managed in a tight voice.
The smile felt very cold on her face. Adeline did not object to that. "Yes. I did. I ruined him, very carefully and very thoroughly, and left him to rot in the worst jail I could purchase with all the influence a Kane can wield. I made him nothing."
That was the Adeline Kane that had thrilled Slade Wilson, the one that lurked beneath the instructor, beneath the Ops soldier, and he wondered, briefly, how he ever could have thought this terror in woman's form could ever have been fully put to rest and buried. He shifted, leaning up to be more on a level with her, his arms cording slightly at the shift in position. "Good." Some things deserved suffering before death, after all.
Adeline kept her gaze on his eyes evenly, waiting to see if he would understand the depths of her inability to be objective. "And then I told myself that I would never be such a fool again, and I went into the Army to kill the child I had been. And eventually met, and loved, and trusted, and married, you."
He took in her words, took them to heart, and realized just how far he had transgressed, even if it had been on faulty intelligence. It made him sit up, and despite her command earlier, rest his hand on hers. "My sit rep was very flawed, and led to a worse analysis than I could have imagined. For that, Adeline, I apologize."
"Your data was flawed, through no fault of your own," Adeline forced out eventually. It was easier to acknowledge her own fault with his apology, and his understanding. If he were not acknowledging his error, if he were only continuing in his maddening arrogance... no, she could not do this if he had denied her that much basic respect. "For that, I apologize. Dealing with Morel made me, in many ways. I had thought I had grown past him, and that he was not relevant. And I did not wish to tell you of an old shame."
"I think we've both got a couple of tales of youthful indulgence and stupidity in the past that we've never shared," Slade drawled out, sliding his hand along hers when she did not take it back. "Once we deal with the complete fallout of this strike, maybe we can discuss how to go forward, more honestly?" He knew he shouldn't push yet, but...he needed to.
"Perhaps," she answered, turning her hand under his own to brush their fingers together, angling very slightly away from him. She was not yet truly willing to be touched. But he had obviously needed the contact, and Adeline had been able to find it in herself to remain still. Then.
"That is all I may ask." He drew his hand back, and then laid with his head close to her knee, eyes closing slightly. "You answered more than one question; ask me another."
"You did not tell Frannie. Why?"
Slade grimaced at that question, not bothering to hide it. "I didn't want her to pull me under her organization in some ways. This was...mine."
Interesting. Illogical, but it fit Slade's particular variety of independence. "Is that an additional reason you did not tell me?"
"No." He snorted at the concept. Had he told Frannie, it would have been after telling his wife, no the other way around. He liked his hide in one piece, and he knew Frannie's opinions on secrets between marrieds.
"Good. She would have flayed you, and I think that my right rather than hers."
He laughed, a short soft sound. "I ceded it to you in the marriage contract, I'm pretty certain," he replied to that.
"If you did not, I suppose an addendum could be arranged."
He chuckled at her reply. "Consider it a verbal between us, wife."
"Add another. Don't lie to me again. I will do you the same courtesy."
Slade raised his head to view her again. "Adeline...think about that one carefully. If you come back into this life, and I stay here, do you really think complete honesty is going to be a boon?" There would be details of jobs, who hired them, other things that would be dangers to them both. "I would offer you complete honesty on anything you ask me to tell you, and anything that directly affects you or the boys."
Adeline stiffened, her spine drawing straight again, her chin tilting up. "Grant me sufficient respect to decide when someone should lie to me for my own good." Slade was not inaccurate. Complete honesty was not useful -- only enough data to complete the mission was required, and further information could hinder success. And yet. She would not be lied to again.
Slade took a deep breath and fought with himself. He wasn't used to being completely honest with himself. Even Wintergreen had to prod him hard from time to time. "I will be honest to you, for you, and with you," he told her at last.
"Thank you," Adeline told him, her voice soft, one hand sliding down to curl her fingertips into his hair. "Husband."
"Yes," he acknowledged, turning it into 'yours' with his soft inflection. He closed his eyes again, stretching his neck just a little to show how much he reveled in the way she touched him.
"I enjoyed working with you again, and Dinah." Adeline did not cease touching him, though her hand was nothing but light on his hair, his cheekbone, the hard line of his jaw.
"Hmm." Reminder of the stranger made his mind flick over the knowns and unknowns in that situation. "She is... an enigma. But secondary to the current situation."
"Yes. The rest of this must be resolved first. After... she will be solved after."
Slade snorted. There was no 'solving' a woman. There was finding the right one, and there was learning how to negotiate between others, but no solving them.
Adeline laughed, knowing him well enough to be aware of his opinions on that score, before she sobered. "Why does Wintergreen know?"
Slade tensed all over, the memory of that mission to save his best friend written in his skin, and he pulled away, letting her see the haunting in his eyes. "He was there at the birth of it all," Slade managed to say. "In that damned jungle...maybe just hours from death, given how poor a shape he was in."
Adeline spread her fingers over his shoulder, a warm and steady press of her still-callused hand in reassurance and a command: stay with me. "I find it difficult to imagine a better reason."
He breathed harshly, then shuddered once and settled again near her, letting those nightmares slide into the past where they belonged. The elder soldier had retired on medical grounds, but he was certainly fit now.
She shifted her weight to ease closer to him, her hand on his shoulder sliding up to curve over his nape, holding on. "Easy, Slade... "
"He saw me use the strength, the speed. Saw how I chafed at the way I couldn't find a place...and then he introduced me to the first contacts."
There was a portion of Adeline that leaped at the chance to blame Wintergreen, but no -- Wintergreen had made her no promises. Though she had liked to think they were friends. It was still Slade, and herself, who deserved her anger. "I see."
"He..." There was a knot there, but she demanded honesty. "He's been the one, all my career, to slide the next piece into place, right up until Camp Washington. Finding the way to make me fit my skin better. He asked about you, about if I had told you. I told him what I had thought. He would never go across my wishes."
"Do you think I did not have an idea of what the two of you were to each other?" That Wintergreen had asked... perhaps she had not been wrong in thinking they were friends. Adeline could not blame him for choosing Slade over herself -- she would have chosen Slade over Wintergreen.
"Teacher, before you, after Frannie," he murmured.
Rather more than that, if Adeline knew them. But then, this entire discussion had happened because neither she nor Slade had known each other as well as they thought they did. "Hardly only that, I think."
Slade snorted. "Instigator, friend, lifesaver..."
"Slade. Only that?"
He shifted to look up at her and recognize she knew. That...and that she was not condemning him for it...made him realize again just how much he loved her. "More."
"I did tell you not to lie to me," Adeline murmured, and smoothed his hair. "I always knew. I merely trusted you."
"You'd never have reason not to, not on that," he told her, somewhat stiffly. How much of that was his word to be hers alone, and how much was...bound up in the complexities of why Wintergreen and he were not lovers any longer was unknown even to himself.
"No lie you could tell me, Slade, would be sufficient to convince me otherwise. You made a promise to me." And his word, though his odd form of integrity could be twisted into lying to her, could not stretch enough to that sort of betrayal. Any other reasons she did not know. But the stiffness of his tone was interesting. She would perhaps need to discuss rather more than this situation with Wintergreen, when an appropriate time came up.
He relaxed, slowly, laid out for her to touch as she chose, eyes half closed and his body in a state of drowsy peace.
"You should sleep," she said evenly, one hand still wrapped around his nape, her other hand running gently over his arm and his side. She was still angry with him and with herself, but Joey was safe, Adeline had repaid Dinah, and Slade had apologized. She had built more with less.
"Wish you could," he admitted. "Will." He inched up closer to her, so his forehead was touching her leg.
"Tomorrow, I think. Or later tonight." The bitter taste of Adeline's own fear, her hatred and shame, the rush of adrenaline, were ebbing. Her system needed the rest. Not to sleep would be inefficient. Slade's hair was soft under her fingers.
"I do love you, wife," he murmured before letting sleep take him with the efficiency of a lifelong soldier.
Adeline could doubt that he trusted her, or that he respected her, could hate him for his betrayal and for putting Joey at risk. But she could never doubt that he loved her. She closed her eyes, sitting awake in the dark, stroking the soft skin at the base of his skull, and let herself drift listening to Slade breathe.
Dinah woke and found the fresh clothing laid for her in the guest bath; soon she felt human and made her way into the main rooms of the house. It was... an odd feeling to see people that had been dead before she met Slade. Frannie was every bit the strength she had surmised from Slade's words on her, and Adeline was... impressive. Joey had the pure innocence still that had made him something of a treasure to every Titan he met. In fact, now, as she watched him with Frannie, Dinah was surprised all over again that the boy could be the son of one of the most feared men in her world and time.
Good-looking girl, Frannie thought, looking up through her lashes at Dinah while dealing with Joey. Tiny little thing, but she had strength, and she knew how to use her smaller size -- that was all over her. She reminded Frannie, a little bit, of Gretchen in '40. Same kind eyes and ruthless baby mouth. "What do you think of last night's op?"
Dinah pushed all thoughts of Slade's impatience and rougher edges to the back of her mind, burying them. Not his fault he was still green to his gifts, not thoroughly the seasoned man she remembered. "It went smoothly, thanks to the planning, equipment, and the expertise." Dinah smiled at Joey, accepting his sharing of his snack with her.
More to what Dinah thought than just that, but a brief discussion where Joey could hear was one little thing. More... well. Pretty Addie had made Frannie take a step back when she was in a temper more than once, and she'd been unstoppable last night. Face like a Dresden china miss, blank and palely smooth, and just a little terrifying with it. Addie would just be in a worse temper if somebody upset her baby boy again now, and Frannie couldn't say she blamed her for it. "Glad to help. Nice to know what's been going on with my boy lately."
"A bit of a keeper of his own counsel, I'd say." Dinah wasn't about to risk upsetting anyone in this house, not when she very carefully did not want to steer things toward worse conclusions than the original playbook called for. No, for now, she'd throw herself at Joey's mercies, keeping him occupied for his parents, even if boys were odder creatures than her Lian.
"Huh! Sounds like you know him, for your sins."
Dinah shook her head slightly. "He's a bit of a stranger to me, ma'am, but I know one quite similar." True enough, given the years' changes in Slade from this rudely abrasive man to the calculatingly abrasive one she knew.
"One man's usually like another," Frannie agreed smoothly. "Some just worse, some better."
"Some just need a little seasoning," Dinah opined. "Joey, would you like to draw or make music today?" she asked, voice soft, as it became obvious the nearly school-age boy was tired of his snack.
"Draw!" was the vibrant declaration, which led to Dinah looking for supplies for him.
Slade was a bit of a stranger to her, but she knew his boy well enough to know what he liked to do? Addie had said the girl was from sometime in the future. A little seasoning *indeed*. What Addie was going to do to her boy that this Dinah was going to matter... "You're good with Joey," Frannie observed, watching him sketch, his hand careful on the crayon.
Dinah's eyes did not quite hide the pain fast enough. "I'm glad...I'm really not used to boys, and ... my niece is not a normal child, most of my uncles tell me." No, they said Lian was like she had been, thriving as the daughter of a hero.
Now why had that hurt the girl, Frannie wondered. "Had two boys of my own, and then Slade and Addie's pair. Never did have a little girl."
"They're a precious gift," Dinah said, nowhere near as neutrally as she needed to with this woman. "That's very good, Joey. Such an artist!" she praised the boy, focused on him to ignore her past.
Dinah wasn't a bad liar. Just not anywhere close to good enough. "He is," Frannie said, once Joey had stopped beaming and settled down to draw something else. "But you know that."
Dinah raised her eyes to meet the older woman's gaze, nodding slightly. She then gave Joey her attention as he spun the story to go with his pictures to this pretty woman who liked him.
Slade was a good boy. Not like his bastard father or Wade. But how *far* in the future was Dinah from? Frannie thought, plotted, waited for Slade and Addie to surface while she laughed in the right places for Joey's story and watched Dinah do the same thing.
Slade stirred once he felt rested, and raised his head to see his wife, hoping she had found some rest.
Adeline twitched as the warmth by her leg moved, coming awake from her doze smoothly. Her legs had gone to sleep, and her spine protested sleeping vertically. But Adeline already knew she had permitted herself to soften. "Slade."
"Morning." He sat up, then indicated she ought to turn so he could work her back out of its knots. "If we're going to spar later..." he added for why, even as he hated that he felt it was necessary to clarify what he wanted to do anyway.
"We are. Though I am not looking forward to humiliating myself." She did not hiss as she moved, her legs clumsy with the prickling rush of returning blood before she settled again, swept her hair over one shoulder to bare her back to Slade's hands.
"Mmm." Slade's hands settled on her back, and he began working the muscles in groups, controlling the strength of his hands so precisely. He could spar at human level. He had to, when he faced friendly matches. Not that Wintergreen often obliged him there, either. But it was ingrained in his training; never show more than you absolutely had to, so he had learned to leash his abilities as soon as he knew he was going to use them all the time.
That was an interesting sound. His hands on her back felt precisely as strong as they always had, but of course they would -- he had spent such a long time pretending to be nothing more than what she had thought him. What would she have seen, if she had not been trying so hard to ignore everything of his hunts and drown out the craving to join him? "Your control seems very good."
"Good." Slade leaned in and kissed the back of her head... not sexual in any way, just an 'I'm glad you approve' kind of gesture. He knew she'd take it that way. "After all that time I spent afraid to touch you or Grant..."
"Just after the experiment, when you were unpredictable," Adeline finished for him. She had carefully kept Grant away from Slade as much as she could, not wanting him to be hurt if Slade were unexpectedly stronger than he had thought he would be. Not wanting him to be afraid if Slade collapsed, being unexpectedly weaker than he had thought he would be. Those months had been hell.
"Yes." Learning to call the strength in just the amount he needed had taken time; Wintergreen had been one hell of a taskmaster, though, recalling details of his rescue to use as starting points. "The strength is the hardest at times to control. I've learned to push the senses to the background of my awareness almost automatically. The speed takes calling on it."
"What else has altered?" Adeline had witnessed some of it while working with him, and could draw conclusions, but a part of herself screamed that Slade owed her the truth, that he should tell her. It would be more efficient. She could simply double-check the data later via observation.
"Smell, taste, hearing, sight, touch... all well above human ability. Strength. Speed, both in motion and reflex. Stamina. Healing." He took a deep breath and tried to find the right phrasing for her. "I process far more of the inputs than I ever did before, quicker."
"You think faster and more efficiently," Adeline translated, her eyes narrowing in curiosity and interest. "What are the limits?"
Slade gave her his devilish grin, even though she could not see it from where he was working her muscles, but she could hear it in his voice. "I guess, Captain, you're just going to need to help me find those."
The laugh cracked the cold, tight ball of hurt lurking low inside her, bubbling up from Adeline's mouth champagne-dry and warmly affectionate. "You're good, Slade. I can still make you better."
"Don't I just know it?" he said in a low rumble of appreciation and pride in her ability to do just that. No Bill Walsh madness in him; he loved that she could do just that.
That fact might be what had first made Adeline realize she loved him. His respect for her, and his pride in his own skill, and his pride in *hers*. And yet he had not trusted her with this secret, had genuinely believed she had been glad to lay her weapons down. Adeline did not answer him in words, merely pushing back faintly against the warmth of his hands on her back.
He took that as a sign that maybe it could still work, but concentrated now on easing her stiffness.
"Mmmm," Adeline purred, a low sound of purely physical contentment, relaxing under his touch. She needed to talk to Frannie. She wanted to talk to Dinah. She needed to talk to Wintergreen. All of it would wait for this situation to be resolved.
"What do you think our next move needs to be, Addie?" Slade asked her, obviously running along the same thought patterns.
"Finding the original source of this problem." She sneered, her scorn blatant in her tone. "Walsh lacked the skill to do this on his own."
Slade nodded, then paused. The relief in Dinah's face, at his reaction to her words about friends changing had been for more than the immediate problem. It was as if she had been relieved that he could see betrayal that close. "The girl knows more."
"I am unsurprised. Getting it out of her... between the two of us, the task should be doable."
"Holding back...for fear of being found? Will take finesse, but you are a master of that." Slade knew her skills well in gathering intel.
"I doubt that that is her fear." The words came out slowly, but Adeline had agreed to honesty of her own in payment for Slade's.
"Hmm." Slade found the knot at the base of her spine and worked it
"My assumption is that she knows how this fight was intended to go, and wishes to alter that. Thoroughly. To give too much data too swiftly might risk her mission failing."
"Very well." His left hand settled on the outside of her hip, and then his right one settled at the join of spine in the pelvic girdle, allowing him to oh so carefully shift the tension there, and ease her back completely.
Adeline sighed as the remainder of her physical tension left her spine, her shoulders relaxing as her muscles let go. "Thank you."
"Anytime." He rose from the bed, and offered her a hand up. "Shall we get dressed and go find our son?"
"There is one more piece of data about Dinah you may find interesting." Adeline very nearly felt guilty about divulging Dinah's affection for Slade, but she had wanted Adeline to listen to him. To continue *trusting* him. Adeline had made Dinah no promises, and all of this was merely rationalizing away the confidence she was breaching. "In her future, I believe she cared greatly for you, and that her affection was mutual to some degree."
Slade paused, absorbing that data in. He shook his head, frowning. "Her future may not exist now, by her own actions." He pointedly took her left hand so he could touch the ring. "But I will keep that in mind." It might prove a useful tool to use, after all.
"As, believe me, will I." Adeline curved her hand into his, taking the brush of his fingers over her wedding ring as the unnecessary but appreciated reassurance it was. "I would say she knows that, and considers the trade worth it." Because however this should have gone would hurt Slade enough that Dinah considered it necessary to fix it. Had Adeline died in this fight, in Dinah's world? Had Joey? Had Grant been home and hurt?
Slade slowly let go of her to get properly dressed for being out in the main part of the house. "We'll learn what we can, and Grant has a holiday soon, I believe, so we can see if he's noticed anything odd around his school, just to be on the safe side."
"Yes," she agreed, already distracted by thought and plans and diagrams of attack spinning behind her eyes. Such a long time since Adeline had let herself see the world three-dimensionally as more than a cardboard cutout of humanoid shapes. That her children were why she could do it now was an obscenity, but the freedom of settling back into the skin she had chosen for herself was intoxicating.
He smiled over at her, liking what he could see. Maybe now, they could be as full partners as they should have been in Vietnam, if they hadn't inadvertently started their family a little too early.
Adeline let go of his hand to make herself presentable, still thinking, her body beginning to slip back into the rhythm she had preferred it use in moods like this. Restoring herself to proper shape was going to be a nightmare, but at least she had been unable to let herself slip below maintenance levels. Her stamina was not what it should be, or her strength, and her speed would need to be worked on, and her flexibility did not bear *thinking* on... what had Walsh wanted? What had he wished badly enough to attempt to use hostages to negotiate with Slade, of all men? And who had helped him?
When they were both dressed, Slade waited at the door for her, so she could exit first, and then slipped close enough to be her escort, as was proper. His manners... were very Wintergreen. Yes, Frannie would insist on being a gentleman, but the polish on the way he did it smacked of British ways.
"You're picking up bad habits, Slade," Adeline teased, her tone quietly mocking. "I can't decide if you remind me more of Wintergreen or Father."
Slade laughed at that, thinking about it. "I can try to be a little more roughshod, if you like," he promised her, a hint of seduction in his tone. "It's gotten to be habit, from all those social events."
"I refuse to be Lady Kane now that I have the chance to be *myself* again." The words came out as a low snarl, ripping out of all her quiet years hobbling herself, resentment and frustration and rage.
Slade sighed in complete relief at that. "Good. I prefer my Captain... and my wife."
Adeline glanced over her shoulder at him, raising one eyebrow in sharp amusement. "We are already married, Slade. You have no need to woo me again."
Slade laughed fully, throat-deep and joyful at that. "The day I don't pay proper attention to you, Mrs. Wilson, is the day I need a wooden box."
"Well then, Major. I believe that after food, Frannie, and Joey -- " Her voice softened on his name, her mouth curving in a gentler smile. " -- You owe me a spar." And the chance to see him completely -- he had never been able to hide from her in a fight.
"I'm a lucky man for it," Slade told her, and he meant it in every way possible.
"Yes," Adeline agreed, quietly aware of her own attractiveness, and the ways she suited Slade particularly well. The fair response would be that she herself was also lucky. She did not know that she could say that yet, did not know if she would believe it, and so she merely wrapped her hand around Slade's again instead.
He led her to the kitchen, acquiring some of whatever Frannie had simmering in the pot, for both himself and Addie, while she got their drinks. The pair were then able to go to the table, where Dinah was still sitting with Joey, listening to his fantastic tales so patiently as he drew and colored so neatly.
Everything in Adeline softened for Joey's voice babbling stories, his careful sketches filling in color with more skill than she had ever managed, and when he broke off to smile up at her she bent, brushed her mouth gently over his forehead, murmured affection in the French she was trying to teach him and Grant.
Dinah had to smile at that, even as she pulled free of Joey's space to encourage him to be social to his mother and father. She slipped free of the boy's attention to go decide her next move. She hadn't been caught by any of the time-police types, she hadn't seen a blazing portal to go home through, and... her future was going to be so different, if this kept going well. That required thinking over. Was she trapped here now? Or was her mission not at an end? Wade...he had been so vicious; could failing at this make him more obvious with an attack?
Slade looked at the pictures carefully when Joey slid over to show them off, and took a moment to kiss his son's curls, relieved, again, that the boy was safe.
That obvious relief let Adeline stay soft, the tight-clenched ball of betrayal cracking further under Slade's relief and love for Joey. She glanced at Frannie, unsurprised to note the calculating gleam in the other woman's eyes, and raised one eyebrow in a curious query. Frannie merely shook her head once, glancing at Dinah standing apart, and Adeline lowered her eyebrow in understanding: later for discussions of her, and the rest of it. "Tell your father about the drawing you were working on the other day," she said softly, and when he began to speak excitedly she slipped over to Dinah.
Slade recognized being babysat as much as doing the babysitting. He did not eavesdrop completely on the women, letting Addie handle that her way. He instead probed the details of his son's imagination and the efforts he had put forth to draw his pictures.
Dinah looked up at Addie, and gave her a genuine smile. "Joey's a talented boy."
"Yes, he is." Her returning smile was equally genuine, softly loving. "We're very lucky to have him. Thank you for your help."
Dinah shook her head at that, dismissing the gratitude. "It's what I do. In this case, it just had a little extra punch for me." She glanced back toward the two Wilson males, before back at Addie. "Grant wasn't touched by this, was he? Nothing I knew said he was in immediate danger."
One child safe, for the moment, then. Though Dinah's data could no longer be trusted for accuracy -- changing one thing could conceivably change everything. "Not yet. Walsh's allies may change their target."
Dinah's eyes flashed with excessive anger at that idea. She had a target; all she needed was a way to find him, preferably without involving the family under this roof. Too many blood ties involved, and Dinah wasn't risking the Kindly Ones, even if they had never bothered to take care of the target in her timeline, as they should have. "Do you have any leads?" she asked in a professional voice.
"Not yet." But Dinah knew. There was far too much anger there, far too personal a fury. This was a gamble, but no battle had ever been won by nothing but caution. "I will when you tell me the rest of your data."
"I'm not sure I can, Addie." Dinah tipped her chin up. "The amount I've meddled so far hasn't snatched me away, but... if I outright tell you things, I might be. And there is one person I wish stopped before that happens, for the sake of your family."
"Only one?" Convenient, that this hydra had only two heads. "I admit, I am grateful for your 'meddling' so far."
Dinah bit her lip, but no Watcher showed up to say she had been bad, no Monitor. She then nodded, before looking around the house, to see if there was any picture whatsoever of the man in question.
Dinah was glancing around the room as though she expected to find a clue here... and why would she? Some friend of Frannie's or Max's? An ally they had worked with during the War? Family of someone they had had to order out to die for the sake of the mission? Adeline's eyes narrowed thoughtfully, her head tilting.
Dinah's frustration at seeing nothing was patently obvious, and the seemingly younger woman sighed. "Watch close over your children, Addie, and maybe they'll be safe."
So she had expected to see something, and hadn't. Target had been important enough to have a clue to identity in Frannie's home -- the clue was no longer visible. No longer important, perhaps, left behind like all Frannie's dead... wait. No. Impossible. She had seen him die. But if the implausible had been stripped away, there was nothing else left. And there had been rumors of death not being as permanent as it should be. And to go after her sons again would be just *like* Wade, whom she had been thinking of so often recently. "My children were threatened once before," Adeline said, quietly conversational, watching Dinah's face. "It seems to be a favored target."
"Shame that holidays like that can get interrupted," Dinah said, just as conversationally, but yes, she knew that story too.
"Isn't it?" Yes, Dinah knew precisely what Adeline was talking about. No denial of her implication registered in Dinah's eyes, but neither had confirmation.
"At least the godfather is another reliable man, from all I ever heard," Dinah said. "Unlike, say, other family members with entirely too much unhealthy interest in things that belong with Slade."
That, however, was certainly confirmation. "You know how little brothers can be when they are so thoroughly upstaged. Their mothers do tend to take offense to sibling rivalry taken so far, and his was... efficient." Wade should be *dead*. Perhaps in Dinah's world Frannie had not arrived, and Adeline had stayed rather than leaving with Grant and Joey. Perhaps Slade had killed Wade. Or perhaps Frannie had missed.
"Sometimes little brothers bite back at the mother too, when they see a chance down the road," Dinah said softly. "Especially when they've got proof mommy really does like the oldest one."
"Fortunately, Oedipus never had a brother." Wade threatening *Frannie*? No. She was too old, too canny, too good to lose to him. "Though Jocasta had thought he was dead. I always wondered what she felt like, learning the son she had thought was dead was alive."
"Funny you should mention that." Dinah tucked her feet up under her. "I grew up on tales of the Greek world. Crimes of the blood always carried such penalties too." Her eyes flicked hard on Addie's face, trying to convey how dangerous it was to let Slade or Frannie fix this, not with a future that might still tangle with Wonder Girl. "It taught me that sometimes an outside hand is needed for certain tasks."
Adeline's inhale was too deep, sudden realization flaring through phosphorus-bright. Very definitely confirmation. Wade was not dead, he was the target, and Dinah was not inaccurate -- neither Slade nor Frannie could deal the killing blow. "The attention of the Kindly Ones is rarely desired."
Dinah laughed softly, continuing as if this were a normal conversation now that the meaning had been conveyed. "Proof that humanity has long since believed public relations can change the truth of something, yes? To take them from Erinyes to Eumenídes?" Her pronunciation was very classical, but passing.
"It does depend on your definition," Adeline argued. "Justice, while never kind to the perpetrator, can be a kindness for the victims. I always resented that Clytemnestra was punished for avenging Iphigenia and Orestes escaped the Kindly Ones."
"My aunt was of the opinion that the only crime there was in taking out her rage on a fellow victim of Agamemnon's masculine ego," Dinah told her.
Adeline laughed, settling back in her chair. "I would agree with your aunt. Cassandra did not deserve that fate. But then, I always wondered why the Kindly Ones had not dealt with Agamemnon themselves."
"Well, the sacrifice was supposedly demanded by the gods," Dinah said. "Merely a girl, of course, which is why Artemis became involved. Those damned patriarchal Greeks could get away with murder, as long as it was just a girl. But oh no, we have an avenging woman who dared take a lover and replace the man that was dead to her for the slaying of her child, and there comes vengeance!" Dinah rolled her eyes. "Polly never much cared for those stories."
Adeline's mouth lifted in a sneer, old resentment sharpening the curve of her mouth. "Later versions edited that portion so that Iphigenia was whisked away and replaced with a deer. I would still have destroyed any husband of mine who would kill my child, and cursed any gods who told me otherwise. I believe that I like your Polly."
"I've had the impression she would have liked you for a while now." Dinah didn't think about the fact Polly was alive here and now... until she realized that Polly would take her in. Time-tossed or not, Hippolyta would not leave her to live alone.
"I'm flattered," Adeline smiled, but the expression on Dinah's face was relief and hope and an edge of joy, and wasn't that interesting? "What is it, Dinah?" 'For a while now'... well, it was not as though Adeline did not already know Dinah was from the future. Her desire to know what had shaped Dinah's timeline, and how, was not truly relevant.
Dinah shook her head, but then she sighed softly. "Been wondering where to go, if I can't go home. My Aunt would believe me, would take me in, and she's isolated enough that I should not cause much harm there. Might even put some sense in my cousin's head."
"You helped me save my son," Adeline said softly, her voice steel. "You would be welcome anywhere I had influence. But if you cannot get home, I am glad you have family available. And I sympathize about senseless cousins, though I imagine Martha would have regaled you with childhood stories to prove that I was the senseless one."
Sadness crept into Dinah's eyes at that. "Talk about sense and cousins," she whispered, before her jaw firmed in hard lines. Bruce... needed to walk his path. Or else Dick would not be saved. And that affected her Boy-o's life. Not to mention all the ways Batman had affected people for good, not just the creeps in the shadows.
Adeline tilted her head, her voice calm. "I like you much better wearing that expression. Though I will admit it is very close to intimidating."
"Me? Intimidating?" Dinah laughed, shaking her hair out a little and managing a very convincing 'bored socialite' look. "I'm just a tourist, ma'am."
"*Very* nice," Adeline approved, eying the tip of Dinah's head and the suddenly vacantly disinterested look on her mobile face. "Someone taught you well." She shifted in her chair, rearranging her body to Lady Kane's gracefully elegant, harmless lines, her loose hair drifting over her face as she tilted her head.
"I think I actually owe that to your cousin, for him dragging me to certain events I never would have been at," Dinah admitted, seeing no harm in that piece of information. "And to think that younger, I would have paid for the privilege of the date..." She laughed a little.
Him... ah. Bruce. "From everything I know, he inherited Martha's looks. I am unsurprised you would have paid for his company."
Dinah turned a little to look at Joey with Slade, savoring that image. No matter what, this was worth it, and she was damn sure going to remember she was Star City when she tracked down Frannie's misbegotten child. Because she did not want this wrecked. She did not want the older boy growing up bitter, or Adeline too sharp to ever forgive. Wade had to go down, and stay down. She looked back to Addie, and took a deep breath. "The sooner I go, maybe the better, Addie."
"Go hunting," she asked quietly, "Or simply go? The first... I could, perhaps, aid with. I would very much enjoy doing so. The latter is less likely."
Dinah surveyed the woman across from her. "A trade? Your help, for mine. Our little sortie, versus me helping you perfect the shape you are in now."
Adeline's smile flicked out like a blade, sharp and viciously pleased. "Accepted. With great pleasure."
Dinah would have to endure seeing that younger man a little longer, because Addie would make it so much easier to do this. And... Slade was very different. He did not have the air of tragedy all over him, or the high-profit-high-risk mentality she had met him under. "I have a feeling I'll wind up learning a good deal," she teased lightly.
"Perhaps," Adeline answered, shrugging one shoulder. "I know that I will. You fight beautifully." Then she frowned, deliberately, a faint thoughtful twist of her mouth. "It is oddly familiar, however." Dinah had already said she would not give her cape name. But Adeline was curious, intrigued, and any reaction Dinah gave, even the lack of a reaction, might be useful.
Dinah just shrugged. "Based in Judo, so I'm not surprised it would be familiar. Of course, I've picked up half a dozen styles since then, complete, and added maneuvers from others." She then smiled, as she realized she was going to get to see if Addie had learned the counter that Slade had created to fight Wildcat's punch.
"Dinah," Adeline murmured, her smile stretching into something warmly genuine, intrigued and amused and anticipatory, "I believe I'm going to enjoy this a great deal."
The other woman nodded and reached out to grip Addie's hand. "I know I will enjoy the privilege."