“Bruce?” Dick chirped, voice high and unbroken by puberty. The boy was tiny, and he looked all the tinier laid out on the library’s massive Persian rug, a textbook half his weight spread out before him. Bruce didn’t respond, chasing the last few sentences of the diary he was reading. It was evidence, for a case. Lifted from Gordon’s men, crucial in a local, occult-style murder. It had taken Bruce upwards of an hour to decipher the cryptic code in which it was written. But just a few sentences more and—
“Bruce!” Dick cried out, kicking his little legs against the floor. “Bruce, pay attention!”
Bruce forced himself to look up, away from the inked pages. He wiped his expression clear of any animus. Dick was just a boy, and Dick’s boredom was Bruce’s own fault. Dick was a brilliant child, and despite all of Dick’s pleas, Bruce refused to give him substantial casework. Casework that could sate Dick’s thirst for challenges and burning desire to do, specifically to do good. But if the cost of Dick’s safety was Dick’s ire and occasionally Dick’s tantrums, then so be it. After all, the boy was only eight.
“Yes?” Bruce murmured. “What is it, Dick?”
Delighted with Bruce’s attention, Dick scrambled into a sitting position, dragging the textbook into his lap. The text was so large, Dick’s bony knees just barely poked past the text’s spread length.
“I don’t understand,” Dick began. Bruce quirked an eyebrow. He’d yet to encounter reading too advanced for Dick. But perhaps Classical literature was just a step above—
“Hesiod describes Zeus as wise, for giving Persephone to Hades,” Dick began, pointing to the relevant passage. “But Diodorus says that Zeus’s choice led to Demeter razing the Earth’s fertility. I don’t understand how that could have been wise, if Zeus was forced to fix it. Also, there’s a lotta talk about Demeter and Hades and Zeus, but why’d Persephone eat the pome-poma-the fruit. Why’d she eat the fruit? I mean, she hadda know at least a little bit ‘bout the Underworld,” Dick rattled off as if he’d been holding it in for hours. Bruce bit back a smile.
“Well, Dick,” Bruce began, glancing back at his evening’s reading. “Those are two different versions of a similar story. But maybe Hesoid would think it was wise because there’s a necessary balance to the story of Persephone. The Queen of Hades is also a goddess of Spring. With the harshness of winter comes the abundance of summer. As for why… when Persephone was a goddess of spring, she was Kore. A maiden. When she becomes Queen, she grows into her name. She grows up. The story of Persephone is about coming of age and seasons and maybe the need for contrast. If not for Zeus’s choice, there would be no snow drifts for you to throw yourself into.” Bruce’s voice trailed as he returned his attention to his case.
Meanwhile, Dick nodded, scanning the words over again with this newfound perspective.
“Balance, like how you need balance?” Dick asked.
Bruce jerked up from the book again, glancing over at Dick with knitted brows. “I’m sorry?”
Dick grinned cheekily, without an ounce of shame.
“Just, you know. The Batman’s so big and scary. That’s why no one likes him. Cuz Hades is a god of the Underworld, but he’s also a god of wealth. And Persephone is a goddess of Spring AND an Iron Queen. Everybody’s like… like a coin. There are two sides, and ya need both. For balance. Like, maybe Batman needs someone to be bright and happy while he broods. He needs a flipside. Someone to help and distract the bad guys and make Batman less scary for the good guys.
“And I bet that someone would need to be real good at jumping and flying,” Dick prattled on, having abandoned his book entirely in favor of emphatic gestures. “Someone to be his partner, so that Batman’s not all alone anymore.” He finished by looking up at Bruce with his too-big blue eyes and his round, soft face and saying, “And I was born in March, ‘n’ all. Mom used to call me Robin, you know.”
Bruce’s frown deepened. “Absolutely not, Dick,” he said, voice hoarse. “I didn’t pluck you from that fire to throw you back into it. You’re safe now. You will stay safe.”
Rather than look disappointed, Dick hummed. “Okay. But don’t say I didn’t tell you. I know I’m little, but that’s because I’m a kore. I’ll grow up too.”
“You’re not Kore,” Bruce murmured, turning away. “You’re not a maiden. Settle down and read. And don’t eat any fruit from strange men, these are myths, not best practices.”
Bruce never did say Dick didn’t tell him, not when he first began crafting Dick’s costume, not when Dick jumped his first roof, not when Dick tackled his first crook. But Bruce hated it. He hated that part of Dick that sought out the darkest part in others, just so he could shine a light there.
Bruce hated it when Dick brought Koriand’r home. A hot-headed alien who didn’t bat her eyes over using her destructive powers. For now, those powers were aimed at the resilient and terrible villains she and Dick encountered as Titans, but what of mood shifts and bad calls?
And then there was Helena, the wild card that Bruce both wanted to protect and to cloister away, at least until her anger subsides. Dick drew to her like a moth to a flame, and she used him for it. Barbara, sensible girl, warned Dick every bit as much as Bruce, but Dick never did listen.
Of course, and then there were the unmentionables. Those who did hurt Dick, dearly, no matter how bright and beautiful Dick was to them. Those were the ones that made Bruce punch walls and gnash his teeth. And so maybe Bruce had never been Hades at all. Maybe he was Demeter.
And maybe he would sooner raze the Earth than see Dick taken by the blackholes that Dick encountered; those people who absorbed his light and ate it as if it never touched them to begin with.
Slade Wilson was one of those people.
Dick rolled out of bed, sheets sliding away from his skin like water flows over a riverbed. He stretched, the muscles of his back and those between his legs singing with the night’s activities. He felt a satisfying pop, and he lowered his arms with a sigh.
As he wandered over to the bathroom, he heard a grunt from the bed he left behind.
“I’ll be back,” he promised, glancing over his shoulder.
“Go ahead, kid,” Slade grumbled, burying his face further into his pillow. “I’m not pining.”
Dick rolled his eyes but shut the door behind him. After using the toilet, he went to the sink to wash his hands and face, but he stopped short at his reflection.
“Fuck. Slade!” He shouted, cupping a hand over the swaths of bruises on his neck. “Slade, you dick!”
The door swung open and Slade, naked save for boxer briefs, shouldered into Dick’s tiny apartment bathroom. “What?” Then, he saw the heat creeping across Dick’s cheeks and up his neck, and he saw where Dick planted a hand. Slade laughed, a warm, full bodied sound. “Sorry, kid. You make such pretty noises when I nip your neck, couldn’t help it.”
Dick huffed and lifted his hand to look at the atrocities into the mirror again. He winced. “There is no way I can hide this. I have lunch with Bruce and Selina,” he groaned.
“Cancel,” Slade shrugged, wrapping his arms around Dick’s waist and tugging him back against Slade’s body. “Stay in bed. Tell them you got tangled up with a mercenary in Bludhaven and you’ll see them some other time. Tell him a very bad man took you away and now you're otherwise occupied.”
Dick rolled his eyes but didn’t push Slade away. “Bruce reads the news, he’ll never believe me. And you’re not funny.”
“I’m hilarious,” Slade murmured, nosing Dick’s hand aside to peck Dick’s neck again, right over the purple bruises. “The Bat just sucks your sense of humor away. I can strangle you, if you’d like. Cover these up with more compelling marks. Then you’d have a harrowing story in which you, hapless and good, narrowly escaped the clutches of someone terrible and vicious, who'd wanted to tie you up and do improper things to your nubile body-- and the Bat’ll be none the wiser.”
“Please don’t strangle me,” Dick murmured. “I’m not even kidding. Hard no on strangulation. I've been strangled before and it wasn't pleasant.”
“Different sensation,” Slade assured him, meeting Dick’s eyes in the mirror. “When you strangle to kill, you concentrate pressure on the trachea.” Slade gently traced the bumpy column of Dick’s throat. “When you strangle for pleasure, you apply pressure on either side.” Slade wrapped a hand around Dick’s neck, never pressing into his skin. Abruptly, he dropped his hand. “Of course, there’s no safe asphyxiation, it’s always a gamble.”
Dick let himself breathe.
“Yeah, still no,” he murmured. “I guess I’ll wear a scarf. If I can even find a scarf thick enough to cover this.”
Slade scoffed. “Don’t be dramatic. You’re a Wayne. I’m assuming you’ve got concealer lying around?”
And thus, Dick found himself perched on his kitchen bar stool while Deathstroke the Terminator applied his makeup.
“I keep it around for public appearances ‘n’ stuff,” Dick muttered. “Can’t let people know that Bruce Wayne’s vapid kid gets punched around on the weekends.”
“Self-conscious isn’t a good look on you, little bird,” Slade murmured, as he dabbed on the second layer and shade of concealer. “And none of that explains why you own a Beauty Blender.”
Dick flushed a pretty shade of pink. “It just. It blends really well.”
“Yeah? You should show me your contour sometime,” Slade snorted. Dick bit his lower lip and Slade rolled his eyes. “This is beginning to explain stains I’ve had to clean out of my uniforms before. And here I thought Wondergirl just didn’t know her shade.”
“The only time I’ve fought in makeup is when I’ve been surprised,” Dick retorted. “I don’t like. Dress up to fight. Not in foundation. You try living under flash photography without a little stage makeup.”
Slade set aside the blender and brushed some powder over Dick’s neck. “Kid, I don’t care. Go take a look. You’ll still need a scarf, but it should be easier.”
Slade was right. Dick turned and preened in front of his mirror. The bruises were still visible, but much less so. And with a scarf, and maybe a distracting hairstyle, they were barely noticeable.
“You’re being oddly helpful this morning,” Dick called out into the bedroom, where Slade had returned to get dressed. Slade pulled on a glove.
“I’m just endearing myself to you, so that you’ll resist less when I snatch you from your father’s cold, stiffening fingers,” Slade said, sliding his eyepatch on.
“That’s not funny, Slade,” Dick hissed, turning around and leaning in the door way. “It never is. You won’t kill Bruce. I won’t let you. And if you did, you’d lose me, and you know it.”
Slade flashed a toothy grin. “Of course, kid. I have no intention of killing your old man. But, there will come a time where I take you, whether he likes it or not.”
“He’d turn Gotham over,” Dick murmured. “You wouldn’t get away with it.”
Slade finished dressing, at least in all but his mask. Dick strode into the bedroom and opened his closet, pulling out pieces so that he could get ready for his day. Slade picked out the scarf and helped Dick place it just so.
“Little bird, when I come for you, you’ll follow,” Slade murmured, as he adjusted the fabric around Dick’s neck. Dick recalled what it felt like to have his hand around there instead. “Daddy Bats can only do so much, when you want it too. You ever heard of Persephone, kid?”
Dick started. He furrowed his brows and looked up at Slade. “Yes,” he murmured. “I’ve read that myth. A few times.”
Slade grinned wolfishly. “Do you really think that a goddess of spring doesn’t know what happens when you eat fruit in the Underworld?”