When Dick woke, he was no longer in the lush, sweet scented sanctuary of Bruce’s garden. Instead, he was laid out on a massive four poster bed, covered with a heavy fur with dubious origins. Dick turned and scrambled to his knees, facing the expansive headboard—which was, from end to end, crammed with precious metals and stones. Dick reached out and drug his fingertips over the bevels and curves of the stones. The frame and columns of the bed weren’t wood as his bed was at home—these looked to be crafted of some dark rock, like obsidian.
Dick suddenly felt exposed, dressed in his rumpled chiton in a strange bed that bore more wealth than he’d seen in all his immortal lifetime. Then again, he’d rarely been allowed to even traverse the halls of Olympus, confined as he was to Bruce’s estate. And Bruce’s riches seemed… pale in comparison to this.
But where was this?
Dick wracked his brain, trying to piece together whatever had befallen him. The last he could recall, he was in Bruce’s garden alongside Jason and Helena. Then he’d seen… Dick’s bronze cheeks flushed. He’d seen something shiny. He’d seen a glimmer in the field, and he wandered away to go look at it. And when he had found the source, he’d plucked it from the ground. And a groan had sounded, reverberating in Dick’s very core, as the earth opened into a deep chasm. Dick had scrambled back from the edge, but from within the chasm a chariot emerged. Manic black horses had reared above him and Dick had only blinked up at their guide, a man (a god) dressed in a burnt orange chlamys draped over a black chiton with a gold encrusted black patch over one eye. Dick had recognized him, but only from paintings of the Titan War and the hushed conversations of his father and uncles.
Slade, Giver of Wealth. Slade, King of Hades.
In his stupor, Dick had scarcely struggled as the god scooped him into his arms. The cries of his family had filtered through his numbed senses, and then the chasm had swallowed the chariot, Slade, and Dick himself into its depths. The last voice Dick had heard was that of his captor, who had leaned close to rumble, “You’re mine, kid”
Dick rummaged around in the bed for a moment, in the hopes that he may find it. That the instrument of his untoward circumstances may still be with him. Sure enough, he did, shoved up under a pillow. A singular, rounded opal.
Bruce was going to kill him. For wandering away over a rock, for seizing into a stupor, for not fighting back.
It wasn’t that Dick had never encountered a god of such caliber - Bruce was one. Clark, Diana, Helena, Jason. They were Olympians. But Slade wasn’t real. He existed in gossip and in history tombs, and he ruled over Hades. What was the land of the dead to a deathless, fledgling god such as Dick?
Dick looked around himself. He took in the obsidian walls, the arrays of fur on the ground and piled on the bed. He swallowed at the sheer amount of stones and gems encrusting everything in sight (the walls, the sparse furniture, the nearly ceiling high door that loomed across the room.) There was nothing alive in this room. No plants, no greenery. There was no sun; the only light emanated unnaturally from amber suspended from the ceiling. Above, everywhere Dick walked flora sprung from his step. But when he wiggled to the side of the bed and placed a single, bare foot on the ground, there was nothing. Dick scrambled back into the middle of the bed and tugged a fur around himself. There he hunkered for what felt like only minutes before he heard a groan, like the one that sounded before the chasm appeared. The heavy door swung open and he stepped in. Even without the height of the chariot, he was tall, and he was draped in cloth so fine that it did not so much as whisper as he approached the bed. Gem studded rings adorned each finger and thick necklaces of gold and silver hung from his neck, some gripping tightly around the column of his throat, and others cascading down his torso.
“Hello, little one,” Slade’s voice rumbled at a timbre that could shake the ground on which he walked. Everything about him screamed power, and what was Dick but a minor god of spring? This was a god who had killed Titans, who ruled over the souls of the dead with a stern, iron fist. So afraid were the mortals of Slade that they would rather call him by a moniker, Deathstroke, than utter his name.
Dick clutched the opal so tightly that his palm bruised.
“Clark!” Bruce roared, storming the halls of Olympus with Jason and Helena scrambling to match his pace. Fury seemed so out of place amid the crystal walls, awash with the peaches and pinks that announced Koriand’r’s return from her day’s work, but nevertheless Bruce’s shouts shook the chandeliers. “Clark! How dare you!”
There was a gust of wind and a flash of red, and then Barry stood before them, blocking their path forward. Barry tipped his kettle hat to each god. “The King and Queen are celebrating our abundance in the feasting hall. I am happy to take you there—but please, Bruce, allow me to announce you. You’ll put a herald out of business, yelling your entry as you are.”
Bruce clenched his jaw. “Slade has taken my son, speedster. Excuse my lack of decorum. Grief is tricky to contain, you understand.”
Barry frowned. “Then let’s make haste.” But he paused to add, “I assure you, there is not a god in Olympus who would see Dick harmed.”
“I pray that be the case,” Bruce spat through clenched teeth making it clear that he did not, even for a moment, believe that to be true. To Barry’s credit, he did not push further, and he instead sped ahead of the trio to announce Bruce’s presence to Clark and Diana, who were indeed lounging in the feasting hall, alongside a smattering of other gods.
“Bruce!” Clark cried jovially, opening his arms in welcome when Bruce entered the hall. Clark’s grin incited Bruce, and Bruce wasted no time in striding across the hall and gripping a fistful of Clark’s chlamys in his fist.
“What have you done, Clark?” Bruce growled. The hall fell silent. Diana stood, hand on her lasso, but Jason lightly touched her elbow and whispered in her ear. Diana dropped her hand and turned to Clark.
“Clark!” She admonished, furrowing her brows. “Clark, tell me you didn’t.”
Clark sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair. “Slade fought by us in the war.”
“That does not excuse—” Bruce began, but Diana held out a hand.
“Let him speak, Bruce,” she murmured, voice low and commanding.
“And then he conceded to ruling the earth, far from the graces of Olympus, to do the unsavory tasks that the rest of us would not and cannot. He may receive the same respect from the mortals that we do, but he is burdened by their fear rather than their love, which we enjoy sometimes to excess. All of this, and yet he does not ask. He lives in what is essentially exile, and yet he has never come to me for any favor nor recompense. Until recently.” Clark paused. The gods in the room were frozen, expressions questioning and wary. Bracing himself, Clark finished, “He asked for Dick’s hand, and I granted him this small concession.”
Immediately, the room exploded in uproar.
“You didn’t!” Kara cried out.
“Oh no,” Pamela frowned. “The Green—”
“You’ve condemned him! He’s a child of spring, and you’ve condemned him to that sunless realm!” Dinah shouted, standing and beating a fist against the table.
“You act as if he is languishing, but he swims in wealth,” Bruce bellowed, louder than the rest. “He may not take from you, but he takes his plenty from the mortals! He does not refrain from asking because of his deference or his selflessness, he does so because there’s nothing you can give that he can’t just take!”
Clark waited. He made no move to stem the uproar and he did not defend himself. When, finally, the cries died down, he stood. The room fell silent.
“As the father of gods and men, it is my right to grant marriage requests. I will not recant my blessing to Slade.”
“Then you will regret it,” Bruce spat. He turned on his heels and stormed from the chamber. Once again, Jason and Helena followed. Once they were a distance away, Jason cleared his throat.
“And how exactly do you plan on making the King regret anything?” Jason challenged.
“Dick—what if it’s too late?” Helena fretted. “What if he’s eaten—”
“He hasn’t,” Bruce interrupted her. He stopped abruptly, and Jason ran into him. “Dick knows better than to eat the fruit of Hades, I taught him that much. As for your question, Jason, I may have limited political power in the assembly of the gods, but I’m not without power. You, god of conflict, are about to receive your fill.”
Jason blinked and then grinned. “Go on then, Bruce. Do what you must. Fetch us our spring Robin.”
Dick broke from his reverie and scrambled back, pressing himself against the headboard and watching Slade warily. Slade swept forward anyway and perched himself on the edge of the bed.
“Are you afraid, little bird?” Slade asked, seemingly bemused at his own question. Dick narrowed his eyes and willed his shoulders to relax.
“No,” He spat. “Bruce has told me about you. I don’t fear blood-thirsty recluses.”
Slade cocked an eyebrow. “You should not speak so ill of your brother, Jason. War gods have feelings too.”
Dick blinked and then sputtered and then crossed his arms and then he threw up his arms and said, “You know that’s not what I meant!”
Perhaps Slade’s chuckling should offend him, but Dick was too busy pouting to be offended. And then Slade leaned over to brush back a lock of Dick’s hair back and Dick froze.
“Enough of your brother,” Slade murmured. “I came for you, not him. And I’ve been promised you. Do you know what that means?”
Dick swallowed hard. “No. No, Bruce wouldn’t—”
“Bruce didn’t,” Slade murmured, tracing a knuckle down Dick’s cheek. “It was your other father.”
The world began to spin. Dick felt sick as realization bloomed in his chest and sent ice through his golden veins. “No, no, no, no, no,” Dick murmured without even realizing. Not until Slade pressed a hand against Dick’s mouth, silencing his pleas.
“Yes,” Slade said, expression brimming with a pity that Dick would have taken for genuine if his father’s warnings did not echo in his head. “But, little bird, why do you think I chose you?” Slade dropped his hand and ran his fingers through Dick’s hair. Dick hadn’t noticed until then, but Slade wasn’t leaning forward anymore, he’d been drifting closer as they spoke.
Unsure of what to say, Dick confessed his running theory, “To anger Bruce. To incite him, or to barter with him.”
That was the wrong answer. At least, Dick thought it was, what with how Slade clucked his tongue and frowned.
“No, little bird. This has nothing to do with your ornery father. It breaks my heart to see you hunker in his shadow when you shine so brightly. And I have an eye for things that glitter, kid.” Slade moved forward on the bed, pressing Dick down into the bedding so that Slade could hover over him. Dick was reminded of the circling birds of prey that would swoop down to snatch up the mice in the fields he used to roam. The first time he’d seen it, he’d run to Bruce in tears. Bruce had only stroked his head and promised him that his divine blood would burn the birds, and that the birds knew better than to touch a deathless one with anything other than reverence. And here was Slade, gazing down at him with what could only be described as reverence. Something stirred in Dick.
“I’m not a thing,” Dick whispered. Slade nodded slowly and smiled. This wasn’t predatory at all it was… approval? Maybe? Dick did not often see Bruce smile like that. Dick dug his fingers in the fur and gripped tight, to ground himself.
“No, of course not,” Slade said. “You’re far more precious than any ‘thing.’ But you are precious, and your potential is blinding. I cannot offer you the crystalline halls of Olympus. But I can offer you an iron crown and a throne encrusted with jewels. I can offer you opportunity, to step from the shadow of your father and fulfill your divine inheritance. So, tell me, little god,” Slade leaned forward to brush his lips against the shell of Dick’s ear, “will you be mine?”
Dick squeezed his eyes shut. “No,” he whispered, hoarsely.
Slade hummed and then pulled back. “Then so be it. I will not force you,” Slade said, stepping from the bed and taking his leave. Dick’s head spun.
“Wait!” Dick scrambled up and reached out to Slade. “Wait—does this… will you free me?” Dick wished his voice were steadier, not that it mattered because Slade looked over his shoulder and responded simply, emotionlessly, “No.”
Dick slumped back into the mountain of pillows. “Oh.”
“But,” Slade added, hand on the door, “You have free reign over the grounds. Ask a nymph to guide you, as Hades can be tricky and dangerous. Stay away from the rivers, most of all the River of Styx. Oaths made by her are binding and absolute. Lethe will strip you of your memories, and Pyriphle′gethon will burn you. You may find some comfort in the asphodel—and the pomegranate trees are also worth seeing. Feel free to eat either.”
“You can’t trick me into eating anything down here,” Dick warned. “I know about the fruit of the Underworld.”
Slade grinned. “I would expect nothing less. I will see you soon, Dick, and do try to enjoy yourself. Hades is not the hell that those upstairs would have you believe.”
And with that Dick was left alone, with only the furs and his piece of opal.