Dick didn't look up from the computer in front of him, working on the program. The faster he could get this done, the better. "Yeah, S?"
Stephanie Brown—aka Spoiler—aka one of Batman's million kids—shifted her weight awkwardly. Dick really liked Stephanie; she was the newest to their little family, only been with them less than a year, but she had earned her place, and he considered her his sister.
The problem was that because she was so new to them all, and she'd been raised in an odd (criminal) environment, she sometimes was hesitant to ask them questions, as if afraid of drawing their ire for speaking out of turn. For such a normally confident young woman, that could be off-putting.
But it was something Dick could handle; after Jason's explosive anger and Damian's instinct to kill and Cassandra's inability to speak, hesitance to ask questions was a very small hump to get over.
When she still didn't say anything, Dick rose his head, not sighing like he wanted to, and smiled at the sixteen-year-old. He had a lot on his mind right now and was feeling impatient; it wasn't the best time for his family to be asking him questions. "What's up, Spoiler?"
Stephanie bit her lip for a moment and then lifted her chin, the hesitance bleeding away from her in a moment. "What's your thing against Deathstroke?"
Dick jolted in surprise and kept his eyes from flicking over to where the mercenary was across the room, talking with Sportsmaster and the Flash. What a weird day this is, Dick thought. Heroes and villains fighting side by side to save their own necks.
"What do you mean?" Dick asked, concealing any further reaction he might've had. It had been seven years since what happened, and Dick had promised himself long ago that it would remain in the past. There was no need to drag it into the light.
"He's a mercenary, S," Wally—Kid-Flash—snorted from where he sat a few feet away, his feet propped up on one of the tables. Artemis, next to him, rolled her eyes, but a majority of her attention was focused on her father across the room, on her sister at the table just in front of her. Dick knew there was an age gap, but he thought that Stephanie and Artemis could become good friends; both shared a similar family history.
"I know that," Stephanie shot back, irritated. "But Deathstroke is different for Wing. I was just curious as to why."
Dick chanced a glance around, trying to gage everyone's feelings on the subject, trying to figure out how many people were listening, anyway.
A majority of the room wasn't paying any attention at all, focused on their own tasks throughout the large cavern currently serving as their home base, which was good. He did have the full attention of Wally, Artemis, Stephanie, and Kaldur'ahm—Aqualad—though, and he could see that Cassandra and Tim were listening as well, whilst also working on their own tasks (Cassandra building some device, Tim typing something rapidly).
And, across the room, Deathstroke was now staring at Dick. The hero got the impression of a smile under his one-eyed mask.
"Different how?" Artemis asked, her tone one of someone wishing to be distracted. Dick wished she would pick something else to focus on.
"Nightwing's a hero, and will always fight villains," Tim piped up, and for a second Dick thought his little brother, the third Robin, was shutting this conversation down for him, but instead Tim continued with, "but the way he's been acting around Deathstroke since the merc arrived is different from the way Wing acts around other villains. There's a wariness in him, a hesitance. Feels...personal."
Tim glanced up at Nightwing, gaze half apologetic and half curious.
Stephanie pointed at Tim, as if to emphasize what he'd just said. "Yeah! That's what I was thinking. Thanks, RR." Then she looked back to Dick. "So? What is it about him that makes you so off-balance?"
Dick wondered if they all knew that Deathstroke had enhanced hearing, and that it reached this far. He didn't dare look at where the mercenary was again, but he knew that the older man was definitely smiling now.
After spending such a long period of time around Deathstroke, Dick had gotten very good at reading the man's moods and expressions even through the mask. It was a skill born from the need to anticipate any possible attacks and had stuck with him, which meant that if he looked at Slade right now he'd be able to see that smug smirk, the dark gaze daring him to tell the truth, to let everyone know what happened between them.
For a moment Dick felt faint; what if Deathstroke decided to tell everyone himself? What if the mercenary was the one who got to shape the story? The thought made the hero feel nauseous.
"N?" Cassandra questioned.
Dick snapped back to his surroundings, and chastised himself for having spaced out. Deathstroke would've struck him for a mistake like that. Bruce would've asked him if he was alright.
"Sorry, an idea came to me," Dick easily explained away, and turned his attention back to his computer, as if he'd come up with something for the program and needed to get it down. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tim frown.
The next few minutes passed easily, no one bringing it up again, everyone scattering to complete their tasks. The mission coming up was huge, hence the sheer population of heroes and villains working together.
"Alright, let's bring it together," Superman called, drawing everyone's attention, and the discussions began again.
This was the third big meeting they'd had in as many days; the first gathering had been lots of arguing, debating, fighting. It had ended with everyone settling, accepting their roles (grudgingly as it was). The second meeting had been solidifying roles, checking in on progress for the various aspects, building teams, addressing roadblocks. This was their final meeting before everything would go down, and it was for details, final touches, going over the plan over and over again, making adjustments to what they'd already decided.
Dick listened carefully as everyone spoke, making sure he didn't miss anything. They only had one shot at this, after all, and he refused to be part of the problem simply because he couldn't remember some timing.
When it got over to Flash's team—of which Deathstroke was a part—Dick kept his body relaxed and his expression just as focused, unchanged. Just because Deathstroke's face was tilted in his direction, his one eye locked onto Dick's, didn't mean Dick had to pay the man any attention at all, listening intently to what Flash was saying.
"...but we were running through the timing, and it isn't smooth enough," the speedster said, grimacing apologetically. "I can get to the meet point, but I can't steal the thing and get back in time for the next phase."
Superman and Batman shared a look, considering. "It would take some readjusting, but would another person on your team help?" Batman asked. "Someone with the skills to get in and steal the thing, then be at the meet point so that you can just grab it and head to the next phase? Plus it would take some of the weight off of Deathstroke and Sportsmaster for their next part."
Flash nodded with a grin, looking relieved. "Yeah, that would be good. Who—"
"How about Nightwing?" Deathstroke interrupted smoothly.
"He has the necessary thievery skills, after all."
Oh no, no, no.
"And since I know his fighting style intimately, it won't be too much of an adjustment for the next part as you put it."
Dick could feel the mercenary's grin.
Batman narrowed his eyes. No, no, no. Don't ask, Bruce. Please don't ask— "To my knowledge you and Nightwing have never crossed paths; why do you claim to know he can steal well enough for this important of a job, and a thorough understanding of his fighting style?"
Dick stared at Deathstroke, almost begging the man to back off, to not saying anything. Everyone was listening—his family, the League, a group of fucking supervillains. He couldn't just...Please, please, please.
And, as expected, the mercenary ignored him.
"Nightwing worked for me for a time," Deathstroke said, as if it should be obvious. Then he glanced around in mock surprise. "What, he didn't tell you that? Oops."
I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, IhateyouIhateyouIhateyou—
Everyone turned their attention to Dick, the heroes with a mix of incredulous, grave, and confused expression, the villains with something akin to surprised delight.
"Explain," Batman said, his voice a perfect deadpan. Dick became very aware of his siblings throughout the room, Jason and Tim and Cassandra and Stephanie—all seeking answers, all confused, all in utter disbelief that Dick Grayson, the Golden Boy, had worked for a villain.
And Cyborg off to the side, who knew the truth, a deep well of pity and sad understanding in his gaze.
"Go on, little bird," Deathstroke said, amusement laced through his words, "tell them about the six months you spent as my loyal apprentice."
Dick snarled, anger flooding through him. Everyone else seemed to melt away, only him and his tormentor left. "You make it sound consensual."
Deathstroke rose his eyebrows. So fucking condescending. "You had a choice. You chose to stand by my side. So much dedication."
Something desperate cracked inside of Dick. A choice? He had a choice? No, there had been no choice. It was give himself up or let his friends die. What kind of choice was that? Nothing that happened those six months was his choice, it was all under threat, he didn't choose it—
"You—" Dick snarled out, taking a threatening step forward.
"Nightwing," Cyborg said quietly, taking a light hold of his arm. Dick jolted; when had Victor moved? When had he walked over to him? "Tell them what really happened."
The world around him bled back into focus, and Dick couldn't meet anyone's eyes. His friend's grasp on his arm helped to ground him, and the vigilante settled. He stood tall, rose his chin, and stared defiantly back at Deathstroke.
When he spoke, it was to everyone else.
"When I was fifteen, I was leading a team in Jump City. Deathstroke—Slade Wilson, for those of you who didn't know his secret identity—" Dick couldn't help but add that, and relished in the spark of irritation he caught from the mercenary, "—had currently set up a main residence there. He took an interest in me. Eventually he infected my teammates with nanobots that with the push of a button would kill them. He told me the only way to keep them alive was to work for him, and so I did. That's why he knows my style, why he knows I can steal—because he taught me to."
"Kid, if you're going to tell them what happened, it's go big or go home," Deathstroke taunted. "Unless you'd like me to share...?"
Anxiety ran through Dick. This was something he'd kept for himself, a private thing that he hadn't shared with even the Titans, seven years ago. Being with Slade for six months...he hadn't had a single thing for himself, not one moment or secret that the mercenary didn't take from him. This was a secret he'd been allowed to conceal.
He didn't want everyone knowing. His family, the fucking Justice League, and hell the twenty or so enemies scattered through the room.
"Don't you want any dignity for yourself?" Dick demanded. "Do you really want this out there?"
Deathstroke smirked at him. "They already know I'm the bad guy, little bird. What's one more crime? You're the only one with something to lose. Daddy's respect, perhaps?"
"Aren't there other things we should be focusing on?" Dick asked the room through gritted teeth. He glanced around, not looking anyone in the eye but giving the appearance of it. "Tomorrow a lot of shit is going down, in case you'd all forgotten because of this distraction—I'll work with Flash's team to fill in the gap and make it run smoothly, and Red Robin and Red Hood can easily make up for my absence in Batman's team."
"Right—" Superman cleared his throat, trying to get everyone back on track, but Deathstroke wasn't going to let that happen. Of course fucking not.
"What's the rush? I was having fun," the mercenary said with a cock of his head. "And come now—other than running through everything again, what else is there to do? I think there's some time for bantering between old friends."
"Deathstroke—" Wonder Woman began, her eyes narrowed.
"No, I have to agree," Sportsmaster interjected, laughter threaded through his voice, glancing at the other mercenary. "We've all been very stressed lately, I think this could do us some good."
Dick's anxiety went from a six to a nine as every single villain turned their attention to him.
Why do they care? Are they all just such sadists that they wanted to take the time to pick on me? What do they get out of this? Only Deathstroke was involved, why are they doing this?
"How about this," Deathstroke offered, "I'm going to count to ten, and if Nightwing doesn't offer up his dirty little secret, we're going to withdraw our support."
"What?" Green Arrow demanded. "You're hinging your help in saving the world on a piece of gossip? Are you serious right now?"
Deathstroke glanced at the other villains, who didn't voice any protests (all looking amused, the sadistic fuckers), and nodded. "Quite."
"This is ridiculous!" Jason snarled, murder in his eyes and voice. "Get the hell out, then, we don't need you."
But that wasn't true, and they all knew it. The end was neigh, and they were understaffed. They did need the help of the villains; there was no way they would win without them.
And the price of their cooperation was Dick's complete and utter humiliation.
What bullshit was that. How is this my life?
"This is insane," Flash hissed. "We can't let this happen!"
"No fucking way," Tim snorted, and Dick was touched by the support, even though his little brother had no idea what he was defending.
"What the hell is your problem?" Victor yelled. "Are you really so crazy that you can't let your fucking obsession go?"
"Stop this at once," Cassandra ordered.
"Five. Clock's ticking, Nightwing. Time to make a decision."
"He doesn't have to do anything," Wally said boldly, raising his chin.
"You're right; he always has a choice." Deathstroke smirked at his ex-apprentice. "Six."
"Fuck off, Deathstroke," Artemis sneered.
Dick felt a headache coming on.
God, he was never going to live this down. If he told them all—it would be in every taunt and jibe on the battle field. It would spread like wildfire, and every goddamn villain would use it against him. He'd have to vanish for a while, give his family and the hero life some space from what he'd become; damaged goods. Maybe take a new hero identity. Wouldn't be the first time.
"What do you even want me to say?" Dick asked desperately.
"It's always seven," Slade mused. "Any time you were unruly and I used a countdown, it was always seven that broke you down." He glanced to Batman. "Did you experience that as well? When raising him?"
Dick's lips curled. He hated the way the mercenary was talking, like he was just some disobedient child and not a grown man currently being blackmailed, again.
Bruce said nothing, staring at Deathstroke coldly. Slade smirked and turned back to Dick.
"To answer your question, little bird, I simply want you to share the details of all our fun little activities with the fine folks here. No more, no less."
Fun. Little. Activities.
Dick couldn't help it—a laugh bubbled out of him, tears staining the corners of his eyes. His stomach ached as he doubled over, his entire body shaking. He could feel the incredulous, concerned looks he was getting, but he let them roll right off because this was just. So. Fucking. Funny.
"Oh my god," he gasped out, attempting to straighten himself. "Fun little activities? Seriously?" Another laugh burst from his lips and he put a hand to his mouth to stifle it. "Fuck, you are such an awful person. So, so awful."
"That's already been established," Slade drawled superiorly, but there was something almost hesitant in his voice, something cautious in his gaze. Dick's humor had thrown him off. It had thrown everybody off, really.
"Yeah," Dick agreed, nodding, laughing. "Yeah it has been. It really has been. Like the times you raped me, remember that?"
The breath got sucked out of the room, so quiet you could've heard a pin drop. Except for Dick's laughter.
"That's what you wanted me to tell them, right? How the first time you had to tie me down because even with the threat of my friends' lives I couldn't quite get myself to just take it? How I begged you to stop? How you drugged me into submission the next four times? Or was it five? Six? I can't remember, I was high as a fucking kite!"
His stomach was cramping now, and he could barely get any air in. Maybe he was having a psychotic break, maybe that's why he found all of this too fucking funny. "And then, of course, after that I just let you do what you wanted because hey, if the damage has already been done." He bit down on his fist, but a giggle still escaped.
"Wing, maybe we should—" Victor began quietly, his voice trembling. His hand tugged gently at Dick's arm, probably intending to lead him away. But Dick was in the grips of whatever was happening to him, and he couldn't walk away.
"Is that what you wanted, Slade?" Dick asked, grinning, his tone almost teasing. "You wanted all your little pals to know what a good lay the fifteen-year-old sidekick was? Or probably a bad lay, really—" he barked a laugh, "—considering the fact that I was a virgin and, ya know, unwilling, but no matter. It's out there now! Satisfied? Can we get back to business now?"
The room was dead silent. Dick felt something clench inside of him, and the humor faded, leaving something terribly hollow and broken in its wake.
Slade was staring at him, to no surprise. But instead of the smug superiority that Dick was expecting, the mercenary looked perfectly blank.
"GL, get Red Hood's gun," Dick said tiredly, because he didn't have to look at his brother to know what was going to happen next.
There was a curse from Jason as Hal Jordan ripped his weapons away from him in a green bubble, just as he was raising a gun and aiming it right for Deathstroke.
"This is bullshit!" Jason yelled, and Dick could picture his bared teeth underneath his mask. "Are we seriously about to let this slide? Please tell me that someone is about to permanently get rid of our Deathstroke problem!"
"We need him," Dick said. He felt exhausted all of a sudden and sat down, relaxing into the uncomfortable, hard-backed chair behind him. No one else moved, save Jason, who was practically vibrating. "That's why I said all that, remember? Let it go, RH."
"We need them as a group," Jason replied coldly. "One less of them won't be too big of an impact. And I think the world will be a much better place with one less rapist."
Dick flinched. Jason's hands balled into fists.
Tim stepped forward, standing at Dick's side. His expression was cold, devoid of emotion. His stance was confident and sure. "Let's get back to business, shall we?"
Dick let out a breath, relieved. He needed the attention back on the mission at hand, not on him. Jason looked just about ready to blow a gasket.
"Are you kidding me?" the second Robin snarled. "Has everyone lost their minds?" He whirled around on Batman and pointed an accusatory finger. "Are you going to do anything, huh? Didn't get revenge when Joker killed me—how about the first born being raped? Will that get you to act? To do something to finally protect our family?"
"J, please," Dick mumbled, rubbing a hand down his face. He hated that this was all happening in front of the whole League, in front of a group of mercenaries and assassins and supervillains.
Jason faltered, and then nodded slowly. He walked across the room and stood directly behind Dick, putting a solid hand on his shoulder. Dick couldn't help but smile as his siblings and friends closed ranks around him, Stephanie even plopping herself on the ground in front of him, Wally sprawling out next to her.
"So. Where were we?" Jason asked the room, and Dick could hear the razor-sharp smile in his voice, the one that was often the last thing criminals saw.
The mission, in the end, was a success. They sustained many injuries and a few deaths, but the world was safe.
After a few days, the world went back to normal, the human race moving resiliently forward from tragedy just like they always did.
Dick tried to do the same, but he couldn't stop the nightmares that woke him up screaming night after night without fail.
Sometimes, when it happened, he'd wake up and find Barbara stroking his hair, or Jason placing a glass of water (or liquor) on his nightstand, or Tim curled up at the end of his bed, or Stephanie curled up in the chair just past him, or Cassandra holding his hand and singing a soft lullaby, or even—on one memorable occasion, that Dick still wasn't sure if it was real or not—Damian, barely with them for five months, pacing quickly across his room, muttering half-baked plans of death and destruction.
The world kept turning. He got a phone message from a therapist seeking to confirm their appointment date and he snorted; it was Bruce's way of trying to help, but Dick had no interest in therapy. What would he even say, anyway? He wouldn't be able to tell the truth about anything. What would be the point in going?
The weeks blended together. Deathstroke had, apparently, vanished after the mission, which was smart of him. If he knew what was good for him, he'd stay gone.
Apparently, as Dick figured out one night, Slade did not know what was good for him.
It had been a month and a half since everything happened, and Dick—as per usual—woke up screaming from a nightmare. Glancing around he saw that it was one of the rare nights when no one was there with him, and he was both relieved and disappointed; relieved because they all had their own lives to live and all needed sleep, and the fact that they weren't there meant that they were actually taking of themselves for once.
Disappointed because he felt very cold and very alone, and he had no one there to draw support from.
After a few minutes of shivering in bed—despite the fact that he was covered in blankets and it wasn't the slightest bit cold in his apartment—he dragged himself to his feet, stumbling to the kitchen to down a glass of water. The clock on the microwave told him it was just after 1am.
He slumped against the kitchen island, his head in his hands, images from his nightmare flashing through his mind. He hated this; it had been years since he'd had to deal with troubled sleep because of this shit, and now because of one confrontation he was forced to carry it with him again. And this time, everyone knew about it.
That was...both good and bad. Bad for so many, many reasons, but good because...well, waking up with them there, with them understanding—it made the memories and trauma feel a little bit easier to bare.
With a sigh, Dick forced himself back to bed. Sleep was unlikely—not after a nightmare that bad, and not alone—but he had to at least give it a shot.
As predicted, he tossed and turned fitfully for the next couple hours before he managed to drift into a light, restless sleep that was almost worse than not sleeping at all, simply because it made him feel even more exhausted.
Around 3am, according to the digital clock on his nightstand, Dick blinked blearily awake, instinctively sensing the presence of another person. Large, male, skilled.
"Bruce?" Dick mumbled questioningly, squinting into the darkness, something releasing in his chest. Bruce hadn't personally reached out to him yet, not in six weeks, and it had made Dick feel, well...
It had made Dick feel weak, and useless, and dirty, and incapable of defending himself, and unworthy of Batman's legacy. The same things he'd felt that had kept him from telling Bruce what happened right when it was brand new. Bruce hadn't come to see him or called, and it had felt like being...
Being cast out.
"That you?" Dick asked, his voice a bit clearer as he woke up more fully, the person not saying anything. He pushed himself a bit more into a seated position as the man got to the side of his bed. Dick saw the flash of metal just a second too late, drawing in a sharp breath and he jerked away, but the knife was against his throat before he could get far. He froze.
"Sorry, little bird," Slade Wilson murmured, "it's not the Bat."
Dick's throat clogged and he tasted bile at the back of his tongue.
"What are you doing here?" he asked evenly. The knife was cold against his throat.
"You had a nightmare," the mercenary told him, like that was a perfectly good answer. There was a hint of amusement in his voice. "Was it about me?"
"Get out," Dick said tiredly. "If you're here to mock—" He shook his head, pursing his lips. The knife pressed just a bit closer by his movement. "Get out, Slade."
"You sounded so hopeful that I was Batman," Deathstroke said instead of acknowledging Dick's words. He made no moves to leave. "Has your dearest father not come to see you? Hm. Seems that maybe your fears were well-founded, little bird—maybe Wayne can't stand the idea of having someone so weak as a son."
Dick hated Slade Wilson for many, many reasons, and in that moment the largest one was that he'd just voiced the exact fears that had been running through Dick's mind for the past month and a half. Bruce had set up a therapy appointment for him, but that didn't mean anything. He hadn't called or visited or even spoken one word to Dick after everything came out, not even a Good Job after the mission that literally saved the world.
"You don't know what you're talking about," Dick growled.
Slade snorted. "Really? You're transparent, Grayson; you always have been. You wear your emotions on your sleeve. It makes you terribly easy to read. And right now you agree with me; tell me, little bird—do any of your nightmares involve the Bat casting you out?"
Dick's breath caught in his throat. Slade smirked.
"Like I said—easy to read."
"What do you want?" the vigilante snarled. "You've had your fun, mocked me, made me feel less than—if you're done being sadistic for the night, I'd like to try to get some more sleep."
"We both know you won't be sleeping any more tonight," Slade said dismissively. He moved then, onto the bed, and Dick froze as the mercenary settled his weight onto the hero's thighs, the solid presence of the knife against his jugular never wavering.
"What are you doing?" Dick asked lowly.
"Our of curiosity, would you do it again?" Deathstroke asked him, once again completely ignoring what Dick had just said. "If I were to tell you that I'd just come from infecting your little brothers in Todd's disgusting Crime Ally apartment with a more advanced form of the nanobots I used on the Titans, would you let me do whatever I wanted to you?"
For a moment, Dick felt nothing but panic. But—no. There was no way. Damian would never lower himself to spend the night at Jason's place, anyway, and Tim was almost obsessive about patrol; he wouldn't have wasted a night to sleep over in Crime Ally. Slade hadn't done what he was suggesting. He was just trying to rile Dick up, to get a response to his question.
They both knew the answer, though. They both knew what Dick would do if his brothers were really in that position.
"What's the point in asking?" Dick asked on a sigh. "You already know." He tilted his head back, resting it against the wall, and let his eyes slide shut. Not having Slade in view was slightly anxiety provoking, but it wouldn't help him. Slade had control of the entire situation, and staring at him wasn't going to change that, and he was so. Tired.
Dick went rigid when the knife suddenly left his neck, wary of what it meant, and then clenched his jaw when the muzzle of a gun pressed against the underside of his chin.
"It would look like a suicide," Slade murmured, his voice soft as a caress. "If I were to shoot you right now, like this—they would all think you simply couldn't take it anymore. They'd grieve, blame themselves for not being here, for not looking after you better. But they wouldn't question it, and you'd be free."
"Free," Dick snorted. He still didn't open his eyes. He also made no attempt to fight his way out. "Death isn't freedom, Deathstroke. If there's an afterlife my pain would be the same there as here, and if there isn't...Well. Then it's just nothingness. That isn't freedom."
Slade made a thoughtful noise. "Do you believe in Heaven and Hell, little bird?"
"Are we really going to have a philosophical debate right now?" Dick sneered. "You, my rapist and blackmailer, currently holding a gun to my head? No, I think not. Get to your point, Slade; you always have one. You never do anything without a purpose."
Dick wasn't proud of the noise that then came out of him, high-pitched and panicked, when Slade shifted and rolled his hips, grinding their groins together.
"What are you doing?" he gasped. "What are you—why—" His arms flailed, one flying up to press at the mercenary's chest, the other gripping the sheets tightly enough that his nails still bit into his palm. He still didn't open his eyes.
Maybe he was still asleep, and this was all a dream. Maybe he'd wake up screaming, terrified that Slade could just climb through his window any time he wanted. Maybe one of his siblings was there with him, and all he needed to do was wake up and everything would be okay, just for a little while.
"I came here to apologize, actually," Slade murmured, still moving. Dick's traitorous body was responding, and he felt like sobbing. This wasn't fair. This—
"Apologize?" Dick asked on a half-laugh, half-sob. "By assaulting me?"
Slade made a noise of amusement, almost wry. "My intent was to come here and apologize for my behavior, because it was unprofessional. We had a job to do, and knocking you off-balance was a stupid move, one that resulted in Lawrence dying because you and I were both slightly distracted."
In all his drama, Dick had almost forgotten that Sportsmaster, Artemis' father, had been one of the few to die. He'd been an asshole and a mercenary, but he'd still been her father. Somewhere, she was grieving.
And Dick was complaining like a child.
"Your apology could use a little work," the vigilante said, his voice strangled. He was only wearing a t-shirt and boxers; he could feel Slade's erection clear as day.
Why wasn't he doing anything? Why wasn't he fighting back? He wasn't fifteen, his family wasn't in danger—why was he letting this happen? Why was he just sitting there, one hand clenching at Slade's uniform and halfheartedly pushing him away, the other knotted in the sheets? Why was he letting himself be assaulted?
"Yes, I suppose it could," Deathstroke mused, and his voice was heated. "But you're a distracting individual."
A laugh climbed up his throat and past his tongue, that humor from weeks ago rushing back into him. Was this how he coped with things now? Was this going to be a regular occurrence when he was stressed? It was very inconvenient if so.
"A distracting individual," Dick giggled. "I bet you say that to all the girls."
He heard Slade exhale slowly. Then the mercenary said, "The laughter is a little freaky, I must admit. Back in the base when you started to break down while telling the story—I was vaguely concerned for your mental state. You had seemed to be on the verge of a full psychotic break."
"No one to blame but yourself," Dick muttered, and then held back a whimper when Slade's hand—the one not holding a gun to his head—stroked the skin at the top of his waistband, pushing up his t-shirt. It was bare skin-on-skin contact; at some point he must've removed his glove, and the heat emanating from his fingers made Dick shiver.
Why wasn't he fighting back? Why was he letting this happen?
"If I asked you to stop," Dick whispered, "would you?"
"Are you going to ask me to stop?" Slade shot back at him, sounding terribly amused. His thumb flicked over Dick's right nipple, and the hero grimaced. "Because so far, you've made absolutely no attempt to get rid of me."
"You have a gun to my head," Dick snapped desperately, finally opening his eyes.
Slade hummed in agreement, pressing the weapon more firmly against his skin as if to emphasize the point. "And yet, as I recall, it would normally take far more than a gun under your chin to keep you docile."
He was right. He was. So why did Dick feel so frozen? Why wouldn't his limbs respond to him? Why did the very idea of trying to get away feel so overwhelmingly impossible, when he'd escaped a similar hold from countless villains before? A gun under his chin was terrifying and a clear threat, but there was always a way.
He shouldn't be letting Slade touch him. Why was he frozen?
The mercenary lifted himself up to his knees, staring down at the hero. And then, after a moment of contemplation, he slowly lowered the gun and placed it on the nightstand.
Dick stared at the weapon. Neither of them moved.
He should be—he needed to—why wasn't he—there was—why wasn't he moving? He could reach for the gun, he could kick Slade off of him, he could roll them and gain the upper-hand. He could do something!
Something other than nothing.
Slade smiled down at him, and cupped his cheek. Dick shuddered at the contact, and at the hungry look in Slade's sharp smirk.
"I can't decide," Slade began quietly, "whether or not you're punishing yourself, or if this is because of some trauma reaction."
"Punishing myself?" Dick asked, voice tight.
The mercenary nodded and lowered his hand. Both of them, now ungloved, went to Dick's underwear waistband and began to pull down. Dick made a choked noise, tears stinging his eyes, and rose his own hand to his mouth to bite down.
"For what?" Dick further asked, because he couldn't stand the silence, couldn't stand not understanding, couldn't stand himself.
"For being weak," Slade told him easily. "That's what you feel, isn't it? Weak, dirty, helpless? Useless? Unworthy, too, if I had to guess, considering the shadow you've grown up under. Because of everything that happened between us. I'm simply wondering whether or not you're punishing yourself for being all of those things."
"How does that make any sense?" Dick asked, laughing a little. A few tears fell. "Punishing myself for being those things by doing it again?"
Slade shrugged a shoulder. "Just a thought, kid. Because, Dick—" he wrapped his hand around the hero's cock, making him whimper, "—you're being awfully complacent. So is it punishment? Or—" He laughed, breathy and pleased, "—do you simply want me?"
Nausea churned Dick's gut. He was gonna vomit. He was, he—
The mercenary jerked him to the side, getting his head over the edge of the bed just in time to avoid puking all over his sheets and blanket, instead right onto the hardwood floor.
"Eck," Deathstroke complained. "Try to avoid stepping in that in the morning."
"Why are you doing this?" Dick asked miserably, still slumped over the edge, contemplating turning and vomiting on Slade's boots.
Slade carded a hand through his hair in a soothing gesture, and Dick hated that he wanted to let the motion calm him. Frankly, Dick was hating himself for a lot of things in that moment, and probably would be for a long time to come.
"Because I can," Slade cooed. "Because apparently your psyche is messed up enough to let me. Because I came here expecting a fight and instead found you docile." He hummed and squeezed the back of Dick's neck before pulling the younger man back fully onto the bed, this time lying down instead of sitting. "What an odd little creature you are. Maybe I'll take you with me when we're done here; you seem to be far more agreeable than when you were a child."
Dick closed his eyes again. Just let it happen, just wait for him to be done, it'll be over soon enough, that's how it always goes, just wait it out—
His chest constricted. That was what had always run through his mind when Slade would get on top of him, after Dick had given up, after all the druggings. Was this simply instinct, then? Was this his mind falling back into the only pattern it knew? He'd learned submission and stillness, learned that it hurt less and was easier if he just let it happen; is that why he couldn't move? Was his mind simply trying to protect him?
But he wasn't a child anymore, and he didn't have to let it happen. No one had their life on the line. No one was in danger if he kicked Slade off of him and beat the mercenary into next week.
So why was he still frozen in the face of this horrible thing?
Slade removed his underwear completely, and then pulled his shirt over his head. Dick blinked blearily at the ceiling, his body limp. He felt separated from himself suddenly, as if this was all happening to someone else. Someone else was being rolled onto their stomach. Someone else was having their legs pushed apart. Someone else was crying into their pillow, their hands fisting uselessly in the sheets.
Someone else had a mercenary whisper, "I'm a merciful man; how about I make this easier for you?" in their ear. Someone else was far too grateful when a needle slid into their arm and made everything else feel even further away.
But Dick most certainly heard the gunshot.
His breathing picked up, turning quickly to panic when the weight of a body collapsed on top of him. His mind was still hazy, his limbs uncooperative. He heard someone curse under their breath and another person berate them, and then the weight was gone, a thud sounding off to the side.
Dick flinched from the hand that touched his shoulder, but all it did was squeeze gently and then rub calming circles.
"You're alright, Dick," a familiar (safe) voice murmured. "Everything's gonna be alright."
Dick turned his head slightly, trying to make out the figure, but everything was a blur. A boy, maybe? A symbol on his chest?
"I think he was drugged," the boy said, looking at someone else. "Probably just a sedative, to make him—" The boy cut off, and when he spoke again his voice was trembling slightly. "Jay, can you grab some clean clothes for him? These have—" his breath hitched, "—blood on them, and the boxers are torn."
"I'll kill him," the other person seethed, sounding downright murderous.
"You already did that," the first boy reminded him quietly. "Please, just..." A silence, then, "Thank you. Could you grab a wet towel, too? There was...some spray, and I want to clean the blood off his back."
"A bullet through the neck has a bit of gore to it, yeah," the second person said with a snort, sounding extremely (viciously) pleased with themselves. "I'll be right back."
Footsteps away from him, then silence. Dick relaxed into the touch on his shoulder.
"We've got you, Dick," the boy told him softly. "Jay and I, we—" he took a shuddering breath. "We're here now. Sorry we're late."
It clicked. "Tim," Dick mumbled, and relaxed even further. "Is that...?"
"It's me, yeah," his brother said, sounding very relieved. "Hey, man. Good to hear you speak. It's me and Jason. He's just—ah, there, great; thanks Jay."
"He with us?" his other brother asked, and if Dick had the energy he would've sobbed with relief because they were actually there. He wasn't alone. It was over.
"Uh huh," Tim said. "Barely, but—he said my name, so he's at least clear who's with him." He squeezed Dick's shoulder briefly, and then pulled his hand away. Dick felt the loss like a wound. "I'm just going to clean you up, okay? You're going to feel me touch you with a wet towel, probably a little cold. Then we're gonna get you dressed. Okay?"
It took Dick a moment to realize that question was directed at him, and then a moment longer to be able to get his mouth to form a response. "Okay," he finally got out, voice barely above a whisper.
Despite the warning, Dick still flinched when the cloth touched his back, Tim's hand stilling for a moment before lightly stroking his skin. Water trailed down Dick's sides and it then occurred to the vigilante that he had no idea how far it had gone. Everything felt numb, separated. How far had Slade gotten before his brothers showed up?
His uncooperative tongue and mind couldn't get the question out, so he resigned himself to slight panic over the answer, and promised himself to ask later.
"We're going to need a car," Jason said, and Dick was pretty sure he wasn't talking to him, so he didn't bother acknowledging the words. "We can't exactly bring him on our motorcycles like this."
"Maybe we should just stay here for the night," Tim replied. "Just let him sleep this off—"
"He's not staying here," Jason hissed. "If when he's clearheaded he decides he's okay with being in this bed then fine, it's his choice. But right now he is coming home. He needs to be safe, okay?"
Tim didn't say anything, but he must've made some indication of agreement, because Jason then said, "Good. I'm gonna go get us a car."
"Do you mean—"
"Don't worry your pretty little head," Jason said airily. "I'll be right—" he cut off and made a noise of surprised disgust.
"What is it?" Tim demanded.
"Vomit," Jason replied gravely. "He was sick, that's all. He had every right to be, I think. I'll be right back." Footsteps away.
After another minute the towel left his skin, and then a second one—dry this time—was there patting him down.
"Dick, I know you're pretty out of it, but I'm just going to need a little bit of cooperation," Tim said softly. "I have a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt for you to wear. So I'm going to start pulling the shorts up, but for the last bit I'm gonna leave that to you. Then I'll roll you over and we can put the shirt on. Sound good?"
Dick was reaching his limit of people touching him, even if it was his brothers and he trusted them with his life. But he mumbled an agreement all the same, because he would far rather be clothed than not at the moment.
The shorts at his feet, like the towel, startled him, but Tim was quick and gentle, pulling the piece of clothing up his calves and then thighs. There was a moment of stillness, and then Tim said, "Alright, Dick, this is your part. I just need you to pull them the rest of the way."
If he was more clearheaded, Dick was sure he would've been mortified in this moment. As it stood, he couldn't feel much of anything, so he tried to follow the instruction. It was slow going, his arms and hands not wanting to obey him and then fumbling miserably when they did, but eventually he got the shorts up to his hips and covering everything.
That was when Jason returned. "K, I got us a ride. He alright?"
"'M fine," Dick mumbled, but that was mostly a lie. He started wiggling on the bed and Tim helped him to roll over onto his back, letting him take a few deep breaths. Tears stung his eyes again. It didn't help his eyesight.
"Do you want the shirt, or are you fine like that?" Tim asked concernedly.
Dick opened his mouth to reply, but it took him a while to find the word he was searching for. "Long-sleeved. Please."
"Of course," Jason said immediately, moving away and then back quickly. "Here; let's get this on you, Goldie."
Dick let his brothers pull him up into a seated position, and was grateful that they didn't comment when he vomited over the side of the bed again. The shirt Jason had grabbed was soft and felt like a safe layer between him and the world, and he relaxed a bit when it was fully on.
"Now's the tricky part," Jason said dryly. "The car's right out front, though, so it should be quick going, and no one else is out and about really considering it's half past three in the morning, so no one to wonder why Red Hood and Red Robin are in Blüdhaven kidnapping a nearly unconscious man."
"You think you're funnier than you are," Tim muttered.
"Dick would've laughed at that. I'm a funny guy."
"C'mon, help me, would you? You take his right side, I got the left."
Slowly, Tim and Jason pulled him to his feet, each of them holding him tightly, arms wrapped around his torso, his own arms thrown over their shoulders.
They took one lurching step and then stumbled. Dick's stomach rolled and he fought against the urge to vomit again.
"This isn't going to work," Jason muttered. "Not with him practically being dead weight, and our height difference."
"Got a better idea?" Tim snapped back. "We already determined that we're not leaving him here."
There were a few moments of perfect silence, and Dick let his eyes slide shut. He didn't complain when they lowered him back onto the be—Tim holding him in a seated position—but he did make a sound of surprise when suddenly there was an arm under his knees and one around his upper-back, lifting him into a tight hold, the person grunting.
"What...?" Dick breathed, blinking his eyes open. He saw Red Hood's mask very close to his face and realized that Jason must've picked him up.
"You're going to drop him," Tim hissed. "He's four years older than you and practically made of muscle; there's no way—"
"Ye of little faith," Jason grunted back, and took a slow step forward, then another, and another. "I got this, Timmy. Just down the hall, to the elevator, across the lobby, and we're home free. Easy peasy."
Dick let himself believe his brother and relaxed into the hold, one hand rising to grip at Jason's jacket. He smelled familiar and safe, and a few tears leaked from Dick's eyes because everything was okay now, or it would be, or maybe it wouldn't but at least he wasn't alone.
He was about to close his eyes again, trusting his brothers to keep watch, when he saw the body on the ground.
A strangled sound made it past his lips, his eyes going wide. Slade Wilson was on the floor of his apartment, his blood spilling across the wood from a gaping wound in his neck. His one good eye was blank, nobody home. His cock was out of his pants and wet.
"Shit," Tim cursed, realizing where his gaze was, and Jason echoed the sentiment, turning his body so that Dick's view was no longer of the dead Deathstroke.
"What did he—" Dick managed to choke out, but he couldn't get his mouth to form any more words, couldn't get his brain to do anything other than picture how the man who'd been the shadow in his nightmares for years was suddenly no longer alive.
"You're okay, Goldie," Jason sighed, gripping him tightly. "Let's get you home, yeah?"
The walk through his apartment, down the hall, down the elevator, and through the lobby was all a blur. The next thing he remembered was Jason lowering him into the backseat of some random car and buckling him in, then hopping in the driver's seat himself and taking off.
"Bruce is gonna—" Tim began after a while of silence.
"If Bruce has a goddamn problem with me putting a bullet through the neck of someone who was—" Jason cut himself off, hands clenched tightly around the steering wheel. "Wilson deserved it, and I don't give a single fuck if Batman doesn't approve of my actions. Joker actually killed me, and he did nothing; someone had to stand up for Dick, because it sure as hell wasn't going to be our father."
"I know, Jay," Tim said quietly. "And I'm actually—" He sighed. "I'm actually with you on this one. I'm just saying that we're going to face some resistance." Jason bristled. "Jesus, calm down, I'm not saying Bruce won't want to have Dick in the house, I'm just saying with the killing, and you know how he's been these past few weeks—"
"Yeah, I know how he's been," Jason muttered darkly. "Abandoning his golden boy when he needed him most, letting Deathstroke walk, making Dick feel like he didn't give a shit about him, the list goes on and on. Bruce has really been top of his game the last few weeks."
Tim didn't reply, and Dick certainly had nothing to say, so the car fell into a tense silence.
Dick drifted into an uneasy sleep, and before he knew it they were pulling to a stop, Wayne Manor in view. Jason came around to the back and gently unbuckled his older brother before picking him up. He took a moment to adjust them both to the hold, and then began walking, Tim hovering close just in case.
They let the large front door slam shut behind them—or, really, Jason made it slam shut—and headed for the staircase. Just as they hit the bottom step, Alfred and Bruce appeared.
"Why are you—?" Bruce began sternly, probably going to ask why they were coming in the front door while in their Red Hood and Red Robin uniforms. He stopped when he spotted Dick, half-conscious and limp in his brother's arms.
The next thing Bruce said was in Batman's no-nonsense, firm voice. "What happened?"
"You're a piece of shit, you know that?" Jason seethed.
"Jay," Tim said quietly, having spotted Dick flinch at the harsh tone in his brother's voice. Dick closed his eyes; fights between Jason and Bruce were hard enough to handle on the best of days, and in that moment he was too exhausted and drugged and hurt to manage it.
"What happened, Tim?" Bruce asked more quietly, but no less demanding.
"Deathstroke broke into Dick's apartment," the third Robin replied, his voice shaking a little. "And he..."
"Are you happy now, Bruce?" Jason snarled. "Y'know this whole No Killing rule sounds really good on the surface but what's it going to take for you to protect your family?" His voice had risen to a shout by the end. "One son murdered, another raped—hell, Bruce, you're sending a message to the world that we're fair game. Expendable, really; who gives a shit about one of the Robins? So easy to replace, after all."
"Jason—" Bruce began.
"No! I don't want to hear whatever bullshit hero shit you're gonna try and throw at me. I just put a bullet through the neck of a man who was raping my big brother and I feel ecstatic about it."
Bruce sucked in a sharp breath. Whether because of the acknowledgment of what happened or the reveal of the murder, Dick wasn't sure.
"You abandoned him these last few weeks, Bruce," Jason said coldly. "He needed you, and you did nothing. You didn't even give him a phone call. And the worst part is that he'll forgive you for all of that. Hell, he probably doesn't blame you at all, has probably internalized the whole thing and made it seem like his fault. But I won't forget, and I don't think anyone else will, either."
"Oh, Master Richard," Alfred said sadly. Dick heard him walk closer and then stroked a hand through his hair. Dick twitched at the touch but found he didn't mind it; Alfred always took care of him as a child, and he wanted to let the man take care of him now. "Come now, let's get him to his room, let him sleep this off. Drugged, yes?"
"Yeah," Tim said quietly. "I don't know with what, but I think it's just a sedative."
Dick blinked up at the ceiling, contemplating whatever it was Slade had given him, and in the corner of his eye he caught sight of Bruce, his head in his hands, whispering something Dick was too far away to hear.
They made their way up the stairs, and the breath froze in Dick's lungs when at the top he heard Damian demand, "What has happened?"
No, not Damian, please, don't tell him.
"Feel like helping me clean up a body, squirt?" Jason asked dryly. "Just gonna put Dick to bed and then we've got a job to do."
"Whose body?" Damian asked suspiciously, following them to Dick's room.
"Someone who should've been dead long ago," Jason muttered back. "Trust me, kid, you'll be happy about it. Go get dressed."
"Don't tell me what to do," Damian snapped haughtily, but then he dashed out of the room, presumably to go put on his uniform.
"He's going to be jealous," Tim said with a snort.
"For good reason," Alfred replied as Jason set Dick down, pulling the covers back. "I most certainly am."
The silence that followed that statement was thick and shocked, and then Jason burst out laughing.
"Hell yeah, Alfred," he said, and Dick wasn't looking but he could picture the shit-eating grin on his brother's face. "Stick it to the Bat."
"Now, now, Master Jason," Alfred said in his familiar, chastising tone, but didn't follow it up with anything, simply stepped closer to the bed. "Do you need anything, Master Richard?"
"He's pretty out of it," Tim told him sadly. "Some words here and there, but—"
"Tell me what he did," Dick whispered, looking at them blearily. "I can't—I don't..."
Jason and Tim had removed their masks at some point, and both of them looked broken by the question, though Jason was quickly turning to anger, as per usual.
"How about you get some sleep," Alfred said hesitantly, when neither of his brothers spoke up. "We can talk in the morning."
"Please," Dick whispered, and couldn't manage any other words, sinking into his bed.
After a moment, Tim moved forward and sat on the edge of the bed, taking Dick's hand between his own and squeezing. "Okay. Okay, if you need...Okay." He cleared his throat and shifted. "When we got there, Deathstroke was..." He cleared his throat again. "He was inside of you, but not...all the way. That's as far as he got. He's dead, Dick. He's gone."
He's dead. He's gone.
But is he really? It doesn't feel like it.
"Alright, let's go," Damian declared as he returned. He frowned at them all; Tim holding Dick's hand, Jason glaring murder at the wall, Alfred looking like he'd aged twenty years. "Who hurt Grayson?"
"I'll tell you on the way," Jason said, breathing out slowly. Tim moved to get up, but Jason shook his head. "Stay with Dick; the demon child and I've got this."
The last thing Dick remembered before succumbing to the pull of unconsciousness was Damian staring at him with concern he'd never admit to, and his family staying by his side, just like always.