Entering the apartment, Slade already knew something was wrong.
For one thing, Dick hadn't answered his phone in three days. The kid was almost obsessive about getting back to people, so that was concerning.
For another thing, Blockbuster's death by that vigilante Dick had been trying to help was all over the news, and apparently Dick had quit his job immediately after. Dick loved being a police officer, almost as much as he loved being Nightwing. Unless something was seriously fucked up, there was no way Dick would've stopped.
So Slade was entering (see: breaking and) already prepared to face a troubled Dick. But what he found was...so much worse.
The kid looked awful, truly. He was curled up on the couch wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt Slade recognized as one of his. His hair was greasy and he was staring at the (currently off) TV with dull eyes. He didn't so much as twitch as Slade entered through the window, didn't even blink at the foreign presence. There were large circles under his eyes and he looked paler than usual.
He looked fragile, and that had never before been a word Slade would attribute to the strong young man.
"Oh, little bird," Slade murmured, stepping closer. "What happened to you?"
Slade crouched in front of the couch, tilting his head to try and meet Dick's gaze. The younger man didn't react at all, staring straight through Slade like he couldn't even see him. The mercenary's brow furrowed, concern tight in his chest, and he reached out hesitantly to cup Dick's face.
After a second, Dick's eye twitched, the most motion Slade had seen out of him yet, and then his other one. His lips pursed for a second, his eyebrows creased, and then
"Hello, little bird," Slade greeted quietly, afraid to raise his voice.
"Sl'de?" Dick slurred, and then blinked slowly, heavily.
"It's me," the mercenary confirmed. Looking him over, Slade asked, "When was the last time you ate or slept?"
Dick's head moved, a small shake side to side, and that was confirmation enough that it had been long enough that the boy didn't even know.
Anger surged through Slade; where were Dick's brothers? Where was his father? Slade knew that Gotham had a lot going on these days, like a gang war, but the merc would hope that the safety of Dick would be a priority for them. Had any of them tried to reach out? Why hadn't they taken a short trip to Bludhaven at receiving no response? Slade had been in fucking Russia and had hopped on a plane to check on the hero! A forty-five-minute car ride should've been nothing!
"Ok," Slade said softly, keeping his anger in check; it wouldn't do Dick any good. "Alright. I'm going to get you something to eat, then, and we'll see where to go from there." He leaned forward and pressed a kiss to Dick's forehead. "I've got you, little bird. I'll take care of you."
He was reluctant to pull away, but he forced himself to his feet, heading over to Dick's small kitchen. Predictably, the workaholic didn't have much food, but Slade poured a bowl of Dick's favorite sugary cereal and then brought it over to the couch, sitting next to the other man this time.
"Can you focus enough to hold this yourself?" Slade asked, starting to be concerned by how disconnected Dick seemed from the rest of the world. Was he dissociating? Seemed likely.
What happened to you? Slade wanted to scream.
Dick nodded slightly, a barely noticeable movement, and reached out.
Slade let out a relieved breath and placed the bowl in Dick's hands, holding on for a moment until he was sure the vigilante wouldn't just drop it. "That's good, little bird," he murmured, knowing how much praise could help Dick. "That's really good."
He kept cooing small affirmations until the bowl was empty, and then pressed another kiss to the crown of Dick's head.
"Alright, kid, do you want sleep or a shower?"
Dick tilted his head upward, blinking blankly at Slade, and then mumbled, "Sh'r. I feel..." His brow scrunched up, his lips pursing. "...Dirty."
Rage flooded Slade's veins and he fought hard against the urge to jump to his feet and go find some people to kill.
"Ok," he said instead, nodding. "Let me help you to the bathroom, then."
It was a slow process, since Dick's body didn't seem to want to cooperate, and he'd stumble every once in a while. Slade kept a tight hold over him, and was grateful when they made it to the bathroom without any actual falls.
Dick sat on the toilet and didn't make any protests as Slade started to pull the t-shirt over his head, even helped a bit when it came time for the pants. Ugly bruises marred Dick's skin and Slade pursed his lips, determined to ask WHO later.
Slade stripped as well, knowing that it was more than likely that Dick would need help, and then guided the younger man into the shower once it was warm enough.
Slowly but surely, the water seemed to help bring Dick back to himself. By the time Slade was carefully rinsing the shampoo out of the hero's black hair, Dick's eyes were present, if still terribly tired.
"Slade," he murmured, as the mercenary lifted his head out of the spray.
"It's me," Slade confirmed again, just in case. "Do you want to get out?"
Dick stared up at him, blinking. For a moment, Slade was worried that the vigilante was about to slide right back into his absent state of mind, but then Dick leaned forward, tucking his head against Slade's neck.
And then, the strong, beautiful hero began to sob.
Slade wrapped his arms around him immediately, stroking his back and his hair and his sides, murmuring comforting things. He didn't know what was wrong, but something had fractured Dick, and he didn't need questions, he needed to be held.
"It's my fault," Slade made out at one point. "I let her...and then she..."
It wasn't hard to guess what 'she' Dick was referring to; Catalina Flores, aka Tarantula. The vigilante-turned-murderer. Slade didn't know why Dick was blaming himself, though, nor what else Flores must've done.
"It's alright," Slade murmured, "it's alright, it's over now. I've got you, little bird. I've got you."
"I've got you," Slade whispered. "It's ok, let it out."
Eventually, Dick seemed to exhaust himself, and Slade patted him dry with a towel before taking him to the bedroom. He grabbed the heated blanket from Dick's closet and brought it over to the bed, wrapping the hero in it like he knew he liked when he was hurt.
After a moment's hesitation, Slade lied down next to him, and then let out a quiet breath when Dick curled against his chest.
"She didn't stop," Dick whispered after long enough that Slade thought he'd fallen asleep. "I
Slade's eye went wide as he understood what Dick was saying, and rage scorched his veins. Catalina Flores was officially on Deathstroke's hitlist, and there was nowhere he wouldn't find her.
"It's not your fault," Slade told him fiercely. "I swear to you Dick, what happened was not your fault. I'll tell you that as many times as it takes to stick."
Dick didn't reply, but he did snuggle closer, so Slade figured that he'd at least said the right thing.
I'm coming for you, Slade thought viciously once Dick had finally drifted to sleep.
He hoped the girl was somewhere out there looking over her shoulder, afraid of reprisal. I'll make you regret the day you were born.