Actions

Work Header

Bury Your Sons

Chapter Text

Slade doesn’t have a conscience. He doesn’t get guilty or upset. There are a lot of hired killers out there who try and act like they have principles, and like having those makes them better than others. Like an assassin for hire who won’t kill anyone under the age of eighteen is somehow less morally bankrupt than someone who will kill anyone.

Slade knows better. He knows that morals aren’t lines: they’re price tags. The only difference between him and them is that he’s up front about his costs.

Which is why it bothers him when he starts to feel an itch he can’t scratch. A feeling he can’t push away.

It’s the Knight that’s doing it. It’s listening to him flail and cry in the night as he sleeps, lost in a nightmare he can’t wake up from. It’s the way he flinches away from even casual contact.

Mostly it’s the way he wolfs down food like it’ll be taken away from him. The way--most of the time when he lets Slade see him eat--he chokes on his own food in his desperation to get it down.

The noises are getting to him. 

He tells himself it doesn’t matter, but in the end he goes looking into it anyway. He never breaks a contract. His reputation matters to him more than almost anything else. Maybe it does matter more than anything else. He’s not sure anymore.

But there are ways around it. He just has to look into things. That’s who he is: plans within plans within plans, with no crunchy moral center to be found.

He ignores the kid. Even if Slade’s crisis of conscience (or maybe existence of conscience?) is literally all about him, he’s still an unnecessary complication. Their entire relationship is an unnecessary complication, for that matter.

If you consider the contract from the kid himself, the one paid in several million dollars of stolen Wayne Enterprises money, then the kid’s in charge. He’s the boss. The contract is clear: help him accomplish his revenge. Help raise the militia. Help train them. Help outfit them.

If you consider the contract from the Clown, things get more confusing. There’s fewer clear directives when it comes to the Clown, so really it comes down to one thing: help him kill the Bat. 

After some thought, he decides the objectives are one and the same. The Clown didn’t want him to kill the Bat (he’d been very clear it wasn’t that sort of contract), which means what the Clown really paid for was for Slade to help the kid get his revenge.

Done and done. The Kid gets the final say on where the contract points. Even if that wasn’t the original plan, he can’t take two opposing contracts, and the Clown's dead anyway. Rules of succession: the kid’s in charge.

That decision in place, Slade turns his attention to other things. He works his way through some reheated leftovers while ordering some new gear for the militia. He has two months before everything has to be ready to go, and he’s tempted to go back to Argentina just to make sure everything is in order.

But his conscience nags at him. When he spars with the kid. When he shows the kid something new. When the kid eats. When the kid sleeps.

The kid’s running at top speed toward something that’s going to destroy him. He’s setting himself on fire for a chance to burn someone who hurt him.

It’s not that Slade thinks they’re going to lose. Between the two of them, the militia, and all the gear? He thinks they’ll win. He thinks they’ll put the Bat down for good.

It’s what comes after.

He’s been working the job for more than two years. He’s antsy for a new job, new contracts. New scenery. New anything. He has plans for when the contract’s done and he can finally lay it to rest.

The kid doesn’t.

The moment the Bat’s dead, the Arkham Knight might as well stop existing. He hasn’t said it, but it’s the way he doesn’t talk about it. He never mentions anything after. There’s never any once the Bat’s dead. Sometimes he’ll rumble about killing the Bat being for Gotham’s sake. Giving the city a new protector. But he never seems to include himself.

That was what Slade thought was originally happening: kill the Bat, take over for the Bat. But it isn’t. If it was, he’d be keeping extra gear. Setting up caches. Preparing himself to take over.

There’s nothing though. It shouldn’t bother him. The moment the Bat’s dead and he’s helped the kid achieve his revenge, he’s done. Contract over.

But it does bother him.

The Knight leaves to go do who the hell knows what, and Slade kicks his feet up and lets himself drink. It’s a night off, technically, but he can’t risk the Bat finding out he’s there. So no social visits. No extra jobs. No leaving the base without a good reason.

He’s bored, and he tells himself that’s why he starts digging.

The kid’s identity isn’t as hard to find as it should be. He already knows where he was held and who he was connected to. A civilian might not have been able to make the jump, but Deathstroke’s worked for half the criminals in Gotham, and he’s heard the talk.

So the kid is the second Robin. That lines up with what he knows. The Clown was never big on exact details, but his terms were clear enough: find the kid. Pretend he was going to kill the kid. Let the kid escape. Help him on his mission.

He hadn’t said who the kid was, though. But he could guess. The sudden change in Robin. A black haired kid who was about the right age.

It doesn’t help him though. Knowing that the Arkham Knight--the kid--is the second Robin doesn’t put him any closer to any sort of answer. It’s not the piece he needs to solve the puzzle, just another bit added onto the side.

He tries again. Settles back in his chair. Sets his food aside and thinks about the situation. About how he met the kid. About what the Joker had said. What’s he missing?

It’s not the Joker that finally lets him make the connection, but the kid himself. He’s paying him from a massive fund stolen from Bruce Wayne. But he never explained how. Bruce Wayne’s rich, and if there’s one thing Slade’s learned about the ultra wealthy, it’s that they hate giving up their money.

So how’s a random brat end up with the information on Wayne’s swiss?

It’s laughably easy to go from that question to the answer. Inside of half an hour he’s looking at a picture of Jason Todd, adopted son of Bruce Wayne. Deceased. A bit more digging shows a peculiarity: missing person’s report filed six months before his death. No official trail after that. No body. And then, all of a sudden, dead.

Obviously not.

The Knight comes back from whatever the hell he was doing, paying Slade no mind. He makes no attempt to glance at Slade’s computer, or investigate what he’s doing. Instead he walks right past him, ignoring him almost entirely as he vanishes back into the part of the building he’s claimed as his personal quarters.

This is why Slade hates sharing a space with someone. He hates being interrupted. He shifts a bit, letting himself relax again before he turns his attention back to the computer.

Jason Todd. There’s no explanation for why he’s marked as dead. Just that he is. He’s dead, and the police know it. Someone calling it in shouldn’t be enough. So there has to be some kind of evidence that let the boys in blue in Gotham decide to mark him as dead.

He’s going to have to do some on-site digging, isn’t he?

He knocks once at the door to the Knight’s room. It’s one of the more spacious of his bolt holes, which means he probably can’t even hear the knock, but he tries anyway. 

He’s surprised when the door creaks open and the dark blue of a helmet greets him.

“What?” The kid says, his voice garbled by the voice modulator in his helmet.

Slade hates the helmet, and after a moment of reflection, it occurs to him that he’s seen the kid with it on a lot. He used to take it off when they were in private, and now he’s not. When did it get that bad? Only the past few months. Something set him off, and it irritates Slade to not know what. Before he wore clothes. Now he wears nothing but baggy hoodies and sweatpants that go over his armor. It makes him look bulky. It makes him slow. The whole thing is ridiculous.

It’s like some kind of fucked up security blanket. Wear the helmet, and no one can see the brand on his face. Wear the suit, and no one can see the scars.

“What?” The Knight repeated, and Slade was sure that if he could see his face, he’d be baring his teeth.

“I’m going into the city,” Slade says, gesturing over his shoulder. “Don’t wait up.”

The Knight doesn’t answer, closing the door in his face, and Slade wonders why the hell he’s even bothering.

Chapter Text

Slade kills people for a living, but that doesn’t mean murder is his only skill. Often, managing to get the kill is significantly more complicated than putting a bullet in someone’s brain. It’s those skills he uses as he slips his way into Gotham’s police department.

Police officers know each other, but they don’t know all the staff who work the building. It takes some staking out to find someone in the right outfit who looks around his size, and he takes the guy out, locking him in his own trunk before getting dressed.

Maintenance worker, says his badge. He clips it to the front of his shirt, slings a messenger bag over his shoulder, and heads inside.

Most people would try and sneak in during the night. There’s undeniably going to be less people in the building at night, but Slade wants more, not less. Less people means more scrutiny on whoever’s inside. More means less attention. And with people streaming in to start their day at work, almost no one gives him even a second glance.

The most important rule of going to a place you aren’t supposed to be, Slade’s found, is to act like you belong.

He uses his pass to get him through the entrance without anyone batting an eye. He’s halfway down to the archives before anyone even gives him a second look. He doesn’t recognize the man--probably a newer officer--but that doesn’t really matter.

“What’s with the shades?” The cop says, squinting at Slade warily.

He’s prepared for this, and feigns a wince. He does his absolute best to look embarrassed, even mortified, and then mutters something about a hangover.

People love hearing other people’s secrets. They love finding out everyone else’s secrets. It’s an exchange of power, and it makes them feel good, and the cop slaps Slade on the shoulder and conspiratorially tells him to make sure to avoid Groszek.

Apparently, the cop tells him, Groszek has no tolerance for people coming in hungover.

He thanks the cop for the tip and moves on, promising to do just that.

He makes it all the way down to evidence, neatly bypassing every security measure they have in place. Locked doors only work as long as people aren’t willing to hold them over for the guy walking close behind them, and more or less everyone is. Cameras only work so long as they get a good view, and with some careful angling of his head all they’re spotting is his hat.

He makes it to evidence, which presents a slightly more complicated problem. Evidence lockup is a large and well-guarded room. There’s heavy mesh netting around the entire thing, and no out of view spots. There’s also, more pressingly, a man in charge, and several more cops looking at their own evidence.

He’s come prepared for this, but he doesn’t need any tools. Instead he slides up to the counter, leaning heavily against it, and reaches up to pull his shades down. The beard and face probably wasn’t enough to give it away, but the lack of eye does. The man stares at him, and as the realization dawns on him his mouth sinks open.

He’s afraid. Which is good: afraid means he has finely honed survival instincts, something that many members of the GCPD seem to lack.

“Hello,” Slade says, putting on his very best malicious smile.

The man makes a whimper, but doesn’t move. That’s good. Good survival instincts.

“So,” he says, “let me explain how this is going to go.”

Gotham police are notoriously corrupt, even with all the measures the commissioner’s put in place. But even then, this isn’t necessarily corruption. This is simple logic, and he makes a point to impress that upon the man.

“You’re going to let me in. You can sign me in whatever way you’d like. Under your name. Under someone else’s. Doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to come in. I’m going to read over some files. And then I’m going to go.”

The man’s eyes dart down, and Slade’s sure he’s staring at the panic button. The thing that’ll call every cop in the building down on him. That’s the downside of coming in during the day.

“Do you really want to do that?” Slade asks. “You might actually catch me, if you do,” he says. “But I’m not going to go down easy, and you really don’t want to see what I’ve got in my bag.”

The threat is implicit, but still clear. If he presses the button, they’ll probably catch him. They’ll probably even take him down. Slade’s good, but he’s not every-cop-in-Gotham good. Not on their home turf.

But he’ll kill the man, everyone in the room, and probably a few dozen more people before they do.

The man’s eyes come back up.

“I can’t... I can’t let you take anything,” he says, his voice shaking.

“Of course not,” Slade says, giving him a winning smile. “I’m just here to look for a friend. I look, and then I leave, and no one even knows I was here. Better for everyone that way. Less bloody.”

“And I need to watch you,” the man says.

“Of course,” Slade says, waving him off. “So let me in.”

He does. He lets him in and then trails behind Slade as he walks through the rows and rows of boxes. He wonders how many boxes are connected to him. He’s no longer sure how many people he’s killed in Gotham, so he can’t begin to guess.

The boxes are sorted by date, which makes it easy to find what he’s looking for. 

TODD, JASON is written on the side. Below it is MISSING PERSON, but someone’s put a line through it.

Now it just says HOMICIDE.

He eases the box out of it’s space as the man behind him makes an unhappy noise, but he thankfully keeps his mouth shut. Slade pops the box open and finds... very little. The evidence boxes he’s dealt with before had mountains of evidence, but this one isn’t even half full. He sorts through it, digging through the stacks of papers. Missing person’s report, filled out neatly. Reporting person: Bruce Wayne. He skims it, but it’s light on details. Snuck out one night. Didn’t come home.

He flips through the notes. Dead mother. Missing father. The only person Jason had was Bruce Wayne, as far as he can tell.

There’s no explanation for what makes it a homicide. There’s nothing to bridge the gap. He flips through it again and finds a brief note, indicating that the case is now connected to case AVT83493.

The number means nothing to him, but he notes it down anyway, slotting the sad, almost empty box back into it’s place.

“I need help finding a file,” he says to the increasingly nervous man at his side. He looks moments away from either screaming or crying, and Slade doesn’t want to find out which. He holds up the note with its hastily written number and waves it in front of the man.

“That - I can’t -” he catches himself several times before he makes himself take a deep breath and actually answers. “We don’t have those files,” he says. “That’s the anti-vigilante task force. It’s - we don’t have those files.”

Of course. He should have guessed as much. The record going from missing person to homicide victim means they probably made the connection. They probably know he was the second Robin.

A rough outline is starting to fill itself in. Jason Todd, second Robin. Adopted by Bruce Wayne, but sneaking out to work under Batman. He goes missing while working with the Bat. Wayne reports him missing. And then... what?

There’s a big gap. He guesses that the Bat might have tipped the police off as to who Jason was.

And then, almost three months later, he got called in by the Clown.

What the hell was Jason doing for the intervening two years? And why did the Bat mark him as dead?

The Bat’s never been a quitter, so the whole thing seems bizarrely out of character.

Which means it’s time to see a man about some files.

Chapter Text

Getting out of the station is even easier than getting in. He thanks the officer for his time, giving him all sorts of friendly smiles as he tries to work out if he’s likely to confess. He guesses probably not. If he does, it probably won’t be for another couple weeks, before the paranoia gets the better of him. He makes it out of the building and calls in an anonymous tip about a man in a trunk before heading into the city.

He pulls one of his burner phones out and calls the Gotham City Police Department front desk, asking for Commissioner Gordon. He says the man will be expecting his call, which he isn’t, and then when the receptionist tells him it’s Gordon’s day off, he apologizes profusely and says he’s mixed up his dates.

Gordon’s address is easier than it should be to find. He’s a public servant, and it’s a matter of record, even if the whole thing paints a massive target on his back.

Gordon isn’t home when he visits. The car’s missing, and the house is quiet for the entire hour Slade watches it. It’s only once he’s sure the house is empty that he loops around back, hopping fences to get into the tiny patch of land Gordon calls his backyard.

There’s security, but the security isn’t at the level where Slade has to actually care about it. He’s bypassed security ten times as good without even thinking about it. It’s easy to avoid the cameras, jimmy the lock, and vanish inside.

There’re no visible cameras once he’s inside. Gordon probably cares about privacy. Or maybe, whatever he’s put in place is better hidden than he thought.

His plan is to go upstairs, pick a room with an easy escape route (probably a window) and settle in to wait. He doesn’t make it that far. Halfway down the hallway he slows to a stop, staring at the framed photos on the walls.

Gordon and his family. Things seem to be in a rough timeline, starting from the stairs and moving forward, so he starts there. Gordon, his hair still red, with a woman. Then a child. Then his wife vanishes from the photos as the little girl grows up.

He’s nearly at the end when the girl is suddenly in a wheelchair. The framing of the photos is different to compensate, and the suddenness of the shift makes it obvious.

Slade reaches the end of the photos and finds something he wasn’t even looking for. One of the photos has Gordon’s daughter with her arm around a man. Maybe man is the wrong word--he looks young. Mid twenties?

But he has a muscular build. His head is shaved. And even without the mask, Slade recognizes him.

He whistles, low and slow, and checks the other photos. There’s a few more appearances, including some with all three of them. Relationship? Probably long term. Serious, even. At least a year, if the photos are evenly spaced like he thinks.

Slade doesn’t wait around. Instead, he excuses himself from the house the way he went in, leaving it undisturbed. Even with the door unlocked, he’s hoping Gordon will chalk it up to forgetfulness.

He finds a cafe, settles in, and does some more research.

Gordon doesn’t have social media, but he does show up in the news a lot. He finds a news story of Gordon at a fundraiser, and the details under the provided photograph identify his daughter as Barbara. He searches Barbara Gordon and comes up with a fairly locked down social media profile, but a bit of work pulls up several more photos.

He sketches out a timeline on a napkin in his own shorthand and comes up with a working hypothesis.

Barbara Gordon is Batgirl, the short lived female member of the Batclan. Her beau is Red Robin, the current Robin. It explains a lot about how effective the bats are when he takes into account that they have the commissioner’s daughter on their side.

Whoever the Bat is, he’s probably someone close to them, and he goes searching for more photos. News sites are the best, because they’re all clearly labelled, and he has a stroke of luck when he looks into police charity galas. There, amidst a hundred nearly identical photos of men and women in suits and dresses, is a shot of Barbara Gordon and her boyfriend.

Timothy Drake, the label says.

From there, the last few steps are easy. Timothy Drake does have a social media presence, and his bio informs him that he’s a teacher at Robinson academy.

Slade squints at the name and goes digging into public records.

And then he slams headfirst into the most obvious clue of all: Timothy Drake was the legal ward of Bruce Wayne, before eventually being adopted by the man.

Slade stares at the name.

There’s no way it’s a coincidence. There’s no way that the second and third Robin were both adopted by the same man. He pulls up a file photo of Bruce (who has social media, but whose social media is obviously being handled by someone on his payroll rather than the man himself) and stares at it.

The jaw’s about right. The height. The build.

The rest slides neatly into place. Bruce Wayne adopted three boys. Dick Grayson, whose photo lines up with Nightwing. Jason Todd, who he most definitely knows. Timothy Drake, the man now operating as Red Robin.

So Bruce Wayne is Batman. A part of him has always wanted to know, but most of him simply doesn’t care. It doesn’t change things. As much as he wants a rematch with him, he can’t touch him without betraying his contracts.

And even if he did, he’d never fight him as Bruce Wayne. He’d want to fight him as the Bat, in his full suit, with all his gear.

Anything less wouldn’t be worth his time.

Chapter Text

It’s late by the time he reaches Wayne Manor. He’s not in his stolen uniform anymore. This isn’t a Slade Wilson thing anymore--this is all Deathstroke. So he’s in his full costume as he slips over the fence, bypassing the first layer of security.

It takes him almost an hour to make it through Wayne’s security. If there was even a bit of doubt in his mind, it’s gone. Even the ultra wealthy don’t have security like this.

In his ear, he listens to the police radio, paying attention each time they mention Batman. He’s out in the city, which means the only people in the house should be the butler.

Slade lets himself in through a window, crouches down, and waits.

It’s late, and he moves slowly and carefully as he confirms that the ground floor is empty. Wayne is nothing like Gordon, because his house is filled with security. There are cameras everywhere, the doors and windows are all alarmed...

Wayne’s more paranoid than he is, and that’s saying something.

His options are limited with the cameras so heavy down the wing where he’s pretty sure the bedrooms are. He settles for the Kitchen instead, sliding into a seat and recognizing he probably has hours still to wait.

It’s a good thing he’s patient, because it takes almost five hours before Batman stops being spotted by the police, and six before there’s movement in the house. A false wall slides back, and Slade cuts the radio chatter, listening in the perfect silence. He can hear Wayne moving around. The sound’s right--it’s definitely not the butler--and by the noise he’s making he’s not in boots.

That’s good. Things get more complicated if he walks into the kitchen wearing his cape.

Thankfully, he doesn’t. When Bruce Wayne steps into the kitchen and flips the light, he’s dressed in sweats, a dirty tank top, and extremely fluffy slippers.

In the moment he sees Deathstroke sitting in his Kitchen, Slade knows exactly what Wayne is thinking. He’s thinking does he know? The answer is yes, but the possibility that it’s no--that Deathstroke has been hired by someone to intimidate (because if it was to kill, he’d be making an attempt on his life)--makes Bruce Wayne freeze in place and keeps him from acting.

“Mr. Wayne,” Slade says through his mask, hoping to push his decision firmly the wrong way. Let him think this is a Deathstroke-comes-for-Bruce-Wayne thing. If he thinks it’s a Deathstroke-comes-for-Batman thing, it’s going to come to blows and Slade isn’t going to get anything done.

For maybe a half second Wayne stands frozen in the doorway, and then the mask switches. He looks more panicked. More alarmed. He’s playing Bruce Wayne, obscenely wealthy man who is definitely not a nighttime vigilante. Who probably took some judo classes a few years ago, but couldn’t hope to fight off someone like Deathstroke.

“What do you want?” He asks, and Slade’s impressed that he manages to make his voice tremble. Wayne’s a better actor than he’d thought.

“Mr. Wayne,” he says, just to hammer the point home. “If I wanted you dead, I’d have taken you out at work. Much less security there. The moment someone has a security team handy, they think they’re invincible.”

There’s a crackled beep in his ear and Slade curses every god he knows of, holding up a single finger.

“Hold on,” he says, before shifting his jaw to activate his comms.

“What?”

He keeps his eye on Wayne. If he was the Bat, he’d already be moving. He’d be taking advantage of the fact that Slade’s distracted to get away, or maybe to disarm him. The only reason he hasn’t is because he’s still playing at the harmless businessman thing.

Slade’s wary of it.

“Where are you?” Comes the Knight’s voice. Of course it’s him, because who else would it be? The fact that he’s talking on comms using the helmets voice rather than his own only serves to irritate Slade further.

“Out,” he says. “I told you I’d be back late.”

“You’re supposed to be back here,” the Knight says.

Slade is very, very aware that Batman is standing not five feet from him. Even if he can’t hear the Knight’s voice, he can hear Slade’s responses, so he’s careful with his wording.

“You aren’t paying me enough to have me at your beck and call twenty four hours a day. You can expect to see me at the usual time, but I have other things I’m working on.”

He doesn’t give the Knight the chance to respond, hanging up on him with a shift of his jaw.

“Where were we?” He asks.

“I wanted to know what you want,” Wayne says. “You broke into my house. You’re here to... to what, to scare me?”

“I’m here to talk,” he says. “Why don’t you sit down, and we can talk this out.”

Batman would never sit down. It puts him in too vulnerable a position. But Bruce Wayne would be eager to comply with a masked hitman in the hopes of not dying, so he sits, looking anxious.

“What’s this about?” He asks, which is probably both a genuine question and also a very good bit of acting.

Slade takes a moment to consider where to start. There’s a lot of places he could start, but the truth of the matter is that he doesn’t actually know where he’s going with it. He’s used to following clear directives, and this? This is something else. This is an idea. A feeling.

So he lets it lead him.

“I’m not here to kill you,” he says. “In fact, I wager whatever I’m doing is going to let you come out ahead in the long run.”

Considering the current course of action ends with Bruce six feet under, literally anything would be better for him.

“Right now I’m here to talk. I’m chasing down a lead. And considering how much shit I’ve got on you, it’d be in your best interests to play along. So why don’t we talk about your Robins, Bruce?”

The change is immediate. One moment, Slade’s sitting across from Bruce Wayne, billionaire (or is it millionaire after everything Jason took?) playboy, and the next, he’s sitting across from Batman. It’s the way he sits, the way he holds himself. His expression has gone from open and friendly to intense and unchanging. Bruce’s face told him everything. Batman’s face tells him nothing. He’d get more insight from trying to find patterns in his coffee grinds. He’s hard and unchanging, and Slade lets out a laugh.

“There we go,” he says. “That’s much better. Couldn’t stand the oh no, I’m so afraid thing you had going.”

He can imagine what Bruce is thinking. His brain has to be going a mile a minute. The big question, of course, is how much does he know?, and Slade plans to keep the answer close to his chest.

“Like I said,” Slade says. “Let’s talk about the Robins.”

Chapter Text

Batman is impossible to read. Even without the cowl, he’s still so obviously Batman that at times it’s hard to even think of him as anything else. His voice is even pitched lower when he talks, a fact that Slade can’t possibly miss.

“I’m not interested in talking to you about them,” Wayne says.

“That’s nice,” Slade says. “I don’t particularly care. Tell me about them anyway.”

He knows Wayne is turning it over in his head. Weighing his options. He doesn’t have any of his gear on him, where as Slade has everything. Even if his hands are empty, he has swords on his back and guns on his belt and more weapons that Wayne can’t visibly see.

Wayne is outgunned by a factor of ten. Even if he has the home field advantage, it’s debatable if he’ll be able to reach any supplies or a safe room before Slade puts him down. It’s a risk, and he doesn’t think Wayne wants to risk it.

“Nightwing,” he says. “Athletic. Flexible. Good at adapting to any situation.” Wayne’s expression is unchanging. “He patrols Bloodhaven now.”

“And?” Slade prompts.

Wayne doesn’t answer immediately, weighing his options.

“Red Robin,” he says. “A better detective than I am, at times. Still learning.”

He doesn’t give him any names. He’s not giving him much at all, really. It’s all stuff anyone with even a passing interest in Gotham’s bats would know. Wayne is obviously hoping he’ll prompt him for more information so that he can get a better idea of what he’s after.

Slade makes a point of keeping it tortuously vague.

“That’s all?” He asks.

Wayne doesn’t react.

“Batgirl is retired,” he says after a moment. “She was never a Robin.”

“And?” He prompts.

Wayne doesn’t reply right away. He’s studying Slade’s eye, trying to figure out what he’s after. Slade’s pretty good at keeping himself under control, but he’s absolutely not as good as Wayne apparently is. He might as well be made of Stone.

Slade really wishes fighting him was an option. Watching him sit there, so perfectly controlled is driving him insane. He wonders if he ever cracks. He wonders if he could make him crack.

“Just ask,” Wayne says. “You’re obviously trying to get at something.”

He decides not to drag it out.

“There was a gap,” he says. “You had a Robin. He stopped being a Robin, and Nightwing popped up within a month. Then you had almost a year of flying solo, and then you had a Robin again. Not for long though - only a few months, and then...” He pauses, waving his hand through the air.

“Poof. No more Robin. A few months after that, you’ve got a Robin again. This one is different. And he’s been with you ever since.”

Did he see, just for a moment, Bruce Wayne’s eyes narrow? He’s tense, but Wayne always seems tense. Or at least Batman always does.

“You had a second Robin,” Slade says. “Your boy Red’s the third.”

Wayne takes so long to reply that Slade isn’t sure he’s going to. When he finally speaks, his voice seems strained.

“He isn’t a Robin anymore.”

There are a lot of different ways he could take that, so Slade intentionally picks the cruelest one, hoping to make him angry. Angry people make mistakes. Angry people say things they shouldn’t.

“Ah, kicked him out?” He asks with a laugh. “I get that. Always a pain when you’ve got a useless protege.”

There’s a slight twitch. Is that Wayne’s jaw clenching? He thinks it is. He’s hit a nerve. Not just hit a nerve--he’s punched it directly, and it’s starting to crack the persona that Wayne wears like armor.

“He died,” Bruce says, his voice strained, and Slade leans forward slightly.

“Oh, got him killed, did you?”

He can see the crack in Wayne’s armor, and he’s jamming his fingers in to try and force it open. He wants to see what’s underneath. Rage? Misery? What’s the real Bruce Wayne like?

Has anyone even seen the real him, when he wears a mask all the time?

He almost misses it when Bruce moves. He’s fast. Slade’s literally superhuman, an experiment gone wrong (or gone right, depending on how you look at it), and even still he’s shocked by how fast Bruce is in his face.

Slade’s designed his costume to not have much to grab. Whatever dangles is set up to tear away easily. There’s no loose fabric. There’s sure as hell not any capes.

Wayne grabs the one thing he can. The front of his body armor comes up a bit to provide protection to his neck, and Wayne grabs the edge, hauling him forward to pull him off balance.

But as fast as he is, Slade has a number of sizable advantages. For one, he’s got three inches on him. For another, he’s got twenty or thirty pounds.

For a third, he’s fully armored. Wayne’s wearing sweatpants and a tank top. Wayne could stab Slade with a knife then and there and it wouldn’t even get through his armor. Wayne himself? A particularly sharp spoon could disembowel him.

He uses all his advantages against him. He lets Wayne punch him in the face and then uses Wayne’s own momentum against him, grabbing him by the arm and hauling hard. He stumbles forward, and Slade ducks, stepping into the blow as his shoulder catches Wayne in the ribs.

He’s too big to throw over his shoulder the way he would a smaller opponent, but that doesn’t stop him from tossing Wayne into the counter.

He doesn’t give him time to counter or get back up. He presses the advantage, slugging Wayne in the face. He can’t give any ground.

It isn’t a fair fight, even with Slade only using his fists, and when the butler bursts in--carrying a shotgun--Wayne’s hunched over, coughing hard from a blow to the gut.

Nothing’s too obviously broken, but Slade’s pretty sure he’s cracked a few of Wayne’s ribs.

“Master Bru-” The Butler starts to say, and then immediately displays truly impressive survival instincts. He doesn’t finish the sentence. He simply fires, the sound of the shotgun deafening in close quarters.

The slug misses him, but bits of the granite counter top hit his armor, and Slade decides that he doesn’t want to test what a close range slug would feel like hitting him. He slaps the front of the shotgun down before he can get another shot off, but the Butler manages to avoid it. He doesn’t avoid Slade’s followup blow, where he slams the man into the wall, wrenching the gun from his hand, and then grabs his throat, physically lifting him off the floor.

He has training--which is impressive in its own right--but he’s also an old man, constrained by the limits of his body.

“I’m here to talk,” Slade says. “Are you going to let me?”

Chapter Text

The answer, it turns out, is yes. Bruce Wayne will let him talk. It takes him several minutes to pick himself up from the floor, but he’s leaning heavily on his left leg, and he’s wrapped his arm around his torso protectively. He wonders how much he’s broken. At a minimum, he’s going to have some very colorful bruises.

Slade lets the butler down, who takes a little bit longer to pull it together, even as Wayne steps in front of him.

“So Bruce,” he says. “Can I call you Bruce? I believe we were having a nice conversation before you decided to take a swing at me.”

“There was nothing nice about it,” Bruce snaps, and Slade feels like it’s the first time he’s really seen him. The mask isn’t gone, but there’s some major chunks taken out of it. This isn’t Batman, and it isn’t Bruce Wayne--it’s the man underneath.

Slade ignores the outburst.

“You were telling me about the second Robin,” he says. “That was a short tenure, wasn’t it?”

The butler looks confused, glancing between the two of them, and for a moment Slade considers interrogating him. But the thought passes quickly. He wants it from Bruce, and when he doesn’t answer he clicks his tongue and shifts his eye to the Butler.

“He died,” Bruce says, and his voice is almost a growl. It’s not too far from his voice when he’s playing the part of the Bat, but there’s an undercurrent of something else. Rage? It feels like rage. He’s angry at how the situation has turned out. He obviously cares for his butler’s well being (big surprise there), and knows just how easily Slade could decide to put both of them down.

“You mentioned,” Slade says.

“There’s nothing more to it.”

“There’s the how, for one.”

“Why do you care?” Bruce asks, and Slade wonders what he’s hiding. Even though Bruce doesn’t know that he already knows most (more, really) of what happened, he doesn’t see a reason to hide it. To protect his identity?

“Here, let me make this easy for you,” Slade says. “Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Timothy Drake. Quick and easy.”

Bruce is absolutely, perfectly still. Slade doesn’t even think he’s breathing.

“So there. You can stop beating around the bush. I already know who they are. If this was some shitty revenge scheme, I’d have - Oh right. Barbara Gordon,” he adds as an afterthought. She isn’t a Robin, but might as well make sure there’s no question of what he does or doesn’t know. “Like I was saying, if you think this was some sort of revenge scheme, I’d have killed them already. This isn’t that.”

“Then what is it,” Bruce says, his fingers balling into fists. He lifts his chin, and his eyes fix on Slade’s own.

“That’s for me to know,” Slade says, grinning down at him, “and you to maybe find out.”

Certainly not right then.

“Now answer my question.”

Bruce swallows and leans heavily back against the counter for support.

“The Joker got him,” he finally says. “He died.”

Slade’s literally just gone to blows with him, but he can’t stop himself from sticking the metaphorical knife in and twisting it.

“All that, and it still took you four... five years to pop the Clown?”

Bruce grits his teeth. He’s hating every second of it, and he’s no longer trying to hide it. Slade has all the cards, and they both know it.

Bruce doesn’t respond.

“So the Clown killed your bird,” Slade says. “You’re being notoriously skimpy on the details.”

Getting anything out of him is like pulling teeth. Bruce knows how to play the game--he knows the longer it takes, the more the odds turn in his favor. It’s pissing Slade off.

“Alright, lets get to the point. You’re going to tell me everything, or I’m going to start taking off body parts.”

It’s a bluff. If the Knight finds out what he’s been doing, he’ll go apeshit. If he starts taking body parts off the Bat before he gets his revenge? It’ll be even worse.

“Please, Master Bruce,” the butler says. “While I understand it isn’t a nice thing to discuss, he’s already aware of the boys. I believe it would be in our best interests to simply tell him. Whatever he wants the information for, Master Jason is beyond being hurt. Master Timothy and Master Dick are not.”

He’s so painfully, excruciatingly wrong that Slade’s happy he has a mask to hide his face. Even with all his control he’s not sure he could hide it.

He slides his attention over to Bruce, who grinds his teeth together before exhaling.

“Fine,” he says. “You want to know what happened? The Joker got him. He got him, and he tortured him, and then he killed him before I could save him.”

It’s the key piece. The bit of the puzzle he needed to understand how the two sides fit together. 

Jason Todd, second Robin. Adopted by Bruce Wayne. Trained by Batman. Captured by the Joker. Tortured by the Joker.

Slade wonders if the Bat got too close. Why else tell him he was dead?

“How’d you find out?” He asks, and for once he doesn’t put that hard edge in his tone. Bruce’s eyes narrow, staring at him intensely, trying to figure out the why. He practically spits the answer.

“He sent me a tape,” he says after a moment. “So I could watch him die.”

“And the body?”

He knows the answer: there wasn’t one. He doesn’t need to ask. But he asks anyway, just to see what Bruce says.

“Joker never gave it up.”

He wonders what Bruce thinks. Does he think that the Clown destroyed it? Or that it’s rotting somewhere forgotten? Or does he think every time he goes into one of the Joker’s old safe houses that he’s going to find the body of the boy he took in as his own?

Slade feels a pang of something. Sympathy? Something like that.

“Did you bury him anyway?”

“We had a funeral,” the butler says. “Even though there was nothing to bury.”

It’s a sad picture, but a false one. A legion of bats, gathered around an empty grave to say goodbye to a kid who isn’t dead. A kid who would spend the next... how long being tortured?

Slade does the math. Almost four years, if he’s counting right. Four years with the Clown? If anything, the real shock is that the kid’s held together as well as he has.

No wonder he’s so fucking nutty.

“I...” The butler says, and Slade turns his head, shifting his entire body so he can keep Bruce in his peripheral vision. “Do you know something about Master Jason?”

It’s a direct question. The kind of question Bruce probably wouldn’t have ever asked. But the butler asks it with such obvious desperation. He’s pained, and not just from the fact that Slade was throttling him a few minutes earlier.

“If you know something about Master Jason...”

Slade wonders if the butler would plead with him for that information, and decides the answer is yes. But the time isn’t right. If he tells them now, things are going to fall apart immediately, and he’s not ready for that. It would be the height of stupidity.

So he lies.

“Found some of the Clown’s old stuff. Didn’t make any sense without context, so I had to do some digging.”

The butler’s shoulders slump, and Bruce lets out a breath Slade hadn’t noticed him holding. They’re both disappointed, even if Bruce is making a meager effort to hide it.

“Where’s the tape?” He asks. That’s the last thing, he decides. The tape is make or break. But the mention of it immediately makes Bruce clench his jaw, which means he’s going to fight him on it.

“This isn’t optional,” Slade says. “I want the tape’s contents.”

The butler and his master exchange a look that Slade can’t read.

“Hey,” he snaps. “None of that. Just give me-”

“Do you think I just have it lying around?” Bruce snaps right back, baring his teeth. “Do you think I just keep it handy, to watch when I’m feeling bored?”

It is, Slade must confess, a fair point. Bruce definitely has a copy, but the only way he’s getting it is if he lets Bruce near a computer, and the odds of that are slim to none. His hands are tied.

Slade grunts, realizing his mistake. He wants the tape. It’s important, and he decides he’s going to have to get it another way.

“Hands behind your back,” he says.

Bruce lets out a snarl, and Slade waves him off.

“I’m going to handcuff you. I’m sure you can both get out of it, but it’ll give me enough time to get well clear before you do.”

Bruce might actually be more paranoid than he is.

“And once you have us bound, there’s nothing stopping you from leaving with one of us, and full knowledge of our identities.”

No, scratch that: Bruce is definitely more paranoid.

Slade holds up his right hand, making the scout’s sign.

“Scout’s honor, they’ll stay with me.”

Bruce does not look impressed.

“Am I supposed to believe that?” He asks after a moment of silence.

Slade rolls his eye.

“Fine,” he says. “You have my word as a mercenary. And you, of all people, should know how much that matters to me.”

Bruce is silent for several long seconds, staring up at him as if trying to decide. Finally, though, he holds his hands behind his back.

Slade cuffs him, and then cuffs the butler for good measure.

Then, just to be sure, he handcuffs Bruce’s ankles together, setting them both on the floor. It’s not going to hold him for long, but it’ll give him time to get clear.

But that’s not the only reason. He needs Bruce tied up so he can make that one last attempt at getting the tape.

Chapter Text

Slade makes a pit stop on his way across the city. Gotham Cemetery is filled with overly elaborate mausoleums and tombs, and it doesn’t take long for him to find the right one. There’s an angel, her hands clutched together, and below that a simple inscription:

Here lies Jason Todd.

Which is a lie. It was always a lie. There was never any body to bury.

Fuck.

Slade wants to sit down and think about things, but he’s on a schedule. The minutes are ticking past, and if he’s too slow, the Bat’ll find him.

So he doesn’t linger at the grave, vanishing back into the city.

The clock tower hangs high in the sky, and Slade makes his way towards it.

He’s gone so far off the plan that he’s not entirely sure it’ll be salvageable after this. He’s showing his hand too much. And now, approaching the tower, he’s about to show another part of his hand.

He knows where the Bat hides his secrets.

Or more accurately, he had a good guess, and now he knows enough to know it’s a for sure.

So he takes a position that gives a good view of the surroundings, and then he waits. 

It takes another hour--and the sun peaking up from behind the buildings--for Barbara Gordon to pull up. She slides her car down a ramp, and he’s sure she’s probably unloading herself.

The Bat’s oversight committee. The one who tells him where to go and what’s what. He’s known the Bat had one for a while, going by the name Oracle, but he didn’t know who they were. Now he does.

Barbara Gordon didn’t retire, after all. She just swapped jobs.

As he scales the clock tower, taking advantage of the dim light, his comms beep again.

Irritating, and he answers as he climbs.

“You're late,” the Knight says. “Where are you?”

“Following a lead,” Slade replies.

“And you didn’t tell me about it?”

The more he listens, the more it’s hard to see the Knight as anything other than a petulant child.

“No,” he said. “I don’t tell you everything.”

“Maybe you should.”

“I’m working,” he says. “I’ll check in with you when I’m done.”

He’s cutting it close. He guesses that the moment Bruce indicated they were compromised, he’d alert the rest of his team. That means he’d need Oracle to coordinate. And there she is, arriving just on time to what he presumes would otherwise be a night job.

He hangs up on the Knight and hauls himself onto a ledge. He realizes his mistake the moment he does, because there’s a camera, and that means he doesn’t have time. He’s gone from being on a time limit to having that cut down to a fraction of what it should have been.

Slade makes a shortcut through a particularly weak wall of the clock tower. Oracle’s there, waiting for him, and ready, but she’s also a single human, trapped in a wheelchair with extremely limited mobility. She also, unfortunately for her, shares Bruce’s distaste for guns.

A gun would have helped. The taster she tries to hit him with doesn’t do shit against his armor, and he knocks it to the ground in one quick strike, grabbing the front of her shirt and hauling her up.

She snarls at him. Obviously Bruce hasn’t managed keeping your face straight training.

“Miss Gordon,” Slade says. “I already know the bats are going to be on their way, so I’ll make this quick. I know where you live. I know where you father lives. I know where your boyfriend lives. So you’re going to give me the tape that the Clown sent to Bruce, or else I’m going to start making a lot of problems in your life.”

He prefers threats that are non-specific. People always come up with their own worth fears when prompted. Saves him from having to do the work.

And it is working. Oracle looks horrified, pulling back from him. He drops her back into the chair, grabbing one of the handles and wheeling her back up to the computer.

“Get going,” he says. “You have five minutes.”

Mercifully, she does as he’s asked. She isn’t like her mentor, who dragged out what should have been a quick round of questioning for almost an hour. He watches her hands fly across the keyboard as screens pop up rapid fire, flipping through folders and punching in passwords. Three times she presses her hand to a fingerprint reader at the side, authenticating her way into the Bat’s files.

And then, just like that, she holds up a thumb drive for him to take. He stares at it for a moment, and then glances back to her.

“It’s just the file you wanted,” she said. “You know way too much for me to risk giving you something else.”

It’s a calculated risk. If he takes it, he can get away quicker. He’ll have more time to get well clear of the bats. But there’s a chance she’s done something else. Added a tracker to the thumb drive. Not included the video at all.

He leans down, getting right in her face, and stares at her expression. She’s afraid. Really, genuinely afraid.

So for the moment, he believes her.

“I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around,” he says, and leaves the way he came.

Chapter Text

Slade isn’t looking forward to getting back to base. He knows what’s waiting for him, and he hasn’t even finished getting through the security they installed when the Knight hauls the door open, reaching out to grab Slade’s arm and try and toss him.

He’s an idiot for trying. The Knight’s good--Slade’s given him every bit of training money can buy--but Slade has almost half a foot on him, and the bulk of his armor makes him very hard to toss.

He counters by punching the knight in the armpit. It’s not exactly an easy spot to hit, but it’s the part where his armor is thinnest and most vulnerable, and the place that’ll hurt the most.

It has the desired effect: the Knight pulls back, drawing his gun and pointing it at Slade’s face.

“Body shot,” Slade chides. “I’ve told you a million times not to count on a head shot.”

“You have body armor,” the Knight replies after a moment. “Where were you?”

“If you want me to be at your beck and call twenty four hours a day, you’re going to have to pay me a whole lot more,” Slade snaps. The Knight has always pushed his boundaries, and knowing what he does now, it’s easy to see why. The kid could be the poster child for abandonment issues, and with no one else to project on, he’s fixating on the one person who’s stuck around.

Fantastic.

Mercifully, the Knight doesn’t seem to be able to come up with a response. Probably because he knows that hiring Slade to be his personal butler for the next two months would cost more money than he has. Maybe more money than anyone has. Slade values his freedom too much for that.

“Something’s going on with the bats,” the Knight says, and Slade keeps his composure, even under the helmet. He was prepared for this. He knows that the Knight spends every waking moment stalking them. He knows he’s basically never not listening to the police scanner. So of course he’d hear something was amiss.

“You’re the expert,” Slade says, suddenly aware of why he’s the expert. He’d always assumed most of what the Knight knew was from the Clown feeding him information. Knowing that he’s speaking from personal experience about people who were supposed to be like family to him is a whole other fucking disaster.

Never mind the fact that the Clown had him longer than the Bat ever did.

That is an unpleasant thought.

“I’m going to move the plan up,” the Knight says. “Once he leaves tonight, I’ll slip into the cave and get access to their comm channel.”

“No,” Slade interrupts, and for once there’s no ulterior motive. He means it. “If they spot the intrusion or recognize someone else is listening in over the next few months, it’ll make our entire plan far harder to pull off.”

Assuming the plan happens. Slade’s having a hard time picturing an order of events where it does. The months they’ve spent training the militia, gearing up, all that shit... it’s gone out the window in a heartbeat.

This is why it doesn’t pay to have a conscience. This is why feelings need to be checked at the door.

The Knight shifts, obviously considering it, and then finally nods.

“Fine,” he says, reluctance obvious even through the suit. “We’ll play it your way.”

“We always play it my way,” Slade says. “My way’s the right way.”

Most of the time. Maybe not this time. But he’s sure as hell not going to let the Knight have any hint to what he’s up to. The relationship they have is tenuous at the best of times. If the Knight thinks he’s sold him out--which he more or less has--he’ll skin him alive.

Maybe literally. Who the fuck knows what the Clown taught him to do to his enemies?

“I’m going back to my room,” he says in the intervening silence. He doesn’t wait for a reply.

He locks the door. After a moment, he decides that locking the door isn’t enough, and ends up literally propping the door closed, pulling a bench in front of it. If the Knight wants to get in, he’s going to have to knock the door down, and there’s no reasonable way for him to do that without Slade having time to cover his tracks.

The room is small and dirty. He’s slept in worse, and the conditions have never really bothered him. He knows the Knight’s made an attempt to clean his own room, but Slade’s never bothered, and he rifles through his pile of supplies before finding what he needs: a laptop.

Not a normal laptop. He’s not stupid. Even if he bet on Oracle giving him the correct file, he’s not going to just pop her USB stick into something live and risk her frying his computer or worse. So he picks out a more restricted model.

The laptop has no connection to the internet. The bits that make it possible have been carefully removed, and the entire operating system’s been locked down. It’s tailor made for cases like this, where you’ve got data that may or may not be booby trapped. Even if the thumb drive tries to torch every file on the machine, it won’t get far. Everything’s safely contained.

The laptop turns out to be worth the money he spent on it. The moment he pops the thumb drive in, the laptop helpfully informs him that it includes a file sniffer, mapping out every file on the dummy drive, and that it’s attempting to phone home with his location.

He’ll have to remember that for the next time he sees Oracle.

Thankfully, her traps aren’t the only thing on the drive. Included are a video file, titled with just the date, and a simple document breaking down the meta data. He wonders if the second file was originally prepared for Wayne, and he skims through it, finding little of interest. The only thing that would be interesting is something he already knows: the tape wasn’t tampered with.

He clicks the video file and leans back on his bed to watch.

The face that appears on his screen is undeniably the Knight. The J brand on his cheek makes it all but impossible to deny. But he’s also much, much younger. Time has not been kind to him. If someone had asked him the Knight’s age, he’d have said he was in his mid or even late twenties. The boy on the screen couldn’t be more than eighteen at the oldest, and Slade would put money on him being closer to sixteen.

He pauses the video before it can even start, rolling out of bed to grab another laptop and check.

He’s right: Jason Todd is, assuming the video was shot six months after his capture, sixteen years old at the time of his ‘death’. The Knight’s birthday is August 16th, meaning...

Slade glances at the clock.

He’s twenty. He can’t even drink yet.

Slade takes a while before he gets back to the video. The knowledge of it--so simple and basic--feels like a kick to the gut. That he’s younger than he thought. That he went through a hell of a lot more. That he’s a child, a kid.

When he was killed, he was the same age Joseph was.

Chapter Text

Slade takes almost an hour before he finally watches the rest of the tape. It isn’t pretty stuff. Beyond looking so much younger, Jason looks damaged. The footage is poor quality, but the scars are obvious anyway. There’s something that looks like a cut across the lower part of his face. His nose looks a bit twisted. His left eye is swollen, with a dark bruise under it, and when he lifts his head slightly the sclera’s shot with red.

He’s not tied up. His hands are resting on his lap, but something about the position seems odd. He considers, and decides it’s probably his size. His face seems so much more sunken than it should. It doesn’t match his body.

He seems unfocused and confused, reciting things like they’re a script. Even when the Clown circles around him, his head barely moves.

He watches Jason get shot. Then he rewinds, and plays the video through frame by frame, watching how it happens. 

It’s the arms that distract him. Jason gets shot and falls backwards, and his arms fly up, but they don’t really react. He just kind of falls.

He rewinds and plays it again in slow motion, and then once more at normal speed. Only then does he watch the whole tape again, listening to the audio.

He decides that Jason was actually shot. It makes the most sense. What he’s seeing is consistent with that. His survival doesn’t seem like a fluke, though. The Clown is crazy, but he’s certainly capable of handling plans. So what then?

Figuring it out is easier when he already knows the answer. If he’d seen the tape without context, he’d have put good money on the kid being dead. But knowing that he survived lets him start with the end and work his way back, puzzling it out as he does.

It’s the size that gives him the answer. Jason Todd was healthy and fit when the Joker captured him. Six months later, he was still apparently healthy and fit, except his face.

The suit is the key. The suit, probably covering some kind of heavy duty vest. It wouldn’t be possible for it to hide under such a tight suit normally, but after six months of starvation? The Clown no doubt made it fit.

Slade peels off his helmet, rubbing at the bridge of his nose as he removes his armor. There’s no obvious answer that presents itself. Conscience or not, he’s not stupid enough to try and confront the Knight directly. He needs a plan.

Because he does have to do something. It’s bothering him too much not to. 

It bothers him to think about the way Wayne looked when he finally cracked his way through the shell he hid behind. The vulnerability, but also the misery. It’s still fresh and raw.

He considers his options and decides that the replacement is the last thing he needs to look into. The timeline doesn’t make sense on that. His Robin missing, the first thing Batman does is go and find a replacement? How’d he end up with a Robin less than five months later? Before he was even dead?

Slade drums his fingers, working through his options, but he can’t come up with anything. He can’t come up with an explanation that explains why Bruce would lose a teenager and then immediately go out and pick up a new one.

He pauses and reconsiders. Was he even a teenager when he was brought in?

He checks the records and determines that no. Bruce seems to have adopted him largely for inheritance purposes, because he was over eighteen when he started as Robin. He does the math.

Replacement’s twenty-two. He guesses that’s a little better. Not much, but better.

Slade rolls over, a plan forming, and lets himself sleep.

He sleeps through most of the day. When he wakes in the late afternoon, it’s already too late for his current plan. He spends the evening handling militia affairs, and then he works out until he’s ready to drop.

The Knight briefly looks into the training room they’ve set up, his expression impossible to read under the mask.

“I’ll be gone tomorrow,” Slade says. “I should be back by nightfall.”

He knows that the Knight wants to protest, but Slade’s already shut him down about this exact issue several times, so he keeps himself quiet for once in his life.

They spar, and the burn feels relaxing. It’s enough to tire him out, and when he sleeps that night he manages to stay in bed until six in the morning.

He wonders how much the Knight knows. Not the truth. Not what Joker was planning. Does he even know how long he was down there?

He considers asking, and decides that there’s no way to ask without tipping him off. It takes an hour for him to put what he needs together, making a quick phonecall.

The fact that it raises no red flags shows how bad the Bat is at handling the situation. No one’s ever compromised their real identities before. They don’t know how to handle it.

The alternative, he supposes, is that he’s taking Slade at his word, accepting his oath as gospel.

But he doubts that. Wayne’s too paranoid for that.

Chapter Text

Slade dresses nicely when he shows up in front of Robinson Academy. He wears a suit and a tie, the picture of professionalism. He has a tour set up, and an interview after that. His son, after all, might go to this school one day.

He greets the administrator, and when she notes his sunglasses, he winces.

“Prescription,” he says. “Left my normal ones back at home on the counter. You don’t mind, do you?”

Of course she says no. Slade’s mentioned being an investment banker, and he’s dropped enough hints about how fabulously wealthy he is that he’s sure she’s hoping to convince him to enroll.

She shouldn’t have bothered. He doesn’t have a kid to enroll, even if she sold it really nicely. He’s there for other reasons, and he keeps his eye open as she tours the school, peeking into several classrooms as they go.

He finds Mister Drake easily, in the third classroom they peek into, and the moment he spots him he gives a cheery wave.

Drake notices him and for a second, a look of horror passes over his face. Then he covers it, his face shifting into a smile. Slade’s already pulling back as Drake says something to his class.

“Oh, do you know Mr. Drake?” The administrator says, and Slade gives her his very best smile.

“He’s an old friend,” he says, right as Drake shoves open the door. Obviously, he’s caught on to the game Slade’s playing, because he’s wearing a smile of his own.

“It’s been ages!” He says, noticeably not saying Slade’s name. He has no idea what pseudonym Slade’s using, and if he says the wrong one, it’ll draw attention.

“Too long,” he says to the man he’s literally never seen face to face before. “How’ve you been?”

The administrator is delighted. They have obvious camaraderie, and he can see the dollar signs in her eyes.

Drake turns his attention to the administrator.

“I’ve got my class finishing up a test. I have... five, ten minutes until they should be done. Do you mind just watching them for a moment while I catch up? And then you can finish your tour.”

He’s good, Slade decides. He’s figured out how Slade’s walking around the school in record time, and he’s adapted to fit the situation. If anything, Slade thinks he might actually be doing better than Bruce ever did when it comes to social adaptation.

The Robins always were better at that.

“Of course!” She says, giving Drake a wink before slipping into his room.

Drake keeps the friendly banter up as he guides Slade into a courtyard near the school center. The moment he’s outside, his face drops, expression serious and agitated. He’s a better actor, but he doesn’t have the tight control of his emotions that Bruce does.

“What the hell are you doing here? What happened to I’m not going to use your identities against you?” Drake hisses.

“I said they’d stay with me,” Slade says with a laugh. Drake might be tense and anxious, but Slade isn’t. He’s casual as could be. There’s absolutely no chance Drake’s going to try attacking him while they’re in his place of work.

“What do you want, Slade?”

He’s amused that Drake knows exactly who he is. Bruce’s obviously looked into him. Probably pulled an old file photo. Made sure his entire group knows exactly who they’re dealing with. How long before he’s training them specifically to take him down?

Tonight, he guesses.

“I came to chat,” he says. “But we’re on a tight schedule. I want to know how you became Robin.”

Drake glances around, double checking no one’s nearby. He obviously doesn’t like talking about anything in public.

“Come on kid,” Slade says with a laugh. “Don’t play tough like your old man. I’ve got your entire family’s balls in a vice. I know your names, I know where you live, I know where you work. The only thing preventing me from dropping all that information into a letter and handing it over to the news is the kindness of my old, withered heart.”

Drake grinds his teeth.

“What do you want to know?”

That’s more like it. He’s not going to jerk him around like Bruce did.

“Like I said,” he says. “I want to know how you became Robin. The old man scout you?”

It’s simultaneously the most and least likely answer. The obvious conclusion is that Bruce finds his Robins and then approaches them in costume to see if they’ll play ball. But it’s also the most callous, that he’d go out looking for a new one before the old one was even dead.

Or supposedly dead.

“I was a fan,” Drake says. “I looked into him when he stopped showing up. And then when he showed up, he didn’t have a Robin anymore. So I... I dug around. I figured out who he and the first Robin were. Found their identities. And I... insisted.”

“Insisted?”

“He didn’t want a Robin. I told him he needed one. I didn’t know about what had happened to the last one then. So I had to convince him to bring me along. That I could be useful.”

Ah. And just like that, the last piece of the puzzle snaps into place. He can see the whole picture. He knows what he’s aiming for.

“He asked you to look for the second Robin,” Slade says.

Drake pauses for a moment, and then nods.

“Did you find him?” Drake asks, and his voice cracks. He doesn’t even know Jason. He’s never met him. But his voice cracks anyway, sounding pained. “Alfred thinks you found his body. That... that’s why you’re looking into this.”

It’s not wrong, but he’s not willing to give up just yet.

“I’m chasing down a lead,” he says. “And you’ve been helpful. Give me your number.”

Drake balks.

“My phone number?”

“If I want to ask you things, I’m going to find you no matter where you go, Drake. So you can either give me your phone number and I’ll call you like a normal person, or you can not and I’ll keep showing up at your home, your work, your-”

“I get it,” Drake says, digging into his pockets. He finds a piece of paper that definitely seems to be part of a test, and then fishes a pen out of his pocket, scribbling it down before holding it out for Slade to take.

“My number,” he says. “Don’t bother Barbara. If you need something from her, go through me.”

It’s not quite an order, but it’s pretty close. He’s trying to assert control, so Slade gives him a smile.

“We’ll see,” he says. “Don’t you have a class to be getting back to?”

Drake squints at him, obviously suspicious, but nods.

“I’ll see you around, Timothy Drake,” Slade says, heading back towards the administrator. Can’t risk drawing any extra attention, which means he’s going to have to endure the rest of the tour, whether he likes it or not.

Chapter Text

Slade doesn’t go back to base. Instead, he radios back to the Knight that he’ll be out of contact for twenty four hours, rents a car, and starts to drive.

He doesn’t make a conscious choice of where he’s going, but the place he ends up feels inevitable. He eases the car onto I-70 and heads west.

He drives through the night, letting his mind wander. He’s always liked driving. Assuming no one’s trying to kill him, he finds it relaxing. He’s not on a schedule either, which is another leg up. The Knight’ll be pissed if he’s gone too long, but that’s not the same thing as you need to get to Central City in five hours.

He watches the headlights thin out as it gets later and later, and by the time he pulls off the highway, the road’s almost empty.

He makes it all the way to the gate before he realizes that operating hours are a thing. He pulls back out and heads back towards the highway.

He finds a truck stop with a 24 hour diner, easing himself into a booth. He’s tired. He’s been awake for much longer periods of time without issue before, but with nothing else to do he lets himself doze in his seat.

He orders breakfast. He wonders if one of the shady looking men a few booths down are going to try and rob him. He eats, and then orders a slice of apple pie to go.

He leaves it on the passenger seat as he slides back into his rental, tilting the seat back and letting himself doze, half asleep, in the car. The men don’t try it, and Slade silently congratulates them for having the good sense to not rob a stranger at a truck stop.

It’s closer to eight in the morning when he wakes himself up. The gate’s open when he visits, and he promises himself, not for the first time, that he’s not going to do any sightseeing. There are a million places he could go around town, and he doesn’t want to see any of them.

This is all he came for.

He parks the car on the gravel shoulder and gets out of the car. He makes it ten steps before he remembers, doubling back to get the pie off the seat. It’s cold, but it’s not as if that matters.

He finds the proper place and sits down in front of it, reaching out to wipe his hand across the cool stone and push away the stray leaves. The headstone’s granite, set flat against the earth, and completely unlike the elaborate angel that marks Jason Todd’s grave. It’s humble, he tries to tell himself.

It feels lacking.

There are wilted flowers set just behind the headstone, and he scowls at them before sliding the pie off the plate and onto the marker itself. It’s a mess, but he doesn’t care. If an animal finds it...

Well, Joseph would probably have loved that.

“Hey Kiddo,” he says to no one. He’s happy the graveyard’s almost empty. There’s a funeral happening on the far end, but none of them are anywhere near him. “Been a while, hasn’t it?”

A while feels like he’s understating it.

“Three years,” he says, rapping his knuckles on the stone. “Three years since I brought you anything. So I brought you some pie. Pretty sure you liked that.”

He’s no longer sure. It seemed like a certainty at the diner, but now, sitting there with the pie on the grave, he feels like he might have gotten that wrong.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time with this kid,” he says. “He’s about your age. I want to say you’d like him, but you probably wouldn’t. You’d probably hate him. He’s angry all the time and he yells constantly, and you always hated it when people yelled.”

Slade wishes they’d bought a proper, upright tombstone. He’d feel less silly if he had his back against something like they do in the movies, talking to someone who isn’t there and can’t hear him. As it stands, he’s just an old man sitting in the grass, talking to nothing.

“Didn’t care about him much to start,” he says. “Still don’t, I guess. Maybe it’s a shitty thing to say, but I don’t. But then I looked into it, and I met the guy who might as well be his dad, and him being all fucked up over it fucked me up. He’s mourning. Five years on, and he’s still mourning.”

He’s not sure if he’s talking about Bruce or not.

“I know I was a shitty dad. You’re probably looking down at me, telling me that I’m a shitty father for doing this. I wasn’t there for you, and now I want to be there for some random kid? But it’s not about him. It’s about his dad. It’s about... getting over myself. I’m not a good person, and I’m never going to be, but...”

He stares down at the gravestone, thinks of the coffin buried underneath. There’s a body in that coffin.

“No father should have to bury their son,” Slade says. “And no father should have to bury an empty coffin.”

He pushes himself to his feet. It feels oddly cathartic to just say it. It’s not like he has many people to talk to.

“Maybe I’ll be back sometime.”

He doesn’t let himself stop on the way out of town. He doesn’t go see the old house or any other part of the life he left behind.

He reaches I-70 in record time and heads east, back towards Gotham.

Chapter Text

It’s six pm, and he’s almost back to Gotham. The problem is that the almost is the fact that there are several thousand cars backed up on the highway behind some kind of accident, and he’s moving at the pace of a glacier.

He digs a phone out of the bag, dialing the Knight while he works his way through stop and go traffic.

“What?” The Knight asks, and Slade finds himself irritated again that he’s using the voice modulator.

“I’ll be back in an hour or two,” he says. “I hit traffic. When I get back, we’re going to have a serious talk.”

There’s silence on the line for a moment, and then the Knight growls.

“You’re not a dog,” Slade snaps. “Use your words.”

“You’re not calling the shots,” Knight says. “You show up at my convenience. You fuck off to who knows where, aren’t telling me anything, and then you expect me to show up at your beck and call?”

He can already tell what’s going to happen.

“Are you going to be at base or not?” Slade asks.

“We’ll see,” Knight says, hanging up on him.

That’s a no.

When he gets back, Slade’s suspicions are proven right. The Knight’s nowhere to be found, and he doesn’t answer the comms either.

Goddammit.

Slade settles himself in the main room, swaps the TV off the news and onto an actual movie, and settles back to watch. He’ll wait. The Knight will show up eventually.

He does, but it takes almost four hours. When he returns, it’s riding a familiar motorcycle, which he eases right into the center of their base.

It’s stupid and takes up way too much space, and it’s the most obvious power play Slade’s seen in months. He rolls his eye, not moving from his spot on the couch.

“Snagged this,” the Knight says, patting the side of the bike like one would a horse. “Off the bird.”

Slade knows exactly whose motorcycle it is.

“Hopefully you cleared trackers off it,” he says, eyeing the bike warily. He knows what Oracle can do with a thumb drive and thirty seconds. What’re the odds she hasn’t thought to stick a transceiver into the guts?

“Stopped at a warehouse,” he says. “Pulled one off the underside and one out of the guts. Did a scan while I was at it to make sure nothing’s transmitting.”

Slade doesn’t trust it. He gestures for Knight to get off the bike, and then starts to go over it bit by bit. He makes the Knight scan it three times, checking for any kind of transmission.

He finds an inactive transmitter and disables it, tracing it back before deciding it’s probably connected to the bike’s navigation systems.

“There’s probably a backdoor,” Slade mutters to himself. “You’ll need to be isolated before you can turn it on and check.”

“I get it,” Knight snaps. “You’re ruining my moment.”

“Stealing a bike from Nightwing isn’t a moment,” Slade says. “He’s not exactly hard to pull a fast one over on.”

“You’ve never even fought him,” the Knight points out.

“Because he would pose absolutely no challenge.”

He can’t see the Knight’s face, but he knows he’s scowling at him. He almost always is. At least now he knows why. It helps make the entire situation easier for him to handle. He’s always done better when he understands the situation.

“We need to talk,” Slade says, and Knight folds his arms over his chest. “No helmets, either.”

Slade isn’t wearing his. He’s dressed as casually as he ever does, with thin armor hidden under clothes. His face is exposed.

The Arkham Knight is still in full Arkham Knight mode. Even in the base, he hasn’t bothered to take the helmet off. He’s still talking with a voice modulator, as if he needs to hide his identity.

“Then talk,” Knight says.

“Helmet,” Slade says. “I might as well be talking to a wall with it on.”

He wants to see the Knight’s face. On a scale from Bruce to Drake in terms of showing their emotions on their face, the Knight somehow manages to break the scale. He’s even worse than Drake about keeping his face still. Even with the helmet on, Slade could probably read him, but he needs to get the full reading for this bit.

The Knight grumbles, distorted by the voice modulator, and then walks away. Slade stays where he is, and listens in the quiet to the thump thump of heavy armor hitting the floor. Slade keeps his feet kicked up, watching the TV until the Knight finally comes back into the room.

He’s wearing long sleeves and thick pants, which is something Slade can’t help but notice. It hides the majority of his scars, but there’s still plenty of them visible. All over his hands. Over his neck. His face. There’s probably not a single inch of him left undamaged by his time with the Clown. Slade’s seen a lot of fucked up people, but Jason’s definitely near the top of the list.

He flips the TV back to the news and mutes it, leaning forward in his seat as Jason leans up against the wall, folding his arms across his chest. Defensive posture. He’s wary. He doesn’t know what Slade wants to talk about.

Slade decides to start the conversation by lobbing a verbal bomb.

“I know who you are, Jason.”

It has the more or less expected result. Jason slams his fist into the wall hard enough to crack it, stepping forward with his teeth bared. He looks unhinged. He is unhinged. He just doesn’t normally show it, and right then he is.

“That’s not who I am!” He screams, and Slade doesn’t move from his spot on the couch, his feet still resting on the crate he’s using as a footrest.

“Obviously it is,” he says. “Or you wouldn’t have just cracked the goddamn wall.”

He wishes he had a beer. Swigging a beer back would really hammer the point home, wouldn’t it? Only no alcohol allowed in the base.

Not for the first time that day, Slade curses the Arkham Knight and his bizarre hangups. No drugs or alcohol. What, did the Clown get him drunk while he was torturing him?

“That’s not my name,” Jason snaps, reaching down to grab the front of Slade’s shirt.

The big advantage of the position--of being sprawled out, largely prone, on a soft couch--is that picking him up by the shirt means Jason’s going to have to lift his full weight. Jason’s strong, but he’s sure as hell not that strong enough to do that considering how big Slade is.

Slade reaches up, grabbing the back of Jason’s neck, and squeezes.

“Try it,” he hisses.

He’s not sure what about it does it, but Jason backs off, dropping Slade and jerking back like he’s been burned. Was it the way he held him? What he said? Who even knows. He can’t begin to keep track.

“Don’t call me that,” Jason settles for, and Slade waves him off.

“Knight,” he says. “Or kid. Just because I know who you are doesn’t change anything.”

It’s not quite a lie. Things have changed, but if Jason’s worried Slade’s going to start treating him with kid gloves now that he knows, he’s sorely mistaken. Things have changed, but they sure as hell haven’t changed that much.

He’s not sure anything could make things change that much.

“What did you want?” Jason asks, still angry even if he’s backed off. His arms are crossed over his chest again. There’s an almost frantic edge to his voice.

“I wanted to talk to you about your end game. About your goal. I think you’re not considering all your options. You’re thinking too small.”

“Small?” Jason asks, stalking forward again. “I’m going to kill the Bat. Something no one’s ever managed to do.”

“He’s one man,” Slade says. “You can’t tell me your revenge is going to be satisfied with one body?”

It’s a specifically targeted jab, intended to make him stop and think about it. He does, his brain catching up to his mouth just as it opens to say something nasty back.

He’s clearly mulling it over, his eyes narrowing.

“What do you suggest?”

“Well, the Clown’s dead,” Slade says, noting the fact that Jason flinches at mention of him. “So that’s one down. But there’s a lot of people out there who had a direct hand in what happened to you who are just out there living happy lives. Seems like you should pay them back for the kindness they showed you.”

It’s a calculated risk. Any given human can only hold so much anger in them, and Jason’s full up. He’s practically rage incarnate, furious the moment something goes even slightly wrong. The Joker’s spent years packing all that rage into a bullet to aim at Bruce, making Jason into the perfect weapon.

Stopping it from firing isn’t going to work. He can’t just say the Clown lied to you and expect Jason to magically get over it. It isn’t even worth trying. Instead, he’s decided to take a different strategy entirely: he’s going to file the anger away, chipping off bits and pieces until what’s left doesn’t pack the lethal punch the Joker wanted.

He just has to find targets for that anger.

Thankfully, there’s a very, very large list.

Chapter Text

Jason sits in silence for several minutes. He’s not focused, staring at nothing, but every so often his face twitches, reacting to something he’s remembering.

Slade’s expecting him to respond. To say that sounds great or alright or something to acknowledge it. He doesn’t, and eventually Slade clears his throat just to see if he gets a reaction. 

He does. Jason jerks in place, his head snapping up as he stares at Slade as if he forgot he was there.

“What?” Jason asks unhelpfully.

“I was going to ask who helped,” he says. “The Clown wasn’t nearly competent enough to have possibly run something this elaborate entirely by himself. Especially not since he spent almost half the time locked up in Arkham.”

Jason’s unfocused again, and Slade realizes it’s going to be an uphill battle to keep him on task. It’s the first time he’s seen him this bad, but it’s also the first time they’ve ever touched on what happened.

“Someone else in Arkham must have known you were there.”

“Croc,” Jason says. “Bane... others. He brought them down sometimes. To help. So I wouldn’t... so I wouldn’t get bored.”

He’s still not looking at Slade, and the difference in his voice is hard to miss. Slade gives up on trying to help that. Better to let him dissociate, so long as he’s still answering questions.

“So other rogues.” He rifles through a mental list. Who’s been held at Arkham? Who’s been nearby?

He starts to list them out, nudging Jason for acknowledgement. He’s not all that surprised by the list. Zsasz will take any opportunity he can get to inflict pain. Penguin would love to lord it over a broken Robin. Two-Face seems unusual, and Crane... 

“Ivy?” He asks, finishing his mental list, and Jason shakes his head.

Seven names on his list. Eight if you count Quinn. Slade hasn’t even asked about her, because there’s no question she was involved. It has her fingerprints all over it.

The Croc’s lose in the city. Slade’s pretty sure he’s hiding out on the coast, but he’s a viable target. Penguin, Two-Face, Harley Quinn, and Scarecrow are all near enough. Slade’s personally run into each and every one of them: they’re all part of the plan to kill the bat.

Bane’s missing. Zsasz... Slade stops to consider for a moment. Active, he decides. He doesn’t know for sure what happened to him without looking, but he’d bet he’s active in the city. Calendar Man he’s sure is free.

So eight.

It doesn’t seem like enough, and Slade considers for a moment before looking back to the largely motionless Jason.

“Knight,” he says, and gets no response.

“Jason,” he tries again, and Jason’s head snaps up. His pupils seem exceptionally wide, and he reels back, moving so quickly and erratically that he actually falls over, landing on his ass. It takes him a second to catch himself, to come back enough to realize where he is.

“What about the guards?” He prompts. The Joker had to have help.

“Boles,” Jason says after a moment. “I don’t know what happened to him.”

Slade leaves Jason where he is on the floor as he heads out of the room.

“Stay here,” he calls over his shoulder, stepping into his room and digging through his pile of gear until he gets a cellphone.

He digs the paper in his pocket and dial’s Drake’s number. It’s a risk, but while Slade is extremely skilled in a large number of fields, what he needs is beyond him.

“Tim Drake,” comes the voice on the other end. He sounds out of breath.

“On patrol?” Slade asks, and Drake curses under his breath. There’s a frantic scrabbling on the other end, and Slade can imagine him in his mind’s eye. Probably ducking to the side, shifting his phone to make sure no one else can hear.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” Drake snaps. “What do you want?”

“I need some information,” Slade says. “And it’s in your best interest to help get it for me.”

“Is that what this is? You’re going to just keep calling me up and blackmailing me for information?”

“No,” Slade says. “This is me being nice. You asked me not to harass your lady love, so I’m not. But I need that information, so I’m going through you.”

Drake grunts, and Slade fights the urge to laugh at him. Drake’s getting everything he wanted, and now he’s realizing he doesn’t want it at all.

“You can’t expect me to just pull it out of my ass. It’s not that easy,” Drake says.

“You don’t even know what I’m asking for,” he says. “And it is that easy.”

Drake seems to mull it over before deciding there’s no harm in asking.

“I want a staff list for Arkham,” he says. “From start to finish.”

“Are you kidding me?” Drake asks. “What’s easy about that? That’s got to be a hundred names. And half of them are dead, in case you forgot what happened.”

“I am very confident that Oracle already has the complete list on her computer. You just need to get it, and hand it over to me.”

“Fuck you,” Drake says. “Do you know how much shit I’d get into if they found out we were having this conversation? And now you expect me to just ask Barb?”

He’s kept him secret. He hasn’t reported back to the Bat. Slade makes a note of that.

“You shouldn’t keep secrets with someone you love,” Slade says. “Tell her. And get that information.”

“You know what? Hold on.”

The line goes silent with a click, and for a moment Slade thinks Drake’s gone and hung up on him. But after almost a minute, there’s another click, and he hears a new voice.

“Hello?” Asks Oracle.

“Ah, Barbara,” he says, and she curses even more vilely than her boyfriend.

“Slade?” She asks, and there’s another click and Drake’s voice comes through.

Who knew three way calls still existed?

“I need your files on the Arkham staff,” he says. He thinks for a moment, and then adds a “please”.

“Are you blackmailing us?” Oracle demands, and Slade rolls his eye.

They really are too alike for their own good.

“No,” he says. “I’m asking nicely. It’s in your best interest to answer me.”

“How is that not blackmailing us?” Drake snaps. “That’s what blackmailing is. A threat that you’ll do something if we don’t comply.”

“You misunderstand,” Slade says. He’s sort of enjoying driving them up a wall. Drake’s so easy to mess with. “It’s not about what happens if you don’t. It’s about what happens if you do.”

There’s silence on the line for several seconds, and then Oracle speaks.

“What are you offering?”

He’s happy she’s caught on.

“A body,” he says.

He doesn’t say any more, but it’s obvious they get what he means, because Oracle makes a little gasp, and Drake takes over talking.

“Why should we believe you?” He asks.

“Believe me or not,” Slade says. “Do I have to swear it on my professional integrity?”

“Tell me how to send it,” Oracle says. She’s taken the bait and she isn’t letting go, even when Drake lets out a small yelp.

“You can’t be serious,” he says. ”That’s confidential-”

“There’s nothing in the files I’ll send that he couldn’t find with a lot of legwork. We’re just saving him time. How do I get it to you?”

He rattles off an email, and Oracle makes him repeat it a second time. It’s as secure as it can be, and he’s planning to check it off-site anyway.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” he says, and then snaps the phone in half, breaking the connection. The phone is specifically intended to be untraceable, but he doesn’t like taking risks.

Chapter Text

He doesn't mean to, but he forgets about Jason.

The call done, all he can do is wait for the reply to come in. What he should do is go in and check to make sure he’s not dead on the floor. What he does instead is start watching a movie.

He’s halfway done when he gets an alert that someone’s dropped a file in his one-use-only inbox.

He nearly trips over Jason on his way out. He’s still sitting on the floor, staring into space.

“Damnit,” he hisses, nudging Jason with his foot. “I’m going out. I’ll be back in... whenever.” Not too long, but he’s not going to promise anything with things as they are.

He brings a laptop and heads to a Starbucks. Not the nearest one, but one of the busier ones.

There’s a decent chance he’ll be beaming Oracle his location the moment he downloads the file, but if she wants him, she’s going to have to act fast. He’s not planning to linger. He logs into the wifi, grabs the email and its contents, loads it into a secure flash drive, and then obliterates the operating system before dumping the laptop into the trash.

There’s a college student eyeing the can as he leaves. Slade hopes he gets some use out of it.

He doesn’t open the file until he’s back at the base, picking his way around the hunched form of Jason on his way through the entrance.

The email catches his eye, and for a moment he wonders if she knows.

Then he reads it again and realizes she has no idea.

Please bring him back to us, it reads.

She wants a body. Slade’s got his hands on something significantly more important than that.

The file she’s provided is exactly what he hoped. It’s the records of everyone who worked at Arkham during its active years. He sorts through it, pulling out anyone who left before Jason was captured, and anyone who was hired after the Clown’s takeover.

The warden’s dead. So are the first few he flips through, so he does another pass, getting rid of the files of those who died.

Once he has things all sorted out, he heads back to the main room, nudging Jason with his foot.

“Jason,” he says, watching the boy twitch in response to his own name. “I need you to look at these pictures and tell me who you recognize. Just nod.”

He doubts he’ll get anymore than that out of him.

It takes almost an hour of repeated prompting to go through the whole list. There are a lot of nos. Truthfully, he doubts Jason would remember everyone he saw, but he guesses that it doesn’t matter. The point is to let him think they’re all gone.

If he misses one, it hardly matters.

In the end, he has five names. A doctor, an orderly, two guards, and a custodian. He thinks it’s too few until he considers how many likely died in the takeover, and decides that five seems about right.

“Not that one,” Jason says, his voice cracking, and Slade flips back through the photos until he makes a noise.

He glances at the photo. There’s nothing particularly distinct about the man, and he glances at Jason questioningly.

“He didn’t... He didn’t join in,” Jason says. “He was... He helped. He would feed me when... when the Joker wasn’t there. He was...”

There’s a long pause, and Slade realizes that Jason’s trying to come up with a more fitting word than kind.

“Merciful?” He offers, and Jason nods.

“I’ll scratch him them.”

So four names.

“We’ll do them first,” he says. “Get you up and running.” Jason is absolutely not up and running right then. He doesn’t seem capable of doing anything, practically non-responsive. Slade’s pretty confident that if he kicked Jason in the face, he wouldn’t even react.

He resists the urge to try it.

“Go to bed,” he says, reaching down to grab Jason’s shoulder and haul him to his feet. “Get some sleep. We can start in the morning.”

He’s hoping Jason will be more himself after he’s slept. He doesn’t even like the Knight all that much, but he’s better than the largely useless Jason.

At least the Knight’s competent.

He’s proven right when he wakes the following morning to a succession of loud noises coming from the main area. When he leans in, gun in hand, he finds the Arkham Knight, in full armor and helmet, smashing things.

Fantastic. They’ve gone back to this.

“Stop that,” Slade snaps. “Act like a fucking adult.”

The Knight comes at him, and Slade is one hundred percent done with things. He doesn’t drag it out. He doesn’t let it become a sparring session. He puts Jason down with brutal efficiency, knocking his feet out from under him, shoving him over, and twisting his arm so hard behind his back that even through the armor Slade can hear it pop.

To his credit, he doesn’t scream. For all his flaws, the Knight’s got an insanely high tolerance for pain.

Gee, he wonders why.

“Do you even remember yesterday?” Slade asks. 

“We’re going to kill the fucks who betrayed me,” the Knight says, which very clearly answers Slade’s question. He releases the arm, stepping back as the Knight pulls himself back. His arm’s clearly dislocated, but the Knight doesn’t ask for help. Instead, he uses the wall to reset it, a process that tends to be painful even for Slade.

He winces. The Knight doesn’t even seem to react to the pain.

“I figure we can hit the staff first,” he says. “They’ll be easier to take down. Less likely to be noticed. Then we can go for Croc. No one’s going to notice him going missing.”

He has an order to things in his head, but he only feeds the Knight the first few steps. Better to keep him on a short leash.

“You,” Slade says, “just sit back and let me figure out where we’re going.”

The Knight doesn’t seem happy with the order, but after a moment he nods.

“I’m going to deal with the bike,” he says, slinking away to the garage. Slade had honestly forgotten about the bike, but he guesses it’s a nice enough project for the Knight to work on while he does something actually useful.

With the Knight out of the way, he gets to work.

Chapter Text

All four of the staff still live in Gotham, and after some quick research he’s able to confirm their new locations. He calls each, posing as a lawyer interested in talking to them about joining a potential (and fictional) lawsuit against the city for what happened at Arkham.

One declines and hangs up on him. Two agree to hear him out, and promise to be available to reach by phone at certain times. The final one he can’t reach, but he does get the man’s wife, who he goads into promising he’ll be available at the correct time.

He maps out how long it’ll take to get between each, and then goes to find the Knight.

“Let’s roll,” Slade says, leaning against the door frame as he looks into the garage. “I’ve got them all set up.”

The Knight’s up to his elbows in bike, and when he pulls his hands back, his gloves are smeared with grease. He takes a bit to clean up, and Slade wonders if he’s being methodical about it because he likes it, or if he’s just being intentionally slow just to be a little shit.

Slade taps his wrist where a watch would rest, and the Knight joins him.

It isn’t the first time the Knight’s gone out on the town. He’s been active before, but never in a big way. Slade isn’t even sure the rumors mention the Arkham Knight just yet. It’s still early. They’re scheduled to start stepping things up in the coming weeks, but that schedule is becoming more and more tenuous with each passing day.

Public transit isn’t an option fully geared up, so Slade pulls two motorcycles out of the garage for them. They aren’t tricked out the way the Bat’s bikes are, but they’ll make do, and they’re low profile. Or at least as low profile as the two of them can be.

In any other city, riding in full gear would be a nightmare. There’s no way he’d get through Metropolis in broad daylight dressed like he is. But in Gotham? There are a million and one streets where cops don’t dare go, and as things currently stand they have the backing of half of Gotham’s underworld. No one’s going to stop them. No one would risk it.

Slade really prefers cars, but bikes are far more effective when dealing with the tight alleys of Gotham. The city feels custom built for them.

He leaves the man with a wife for last.

“We can’t drag this out,” he says. “These are small fry. Consider them a training round for the real thing. So get in, kill them however you want, and get out.”

He doesn’t guide the Knight to his first target’s house. Instead, he guides him to the seemingly empty house behind the man’s house. He notes that all four of their targets are in unusually large residences. Payoffs from the Clown, he decides after giving it some thought.

“Go,” he says. “Hop the fence.”

The Knight doesn’t need to be told twice. This part of Gotham’s effectively a suburb, and if they linger too long they’ll draw attention. He sees at least one person on the street stare out at him through their front window as Slade waits with the bike.

Slade salutes them, and they pull the curtains closed.

Good.

The bats are going to find out. That’s a complication he can’t avoid. They’ll be angry, too. But what can they do about it? Nothing. They’ll just have to suck up and deal with it.

What they might get in the end should be worth it, after all.

Jason rejoins him after less than five minutes, sliding back onto his bike. There’s blood on his gloves, and Slade makes a note to ask him how he did it later.

They zip off to their next target before anyone can ask too many questions.

The second and third go largely the same as the first. They roll up. Jason vanishes inside to take advantage of the poor sap waiting by the phone. They’re lucky, because Slade had no guarantees that number two would even be home.

Number four is the man with the wife. As far as Slade knows, he’s the only one with a family, and he’s not sure how the Knight’s going to take that. For all the Knight’s talk of doing what needs to be done, he doesn’t think he’s ever done anything like this before.

The man’s house is a house. It’s not even a suburb. He’s practically on a private lot, and Slade slides his bike behind a bush.

“Going with you,” Slade says. “We’ll blitz it. In and out before any security response.” He’d bet a lot of money the man’s invested in a decent security system, but that isn’t going to help him if they’re in and out before any security company can arrive.

He kind of hopes they do. He wouldn’t mind fighting his way out.

They hop the fence, bolting for the front door. Slade pushes on ahead of the Knight, and he uses his full weight against the door. It gives the moment he hits it, the lock ripping out of the frame with a crash.

Slade doesn’t care about subtlety. 

A woman screams in the kitchen, obviously hysterical, and the Knight’s already pulling his guns.

“Muraro!” His voice yells, the effect eerie coming from his modulated voice. “Show yourself!”

Slade points up and heads into the kitchen while the Knight takes the stairs two at a time.

It isn’t his wife, he decides. She’s staff. Cleaning service? Personal maid? It doesn’t matter, but she’s definitely not a doctor’s wife.

He steps forward, looming over her.

“Where’s Muraro?” He asks, letting the look of him handle the threat part of the equation. He’s in his full gear. He has a gun in his hand and a sword on his back.

The terrified woman points upstairs.

“Upstairs!” He hollers, doubling back to the staircase where he last saw the Knight.

“You knew what he was doing!” Comes a voice, and there’s no modulator on it. When he finds the right door, he finds Jason without his mask on, backing a terrified looking man into a corner.

Idiot.

“Put your helmet on,” Slade snaps. “What if he has cameras?”

They're in a bedroom, which means probably not, but Slade doesn’t like taking risks. “Kill him and get downstairs.”

He heads back down. The woman is still in the kitchen, and she watches in horror as Slade starts the oven and burners. No flame. Just gas.

He grabs the woman by the arm.

“Who else is in the house?”

“Just - just us,” she says. There are tears streaming down her face. She’s practically looking death in the face.

He hears the Knight hit the bottom step, and he hauls the woman along with him. She probably thinks she’s being kidnapped. She doesn’t have any understanding that he’s saving her life.

“What are you doing?” The Knight asks, the modulator mercifully back in action.

“Burning the house down,” he says. “It’ll destroy the security system.”

Slade shoves the sobbing woman into the Knight’s arms and turns around, lobbing a grenade into the open door.

Then he turns and runs.

He can hear sirens in the distance.

GCPD is going to have a lot more than they expected to deal with, because there’s a bang as the grenade goes, followed almost immediately after by a roar as the gas ignites.

He hasn’t left the gas on long enough to blow the whole house like he’d like, but it blows out a wall and gets the fire burning. He wonders if there's going to be a body left.

“Leave her!” Slade yells, and the Knight gets the hint, dropping the woman as they bolt for the bikes.

Gotham’s finest are pulling up as they hop the fence, and he hears at least one officer yell fuck at the top of his lungs as he goes for his gun.

Slade doesn’t stop to pick a fight. They have places to be, and he slaps the Knight on the back when the younger man starts to slow down.

One of the cops takes a few potshots at them, but it’s a wasted effort. In full armor, either of them could take a shot, and at the distance he’s at, aiming towards moving targets? He’s not even hitting them.

They race away, vanishing into the oncoming Gotham night.

Chapter Text

Slade tells the Knight to go back to base and splits off halfway home. He isn’t doing anything fancy. Instead, he finds the nearest liquor store (never hard to find in Gotham), parks his bike right in front of the store, and heads on inside.

In full costume.

The man behind the counter looks terrified, watching as Deathstroke the Terminator walks through his store.

“Am... am I being robbed?” He asks very, very quietly as Slade passes him.

“Nope,” Slade says. There’s a miniature TV playing on the counter. Slade wonders if it’s the news, and after a moment’s listening decides it is. Good. 

The owner continues to crane his neck, watching as Slade circles the store. He doesn’t have too long (he can’t imagine the man hasn’t hit a silent alarm), so he grabs a six pack of a dark lager, some whiskey, and heads back to the front, thunking the bottles down onto the counter.

The owner stares at the bottles as if he’s expecting them to leap up and attack them. When they don’t--and Slade’s still standing there--he slowly reaches out, taking the bottles and starting to ring them up.

He stops after the first one, tears in the corners of his eyes.

“Y...your ID?”

The guy has some balls on him, for sure, and Slade just leans forward slightly, letting the look of his mask do the talking. 

The man quickly bypasses the ID screen, and Slade withdraws cash from an inner pocket, dropping it on the counter. He’s not going to stiff him, and he grabs the bottles, heading out to his bike to drop them in storage as he calls over his shoulder for the man to keep the change.

Having finished firmly confusing whatever investigation goes into the fact that they just blew up a house, Slade zips off into the night before the cops can arrive for his not-actually-a-robbery.

The Knight is wired when Slade finally gets back. If Jason and the Knight are two different sides of his personality, then this is very nearly a third. The Knight is anguish and fury. This is excitement and swagger. This version of the Knight is filled with confidence. He walks like he owns the place (which Slade supposes he sort of does).

He prefers this version.

He drops the bottles in front of the Knight, grabbing the bottle of whiskey for himself as he goes to get some glasses. Drinking whiskey out of a plastic cup feels almost insulting to it, but Slade’s been dry for more than a month, and he’s eager enough to ignore their lack of real glasses.

“Bottoms up,” he says, clinking the whiskey bottle against the bottle of beer that the Knight’s picked out.

He knocks his glass back, while the Knight seems more hesitant.

“Never drank before?” Slade asks, unable to decide if he thinks he has or hasn’t.

“I have,” the Knight says, finally popping up his helmet to take a swig. “Long time ago.”

Slade knows what that means.

“Before the Bat,” he says, and the Knight’s mouth twitches.

Slade takes another swig, and then sits down.

“So,” he says. “Let’s talk about the future. Plans. Things like that.”

It’s not a subject that the Knight wants to talk about. It’s one he’s largely avoided. But Slade has no intention of letting him worm away from it.

“Once the Bat’s dead. What then?”

“Then the city’s free of him,” the Knight says, taking another drink and avoiding the question. Maybe he wouldn’t have noticed a few months ago, but it’s hard not to notice now.

“And you?”

The Knight doesn’t respond. He’s not quite pulled out of his Knight self, but his eyes are drifting, not looking at Slade. Now that he knows what to look for, Slade’s getting better at spotting his tells. A lack of expressiveness rather than his usual anger. The way his eyes drift. The way his body tenses, like he’s expecting a blow.

“Asked you a question, Knight,” he says, nudging the Knight’s foot with his own.

He knows better than to try and grab the Knight’s shoulder. The last time he did he ended up with several injuries he’d had to heal through. The Knight doesn’t like to be touched, and it’s only when he’s in the depths of his Jason that Slade can get away with it.

The Knight grunts and takes another sip. Slade eyes the bottle--nearly empty--and then grabs the remaining five, picking up the carrier and going to stick them in the mini-fridge in the corner.

“Hey!” The Knight protests. “I was going to drink those!”

“You don’t have the tolerance,” Slade says, kicking the fridge door closed. “You’re sad enough with one in you.”

The Knight flips him off, which Slade takes to mean he’s dragged the more arrogant Knight out to play again.

“And you still haven't answered my question,” Slade says. When he returns, he doesn’t sit properly. Instead, he sits on the arm of the couch, looming over the Knight. There’s not really a good reason for it: it just feels right, and he’s sure it’ll irritate the Knight. Maybe he’ll keep talking longer if he’s annoyed.

“What’s to answer?” He asks. “The only thing that matters is killing the Bat.”

Slade is very firmly no longer shares that opinion, but he keeps it to himself.

“And what, you think Gotham’s going to magically become less of a shithole once the Bat’s gone? You’re going to leave a power vacuum.”

Especially if they kill half of GCPD’s most wanted list.

“The others will take over,” the Knight says, tipping back his bottle and finishing off the rest of his beer.

Hold on. What? Slade squints down at the Knight.

“Who the hell’s the others?”

“The other bats,” the Knight says. He looks less joyful. More sullen. He doesn’t like the topic of conversation, but isn’t willing to push back just then.

“Hold on,” Slade says. “Aren’t we killing them? Isn’t that the plan?”

“No,” the Knight says. “We’re not killing all of them.”

Slade has the distinct impression he’s just hit gold, and then gone on to uncover said gold and realize that the buried gold is the size of a house.

“Who are we not killing, exactly?”

“We’re only killing the Bat,” the Knight says, which Slade could guess, “and the Replacement.”

Which, by Slade’s guess, leaves Nightwing, Oracle, and the butler intact. Does the butler count? He decides after a moment that the butler does count.

“Okay, work with me here,” Slade says. “I get your deal with the bat. What’s your deal with the replacement? From what I remember, you kicked his ass the first and only time that you've met.”

Not that Drake knew what was happening at the time. He wonders what the collective bats think of his one-time protege, a young man wearing Slade’s mask as he robbed Bruce blind. Have they made the connection? Unlikely. Most of them have probably forgotten.

The Knight’s face twists with disgust and anger, grinding his teeth when he answers.

“He replaced me,” he says. “Slid into my life. Took my place. Isn’t that enough?”

The answer for Slade is no, but he decides to make an attempt at being tactful.

“Seems unfair,” he says, finishing off his own glass before setting it aside.

“What happened to me was unfair,” the Knight spits. “Meanwhile, he’s living a charmed life. A life that should have been mine.”

“Just saying,” Slade says, “that it seems more like it should be considered the Bat’s fault for replacing you, rather than the kid he picked to take your spot. Not as if he even knew you.”

It’s a calculated risk, sliding more of the blame onto Bruce, but he hopes it’ll at least plant a seed of doubt.

“So, what about the others?” Slade asks. “What’s happening to them on Halloween?”

Halloween night had been Scarecrow's idea, and Slade had never approved. Too on the nose for his tastes. Too obvious. What more symbolic a night to kill the Bat? Which meant he’d have been expecting it, even without Slade’s intervention.

“They walk away,” the Knight says. “We’ll have to capture Oracle to cut the Bat off from his information source.”

“You know what that fuck’s going to do to her, right?” He knows how the Scarecrow works. He knows what he’ll do. And it’s obvious that the Knight does too, because he bares his teeth, face twisting.

“He won’t,” he says. “I was very clear. She’s to be captured, not hurt. No fear toxin.”

Slade struggles to believe for even a second that the monster they’re working with would follow his side of the bargain for even a moment. He’s erratic. Most of the big criminals in Gotham are. Slade can count the number of people he can expect consistency from on a single hand and still have fingers left over.

“He’s going to,” Slade points out. “She’s not going to be safe with him unless you’re babysitting, and you’ll have better things to do.”

The Knight stands suddenly, looming over Slade where he sits. His jaw is clenched so hard that Slade suspects his teeth are in danger of cracking, his anger palpable.

“I won’t let him,” the Knight hisses through his teeth. “I won’t let him touch her.”

Protective. His house sized gold nugget has just been upgraded to a shopping mall sized one. He can use this. He can work with it.

“Thought about going back to them, once this is all done?” Slade asks, casual as can be despite the enraged young man who is very much in his personal space.

The Knight pulls back, turning away.

“No,” he says simply.

“Don’t see why you wouldn’t,” Slade says. “You seem to be fond of them.”

It feels strange to say it, but it seems true. At the very least Oracle, but likely the others as well. He cares. Did the Joker not know about them? Did he never think to twist Jason’s feelings for them against him?

No, Slade decides. Just the Bat. That was always who the Clown cared about. Everyone else was secondary, if they even rated at all.

The Knight chews on his lip until he bleeds. It’s running down his face, dripping off his chin, and he doesn’t even seem to notice.

Slade huffs and picks himself up, heading to get a towel.

“Sit still,” he says. “You’re bleeding all over the place. I don’t want DNA splattered all over.”

The Knight pulls back, hand darting out to grab the towel from Slade, wiping at his face himself.

“Think about it,” Slade says. “You’ve got time. But plan for something after all this shit with the Bat.”

The Knight doesn’t respond. He’s too busy staring at his own blood as it soaks the towel, staining it a bright red.

But Slade’s happy. He doesn’t think he’s changed the Knight’s mind or anything, but he’s planted the seed.

Chapter Text

Slade doesn’t push so hard the next few days. He lets Jason’s birthday go unmentioned. He suspects it didn’t pass unannounced back at the manor, but he doesn’t bring it up. If he pushes too hard, he’s going to break an already broken man, and dealing with a weepy Jason is the last thing he wants.

He’s sympathetic to Jason’s whole thing, but that doesn’t get him far.

He keeps an eye on the news. The murder spree hasn’t gone unnoticed, and even in Gotham, that kind of connection is hard to miss. Four kills in the span of a few hours by masked men. Deathstroke’s a known quantity, but the Knight’s something else entirely.

He sees an interview with the woman they pulled out of the last house. She’s very intent on making people sure they know what happened. That Deathstroke got them out.

Targeted killings is the buzzword of the day. No collateral damage.

Someone on the first street had a doorbell camera. The news plays the same grainy footage of him and the Knight pulling up over and over, and people speculate on who the mysterious new masked man is.

He wonders if any of the Bats suspect.

They don’t have all of it, but they have enough. They know he’s running with someone else. They know he’s suddenly shown an interest in Jason Todd. Are any of them going to make the connection? Or are they too convinced he’s dead to let themselves think it, even for a moment?

Slade isn’t sure which he prefers.

But the bats have to come second. The Knight’s doing better now that he has a tangible feeling of progression. His revenge is on its way. Slade just has to make sure he keeps going.

So he plans.

“Croc’s on the shore somewhere around here,” Slade says, dragging his finger across the map near where Ace Chemicals sits. “There’s two lighthouses there. Empty structures that are managed automatically. Good chance he’s using one of those as his base. Putting him down’s going to be difficult. Probably a good place to start, though, because it’s relatively isolated.”

His biggest concern--even more important than the bats--is the possibility that their little anti-Batman team will catch on to what he’s doing. If Penguin, Two-Face, Scarecrow and Harley figure out what he plans...

Slade has intense confidence in his abilities, but taking on all four and their goons at once would be... challenging.

“Croc,” he says. “Then Bane. Then Calendar Man.” God he hates that name. “Then Zsasz.” The one most likely to bring them into contact with the bats. He knows he’s actively killing people now that he’s gone to look, and he’s sure that Batman and the others are looking for him as well. Their ongoing feud with Slade’s targeted killing of maybe-guilty-men has to come second to a serial killer targeting random innocents.

Croc, Slade decides, is the least dangerous of their opponents. When he shares his decision, the Knight laughs at him.

“Are you serious? Bullets don’t even work on him. People have shot him and he doesn’t even seem to notice.”

“That’s because they’re idiots,” Slade says as he starts packing up his gear. “Killer Croc was a man, so they treat him like one. They try and capture him because of due process and all that shit. But the moment you’re trying to catch someone and they’re trying to kill you, you’re at a huge disadvantage.”

Slade pulls out a drawer and starts picking ammunition.

“More importantly,” he says. “They’re treating him like a person. He’s not a person. He’s an animal with an extremely tough hide. If you’re fighting a tank, you don’t bring an 8mm and expect it to work. If you’re hunting Killer Croc, you have to hunt him the way you would Gustave.”

The Knight’s left his helmet up, and it lets Slade see the look of confusion when he glances back over his shoulder.

“...Who?”

Slade rolls his eye.

“It’s almost like you didn’t get any education for the last five years,” he says, making the Knight flinch. “Gustave. He’s a Nile Crocodile in Burundi. Big. Estimates put him at about a ton. Eighteen feet long. Fun thing about crocodiles: they don’t stop growing. Same thing’s true of Jones. The more he eats, the bigger he gets, and people keep dropping bodies in the water for him to find. Either way, Gustave’s probably the closest thing to evil an animal’s ever been. Locals say he’s killed almost three hundred people. Probably inflated, but you get the idea.”

“But he’s like... a real crocodile, right?”

Slade laughs.

“He’s a real crocodile. Just a really big one. My point is, you have to treat Killer Croc like you’d treat Gustave. Not like a human. So no pea shooters. We’re going hunting with this.”

Slade presses an anti-materiel rifle into the Knight’s arms.

“Picked that up to see if it’d punch through the Batmobile. Haven’t had a chance to try it, but it seems a waste not to.”

The rifle’s big. It’s not the sort of thing the Knight’s going to be able to wield in one on one combat, but he’s already demonstrated his effectiveness as a long-range support in trials. It also weighs almost thirty pounds, which the Knight lifts with obvious ease.

“I’m going to bait the fucker out when we find him. You’re going to set up at a distance. Then you’re going to shoot him. Ideally head or neck. Something that’ll actually kill him.”

Slade doesn’t see the appeal in getting bitten, and he’s wary on whether or not he’ll be able to take Croc out alone. His size alone makes him a significant issue. Even if he disembowels the man, he’s not sure if that’d be enough to stop him.

Slade double checks his own equipment, and then decides it’s time to go crocodile hunting.

Chapter Text

They go Croc hunting.

The first lighthouse they hit is a bust. There are no obvious signs of someone living there. He knows that Croc is a great swimmer, but he’s not purely aquatic. He has to have a place to sleep.

The second lighthouse makes it very obvious someone’s living there. The moment Slade leans in the door, there’s an obvious stench. There’s some kind of meat hanging off a hook. Slade squints but can’t tell if it’s human or not. It’s only a chunk, without enough clear details. He keeps a tight grip on his shotgun.

The problem with the lighthouse becomes obvious immediately. It’s closed quarters, and there’s no way for the Knight to provide any sort of support. Even worse, if he slips inside without knowing where Croc is, there’s a decent chance he’s going to get caught unaware.

That would be bad.

Very bad.

So Slade decides to take things another way. He doesn’t creep inside like the protagonist of a horror movie. He doesn’t sit and wait to see if Croc comes out when it starts getting dark. They’re on an isolated part of Gotham, well away from any civilians or cameras, and Slade suspects that even if the workers up at ACE knew what they were doing, they’d simply look the other way.

Who wants their neighbor to be a cannibalistic crocodile man?

Slade lobs a flash bang into the lighthouse and slams the door behind him.

There’s a screech from inside the lighthouse, and Slade signals the Knight to be ready as he sprints back down the path.

There’s a deafening bang from behind him as Killer Croc slams open the door. It’s not large enough for him to get through quickly, which presents them with a unique window of opportunity.

The Knight fires.

Killer Croc lets out a screech that barely even sounds human, lurching forward. The Knight’s punched a hole just below where his collar bone should be, and it’s gushing blood.

Goddamnit.

Slade’s underestimated his durability. He should have brought an RPG. It would have punched through Croc and detonated him like a bomb.

But Croc’s off balance, and Slade presses his advantage. He turns, bringing his shotgun up to bear, and fires.

The shotgun’s a big one. It’s intended for hunting rhinos, and the slug he’s loaded has enough of a punch to knock Croc back.

A second shot from the Knight punches through Croc’s chest. He’s pretty sure he hears it crack against bone.

Slade doesn’t let up. He shoots Croc six more times before he thinks he’s down enough to pause, and the Knight adds two more of his own.

Even then, the Croc’s still alive. Wheezing and bleeding and almost definitely dying, but alive.

Slade suspects that if you hit him with a tank, the tank would take the most damage.

Slade could finish him right then. All it would take is pressing the shotgun into one of his wounds and pulling the trigger, unhindered by the thick skin that normally protects him. But he waits, and a few minutes later, the Knight joins them.

He hands over the shotgun and goes to deal with the rifle.

It seems to take a long time before he hears the blast of a shotgun in the distance. It’s longer still before the Knight joins him. He doesn’t have the same sort of excited energy he did after the last kills, but he doesn’t look down, either.

“One less criminal,” he says. “I always argued with him about this.”

It takes Slade a moment to realize he’s probably talking about Bruce.

“The Bat?” He prompts.

“He wouldn’t do it. Not ever. He wouldn’t ever kill anyone. Not even the Joker. Not even knowing what he did to me.”

The Knight’s gritting his teeth. Slade can tell even through the helmet, and he ponders ways to drag Jason out of this... thing. There has to be a method, right? A way to haul him out of his spiral of self-misery.

“He’s got a line,” Slade says. “Just like I won’t betray a contract. Everyone has to have some kind of principle.”

He personally thinks the Bat’s principle is stupid, but he assumes that’s a given.

“I’m going to kill them,” the Knight says, venom in his voice. “I’m going to hunt them all down. Especially... especially the clown bitch.”

Slade was wondering when things would come around to this. After all, of all the people he knows, Harley Quinn is number two in terms of people who have ruined Jason Todd’s life. It feels satisfying to see Jason come around to that conclusion, even if his number one spot is still misplaced. It feels like a job well done.

“Pack up,” he says, collecting the shotgun. “We’ve got three more to look into before we can start talking about the future.”

He doubts the next three will be half as easy to find.

Chapter Text

Slade’s following up a lead on Bane two days later when the bats find him. He’s on his bike, weaving through Gotham traffic when he spots a splash of red behind him. He guns it, but the motorcycle behind him gives chase.

It’s red, which means it’s almost certainly Drake. Bruce favors blacks, and Nightwing favors blues. The bright red makes it a hell of a lot easier to keep an eye on as Slade speeds up, zipping between cars.

The kid’s good, he decides. He’s keeping up, but not closing the distance. Slade cranks up his speed, but he never flags.

He should turn off. He should slip off the highway and see what he wants, but he doesn’t.

Instead, he loops around Gotham for over an hour before he decides that’s as good as he’s going to get. There’s no sign of anyone else. No second motorbike (does Nightwing just have the one that the Knight’s tinkering with?). No Batmobile. No drones.

He’s alone, which is what Slade cares about.

He cuts his speed, coasting off the highway. If anyone’s surprised to see a masked hitman on a motorcycle go past them, they don’t give any sign.

Drake follows, keeping his distance. Slade winds them through some back alleys before he finds a mostly empty parking lot, pulling off and hopping off his bike. This is... what, Black Mask’s territory?

Not that it matters. Black Mask’s smart enough not to try anything.

Drake’s in costume, but he’s also wearing a motorcycle helmet rather than his usual domino. Safety first, apparently, but when he hops off his own bike it rapidly becomes safely second.

If safety was first, he wouldn’t have tried to punch someone who outmatched him so badly.

Slade slaps Drake’s arm away, and then headbutts Drake’s helmet. People rarely expect it, and his mask’s heavily padded for this exact reason. Drake reels back, his hand instinctively coming up to check for cracks or external damage. There’s nothing, of course. Slade didn’t hit him that hard.

“Think carefully before you take another swing,” Slade says. It has the desired effect, because Drake keeps his distance, not attempting to close the gap. Instead he reaches up, peeling off his helmet to reveal... a gash on his temple. For a moment, Slade wonders how the hell he got that, and then he realizes that the force of his headbutt jammed the domino mask he wears up, leaving an injury.

“Good job,” Slade says. “Bad helmet design.”

“Shut up,” Drake says, digging into his belt to retrieve a small first aid kit. “It’s off the shelf.”

Bad idea wearing the hard domino under a helmet that doesn’t have extra spacing for it, and Drake’s obviously paid for it. He lets the kid patch himself up, leaning against his bike as he inspects Drake’s own.

“What’s that, a Ducati? That’s not off the shelf for sure,” Slade says. The bike looks like a Ducati, but there are enough modifications it’s hard to tell.

“We’re not here to chat,” Drake says. “Oracle won’t ask because she’s afraid of the answer, but I’m not so I will. Is that really him?”

Well, that answers his question. He’s wondered which of the bats would figure it out. Just one? All of them? Bruce and Oracle seem the most likely, considering their familiarity with Jason, but the more he thinks about it the more he starts to feel like it’ll be a liability, not a help. Jason and the Knight might as well be two different people. He’s changed too much to find similarities.

So Oracle and Drake know. What about Nightwing? What about the Bat himself?

“You should know,” Slade says rather than getting a good answer. “You’re the one who fought him.”

Drake hasn’t fought the Knight. Not directly. But he fought Slade’s masked protege on the night Arkham went to hell. Slade wonders if he’s going to make the connection.

He obviously does, because his eyes widen, and then rapidly narrow again.

“Listen,” Drake says, stepping forward. “I don’t know what you want. Money? Whatever. You give him back, and I’ll do whatever the hell you want.”

Slade should probably be touched at the offer, as stupid as it is. But it shows such a distinct, obvious misunderstanding of the situation that he laughs.

Drake’s taken aback, which only makes him laugh harder. Slade’s absolutely wheezing a minute later, as Drake shifts nervously, confused and bewildered as to why the hitman before him thinks his offer is absolutely hysterical.

It takes Slade a bit to catch himself, popping his helmet up so that he can wipe at his eye. It’s not like his face isn’t known. The helmet’s just for safety’s sake and intimidation at this point.

“Hell,” he says. “Really? That’s what you think this is? You think I was so desperate for a teenage sidekick that I paid the Clown to grab me one? And not just any one. You think I looked at the Bat and thought hmm, this guy’s a good judge of character, he’s probably got great taste in teenage boys!”

Slade can’t help himself, and he doubles over laughing. The idea is too ridiculous. Someone would have to pay him to let an adult tag along with him. A teenager? Full of angst and hormones and trauma? There’s not enough money in the world.

Drake looks mortified. There’s a definite element of embarrassment at realizing he’s so badly misunderstood the situation, so Slade throws him a bone.

“He’s not my prisoner,” Slade says. “He’s my boss.”

“What?” Drake asks, looking more confused by the second. “That doesn’t - that doesn't make any sense.”

“You have jumped to so many stupid conclusions it would take all night to correct them, kid,” Slade says. “So let me just correct the big one. What do you think would happen if I dropped him off at your house?” He’s making a point of not saying the name. Everything has to be vague. “You think he’d just run back into all your arms? Because that’s not how it’d play out.”

Drake is silent, so Slade presses on.

“You got the big thing, kid, but that’s it. You’ve misunderstood literally every other possible detail of the situation. So let’s be clear. You’re going to go back home and keep doing the shit you always do as if we didn’t have this conversation, and I’m going to go back to base and keep doing the same shit I was already doing. And if you actually want to help, you’ll figure out where the fuck Zsasz is.”

There’s no risk to revealing their next target. The only way to stop them would be to catch him first, and obviously the bats are having a hard time doing that, because there are still bodies turning up.

Slade’s sliding back onto his bike when Drake finally responds.

“He’s avoiding us,” Drake says. “Zsasz. He only ever kills anyone on nights where me and Batman are out on patrol. We think he’s listening to a police scanner, because we only ever find bodies on nights where we both get mentioned. We brought in Nightwing to check other areas, but he can’t be everywhere, and he’s needed back in Bludhaven.”

It’s good information, and he considers it for a moment before nodding.

“I’ll see you around, kid,” Slade says, pulling out of the parking lot. Drake’s still standing there, unmoving, when Slade finally loses sight of him.

Chapter Text

Slade doesn’t tell the Knight where he got his information, but he does share it. Once he knows what he’s looking for, it’s easy enough to confirm the theory. Zsasz only kills on nights that Batman and Robin patrol. His kills are always on the opposite side of Gotham from them. Which means he’s probably biding his time on other nights, waiting to hear if they’re out. He’s ruining the bats' biggest advantage: surprise.

Slade’s plotting out a patrol route of their own when the Knight walks in, a phone in his hand that he holds out to Slade.

“He wants to talk to you,” he says, obviously irritated.

Slade snatches up the phone, pinching it between his shoulder and his head as he works.

“Deathstroke,” he says.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Comes a voice, and Slade recognizes it immediately as belonging to the Penguin.

Fantastic. In Slade’s brain, he’s number five. Maybe not in order, but in priority.

“Penguin,” Slade says.

“Cobblepot,” he corrects. He’s obviously angry, but Slade isn’t concerned about antagonizing him. “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Did you and the Knight kill Jones?”

Slade continues mapping routes, giving the phone less than half his attention.

“Yes,” he says, glancing towards where the Knight stands, leaning on the door frame and watching the call. “He was a liability to the plan. We got rid of him so he couldn’t interfere. Better to get it out of the way now than to risk him complicating things. We’re going to do the same to Zsasz when we find him.”

Slade considers for a moment, and then decides to sell it a bit more. Let Penguin think he has all the cards. That he knows the plan.

“We’re also going to try and find Bane and Calendar man,” he says.

“Day?” Penguin says, sounding surprised. “Why?”

“To see if they can be recruited,” Slade says, finishing up the route and leaning back in his seat. He turns, making eye contact with the Knight (or his helmet, anyway) and gives more of his attention to the call. “Killing the Bat is a with us or against us situation. We don’t have room in our plans for Day deciding that Halloween is the perfect time to try and kill the Bat on his own.”

Penguin clicks his tongue on the other side of the phone.

“You should have told us,” he says. “We could have helped.”

“You could not have,” Slade says firmly. “A smaller team draws less attention, and no one would second guess me killing anyone. If an entire team of us got together to kill Croc? That would draw attention. The Bat would get suspicious.”

“You blew up a house!” Penguin protests. “How was that not drawing attention?”

It absolutely was, but Slade plays it off anyway.

“Acceptable losses,” Slade says. “Again, the Bat doesn’t know anything except that I’m in Gotham. I’m already prepared for the possibility he comes after me. The Knight knows what to do.”

The Knight in question reaches up, popping open the faceplate of his helmet just to raise an eyebrow at Slade, who holds a finger over his lips in response.

“Fine,” Penguin says. “But this plan had better work.”

“We have tanks arriving within the month,” Slade says. “If anything, we’re over-prepared. The Bat will be dead on Halloween night.”

Penguin hangs up on him, and Slade reminds himself that no matter how rude the Penguin is, he’ll be paying for it before too long.

The Knight waits until Slade sets the phone down before he says anything.

“Is that our story?” He asks. “That we’re getting rid of anything that could ruin the plan?”

The fact that he calls it a story means he recognizes that it isn’t the truth. It means that he recognizes the end goal: that they’re going to kill almost every member of the team they’ve set up. It’ll, in simple terms, fuck the plan sideways, but the Knight’s confident in his own militia. Confident enough that he doesn’t think he needs them.

Slade is less convinced, but he’s also significantly less convinced that Halloween is going to be significant at all. The likelihood of the plan not happening at all keeps going up.

“We’re going to find Zsasz,” he says. “He’s next. I have a lead on Calendar man...” God he hates that name. “And Bane... Bane’s in the wind.” From what he can tell, Bane’s gone back to Santa Prisca, which complicates things severely. That’ll be a bridge he has to cross later.

Chapter Text

It takes three days of patrolling opposite the Bats to get lucky.

Three nights of Batman and Robin both making constant appearances. Of them keeping a steady patrol route. Slade keeps track of them as he directs the two of them around the city, doing what he can to make sure they don’t cross paths.

He wonders if Drake is doing the same thing on their end.

They keep a lower profile than they have. He wears a set of armor with more muted orange, and the bikes they take out are black. They stick to the shadows. They’re certainly spotted here and there, but that’s not enough for the Bats to do anything.

There’s a click in Slade’s ear as the comms crackle to life, and the Knight gives him an address. There’s no context. The message is brief, and when Slade tries to hail him again, he doesn’t get a response.

Slade slides the bike into a tight turn and heads to the location he’s been given. He tries three more times to hail the Knight, and gets nothing.

But when he slides into the alley the Knight’s designated, the situation is nothing like what he’s expecting to find. He’s standing there over the body of a very dead Zsasz, staring down at it.

There’s also a kid.

Slade really wishes there wasn’t a kid. He’s curled up in the alley, maybe ten feet from the body, his legs pulled up to his chest, his arms wrapped around his legs. He’s been crying. He looks even younger than Jason, maybe sixteen or seventeen. He smells, when Slade approaches, faintly like weed. The picture it paints is pretty clear: another victim of opportunity, some idiot kid sneaking out to smoke who was in the wrong place at the wrong time when Zsasz decided that the bats were too far away.

Slade pulls his gun, stepping over Zsasz’s corpse with only a quick glance down. He’s definitely not getting back up. The Knight’s broken his skull, among other rather serious injuries.

He wasn’t nice about it.

He’s halfway to the witness when the Knight grabs his arm, jerking him back around. Slade fights the urge to punch him in the face for it, and he’s sure his anger is audible in his voice.

“Don’t touch me, Knight. Or you’ll learn to regret it.”

The Knight releases him, which is to his credit, but then sidesteps around to put himself between Slade and the witness, which isn’t.

“What did he see?” Slade asks.

“He didn’t,” the Knight says. “Helmet stayed on.”

“What did he hear?”

There’s a silence that tells Slade the answer’s too much.

“It’s easier this way,” Slade says, moving to push past, but the Knight grabs his arm again.

Slade fixes his eye on the Knight, perfectly still.

“The next time you grab me like that,” Slade says, “you lose the hand.”

The Knight lets go again.

“We can just ignore him.”

He wonders what’s let the Knight grow a conscience. He never seemed to care about collateral before. Or had he? He’d wanted the city evacuated, claiming it was for practical reasons. Was that really an attempt to minimize innocent casualties?

Slade’s second guessing things.

“Fine,” he says, sliding his gun back into the holster. “But I’m still talking to him.”

He cuts past the Knight, approaching the witness before he can voice a protest. Closer, he can tell he’s misjudged. Sixteen is too old. The kid’s fourteen at the oldest, and he trembles when Slade goes down on one knee in front of him, inspecting the kid’s face through his mask.

“Seems like you saw something you shouldn’t have,” Slade says, and the kid almost immediately blurts out a desperate response.

“I didn’t see anything, I swear. I didn’t see nothin’, I didn’-”

“Shut up,” Slade interrupts before the kid can start talking a mile a minute again. “I’m not here to kill you, so you can stop begging for your life.”

He doesn’t bother to clarify that, had the Knight not stopped him, he probably would have done just that. Slade doesn't like witnesses. He needs to keep the Knight’s identity quiet. Even if the Bat suspects, suspecting and knowing are miles apart in terms of reaction.

“I’m going to go call the cops, and then we’re going to go. I’m just here to remind you that my friend over there just saved your life, because that fucker on the ground was going to kill you, and he’d have made it hurt real bad. So when you’re giving your statement to the police, I want you to think about that real hard, alright?”

It’s not a threat. At threat isn’t going to work with a kid who’s so young and terrified. Gratitude is more likely to get the desired response.

Of course, the simple fact is that if anyone wanted to, they could crack the kid like an egg and get whatever it was that the Knight said in front of him out of him. But Slade also knows that the Bat won’t. The kid’s been through trauma. Even if the Bat suspects he has important information, he’s not going to drill him for it like he should. He wouldn’t risk making things worse.

Slade’s counting on that as he pushes himself to his feet, turning back to the Knight.

“Let’s get going,” he says. “I’ll call it in on a burner.”

Slade talks to the police regularly enough that he doesn’t let himself get spooked by them like so many other hitmen. Most try and avoid them if at all possible, but Slade recognizes that the police are just another tool. He gives them the address, doesn’t say his name, and lets them know there’s a kid there. Then he hangs up, dropping the phone onto the highway to let it be obliterated by passing cars.

Chapter Text

Slade has been playing a very dangerous game, and he knows it. He’s playing every side against the other. Jason has no idea he’s been consorting with the bats. The bats have no idea he’s been working with almost every criminal in Gotham in a massive conspiracy against them. The criminals of Gotham have no idea he’s been picking them off with the help of the Knight.

Eventually, something’s going to break.

Slade’s expecting it to be the alliance. Eventually, someone’s going to get suspicious. Someone’s going to start questioning their priorities. He'd put his money on Scarecrow, but Two-Face seems like a real possibility as well. He’s not concerned about Penguin. And Harley...? Well, she’s a wild card.

It turns out to be the Knight.

Slade wakes to the sound of his bedroom door slamming open, and he jerks upright. He’s not a heavy sleeper. He’s literally trained himself not to be a heavy sleeper, and his hand’s on the gun he sleeps beside before his eyes are even fully open. He’s not fully armored, but he has some on, and as long as they don’t start unloading a gun into him -

“Why the fuck are you talking to her?” The Knight screams, holding something in his hand. Slade has no idea what it is, because the Knight keeps flailing his arm around, gesturing wildly. “Why the fuck did she call you?”

Slade can guess. There’s only one she that the Knight would be losing his mind over.

“Shut up!” He roars, pushing himself out of bed. “Sit the fuck down and we -”

Slade had planned to say we can talk it out, but he doesn’t get a chance. The Knight jumps him, and there’s a new level of fury that comes with it.

In normal circumstances, the Knight would have no chance. He’s good, and well trained, but he’s still human. But like this? With Slade half asleep, wearing only his thinnest armor, while the Knight’s in full gear?

The fight’s a real one. The fight’s a fun one. It’s brutal and violent, and in such close quarters there’s no room to retreat. The Knight does attempt to step back at one point, but ends up running into the wall before he can finish the move.

The sound of their guns in close quarters is deafening. No matter what, they’re going to have to abandon the base, because the risk’s too high that someone’s heard and might come investigating. He’s already working out how they’ll have to empty things out as they fight, and the Knight notices.

“Stop ignoring me!” He screams, and stomps hard. Slade feels his leg go out from under him, collapsing to the floor.

If the Knight things that’ll stop him, he’s sorely mistaken.

Slade surges forward, tackling the Knight around the midsection. He falls back, his head cracking against the wall, and Slade reaches up, grabbing just under the Helmet’s chin and using it for leverage. He slams the helmet back into the wall, repeating the motion until the Knight goes still.

That’s one helmet busted, and the Knight lets out a groan of pain.

“Fuck off,” Slade says, pushing himself up using the wall and his good leg. “You were the one who made this a fight. You should have known you were going to lose.”

The Knight’s never run a real fight against him. Slade has too many advantages. But of all their fights, this is the one he got the closest to winning.

He grabs a rifle, using it as an impromptu crutch as he sits back on the bed, trying to reset his leg before it heals incorrectly.

“Idiot,” Slade snaps. “You let your temper get the better of you.”

The Knight lets out another groan.

Fantastic. Did he crack his skull? The Knight’s got a pretty high pain tolerance, but he’s still human. If Slade’s popped his skull like an egg, he’s going to be in real trouble. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s killed his boss, but it’d be the first time he had failed a contract so severely.

He uses the rifle as a crutch, reaching down to pull the broken helmet off. There’s no brain on the wall, which is a good sign, but the Knight’s definitely on the edge of consciousness.

Slade winces as he hears his leg crack as the bones heal, knitting themselves back together. He has to wait for it to finish before he risks lifting the Knight up, hauling him out of the bedroom and into the open so he has more room to look.

Once that’s done, he goes back to his room, searching the floor until he locates the cellphone. One of his burners. He isn’t sure how Oracle got it, but the phone shows a single call. When he checks it, he’s relieved to see that the call only lasted ten seconds.

He tucks the phone away for later and goes to check on Jason.

He’s swimming in and out of consciousness, which is a good sign. If he was fully out, that would be a whole other concern. With him in and out, it means he’s probably not brain damaged, just concussed.

“Idiot,” he says again.

His medical skills are not what they should be. He’s not a doctor. He’s not even a qualified medic. He’s had training before, but in the years since then he’s gotten by without so much as a first aid kit. He doesn’t need to practice, because whatever he does to his body, it’ll just snap right back.

Jason isn’t the same way. There is a not insignificant possibility that Jason is seriously injured, or potentially dying. He’s bleeding from several places, but Slade is more concerned by what he may or may not have done to the kid’s brain.

He runs through his options as fast as his brain will go. The only clinic he knows is safe was in the part of town that became Arkham City. There’s effectively no chance it’s still standing, let alone operating. For obvious reasons, a standard hospital is out of the question. Any one of their more villainous allies would probably have a competent doctor on staff, but the possibility that they’ve figured out what Slade’s up to is far too high.

That leaves him with only two options.

The first is sitting around and waiting to see if Jason dies, so he scratches that one out.

One option left.

He grabs the burner phone off the table.

Chapter Text

Oracle picks up the phone before the first ring is finished.

“You hung up on me!” She protests. Considering the hour, she’s probably in the tower. She’s probably organizing patrols.

“Shut up,” Slade says, interrupting whatever protest was going to come after. He doesn’t have time. “Who’s your on-call doctor?”

There’s no way the bats don’t have one. They’re humans, vulnerable to all the things that normal humans are. If someone shoots Red Robin, they can’t just take him to an ordinary hospital and pretend like Tim Drake is just the most mugging-prone human on the planet earth. They have to have someone. Maybe Thompkins opened a new clinic?

Oracle makes a strained, almost panicked noise. She’s smart enough to figure out Slade isn’t calling for himself. She should be able to figure out why he’s calling.

“What happened? Wha-”

“Shut up,” he cuts her off again. Didn’t Bruce give her some kind of emergency training? Doesn’t she know what to do in a crisis? “Who’s your on-call doctor?” He repeats.

It takes a second, but Oracle seems to reign in her panic. He hears her take a deep breath, and then her voice is back to what he’d expect, smooth and professional and not like she’s having a breakdown at the possibility of her not-actually-dead quasi-sibling dying.

Slade wonders what their relationship was like, and decides it’s a question for another time.

“Alfred,” she says. “He’s a medic. He does almost all of our stuff.”

Alfred. The butler. Realistically speaking, there’s no getting out of this intact. Whether or not Bruce knows, Oracle and Drake both do, and he has no conviction that the bats can keep a secret from each other to save their lives.

He knew that eventually they’d all find out.

“I need him. Have him outside the manor...” He does some quick math. “Five minutes.” The ride should take ten, but speed limits currently don’t apply to him.

“It would be faster if you just gave us your location.”

“No.” Slade doesn’t even entertain the idea. To her credit, Oracle doesn’t protest, and Slade double checks Jason--condition still the same--before racing to the bike.

Things are time sensitive.

He makes it to the manor in six minutes. He breaks every speed limit on the way there, and twice jumps onto the sidewalk to avoid obstacles. It’s late, and there isn’t much traffic, but he’s still going dangerously fast. He’s not even fully geared--he’s got his helmet on and only what he’s slept in. If he crashes, he’s going to feel it.

He doesn’t crash, even if he’s probably ruined his tires skidding around the loop in front of the manor, stopping just short of the butler.

Alfred, apparently. He’s dressed, professional, and not at all tired looking despite the hour. He also has what looks like a medical kit in his hands, and Slade immediately opens storage.

Bruce is there, but Slade almost doesn’t notice him. He’s looming in the shadows the way Bruce always does, and Slade doesn’t acknowledge him. If he wants to talk, he’s going to have to talk himself. Slade doesn’t have time for him.

He doesn’t. Slade lets Alfred slide onto the seat of his bike in front of him, hoping that he knows how to ride a bike, and pulls away.

He does. Slade tries to drive less aggressively, but he doesn’t need to bother, because Alfred leans into all the turns the exact right way. The whole situation is stupid. He’s bringing Batman’s butler into his base. Things have gone absolutely, completely sideways.

He only just manages to remember to prop the bike up as Alfred climbs off it, already heading for the door.

“What should I be expecting?” He asks as Slade grabs the medkit out of the storage nook in his bike.

“Multiple gunshot wounds,” Slade says. “Serious bruising. Broken ribs, maybe? I’m mostly worried about the potential concussion. Multiple blows to the head.

Alfred is the consummate professional. There’s no tremble in his voice when he talks. He’s calm and in control, stepping over to the prone body of the Arkham Knight. Aside from his helmet, his armor’s still on, and Alfred turns, taking the medkit from Slade.

“I’ll need you to remove the armor. I can’t hope to guess where all the releases are, and sawing through it is just going to drag things out.”

Slade wonders what he’s been told as he reaches down, starting to remove Jason’s armor. Probably very little. There’s no way Oracle told them who he was actually going to treat, because if she had, Bruce would have followed him back. He can guess what option she took: to be brief. Vague. Impress upon them the urgency of the situation. Offer explanations later.

All his suspicions are confirmed when Alfred gets a good look at his patient and lets out a small gasp.

“Master Jason...?”

Jason makes a noise that couldn’t possibly count as a word.

As shocked as he must be, he doesn’t let it affect what he’s doing. His hands are steady as he runs his fingers through Jason’s hair, checking for blood or any soft spots.

“He has...” Alfred trails off for a moment. “He has a large amount of scar tissue. I’ve found some blood, and head wounds do tend to bleed a lot, but I haven’t felt any cracks in his skull.”

Slade takes that as a good thing.

“He needs x-rays done in order to make sure his brain isn’t swelling,” Alfred says. “And I need to deal with the bleeding. He’s going to need more blood.”

The armor’s done a good job keeping him from bleeding out, but as Slade pulls it back each hole starts to gush that much more.

He’s done significantly more damage than he thought.

“I don’t have either,” Slade says, and Alfred clicks his tongue.

“We’ll need them, especially the blood, if you want him to last the night.”

Slade appreciates that Alfred doesn’t try and force it. He has to be stressed, but he still presents it as an option. Something Slade can choose to do or not.

As if there was an actual choice.

“Let me guess,” he says. “You have it all back in the cave, but didn’t think to bring it?”

Alfred’s methodically working along the holes, making sure each bullet’s gone completely through before he tries to triage them.

“Yes,” he says. “I need you to apply pressure here and here while I work on a third. But I don’t have enough hands, and I don’t have enough supplies. If Master Bruce-”

“Bruce Wayne isn’t stepping foot in here,” Slade says. Even he has a line he’s not going to cross, and it turns out to be Batman in his personal living space.

“Drake,” Slade says. “Call him.”

Alfred doesn’t need to be told twice. He keeps working as he hits the speed dial, and Slade listens to him walk Drake through what he needs from the cave before holding the phone out for Slade to take.

The phone’s covered in blood.

Slade holds the phone between his shoulder and his face as he continues to apply pressure.

“Shut up,” is his greeting, which interrupts Drake before he can even start. “I’m going to give you directions. Bring the stuff. No Bruce.”

He doesn’t wait for acknowledgement as he starts giving directions. There’s no actual address to where they’re staying. Firmly off the map. And firmly ruined. He’s going to have bats all over the place.

Chapter Text

Drake doesn’t bring Bruce. It isn’t much of a mercy though, because he does bring Nightwing, still in costume, carrying a tiny monitor showing Barbara Gordon’s face. Apparently at least one of them realized that the base isn’t wheelchair friendly.

“Fantastic,” Slade complains as he helps Alfred extract the only bullet still left in Jason. “Just what I needed.”

“Extra hands will help,” Alfred says. “Master Dick, please prepare a clean area. We’re working on the floor, and this is far from sanitary.”

Apparently Master Dick has done it before, because he doesn’t need any further explanation. He springs into action, setting the monitor down to face the scene as he gets to work, pulling out plastic sheeting that he starts laying on the floor. Drake doesn’t need to be told, immediately setting up an IV drip and pulling out bags of blood.

“He’s already been moved?” Alfred asks, and Slade nods.

“Just once.”

“Then once more shouldn’t make a significant difference. I need to check his back.”

Jason makes another noise.

“God,” Nightwing says from behind him. “It’s really him?”

“It would appear so,” Alfred says.

The situation is grim. No one seems to want to talk for fear of distracting someone else, and Drake finishes setting up the portable X-ray machine. It has to weight thirty pounds, being both big and blocky, but after he’s finished setting it up Slade figures it was probably developed for the military.

Sometimes you don’t have a whole hospital handy. 

“Clear,” Drake says, and everyone steps back.

“Head first, Master Timothy.”

The moment the exposure’s done, they all move back in, taking up their old positions.

Slade feels out of place. The bats are a team, moving together like clockwork. Half the time they don’t even talk. A gesture or half a word is enough to make it clear what’s needed of them. They also all seem to have had some kind of medical training, which leaves Slade in the all important position of applying pressure.

He’s at least useful when Alfred declares that he sees no sign of skull fracture or swelling, and insists they move Jason onto the slightly more sterile sheeting that Nightwing’s set up.

“Master Dick,” Alfred says, passing him some more supplies. “He has several gashes on his leg. It would be appreciated if you could sew them up.”

“My stitches aren’t exactly-”

“Anything will do,” Alfred says. “I don’t believe that Master Jason will be bothered by a few more scars.”

It’s the understatement of the century. With most of his skin exposed, the number of scars is almost uncountable.

“You should cut the feed,” Slade says, glancing over his shoulder to where the monitor sits. Barbara is crying, and the sound of it has been a constant background noise to the proceedings.

Nightwing punches him--or tries. He takes a swing either way, but Slade doesn’t even have time to dodge him before Drake moves, shoving Nightwing over.

“No!” Yells Alfred. “Absolutely not! Control yourselves right this instant!” 

There’s a brief scuffle between the two Robins, but it doesn’t last, and Nightwing sits back up nursing a split lip. Drake looks like he’s going to have the mother of all bruises on his cheek.

Neither of them says anything.

“I understand that things are tense,” Alfred says. “But we are in the home stretch. He’s no longer at risk of bleeding out. I’ve managed to close three of the bullet wounds.”

He moves to the fourth, shooing Slade’s hands away as he speaks. “Once that’s closed, I want to do some more X-rays so we can make sure there aren’t any fractures.”

“Is it alright that he’s asleep?” Slade asks as he steps back, his job done for the moment.

“There is no medical reason to keep a person with a concussion awake,” Alfred says. “The best practice is to let them sleep and get them a CT scan as quickly as possible.”

Somehow, Slade’s certain there’s not going to be a portable CT scanner popping out of someone’s pocket.

Alfred finishes the last wound, pulling back. He has blood all over his hands, and his shirt is soaked in it. Almost all of them are--everything’s red. It looks like a murder scene as Drake puts a new bag of blood in place.

Slade had been expecting things to end up in a situation that would be best described as absolutely fucked, but this is a level beyond that. More or less every part of all his plans has collapsed like a house of cards. The bats know about Jason. Bruce is the only one who might not, and there’s no way he won’t know by the time the night’s out. Jason knows about the bats, or he will when he wakes up, and Slade suddenly has very few options.

He should cut and run, but his professional integrity refuses to allow that.

“Cracked tibia,” Drake reads, leaning in towards the screen. “Lots of... lots of old, healed wounds. One of his ribs is healed wrong.”

“Master Jason has always been quite durable,” Alfred says, clearly attempting to add some humor to the situation, but no one laughs.

Slade’s just waiting for someone else to take a swing at him. It’s all but inevitable. Someone is going to do it. The only questions are who, how hard, and if he’s going to be in the middle of an all-Robin dogpile.

“You need to explain this,” Nightwing says, staring intensely at Slade. “Now.”

“Master Dick...” Alfred says quietly.

Slade supposes it says something about the seriousness of the situation that despite the fact that Nightwing is in full costume, his butler's still calling him by his first name.

“No, Alfred,” Nightwing says. “We’re beyond that. Jason’s out of the worst of it, probably, and now we need some kind of explanation. He’s supposed to be dead. We buried him. And then he just shows up, looking like he went through a blender, going on a fucking murder spree?”

Slade considers himself fairly good at explanations. He’s had to explain a lot of absurd situations to people before. He just keeps calm, walks through step by step, and calls it a day.

But this situation doesn’t have a clear step by step. The story would take hours to explain. How is he supposed to summarize it? Slade sighs, reaching up to pinch at the bridge of his nose.

He weighs his options.

If he bolts, he’s confident he’ll be able to get away (probably by breaking Drake’s leg and counting on the fact that Nightwing will stop to protect him). But doing so will leave Jason with the bats, and that... He can’t imagine it ending in any way other than one of them dead. Probably Drake, if he had to guess. Maybe Jason himself.

He pinches harder.

As reluctant as he is to admit it, he doesn’t want to leave Jason Todd surrounded by people he’s convinced hate him. He doesn’t want to leave the job half done. Which means he’s going to have to explain things as best he can.

“The Arkham Knight is my current employer,” he says. “He hired me using a particularly large sum of money he stole from Wayne Enterprises.” Or more likely from Bruce himself, but he doesn’t know for sure. “For a bit more than a year, I’ve been helping him train, equip himself, and prepare for his final goal.”

There’s a stunned, confused silence.

“Which is?” Barbara prompts from her monitor. She’s pulled herself together, but the agitation of being so far away--of not having been able to help--is obviously weighing on her.

“Killing Batman.”

There are three distressed and confused noises from around the room. Alfred’s the only one who manages to keep quiet.

“Why?” Nightwing says, leaning forward. His hands are balling into fists, and Slade knows the look of someone about to swing from experience. “If this is one of your schemes-”

“Dick,” Drake says. “He’s not. This isn’t - he’s been trying to help.”

Slade things Drake’s vastly overstating his intentions, but he has no plans to correct him. Better to let them think he’s grown a crunchy moral center and decided to demonstrate it by bringing a wayward orphan home. All the advantages the situation provides him can--and should--go unremarked upon.

“Help?” Nightwing says, jabbing a finger at Jason’s still body. “He’s covered in scars. He’s been shot. He has a concussion. Who did that exactly?”

Slade ponders bolting for the door again.

“There was a misunderstanding,” he says, which is an absolute, bold faced lie. “Jason became aware that I was working with Drake, so he attempted to murder me. I don’t appreciate people attempting to murder me at three in the morning.”

Or any other time for that matter.

It occurs to Slade that even that doesn’t give a full enough picture, so he stops fucking around and just says the rest.

“For the record, he absolutely hates Drake,” he points at him to emphasize his point. “And Bruce. If he could, he’d kill both of you right now. He’s become fixated on the fact that Bruce abandoned him, and the fact that Drake replaced him. If either of them are around when he wakes up, the best case scenario is that he severely injures himself trying to hurt them.”

“Bruce abandoned him?” Nightwing says, going from ‘horrified and deeply distressed’ to ‘considering punching Slade Wilson’ in the span of half a second. “He did-”

“What do you think happened, exactly?” Slade asks. “What, exactly, do you think happened to him? Do you think I gave him those scars? Do you think I branded his face?”

The brand is probably the worst of Jason’s scars. It’s fully visible even when fully dressed. It’s deep enough that it’s almost impossible to cover with makeup. But more than that, it’s a mark of ownership. It makes it clear who’s responsible for him.

“It was... It was the Joker, wasn’t it?” Drake asks after a long, long silence. “He did that.”

“And how long? Did you figure it out, boy wonder? Did you realize where and when?”

Drake looks extremely uncomfortable with all the attention sliding to him. Jason would skin him alive for telling them this, but he figures he’s already on Jason’s list of ‘people I am going to horribly murder’, so it probably doesn’t matter.

“I... I’m not sure,” Drake finally says. Slade is pretty sure he does have at least a good guess for how long he was down there, but after how awfully he got his last guess wrong, he’s not willing to try again.

Slade shakes his head.

“The Joker captured him in October. Next year, Drake over there takes over as Robin, and the Joker sends that fun little tape to you guys.” Slade holds up a single finger. “Year after that, Batgirl becomes Oracle.” He holds up a second finger. “Year after that, Poison Ivy kills a few hundred people and gets herself sent to Arkham.” A third.

It’s a not so subtle way of establishing just how much he knows about each and every way of them.

“And the year after that, Joker takes over the madhouse. In the chaos, Jason manages to escape.” A fourth finger goes up.

Drake looks away, unwilling to look at them any longer.

“No way,” Nightwing says. He’s standing, his hands balled into fists. “That - that’s bullshit. There’s no way he was in Arkham. After we got the tape they went over every inch of the place. Every single-”

“People can be bought,” Slade says. “Plenty of the staff at Arkham were. Boles was their ring leader, but there were plenty more who played a part in it. There’s a whole wing underneath, abandoned during construction.”

He has no idea how the hell the Joker got up and down, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the wing exists. What matters is who was kept there.

What matters is the sheer horrified silence by every single person in the room.

Chapter Text

Slade needs a plan. He lives and dies by plans. Even when the plan is play it by ear, he at least has a rough outline of what he’s after, of an escape route he can use, of something.

Right then he has almost nothing. He’s sitting on a stack of half-finished, mostly collapsed plans. Halloween can’t happen as it stands. The plan to help Jason murder his way through his revenge is absolutely shot. He’s going to have to deal with the loose alliance of villains, address the militia, and figure out where he’s going next.

It feels like a mercy when he doesn’t have to corral the bats. Instead, it’s their butler who takes charge. Slade’s sure he has some kind of military experience, because he acts like a drill sergeant when it comes time to start rattling off orders.

“We still need a CT scan,” Alfred says. “There simply is no other option. But if we arrive at Miss Thompkin’s clinic with this many people, she’ll tan our hides. Master Dick, Master Timothy, I want you to go check Arkham. Take the Batmobile and see what you can find. Miss Gordon, I’d hope you’ll assist them.”

Drake’s already getting ready to go, hauling the X-ray machine along with him, and on the screen Oracle nods. Nightwing has other plans.

“You can’t be serious,” he says. “You think B’s going to just let us take the car? He’s going to want to know what’s going on.”

So they’ve left him at home with no context. Slade can only imagine that Bruce has worn a hole in the floor with his pacing. There’s no way he’s still, considering every member of his extended family is in the know and not him.

Slade wonders what he suspects. How much has he figured out?

“You would be surprised,” Alfred says. “Tell him you’re acting under my orders, and that we’ll all sit down and explain when I get back. He’ll listen to reason.”

Nightwing raises an eyebrow, barely visible under his hair. Alfred simply tuts.

Slade has, at the very least, a loose plan for the immediate future. The base is useless. Its location might as well be public, and there’s too much in it that could be used against them. He mentally rifles through what he needs to grab. What he can’t afford to lose. Most of it can be loaded into the back of the van they have in the garage, but he’d much rather do that without a legion of bats hanging over his shoulder.

He decides to make a peace offering.

“Your bike’s in the garage,” Slade says, jerking his thumb over his shoulder towards one of the doors. “You’ll probably want to take it, because if you don’t, you’re not getting it back.”

He’s hoping Nightwing rode with Drake, because if not they’re going to have an extra bike.

“My bike?” Nightwing says, momentarily confused, before his face twists in anger and fury. “You stole my fucking bike?”

Slade wonders when Nightwing’s going to stop thinking that Slade is the source of all evil in the world and actually put the blame where it’s deserved.

“The Arkham Knight stole your bike,” Slade counters.

“Do you have a vehicle?” Alfred asks him, which Slade takes as an attempt to stop another argument before it starts.

“Van,” he says. “Going to load it up with supplies before I leave.”

“Excellent,” he says. “We can load Master Jason in there.”

Slade doesn’t really like how Alfred has just naturally started including him in what he’d describe as bat family planning, but he isn’t willing to burn the bridge by rejecting the offer/order either.

“We’ll help,” Nightwing says. “Or I will. Tim can load the car, and I’ll help Alfred move Jason.”

“He’s bigger than you,” Slade points out. Jason and Nightwing are the same height, but Jason has to have thirty pounds on him. Nightwing’s a twig.

“I’ll help Alfred move Jason,” Nightwing repeats, fixing Slade with a less than intimidating glare.

Slade makes a shooing motion and gets to his own work.

Drake’s loading the car with the remains of the medical kit, the x-ray machine, and the monitor Oracle was using. It’s blank, which tells Slade she’s probably digging through every bit of construction documentation that ever existed for Arkham. He doubts she’ll find much. If it was that easy, the Bat would have found out about it years ago.

Nightwing and Alfred carefully begin the process of moving Jason into the back seat of the van. Alfred opts to stay with him, checking his condition regularly, while Nightwing bemoans the state of his bike, shooting Slade dirty looks as he walks it through the main room.

Slade double checks Jason’s room. It’s almost bare, but there is a backup helmet (a prototype?) that he snags. He moves it, along with Jason’s armor, into the back of the van.

He needs three trips of his own to move what he can’t immediately replace into the van. Most of it is supplies.

“I should clean up the mess,” Alfred says on one of his trips. “The sheet’s still down.”

Slade laughs.

“No one’s going to find it,” he says. “Don’t you worry.”

Ten minutes later, Slade declares his work done. There’s plenty left behind, but it’s all stuff that can easily be replaced. He’s made sure to keep the phone Penguin and the others are supposed to use to contact him, and he’s already dressed in his own armor, wearing it out.

The bike he rode earlier will just have to remain behind, which is the only real loss.

“Alright,” Slade says as he slides into the driver’s seat. “You’re going to have to direct me, because the last time I knew where her clinic was, it was in the Arkham City area.”

Alfred’s sitting in the back, Jason’s head resting in his lap for support as he repeatedly checks his condition. There’s definitely going to be blood in the back seat. He’ll have to scrap the car when things are done, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be for a while.

They’ve made it three blocks when there’s a rumble. The car rocks, and Alfred lets out a quiet my word as he twists around to look over his shoulder. Behind them, the ruined building that sat atop their base is going, the support structures that held it up all having been destroyed. Slade watches in the rear view mirror as the building drops down into the space that used to be their base, obliterating whatever evidence they may have left behind.

Slade Wilson does not do things by halves.

Chapter Text

The clinic Alfred leads him to is much the same as Slade remembers. The location’s different, but the people are the same. The feel is the same. The feeling that everyone there is doing it because they want to help people, and that the money is secondary. That the entire clinic is held together by a few bits of twine.

Doctor Thompkins treats too many people who can’t or won’t pay to be making any real money off it.

Slade doesn’t let Alfred help. Instead, he picks Jason up himself, holding him gingerly as he leaves Alfred to close the door behind them. He locks it once he’s inside, but not before he carefully places Jason down on a bed that one of the nurses rolls out.

He recognizes Thompkins, and she obviously recognizes him, but she squints a bit at Alfred.

“You were definitely not with him last time you were here,” she says to Alfred, who gives her a smile.

“No, I’m afraid I was not. But you’re remembering the right person. The situation has simple become... complicated.”

Complicated does not begin to cover it.

Slade lets Alfred take point on the medical care as he heads up to the front of the clinic. He fishes out a wad of bills--probably too much for just a CT scan--and drops them in front of the receptionist.

The doctor seems happy to have someone around who knows what they’re doing, because she lets Alfred help. Slade simply does his best to stay out of the way. He’s not going to be much help, and having him hovering is just going to make problems.

Slade’s very aware of his own limitations.

The sun’s well and truly up by the time the doctor steps back, glancing between the two of them before Alfred nods and she turns her attention to Slade properly. It’s obvious to him that she doesn’t know who she’s supposed to be briefing. Who’s responsible? Who’s in charge?

“I don’t see any signs of damage to the brain,” she says. “It’ll be a bit touch and go for the next while, so if he starts acting suddenly sluggish, you’ll want to have him checked again. That said... I removed the stitches from two of the bullet wounds and redid them. There doesn’t appear to be any remaining shrapnel, and hopefully they should all heal cleanly. He has...” Thompkins pauses, flipping through the file in her hands as she scrutinizes the results. “He has extensive damage to most parts of his body. In places it’s hard to tell the age of some of the injuries. A lot of them look like they were previously broken, and that this fight has shifted them around. One of his ribs is healed crooked. It’s the sort of thing they might want to repair in surgery if it bothers him, but otherwise it’s safe to leave it.”

Slade is pretty sure he knows which rib. He’s seen it when the Knight was changing, the one that seems to be too far in, nearly invisible on his skin.

“His tibia is cracked. It’s a stable fracture, which means he doesn’t need surgery, just a cast and to stay off it.”

Slade’s having a hard time imagining the Knight staying off a fucking leg. There’s no way. Someone would have to physically tie him down to keep him from getting up.

“How long to heal?” Slade asks, already knowing he’s going to hate the answer.

“You’re looking at at least two months in a cast-”

“Alternatives?”

Thompkins pauses. In a standard hospital, she’d probably start to stress the importance of time. But she knows the kind of people who go to their clinic don’t have the benefit of months.

“If he gets a cast and does good physical therapy, six weeks before he can walk with a brace, and another six weeks before he can get back to work.”

She knows what work is.

Slade considers all the things the Knight will do if he’s stuck in bed for six weeks.

None of them are pleasant.

“I can do a surgical intervention that would get him up and running faster,” she says after a moment. “It’s exp-”

“Done,” Slade says. “How long?”

Thompkins looks exasperated, but relents.

“Two, maybe three weeks resting. He’ll have a nasty scar from it.”

Slade is very firmly of the opinion that Jason couldn’t give less of a shit about scars. One more isn’t going to hurt him.

“Done,” Slade says again. “Where do I pay?”

There’s nothing to sign, because Thomkins’ clinic is so far under the radar that it’s cash only, but Slade does have to wire money from his swiss to cover it.

It’s Jason’s money to begin with, so it’s not like it’s hurting him any.

He returns just in time to hear Alfred ask about the procedure, to which one of Thompkin’s surgical assistants fixes him with scrutinizing look, taking in what is obviously a butler’s outfit, and then clicks her tongue.

“Ask me no questions and I shall tell you no lies,” she says, wheeling the bed into a surgical suite at the back of the building.

“Well, that was rude,” Alfred mutters under his breath. He glances towards Slade after a moment, and then gives him a smile.

“That was kind of you.”

Slade considers taking his mask off just so that Alfred could see his raised eyebrow.

“There was nothing kind about that,” Slade says. “If you think that was kindness, you’ve been living with the Bat too long.”

 Alfred keeps smiling at him, and Slade, for once, feels almost defensive. Alfred reminds him too much of an old friend. The same sort of all knowing, but also not willing to push it in your face. The kind of person who knows better than you, but is willing to step back. He doesn’t like it.

“That was his money paying for this,” Slade said. “Nothing about this is kindness. This is self preservation. This is me doing what I can to keep my reputation intact. I have a job to do, and now my boss is going to be down for the count for weeks?”

It doesn’t look pretty. It’s not the sort of thing he’d want on someone else’s resume, and he doesn’t want it on his.

“I pride myself on getting the job done. On satisfying a client. He’s not going to be satisfied. He’s going to be pissed.”

Alfred has not stopped smiling.

“Master Jason, even back when he lived with us, was always prone to fits of anger. I doubt that the years have been kind enough to him to allow him to overcome that particular personal flaw, so I would hardly be surprised to find him upset with you... or with anyone else, for that matter. Try not to take it so personally.”

Slade squints.

He all of a sudden has the very distinct impression that he’s being made fun of. It isn’t a pleasant feeling, and it’s certainly not a common feeling, but he supposes it makes a sort of sense that the kind of man who regularly has to deal with Bruce Wayne in the worst of his moods might not be cowed by his reputation.

Slade still doesn’t like it though.

Chapter Text

It’s two in the afternoon, and Slade is getting restless.

No, beyond that. He is restless. He has a van full of equipment, no clear base of operations, an unconscious boss and a butler with a penchant for sass. It is not a good state of affairs.

And that’s nothing to say what’s waiting for him at the end. At some point, Slade realizes, he’s going to have to deal with the Bat. He can’t imagine that he’s still being kept in the dark. Probably the rest of the bats have sat down with him and explained what’s happened. 

Probably Nightwing has kicked Drake’s ass for having been working with Slade behind all their backs.

Maybe. Or maybe Nightwing’s forgotten about that point entirely, too distressed by what they’ve discovered to take it out on a member of his extended family.

He wonders what they found under Arkham.

Alfred dozes under a blanket, the exhaustion visible on his face. After hours of waiting, first for the surgery to finish and then simply for Jason to wake up, he’s finally succumbed. Even then, he still went out of his way to extract a promise that Slade will wake him if anything comes up.

Slade heads outside, digging through the back of his van for one of his phones. He’s got all the really important numbers memorized, so it hardly matters which one. The only real question is who he’s going to call, because he has a lot of options.

After some thought, he settles on calling the militia first, sliding into the driver’s seat of the van just for some privacy. He keeps it short. They don’t need unnecessary details. There’s already a chain of command while he and the Knight are in Gotham, so it’s simply a matter of extending things. He ponders letting them know that the Knight’s been injured, and decides against it. There’s no need to give away that much information. The less they know, the better.

His second call is less brief. He calls an old broker he knows, and gives him a few more details. That he has almost five hundred men. That they’ve had training under him. He lists off the gear they’ve got. The tanks in production. The guns they’ve amassed.

They aren’t going to be able to use them. There’s no way Halloween’s happening. And it isn’t a smart idea to leave that many men sitting around without a purpose. Someone else will find things out. Someone else will take over their contracts. Someone else will make use of them. Maybe they’ll go off and fight in a warzone. Either way, it’s not his problem. Slade knows of at least two or three people who might be interested, and the Broker promises to get back to him in the next few days.

Slade adds the entire interaction to his mental pile of things Jason Todd is going to hate me for. It’s big enough that he doesn’t think any further additions are really going to matter.

He heads back into the clinic fully expecting to find a meltdown. Probably Jason’s awake and screaming. Probably things have gone to shit the moment he left the building.

But instead it’s calm. The doctor’s dealing with a man who’s come in with burns on his arms. Beyond that, the clinic is almost completely empty.

He guesses that means it’s a good day in Gotham.

Or maybe they were just dead before they could make it there.

He checks on Jason himself, and then settles back in one of the chairs beside his bed. One of the nurses offers him some magazines, and Slade reads them simply for lack of anything to do.

Bizarrely, he feels relatively safe where he is. The clinic is probably the safest place in Gotham for him, its neutrality respected by more or less everyone. There are lines people don’t dare cross, and the sanctity of the clinic is one of them.

He’s midway through a popular mechanics article when there’s a small choked noise from beside him. Almost a cough. He straightens in his chair, and the sound comes again. He’s not the only one who’s noticed either, because the doctor heads right on over, leaning down over him to check.

“Mr. Todd?” She asks, reaching up to open his eye as her other hand pulls out a flashlight to test the dilation of his eyes. “Are you with us?”

Jason makes another noise. For a moment, Slade takes it as pain, but a glance at the IV stand tells him that’s unlikely. Jason should be doped to the gills. He shouldn’t be feeling any pain.

Slade stands up as Jason starts to struggle. It was his idea to tie him down, well aware that he’d be likely to hurt someone if he wasn’t, but it’s not doing much as he starts to thrash.

“He’s hyperventilating,” she says. “Something’s wrong.”

Something’s set him off. He’s half delirious, barely awake, and something about the situation is throwing him off. Alfred’s standing at his other side.

Slade tries to put himself in Jason’s position. Is he freaking out because he’s tied down? Yes, obviously. But he was freaking out even before he tried to move. The moment his eyes opened.

He tries to think.

And then it clicks.

“The coat,” Slade says, reaching out without asking to jerk Thompkins’ doctor’s coat off. Jason can’t be seeing everything, but waking up to the view of a pale, light haired blond woman in a doctor’s coat can’t possibly be helping things.

She seems to get the idea, shrugging it off, but more importantly she backs off.

Alfred steps forward, taking Jason’s hand in his own.

“Master Jason?” He asks, and for a second Slade thinks he hears the butler’s voice crack. “I’m right here for you. I know this might be confusing, but it’s alright. You’re safe now.”

Slade decides Jason might actually be even more drugged up than he thought, because it works. He sags into the bed, coughing several more times before finally going still again. His eyes are barely cracked open, and Slade doubts he’s really processing what he’s seeing. He can’t be. He’s just reacting on sheer instinct.

Slade sits back down, and Jason goes still.

“How long before he’s not out of his mind on more drugs than should be in a human body?”

“He has four holes in him,” Thompkins points out. “He’s going to need time to recover. You can expect him to be in and out for the next twenty four hours at least.”

Slade grunts.

“We should still be moving him. We can’t just sit here forever. I have a base-”

“Absolutely not,” Alfred says. He’s sitting, but he’s still holding Jason’s hand on the far side of the bed, and Slade has a sneaking suspicion he isn’t going to let go anytime soon. “Master Jason isn’t going to recover in an unsanitary base. I saw the state of your last one, and I have no faith that your next one’s going to be any better.”

“You’re not going to suggest the manor?” Slade asks with a snort. The idea of it is ridiculous. “You heard what I said back at my base. He’ll be fucking murderous if he gets within a hundred yards of the place.”

Alfred wrinkles his nose.

“I wasn’t going to suggest any such thing. I was thinking that Master Dick-”

“No.”

“Master T-”

“Especially no. You’re not getting it. He’s going to be infuriated enough that he’s even dealing with any of you. If he wakes up in Timothy’s apartment, you’re going to have a dead bird on your hands.”

One or the other.

Alfred goes quiet, obviously mulling it over.

“Miss Go-”

Slade buries his face in his hand.

Again,” he says. “He’s not going to be understanding if he wakes up surrounded by the group of you hovering over him.”

“A hotel,” Alfred says. “There’s a nice one in the city that Master Bruce has used before. They are... discrete. And there’s a back entrance. As long as you keep the do not disturb sign on, you should be just fine.”

Slade considers the option. It’s absolutely a way for the bats to worm their way back into the situation and keep from getting cut out, but he’s probably going to have to give at least some on the matter. He doesn’t really have the option of just cutting them out as things stand.

“Fine,” Slade says.

“Excellent,” Alfred says. “I’ll make a call.”

Slade think he’s going to go outside to do it, but he’s dead wrong. Alfred, his one hand still clutched onto Jason’s decides to make the phone call right beside the bed. He can hear the entire conversation--including the people he’s talking to--and he’s amused to realize that Alfred doesn’t even call Bruce. He just calls his contact at the hotel and starts arranging things.

Turns out he’s not half as dependent on Bruce as Slade thought.

Chapter Text

The hotel is not what Slade’s expecting. He’s stayed in enough hotels to know the kind of place you get while lying low. Run down motels that sell privacy rather than comfort. The kind of place a man goes when he’s having an affair.

The biggest concern with places like that is making sure that the proprietor hasn’t installed cameras so he can blackmail people. Slade always checks his rooms before he does anything else, and the few times he’s found them he makes sure to take full advantage of the situation.

This is not like that.

The hotel Alfred directs him to is not a shabby two story that was probably built thirty years ago. The hotel Alfred directs him to is a tower. It’s more than ten stories high. It looks new, well maintained, and absolutely not like the sort of place that masked vigilantes would be welcomed.

Alfred guides him around back to a reserved parking spot in front of what looks like a service elevator.

“You’re kidding me, right?” Slade asks, glancing around and feeling particularly happy he invested in extra window tinting. There have to be cameras, don’t there?

Alfred practically reads his mind.

“This spot is, strangely enough, not covered by the hotel’s security measures. Nor is the service elevator. Nor is the room up above. It’s strange how that happens in places like Gotham, isn’t it?”

Slade wonders how much Bruce paid to set this all up.

“What do the staff actually think this is?” Slade asks.

“They think a very wealthy donor is, I would imagine, into BDSM or something of the sort. That, or they think one of the various crime families uses it for torture. Blood is found quite regularly there. The last I heard, they were speculating that Black Mask was the owner.”

Slade snorts, but his curiosity is satisfied. He lets Alfred handle the medical equipment as he finally collects Jason off the back seat, cradling him in his arms.

He’s been stirring more and more. He doubts it’ll be too long before Jason wrestles his way back to full awareness, and Slade knows he needs to be properly set up before that happens.

Slade watches Alfred punch in the code, memorizing it for himself, and waits patiently as the elevator rises. He’s not sure what floor they end up on--he’s going to have to count later--but the small largely barren hallway does not inspire confidence.

The hotel room door looks mostly the same as what he’d expect from a hotel like this, but when he opens it up he finds... more or less a standard hotel room.

Mercifully there are two beds, and he carefully lays Jason out on one before going to check the window.

He guesses he’s around the tenth floor. Not the top, but a few down from the top. Good visibility. He has a good view of the parking lot, but the parking lot only has a view of someone standing directly in front of the window.

“Don’t break anything,” Slade says, heading to the elevator.

He isn’t going to risk leaving his (expensive and hard to replace) equipment in the van, so he makes two trips to unload it into a corner of the room. If Alfred is bothered by all the guns, he does a good job not showing it. He’s in the process of getting Jason a bit more settled. The IV bag’s still there, with strict instructions on when to remove it, but Slade thinks it was pointless to even bother transferring it. For one, it cost them. For another, Jason’s absolutely going to rip the goddamn thing out the moment he’s halfway awake.

Slade digs out some supplies from his cache. Security film isn’t going to stop a bullet, but it’ll slow one down, and it’ll keep some flying bastard from knocking his window in. Only when he goes to put it up, he finds himself squinting, and after some inspection he accepts that the hotel room has actual bulletproof glass.

No wonder they all think the room’s Black Mask’s.

He sweeps the room for cameras, methodically going over every inch, but doesn’t find anything. When he’s done checking all the vents for a second time, he finally relents.

The room’s clean. It’s secure, it’s safe, and he has the option to obliterate the bulletproof glass and rappel down the side if he really needs.

“Watch the kid,” Slade instructs. “I need a shower.”

He needs a lot more than a shower. He’s been awake more than twenty-four hours straight, and while that normally wouldn’t bother him so much, it certainly is now. So much of it was spent sitting around doing nothing that he’s more or less empty of adrenaline. More than tired, though, he’s filthy and hungry. There are still bits of blood on his hands from helping with Jason earlier.

He locks the door, and when he strips off his armor he props it up against the door to make sure the door stays closed.

Slade stands under the water for almost thirty minutes, just soaking in it. He’s tired, and it feels good to just let the hot water run over him. When it finally stops coming off his body red, he starts to scrub, cleaning off the mess. He’s going to have to do his armor later, but that’s more of a project than an immediate need. He can wear it bloody. He has before, and he’s sure he will again.

He’s clean, if a bit pink from all the scrubbing, when he emerges from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. He’s come to the conclusion that if Alfred was going to kill him, he’d have taken advantage of one of the many chances he’s been given. He leaves his armor in the bathroom, heading for his gear and digging through until he finds a change of clothes. He’s at least nice enough to return to the bathroom before getting changed, sparing Alfred’s eyes.

“Alright,” he says. “Time for you to get going.”

Alfred frowns, and it’s obvious the argument that’s about to come, so Slade cuts it off.

“I’m serious,” he says. “You know where I’m staying. I’m not planning to sneak out. You have a way to contact me, you know my immediate plans for the future--which is to wait until Jason wakes up--and you don’t need anything else. Go home, Alfred. Get yourself some food. If you’re here when he wakes up, it’s just going to make things worse. I can handle things.”

Alfred’s frown deepens.

“The last time you handled things,” Alfred says, “Master Jason ended up with four extra holes.”

Slade waves off his concern.

“He’s injured enough he won’t be able to pose a threat. The only reason he got as hurt as he did was because he was nearly matching me. It’s harder to hold back when you’re actually having to fight for your life.”

He imagines that Bruce has a pretty good idea of what that’s like.

Alfred sniffs, but finally does stand up.

“I’ll have food delivered,” Alfred says. “And some more supplies for Master Jason.”

Slade sees him off at the door, and watches through the window to see who picks him up. It’s Drake, in a car, and he catches Drakes staring up at the window as he waits for Alfred to climb in.

They aren’t going to leave him alone.

Chapter Text

Slade doesn’t mean to, but he ends up dozing on his own bed. He’s reading, and one minute he’s not, the book abandoned at his side as he catches up on some much needed rest.

He isn’t sure how long he sleeps before he’s finally woken by a noise from the bed beside him--more coughing?--and he rolls immediately out of bed to deal with the situation.

He has instructions from the doctor, but the doctor probably planned on him being a lot nicer about it. He doesn’t coo and hover over Jason. Instead he reaches up, sliding a hand behind Jason’s head to tip his head upright, and presses a water bottle to his lips.

“Drink,” Slade instructs as Jason coughs. “You need water in your throat.”

It takes a few tries--and several spills--but finally he finds the right angle, and Jason gulps down the water like it’s his first drink of water in weeks.

He gets through half the bottle before Slade finally pulls it away, setting the bottle on the nightstand.

“Fuck you,” Jason croaks, which Slade takes to mean yes, I’m awake and not just going to pass out immediately.

“Morning,” Slade says. “Welcome back to the land of the living.” He sits down on the edge of the bed, causing Jason to let out a small whimper of discomfort as the bed shifts.

“Fuck you,” Jason says again.

“Not in the cards, I’m afraid,” Slade says. “How you feeling?”

“Like a train hit me,” Jason says, his eyes squeezing closed. His hand reaches across his body, fingers digging white lines on his arm as he tries to find the IV. Slade beats him to it, swatting Jason’s hand away as he pulls the IV line himself. Better to make it clean and not have Jason twisting it all around, mucking things up.

“Better?”

“Everything’s numb,” Jason says.

“They’ve pumped enough painkillers into you to put down an elephant, so I’m not surprised. Give it a few days and we’ll wean you off them.” Jason’s tolerance for pain has always impressed him, and he doubts he’ll be calm until he can actually feel himself again.

“What happened?” Jason asks, and Slade buys himself some time by force feeding Jason some more water. Jason smacks the bottle away, but the gesture is weak enough it doesn’t even knock it out of Slade’s hands. “Stop avoiding the question.”

Slade reaches up, pinching at the bridge of his nose for a long moment before sighing. He knew he was going to have to do this eventually, and better to get it out of the way before one of the bats kicks the door in.

“You’re in a hotel,” Slade says. “You likely have a concussion, you absolutely have four new bullet holes in you, and you cracked your left tibia.”

You,” Jason hisses, “cracked my left tibia.”

Slade decides that’s a fair point.

“Correct. I cracked your left tibia. I also put the four holes in you. Do you remember why?”

The answer is not immediate. Any trauma tends to come with some amount of confusion, and the blows to his head aren’t going to help either.

“Barb,” Jason finally says under his breath. “She called. You were - she was talking to you.”

Slade thinks the whole conversation would probably be easier if Jason was angry, but he doesn’t sound angry. He sounds deflated, like someone’s kicked him in the gut and now he can’t catch his breath. When he looks, there’s the first signs of tears in the corners of his eyes. Slade can’t even guess at what’s the worst part of the situation for him, so he doesn’t even try.

“Yeah,” Slade says. “That’s about right. You picked up, heard her voice, and then hung up on her. Then you stormed into my room to try and kill me, which I didn’t take kindly to.”

Slade had bullet holes of his own, but his got better a hell of a lot faster.

“You broke my leg a lot worse than I broke yours, if it’s any consolation,” he adds.

“It’s not,” Jason croaks.

“Listen, kid,” Slade says. “A lot happened while you were out. The plan’s kind of out the window. Doctor said six weeks before you could walk with a brace, but I had her try something that’ll get you up faster. Maybe two weeks recovery before you can walk again. Halloween’s not happening. There’s no way you’re going to be well enough.”

Rage, Slade decides, would definitely be better. Rage he can deal with. Jason’s rage is helpless when he’s trapped in bed, but when the young man begins to cry--obviously furious with himself for doing so--Slade has to turn away. They’re awful, wet tears, Jason’s face twisted up, his arm coming up to try and wipe them away.

He looks miserable, and Slade has no idea what to do. He doesn’t think he’s ever managed to comfort someone who was crying, not a single time in his life. All he can do is sit there, waiting for it to stop, but Jason isn’t quite done torturing him yet.

“I thought - I thought it was a dream for a bit. That I’d dreamed the whole thing. That I was going to wake up back home. Someone was - someone was holding my hand.”

Slade feels like he’s been kicked in the gut. Not that he thought their fight was a dream, but instead that he thought it was all a dream. That he thought that everything that had happened to him had been one big long nightmare, and that he’d wake up back in the manor, safe and happy and warm.

Slade doesn’t miss that he calls the manor his home.

Chapter Text

Slade never does come up with something else to say. He doesn’t know what he possibly could. Instead he lets Jason cry himself out, and when he next leans over to see if he wants to talk, he finds that Jason’s asleep again. Slade thinks he’s faking for a little bit, but the rise and fall of his chest is steady and regular.

Slade lets himself sleep once he’s sure.

He wakes to small, distressed noises from the bed beside him. Another nightmare. Mercifully, Jason isn’t screaming, and when Slade shakes his shoulder, Jason doesn’t wake, but does quiet down.

Slade goes back to sleep.

He wakes hours later to the sound of a knock at the door. He double checks Jason (still asleep) before he goes to answer it, checking the peephole before he does.

It’s the worst possible person. Slade doesn’t let them in. Instead, he opens the door, slides out himself, and closes the door behind him, planting himself directly between it and Bruce Wayne.

He’s in street clothes, with a cooler bag slung over his shoulder, and he looks like absolute shit.

There are bags under his eyes. His shoulders are slumped. His eyes themselves are red and puffy, and he looks like he hasn’t slept in forty-eight hours.

He probably hasn’t.

Bruce holds out the cooler, and Slade takes it, slinging it over his own shoulder. He’s not moving. Bruce is going to have to pry him out of the doorframe himself if he wants to get past.

“Alfred - he said Jason might want soup. So he sent that, and some other stuff, so you’ll have enough to eat. He says he’s sorry it took so long.”

The Bruce in front of him feels like a shadow of the man he went head to head with at the manor not all that long ago. This one seems like he’s struggling to stay standing, wracked by guilt and self doubt. Slade wonders for a moment if it might be okay to let Jason see him like this, and then decides against it. They still haven’t talked. If he sees Bruce, it’ll be the worst case scenario.

Bruce is silent for a moment, and when he finally does muster up the courage to speak, his voice cracks.

“Can I see him?”

Slade knew it was coming. He knew Bruce was going to ask. And that makes it so much easier to shut him down.

“Absolutely not,” Slade says. “Nothing good is going to come out of you two seeing each other. At this point, he doesn’t even know you know he’s alive. I’m trying to take things slowly, and waking up to a face full of Bruce Wayne isn’t going to do him any good.”

Slade wonders if Bruce is going to try and force the issue, but after a moment the other man just seems to sag more.

“Can I - can I at least see a picture? I just -”

He doesn’t finish the sentence. He can’t. He’s not even looking at Slade anymore, staring down at his own hands instead. He’s mourning, Slade decides. He’s already mourned for the Jason who died, but this is something else entirely. Mourning for the life that could have been if he’d found Jason. If he hadn’t stopped looking. If he’d been luckier or smarter or more efficient with things.

“I’ll send you a photo,” Slade says. “When he’s feeling a bit better.” He’s sure as hell not taking a photo of a half dead sleeping Jason. It feels too voyeuristic.

Bruce nods stiffly, and Slade waits for him to say something else. He doesn’t, and after a moment Slade decides he’s probably afraid that if he leaves, something will happen while he’s away.

“Go, Bruce,” Slade says. “You have other things to deal with.”

For a minute, Slade thinks he’s not going to. Bruce just stands there, frozen in place, almost completely unmoving. And then, like an iceberg cracking free from a glacial shelf, he starts to move again. He nods, and then he turns away, and then he turns back, just to look at Slade.

“Thank you,” Bruce says before finally leaving.

Slade has no idea what he meant, but he’s sure as hell not going to ask for clarification. Instead, he waits for the elevator door to close before he heads back inside, checking on Jason as he does. Still asleep.

He sets down the cooler on the table, flipping open the lid to check for tracking devices. It’s not even fully open before he realizes it doesn’t matter. They know where he is. He’s not planning to go anywhere. And if he does go anywhere, he’s not going to be going with the Wayne family cooler.

Atop the food is a cellphone and a letter, which he places to the side. Nothing else that interesting, and Slade drifts over to the window to see if Bruce is gone.

He’s just in time to see Bruce climbing into the back of a car. It’s less fancy than he expects, which tells him that Bruce is likely trying to keep a low profile. He wonders who’s driving. Alfred? Drake? Nightwing?

He scratches the last name off the list of possibilities when the car pulls away and he catches sight of someone sitting near the edge of the parking lot, half hidden under a tree. He can see just the edge of a fender, and when he bends down and squints he decides it’s blue.

So Nightwing. He isn’t surprised to find that one of the bats has been left behind to make sure he doesn’t throw Jason over his shoulder and make a run for it.

He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t considered it.

At the very least Nightwing has the decency to not push his way into the room and hover. They’re giving him his space, which is nice. He stands up, turning around to deal with the food, and finds Jason staring at him.

Not asleep after all.

Chapter Text

Jason does not look half asleep. He doesn’t look like he’s so drugged out of his mind he’s not going to remember it in the morning. He looks, for the first time since the plan crashed to the ground like a house of cards, actually aware of himself.

He grimaces, showing teeth when he breaks the silence.

“Who was at the door?”

As fast as Slade’s decided to try honesty, he throws the idea out. If he says Bruce, Jason’s going to lose his mind. He settles for an option that feels less like he’s slapping Jason in the face.

“One of the bats,” he says. “The jig is up, I’m afraid. They know you’re here.”

He half-turns, keeping Jason in his peripheral vision as he digs through the cooler. It’s overstuffed. There’s some kind of bread that he identifies as banana bread, several flasks of what smells like chicken noodle soup, and a stack of sandwiches of various types. There’s enough for at least two days, which seems excessive to Slade.

“You’re conspiring against me with them,” Jason says. If looks could kill, Slade would be dead. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen Jason look so angry, and he has every reason to believe that if Jason wasn’t limited by the cast on his broken leg he’d probably already be fighting with him.

Probably a good thing for him that Jason isn’t able to move much.

“Right on two accounts, wrong on one,” Slade says, trying to lean back into the whole tell him the truth to win back his trust thing. “Yes, conspiring. With the bats, also yes. Not against you.”

Jason’s eyes on him feel like a physical weight. Like he’s burning holes in him just by looking at him. His rage is almost palpable, his lips pressed together so tight they’ve gone white. His hands are squeezed so tightly into fists that Slade’s sure he’s going to draw blood soon.

Slade grabs a canteen of soup, finding the contents still warm.

“Sit up,” he says, heading back towards the bed, sitting heavily on the side.

“Fuck you,” Jason snaps.

“You’re going to eat your soup,” Slade says. “Alfred made it just for you, and you’re going to choke it down if I have to force feed you. So you can either sit up and eat it properly, or I can pin you down and make you appreciate it.”

Jason obviously can’t tell how to process Slade’s threat, because his eyebrows keep shooting up and down. Finally, his expression settles on confusion.

“Alfred?”

Oh hell. Does he not remember?

“Six feet tall, impossibly British, penchant for sassing men who could snap him in-”

“I know who Alfred is,” Jason snaps, reverting right back to anger. “Why do you have Alfred’s soup, you fucking idiot?”

Slade decides he prefers when Jason’s angry. Angry is good. Angry is motivational. Angry, as they say, gets shit done. 

It doesn’t hurt that angry is so much easier for Slade to deal with than sad.

“Because they dropped off a care package,” Slade says, pouring some of the broth into the lid. He considers handing it over to Jason to eat, but Jason’s hands are trembling when he looks, and he decides against it. He’s going to have to manage things himself, isn’t he? At the very least Jason is shifting in bed, sitting upright a bit more.

“Tell me wh-” Jason starts, only to be cut off when Slade shoves the soup in front of him.

“Drink,” Slade instructs. His threat still stands from before, so he doesn’t repeat it. Jason’s brows furrow, but he relents, opening his mouth and slurping down the soup. Some of it spills onto the front of the hospital gown, but most of it makes it down.

Slade refills the cap. He’s going to feed him until he chokes, because if he doesn’t, he suspects Alfred will have words for Slade about starving Jason or some shit like that.

“Explain,” Jason says as Slade holds up the second round.

“It’s a long story,” he says. “Yes, I was working with the bats. Not for too long, but since not long after I got back from my last trip. Started getting suspicious about your story. Looked into it. Found a lot of stuff I’d have been better off not knowing.”

Jason, for all his protests, eats quickly. He always has. When food is placed in front of him, he wolfs it down. It makes for poor dinner conversations, but good on the move meals. Slade had always chalked it up to a response to his time with the Clown, but knowing more about Jason he wonders if Jason wasn’t just always like that. Living on the streets does things like that. Changes your reaction to things.

Jason finishes the second, coughing to clear his throat. He still looks angry, despite the soup, and launches immediately into a new question before Slade can get a third going.

“You’ve been working against me,” Jason snaps. It’s not even a question: just a statement. An accusation, really.

“You’ve already said that,” Slade says, holding up the third cap of soup. “And I already said I wasn’t. I did what I did in the hope that it would end up better for you.”

Jason glares at him the whole way through the third cap, and the moment Slade pulls it away he immediately goes back to pushing Slade’s buttons.

“So much for your professional ethics. I didn’t pay you to work with the bats against me.”

“Just because someone pays me doesn’t mean I follow their intention to the letter,” Slade says. “If a client hires me to do something suicidal, I’m not going to rush in just because they’re paying me. It’s the same with you. Your plan was stupid, so I elected to improvise.”

Oh, there it is. Jason’s good and mad now, his teeth clenching so hard together that Slade’s sure he hears them crack. He tucks the remainder of the soup away, contemplates the rest of his options, and then grabs a slice of banana bread for Jason and a sandwich for himself.

“Fuck you,” Jason says again, which might very well be his favorite words. “My plan was working just fine. Everything was set up. We would have fucking done it. I would have done what you never managed to do.”

“Not that plan,” Slade says, dropping the bread into Jason’s trembling hands. “That plan was fine. I mean the fact that you decided to make your entire life about taking revenge on Bruce Wayne.”

Jason flinches when he hears the name. It’s like he’s been hit, just hearing it out loud.

“Fuck you,” Jason says again.

“At least be creative with your insults,” Slade says. “If you’re going to throw them around, be inventive. You’ve been around me long enough to actually insult me properly.”

Jason settles for tearing into the banana bread with his teeth, dropping bits everywhere. He doesn’t yet have full control of his body. There’s still a tremble, and he’s obviously in pain, even if he hasn’t said a word in complaint.

Why would he? No one’s listened to his complaints before.

“Listen, Jason,” Slade says, noting the small flinch at hearing his own name, “no one else is going to tell you this, but I’m going to. Everyone else you surround yourself with are going to say sure boss, whatever you say, but people don’t pay me to be their yes-man.”

“No one could afford it,” Jason mutters under his breath, earning himself a small laugh from Slade.

“So I’ll give it to you straight. You’ve got yourself all twisted up. Your revenge is stupid. The Clown’s wrapped you up in strings and made you into his puppet. You’re his own personal marionette. And you know what? Now that he’s dead you’re still prancing along like he’s still up above pulling your strings.”

Jason is pissed. He’s been angry for more or less the entire conversation, but this is something new. More extreme. This is frothing rage. Pure fury. Angry enough that he tries to lean over, to grab at Slade’s shirt to scream at him or punch him or something. Slade swats his hand away, reaching forward to push Jason back down on the bed.

“Fuck you!” Jason yells, and Slade is happy for the soundproofing. “I’m no one’s puppet. This is my life and my revenge, and I’m making my own future. I’m my own goddamn man.”

Slade wonders how many of those words were fed to him by the Joker during their time together.

“Bullshit,” he says. “If you were making your own choices, I wouldn’t have had to goad you into going after the people who helped keep you down there. I wouldn’t have had to convince you that the Clown’s woman needs to have a bullet put into her brain.”

Slade’s surprised that he feels something as he says it. Most of his murders are just jobs. There’s no emotion or attachment to them. But talking about Harley, that isn’t quite true. He hates her, he realizes. He wants to hurt her. At the very least, he wants to make absolutely sure she’s dead, because the idea of her walking free around Gotham pisses him off.

When did that happen?

“You don’t know me,” Jason says. “You don’t know what he did to me.”

Slade leans back a bit, letting out a whistle.

You don’t know me. How mature of you. But you know what? I’ll play ball, Jason. So here I am. You’ve got me. Captive audience. So go on. Why don’t you tell me just what big bad Bruce Wayne did to you? Tell me all the shit he did to you that makes him worse than the Joker. That makes him more deserving of you spending the last two years plotting his downfall.”

Slade takes a bite out of the sandwich. It isn’t bad. He’d almost say it was good... if it didn’t feature a large amount of tuna, which he hates.

He eats the sandwich anyway, and watches Jason’s face.

Jason doesn’t respond immediately. He seems, for a moment, almost confused. Like he’s trying to sort back through his own thought process and figure out how to explain it. It’s a harder task than it sounds, because Slade knows that brainwashing doesn’t work the way it does in the movies. The Clown might have confused him and fucked with his perception, but it’s not simply a matter of waving his hands and having Jason suddenly forget everything he knew.

It’s more like painting over brick. In places, the paint’s chipped off to reveal what lies underneath.

And now Jason’s trying to remember why he chose that color of paint, when the answer is that he didn’t choose it at all.

Slade is suddenly keenly aware of the fact that he should stop. That he should take a step back. He’s pushing Jason too hard, and if he pushes him too much more he’s going to break.

But he’s also aware that breaking might be what Jason needs. That something needs to happen to take enough paint off the wall to let him see sense.

So Slade takes a crowbar to it.

Chapter Text

“Go on,” Slade pushes. “Tell me all about it.”

So Jason does. Slade expects it to come in bits and pieces, but the moment Jason starts talking he revises his expectations. It starts coming out in one big long rush, a constant torrent. There’s no stopping it. He thinks that even if he gagged Jason, he’d probably keep talking through the gag, so he simply leans back and lets him talk.

“He abandoned me,” Jason says. “He left me to rot in a hell of his own making. He made the Joker, and I was the one who suffered for it.”

Slade notes that Jason doesn’t flinch when he says the Clown’s name.

“You know what he would say? Bruce said that if we ever got caught, we were supposed to talk. He sat me and Barb down and actually said that. Told us all about how people try and pretend like they’re tough and not scared during interrogation. That going silent was the worst thing you could do. So he said we should talk, and talk, and just say whatever came to mind. Play for time. Wait for Bruce to come get us.”

Jason’s motions are erratic as he talks. He almost never looks at Slade. He keeps jerking around, staring into space and then looking down at his own hands. He doesn’t seem to have noticed that he’s used Oracle’s real name.

“So I talked. I talked and talked and talked. I talked about baseball and food and everything. For hours. And then I started running out of things to talk about. And the Joker would just sit back and let me talk. But if I stopped talking? He’d just start to hurt me. So I kept talking. I made up stories. I gave him ten fake histories. I told him Batman was the president or an alien or a vampire or whatever he wanted to hear. I told him about myself. I told him about school. I told him whatever he wanted. I talked until my throat went raw and I couldn’t even talk any more, and you know what? It didn’t matter. Eventually I ran out of things to talk about. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. And you know what the Joker said when I finally went quiet? You know what he said?”

Jason leans forward, and Slade gets the impression it isn’t a genuine question, because Jason starts to laugh. He’s almost hysterical.

“He said--the fucking Joker--he patted me on the shoulder and told me it was a good thing I was finished talking, because now the real fun could start.”

Slade has killed a lot of people. He’s interrogated a lot of people. But as far back as he can remember, he’s never had to interrogate a kid. Not someone at the age Jason was. And what he describes isn’t even an interrogation--it’s just torture.

“I kept waiting. I kept telling him that Batman was going to come for me. Because there was no way he wouldn’t. I didn’t doubt him for a single moment. He was supposed to be my father, and even if he’d never wanted a son, surely he wouldn’t just leave me, right? See, that’s the thing. I never expected anything from the Joker. He’d do whatever the hell he wanted to me. But Bruce? I expected things from him. I expected him to give a shit. And it just kept going and going. He said we were going to be partners. He kept telling me that Bruce had abandoned me, that he’d left me down there to play with him. That Bruce had decided a fucking gutter rat like me wasn’t a good fit for the position.”

Slade keeps expecting him to stop, but Jason only speeds up. He just keeps going, like he’s vomiting up the words and couldn’t stop himself if he tried. There are tears in the corners of his eyes, and every so often he seems to choke on the words, but he just keeps going.

“He’d fucking taze me and hit me and sometimes he’d feed me nothing and sometimes he’d only feed me rot. And it just kept going. Sometimes he just left me down there in the dark for days, my arms fucking screaming at me from the pain. And do you know what the worst thing he did to me was?”

Slade sure as hell isn’t going to make a guess, but Jason doesn’t wait anyway.

“One day Batman came for me. He fucking came down and untied me and he told me everything was going to be alright, and I got all the way up the stairs and then the door opened and the Joker was right there. And he said ‘whoops, did you think he really came to save you? What a joke!’ and pushed me down the fucking stairs. And you know what happened then?”

Slade knows where the story is going. He knows the Joker well enough to know exactly what happens next.

“He fucking did it again. He did it again the next fucking day and I thought I was going to fucking die. And then that night when I went to sleep I dreamed about it. I dreamed he came and we went home and everything was alright, and then I woke up to the Joker deciding that I didn’t need toenails. Do you know how many times Bruce came to save me? Do you know how many? Because I fucking don’t. The Joker pulled that gag so many times that I lost track, and my own fucking brain did it so many more times.”

Slade almost doesn’t want to hear. A part of him considers just not listening, tuning out what Jason’s saying, because he still hasn’t stopped. He just goes on and on and on, listing out torture after torture.

“..and then one day he comes down and he says ‘surprise, Jason! It’s our anniversary! We got you something!’ and he brings down almost every fucking criminal in goddamn Arkham, every single sick fuck in the place, and he let every single one of them beat me until I couldn’t even think, and you know what I did then? I fucking begged for it. I begged him to fucking kill me, because I was starting to lose hope. I was starting to think that Bruce wasn’t going to find me. And then the Joker comes up and he says he’s got some bad news for me, and that I’m his sidekick now, because Bruce’s replaced me.”

Jason’s voice rises. He’s screaming. Hysterical with rage and frustration and anger.

“He replaced me! I was supposed to be his fucking son, and he went out there and got some new kid and put him in my fucking suit! The same suit I was still wearing! He just went out and got a new version made and put a new kid in my suit! He didn’t even try to find me! Why bother, when he can just go get a new model? When he can just upgrade from poor old Jason Todd?”

Jason is yelling, but there are hot tears cutting their way down his face. He can’t stop himself, Slade realizes. He’s not sure he can bring himself to watch it anymore. All of a sudden, he’s slapped with the realization that if he doesn’t stop it, that Jason’s going to just keep going. That he’s going to talk until his throat is raw and he can’t talk any more. That he’s repeating what happened to him, unable to move in a small room with a man who has meant him harm before, forced to cough up his secrets on demand.

“Jason,” Slade says, but Jason doesn’t stop.

“He never cared, he was never my father, he was-”

Slade grabs him. He grabs him by the shoulders, squeezing hard to try and drag Jason out of it, and he jerks back, letting out a noise of distress. He’s panicked. Horrified.

“Jason,” Slade says again. “The Clown’s fucked you up. He’s told you lie after lie and he’s twisted things all around, and you don’t even know what’s real anymore. You’ve based every night since you’ve escaped on finding revenge for something that isn’t even real.”

Jason tries to headbutt him, and Slade only just manages to jerk back. But Jason screaming in his face doesn’t help either.

“I know what’s real! I know this is real! I fucking know he abandoned me; I know he replaced me!”

Slade cuts him off again, squeezing hard on his shoulders. He’s not too far off one of the bullet wounds, and Jason makes a pained noise. He should have painkillers. Slade had forgotten--he should have given them already, but Jason never asked.

“Jason,” Slade says again, trying to ground him in the moment. “You don’t know what’s real. Bruce Wayne spent every single night looking for you. He scoured the entire city, brick by brick. He searched Arkham, and had the staff search, and they said they didn’t find anything. The entire place was corrupt. The staff were rotten. They lied to him, and his only failing was trusting them. He looked.”

Slade doesn’t know that for sure. He doesn’t know Bruce checked Arkham. But he’d have to be stupid not to. It would have been the first place Slade would have looked, and he has to trust that Bruce isn’t stupid enough to not have checked.

“He replaced me!” Jason yells, but the tears are coming harder, and it’s hard to even understand what he’s saying.

“Jason.” Slade’s pretty sure he’s going to be leaving big fat bruises on Jason’s arms. Squeezing him is the only way he has of keeping Jason in the moment, and he feels like he’s so close to a breakthrough.

He’s pushing too hard and too fast.

“He didn’t replace you, Jason. Drake found him. Found out who he was. That he was Bruce Wayne. That Nightwing was Grayson. And Bruce hired him so that he could help look for you. So that he might have a better chance of finding you than he would. And it didn’t matter! He hadn’t even been on the job a month when they got the tape of you dying.”

“Bullshit!” Jason screams. “Bullshit!”

“It’s not bullshit!” Slade yells right back. “I fucking saw it! I saw the fucking tape! The Clown makes you say your name, and then asks you who Batman is, and then shoots you in the fucking chest before you can say it. It fucking broke him. He mourned. He buried an empty fucking coffin because he knew the Joker was never going to give up where he’d hid your body.”

Jason isn’t saying words anymore. He’s screaming and wailing and saying, over and over, something that sounds like no no no.

Slade’s at a loss. He’s suddenly aware that the little voice in the back of his brain saying you’re going to break him might have been right after all. Jason is out of his mind, crying and screaming and not reacting in any way that lets Slade respond to him. What is he supposed to do?

He doesn’t have an example to go by. That’s his old standby: If he doesn’t know what to do, he tries to think back to someone who would have done a good job and do what they would do. But there’s no guideline. He was never like this. Joseph was never like this. He’s in completely uncharted territory, and it’s not like he can think of Bruce Wayne as a good example of what to do in this situation.

He thinks of Alfred instead. Tries to put himself in Alfred’s shoes. If he was there, what would he be doing?

Slade slides forward, wrapping his arms around Jason and pulling him into a hug. It’s too tight, but that’s by design. It prevents Jason from hurting himself, or from sliding away. It’s probably going to bruise him even more, but it has the desired effect.

Jason stops screaming. He sags into Slade’s shoulder, his entire body shaking with heavy sobs.

Slade lets him cry.

Chapter Text

It takes almost an hour for Jason to pass out. It’s not falling asleep. It’s passing out, because there’s simply a point where he can no longer keep himself awake. Slade’s arms have gone numb from the pressure against them.

A part of Slade is genuinely concerned that if he moves at all, Jason’s going to wake back up. He doesn’t want Jason awake. He wants him unconscious. An unconscious Jason gives him time to do things, rather than just letting things happen while he frantically tries to keep up.

He isn’t used to having so little control over the situation.

He supposes it means something that, for all the stress of the situation, he doesn’t think about leaving.

He’s extremely careful as he slides Jason off him, settling him back down. He’s holding his breath out of concern that a goddamn kid is going to wake up and start screaming again.

The situation is wildly out of control.

Jason doesn’t wake, and Slade lets out a sigh of relief as he creeps over to grab his burner phone. He ducks into the hallway, taking care to close the door without making a sound, and then walks to the end of the service hallway before making a call.

“Is everything alright?” Is the question Oracle greets him with. Barbara. He guesses that she’s Barbara now. He’s in that deep.

“Fine,” he says, lying through his teeth. “He woke up, we talked, it was as awful as you could imagine.”

Barbara makes a noise that he can’t figure out. Confused? Upset? He has no idea, and he feels like he doesn’t have the brain cells to work it out.

“Barbara,” he says, and she makes another noise. At least he can place that one: surprise. She’s shocked to hear her name. “I need you to send Alfred over. I need... someone who knows him better.”

He almost says I can’t do this by myself, and then catches himself.

“I’ll send him over,” Barbara says, and he can visualize her spinning around in that command chair of hers, dispatching bats every which way. Slade feels unmoored, disconnected from what’s happening outside.

He swears he just looked out the window, but he has to check his phone to find out what time it is.

He’s exhausted, but he’s not tired.

“I need to go get myself some supplies,” he adds. “If you guys have a spare bike, that’d be nice.”

He wishes he’d shoved one of his into the back of the van, but there was realistically no way it was going to fit. That's the problem with motorcycles: You can’t move much gear with them, and it’s not like you can just throw them in the back of a van. A trailer’s too obvious.

Which means he needs to just buy a new bike.

He goes back into the apartment, changing into some street clothes. Sunglasses to hide his missing eye. Jeans. A T-shirt. He reconsiders, grabbing a sweater to pull on. It’s cold, and long sleeves will better hide the bruises.

He waits outside the room for Alfred to show up.

He’s carrying a large bag in his arms when he steps out of the elevator, but mercifully he’s alone.

“Mister Wilson,” he says with a polite nod of his head. “I must say you look quite exhausted. Is Master Jason...?”

“Asleep,” Slade says. “He has a general enough idea of what’s happened, if he wakes up. I don’t think I’ll be gone too long.”

He doesn’t know if there’s a ride waiting for him down on ground level, but he doesn’t care. If there’s not, he’ll walk until he finds something.

“Of course,” Alfred says. “I’ll make sure he doesn’t go too far.”

A part of Slade is worried about leaving Jason alone with someone, even if it is his highly competent butler. He has no idea how Jason will react to things. He’s impossible to predict.

He needs to leave before he worries himself into staying.

“He already ate,” he adds quickly. “Three cups of the soup, and a bit of banana bread. I didn’t want to overfeed him.”

“Probably a sensible idea,” Alfred says. “I’ll check on him if he wakes, and I’ll give you a call if anything comes up.”

He lets himself into the room, obviously trying to be quiet, and Slade has to tear his eye away. He needs to go before he second guesses himself any harder.

Riding the elevator feels like torture.

He isn’t surprised to find someone waiting for him as he exits, but he’s expecting Drake. Instead, he finds Nightwing.

Grayson, he thinks, mentally correcting himself. He’s not in costume. He’s wearing street clothes, without so much as a domino, and it’s the first time Slade’s seem him without it. The only reason he recognizes his face is the photos he saw before. The voice, on the other hand, is immediately recognizable.

“Wilson,” Grayson says with a nod of his head.

“I didn’t realize they were sending a chauffeur,” Slade says. 

Grayson snorts.

“Did you expect me to pull a motorcycle out of my pocket?”

Slade considers, just for a moment, just borrowing Grayson’s bike. He’d probably let him, but the reason he’d be willing to lend the bike is the same reason Slade decides against it. If Slade takes his bike, that means Grayson has the perfect excuse to go upstairs.

He doesn’t want Grayson in the same room as Jason. Not right then. Maybe not for a while. Grayson isn’t Bruce or Drake, but he has his own complications. Alfred is the safest. After that, Barbara. Grayson is a distant third, and Slade has ever intention of keeping him away from Jason until things are a bit better.

He’s not expecting Grayson to do much at all, but Grayson squares up, planting himself in front of Slade, his arms at his sides. He’s not picking a fight, but he’s obviously getting ready for one, and every bit of instinct Slade has drilled into himself comes back to him all at once.

He thinks about all the ways that he could take Grayson out and prepares himself.

“Listen,” Grayson says, which is a half decent start. “No one else is going to bring it up, but I am. Right now, Jason is vulnerable-”

Slade has to fight to keep serious. Seriously? As if he didn’t know? As if he’d somehow missed the fact that Jason was a sobbing wreck only a few hours before?

“-and I know what you’re like. You don’t have scruples, you don’t have a moral compass, and you treat that like a selling point. So I’m going to be good and clear: if you’re taking advantage of Jason, I...”

Grayson trails off, apparently unable to come up with a suitable threat.

“He’s my boss,” Slade says pointedly. “Everything I’ve done has been for his best interests. You have no idea the shit he’s been up to, and that means it’s on me to clean up the mess while he’s out of commission.”

Grayson is staring at him. It’s the sort of intense laser focus that makes it obvious he was trained by the Bat, because he’s one of the few others that Slade has seen pull it off. Not quite brooding, but certainly intense.

“Whatever your relationship,” Grayson says. “I’m not going to tolerate it.”

Slade rolls his eye.

“Oh hell, kid,” Slade says. “Is this a roundabout way of asking if I’m hooking up with him?”

The idea is repulsive, but Slade does what he can to keep his cool. That’s the idea Grayson is beating around the bush about, even though he literally just said that he was going to bring it up. He just doesn’t want to say it. It’s obvious from the way Grayson’s cheeks go red from embarrassment, but the glare doesn’t stop.

“Are you?”

Slade strongly considers slugging Grayson in the gut for his insinuation, but settles for leaning in slightly, which immediately makes Grayson reel back out of pure instinct. He never gets tired of that.

“No,” he says. “You don’t have to chalk this up to my morals. I’m not interested in kids. That’s what Jason is.”

He doesn’t feel the need to argue with Grayson about the fact that his morals wouldn’t tolerate it even if Jason were a goddamn adult. The entire topic is pissing him off.

Grayson looks more confused than anything else, all his righteous smoldering anger having died off in the face of Slade’s dismissal.

“Oh,” he finally says. “Then what’s your relationship...?”

Slade can’t stop himself. He rolls his eye.

“He. Is. My. Boss,” Slade says, wondering when it’s going to sink in.

Grayson doesn’t look any less confused.

“But a boss-” He starts, but Slade cuts him off.

“Why don’t we talk about your relationship with Jason?” Slade asks, pressing in. Grayson jerks back again, and his back bumps up against the wall. He glances behind himself, suddenly looking nervous. When did the wall get so close?

Slade smiles at him, and it isn’t a friendly smile. It’s predatory. It shows his teeth too much. And it very obviously makes Grayson reconsider the conversation they’re having.

“See, here’s the thing, Grayson. You’re acting like you’re Jason’s doting big brother. But that doesn’t really line up with what I know. See, you were already Nightwing when Jason got adopted by the bat. You were off in Bludhaven already. So here’s my question: how many times did you go back? How many times did you visit your little brother?

Grayson looks uncomfortable. His face has gone pale, and he shifts his eyes away, not meeting Slade’s own. Slade doesn’t let up.

“See, you and Drake seem to have a pretty nice relationship, and that’s sweet and all. But that doesn’t mean you had the same thing with Jason. The way I see it, you probably barely saw the kid. Probably some hurt feelings. He was your replacement, wasn’t he? And then, like that, he’s gone. You did better with Drake. You supported him. Got real close.”

Slade leans in, dangerously close.

“I think you’ve deluded yourself,” he says. “I think you’ve built up a relationship with Jason in your head that you didn’t really have.”

Grayson isn’t looking at him at all anymore. His eyes have dropped, and Slade suspects that Grayson came to the same conclusion that Slade did. He just hadn’t wanted to admit it to himself.

There’s a lot of that going around.

“I don’t blame you for it,” Slade says, easing back and leaving Grayson with space of his own. He remembers how Jason reacted. So he tries to ease up. “Really. You probably think ‘that’s bullshit’, but I mean it. I don’t blame you for it. When you lose someone close to you, it’s easy to twist around what you think of the relationship you had with them. It’s easy to lie to yourself. And if it was just that? I’d have let you have it. But Jason’s alive. And if you go in there, guns blazing, acting like you were brothers the whole time, he’s going to shove you away. He doesn’t hate you. But he doesn’t really know you either. So you have to take it slow if you want a chance of having a relationship with him that isn’t just him trying to murder you.”

Grayson looks up midway through, and Slade is having a hard time reading him. Is he... confused? Slade’s getting confusion, but he’s not sure why.

“I... thanks?” Grayson finally said. “That was... good advice.”

Slade snorts. 

“I’m not an idiot, Grayson. We’re on opposite sides of things a lot of the time, but I’m also the person who’s been around Jason the most.”

He pauses, and then reconsiders with a scowl.

“The second,” he corrects. “Who’s still alive.”

Not for long if he has much of a say. The only reason he’s not just stealing Grayson’s bike and riding off to do her in is because he doesn’t want to rob Jason of the chance.

Grayson just looks confused, but after a moment clears his throat.

“So... uh. You needed to get supplies?”

Slade can read between the lines.

Chapter Text

Slade lets Grayson drive. It’s his bike, and he considers it a sort of apology. Let him take charge for once. Plus, he knows the area better than Slade does.

Grayson takes him to a mall.

Slade hasn’t been inside a mall in years. It’s never been an active avoidance. Malls are just too public, with too many people. Walking through the front entrance of the mall feels like painting a target on his back. It’s one thing in armor, but he’s not even wearing his thin armor. He’s in a sweater, for god's sake. If someone shoots him he’s going to bleed all over and cause a scene.

The only advantage of his sweater is that the bulk of it neatly hides his gun so that Grayson doesn’t get on his case.

The bats seem to have a real big issue with guns, and Slade has no idea why.

Slade’s first stop is to pick up clothes for himself. It’s relatively easy--he knows all his own sizes--and he manages to get out of the store before anyone so much as gives him a second glance for wearing sunglasses indoors.

Grayson tags along behind him, but doesn’t show all that much interest in things. It’s only when Slade ducks into a store specializing in pajamas that Grayson shows any real interest.

“Really? You wear pajamas? I kind of pictured you were a commando sleeper.”

“Stop imagining it,” Slade chides. “I sleep in a light version of my armor most nights. You never know when someone’s going to jump you. For the record, I’m getting these for Jason. Easier to get into and out of, and he needs something to wear that isn’t filthy.”

There’s no point in washing what he has on. It’ll go straight in the trash to be incinerated, because there’s no salvaging it.

“Huh,” Grayson says. “That’s... oddly considerate of you.”

Slade rolls his eye, even if Grayson can’t see it.

“Seriously? This again? Are you going to do this every time my reaction to a situation isn’t to stab the closest person?”

One of the store’s employees seems to catch part of the conversation, because her eyes widen and she gives them both a wide berth.

Slade holds up a pair of pajamas, emblazoned with an all too familiar red bat logo.

“Somehow I don’t think we’re ready for this,” he says, dropping them back into the pile.

“He... he uh, liked books,” Grayson says from behind him. “If that helps.”

“Not really for clothes,” Slade points out, settling on some neutral colors. “But I’ll keep that in mind. I’m guessing you’re going to follow me around the whole time?”

“Pretty much,” Grayson admits. “Being honest, we’re all kind of worried you’re going to run off. With or without him.”

“That’s a fair risk,” Slade says, making his purchase with cash. He keeps the bags together in one hand, opposite his gun, and heads to the big department store.

“I mean... are you actually going to run? You seem to care a lot about Jason, and he’s not really going to be in movable condition for a while. If you took him now, he’d probably end up with his leg permanently broken.”

“I’m not stupid, Grayson,” he says, heading to the magazines. There’s not much of a selection, but there’s at least some paperbacks near the end, and he picks through them, grabbing one for himself and two for Jason. He has no idea what he likes, and Grayson doesn’t volunteer any suggestions.

“You don’t need to worry about me running,” Slade says as he heads towards the far side of the store. “Jason’s my job. Helping him get his revenge is my job. And I’m very serious about my work.”

“Revenge?” Grayson asks, picking up the pace so he can turn and actually look at Slade, rather than letting him walk ahead. “Seriously? He needs... recovery. Therapy. All that stuff.”

“He needs to put a bullet in the head of each person who hurt him,” Slade says. “Does wonders for someone.”

Grayson grimaces.

“You know from experience,” he says, and Slade laughs.

“No, Grayson, I don’t. You should check Bruce’s files on me more carefully next time he lets you into his cave.”

“So just tell me,” Grayson says. “It’s not like you’re bothering to try and keep it quiet.”

He’s not, he supposes.

“I know all you kids have some kind of horrible tragic backstory for why you started doing the things you do, but I don’t. I got into the job because I’m good at it, and because it pays well. Because I’m the best there is.”

“Wilso- Slade,” Grayson says, changing his mind halfway through. “You’re missing an eye. That's not exactly a standard injury.”

“My ex-wife shot me in the head. Missed the brain, took the eye. She was a bad shot.”

Grayson looks absolutely horrified.

“What?” He asks, vastly overreacting in Slade’s opinion. He’s treating it like it’s some big thing, but Slade’s never treated it like that.

“There’s really not that much to it Grayson. I’m pretty sure Bruce has it all in his file, even.”

Grayson still looks horrified.

“Your ex-wife shot you?”

Slade grunts.

“I probably deserved it,” he says. He drops some protein bars into his basket, and drops a bottle of whiskey in while he’s at it. Then he goes to grab some electrolyte solution, shopping through flavors until he finds something without a bunch of added sugar.

“You deserved to get shot in the head?” Grayson asks, seeming to somehow be more scandalized by every word out of Slade’s mouth.

Slade can’t miss his chance. He turns, reaching up to pull off his sunglasses, and then uses his free hand to pop the patch off his eye to reveal the socket.

Grayson does not look happy. He’s definitely seen worse, but he’s almost definitely seen worse in dim lighting at night pumped full of adrenaline, not at four in the afternoon in the middle of a Target.

“Jesus,” he says, glancing around. “Put that back on. Someone’s going to see.”

“Then I’ll give them hell for staring,” Slade says, but he does end up popping it back in. The patch isn’t quite a patch. It’s more like a glorified pasty, sticking to his eye and being a bit more subtle than the traditional one he tends to wear under his mask. It’s also less likely to hold up if he has to move fast. If he needs to bolt, he’s going to lose it, which is half the reason he sticks to the traditional one.

He slips the sunglasses back on.

“Let’s be realistic, Grayson,” he says. “No one’s going to notice. Even if they knew exactly who they were looking for, no one thinks a hitman’s going to be hanging out at the mall.”

Slade grabs a bag of bread off the shelf, dropping it in his basket. He’s annoyed when Grayson reaches in, grabbing the bread and popping it back on the shelf.

“I draw the line at protein bars,” Grayson says. “If I let you bring any more food back, Alfred’ll get upset. He’s dying to deliver food. You need anything? You just let him know and he’ll drop everything, whip you up a batch, and hand deliver it.”

Slade feels that much more confident in his choice of babysitter for Jason.

“I’ll keep that in mind,” he says, inspecting his basket.

He makes a quick stop in toiletries to grab a set for each of them, and then confuses Grayson by getting an extra large pack of sponges.

“Do you really think he’s going to be showering?” Slade asks. “Sponge bath is what he’s going to have to get while the cast is on. Hotel’s nice, but it’s not that nice.”

Jason isn’t a kid. He’s a big boy, and if they try and maneuver him into the bath to soak while also keeping all his wrappings out... it’s not going to work.

“Oh,” Grayson admits. “That’s-”

Mercifully, he cuts himself off before he says it.

“Alright kid,” Slade says. “Let’s get going.”

Chapter Text

Slade doesn’t object when Grayson comes up with him, parking the bike on the pathway to the elevator. He isn’t quite as bad as Slade first thought, and he guesses that he’s warming to the kid. Heart’s in the right place, even if he’s got a strong streak of that Batman idealism that Slade isn’t so fond of.

He tries to stay quiet as he pushes open the door, and spots Alfred sitting in one of the arm chairs across from the door. He glances up when he hears the door open, and gives them a smile, closing the book he’s reading and setting it aside. When he speaks, his voice is soft, which clues Slade in before he can even see Jason.

“He stirred a bit,” Alfred says, “but he didn’t wake.”

A big part of Slade is relieved that nothing happened while he was gone. He unpacks what he’s bought, dumping his clothes in one drawer and Jason’s new stuff in another. He loads the toiletries into the bathroom, eyeing his filthy armor, and decides that’s something for later.

He drops the drinks into the fridge, sets the whiskey on the counter, and plops the protein bars beside it. It’s at that point that he notices the phone, right where he left it, and the note not.

He side eyes it, but decides against asking. Is Alfred hiding something from him? Or is something else going on?

“I thought about making cupcakes,” Alfred says. “One for each birthday he missed. It was his birthday, just this week.”

“Not yet,” Slade says. “That’s one thing I haven’t talked to him about.”

“About... his birthday?” Alfred asks, tipping his head slightly.

“I’m not convinced Jason has a real sense of time. Happens to POWs, and his situation is similar enough. I think if you asked him how long he was down there, he wouldn’t be sure.”

“It didn’t come up?” Grayson asks.

“When was the last time you asked your boss hey, how long was the murderous clown torturing you, exactly?” Slade asks, giving Grayson a look.

“Point taken,” he relents. 

Slade doesn’t draw attention to it, but there’s a slight hitch in Jason’s breathing when he mentions the murderous clown. He’s awake and listening, Slade decides, but feigning sleep for any number of reasons.

“Alright,” he says. “As nice as this social visit is, you two should get going.”

“Are you sure you have enough for dinner...?” Alfred asks, and Slade can’t tell if it’s intended as a genuine offer or an excuse to come back.

“We’re fine,” Slade says. “I’ll keep you updated if anything happens. If you really want, you can stop by with lunch tomorrow. He’d probably like that, and he should be a bit more awake by then.”

Alfred nods, seemingly pacified by the offer, and the two of them bustle out. Slade waits in the doorway for the elevator doors to close before he turns around, closing the door behind them and heading back into the room.

“I know you’re faking,” he says, no longer trying to be quiet. “You could have at least said hello to Alfred, after he made you all that soup.”

Jason’s eyes crack open. He doesn’t look angry, just tired, and he barely moves.

“Wasn’t awake then,” Jason says, his voice raspy. “I woke up when you came back.”

Slade grabs some stuff, sitting down on the edge of the bed as he looks over Jason. Tired. Probably a bit dehydrated. It’s the small groan of pain when Slade sits down, shifting the bed, that draws his attention.

He pulls out two pills and a bottle of water.

“You take your pills dry, or you want water?” Slade asks. “Because you’re taking them.”

“I don’t want them,” Jason says. “It’s not that bad.”

“Don’t play tough with me,” Slade says. “You have a high pain tolerance, but you’re not fucking immune to it. Now take your pills so I don’t have to drag you back to the clinic to have her stick an IV in you again.”

The threat seems to work, because Jason finally takes the painkillers. He finishes a bottle of water while he’s at it, and Slade notices that his hands are steadier. Less tremble.

Good. That means he’s doing better.

“Alfred’s got some sandwiches for us,” he says, “if you want to try something a bit more solid than soup.”

Please,” Jason says. “I think I’m going to gag if I have any more liquids.”

When Slade digs through the cooler he finds that several of the sandwiches are labelled with Jason’s name, and he collects those, letting him pick which he wants.

“He’s not so bad,” Slade admits. “Alfred. I think he wasn’t so fond of me when he first walked in on me beating the shit out of Bruce, but I think he’s warmed to me.”

He notes the flinch at the mention of Bruce’s name, but he’s smart enough not to press it. He’s had Jason conscious for all of ten minutes, and he sure as hell isn’t going to risk it again.

“You going to be awake when Alfred comes back tomorrow?” He asks.

“Do I have a choice?” Jason asks, his voice bitter. If the situation was less grave, Slade would have described him as sulking, but he supposes that Jason has every reason to be hesitant to meet people again.

“Yes,” Slade says after a moment. “If you want, I’ll tell him to just drop it at the door. He doesn’t have to see you, and you don’t have to see him. I just needed to get clear for a couple hours, and I needed someone to keep an eye on you.”

“So you found my old British babysitter,” Jason mutters. There’s less venom in his voice though, and he’s obviously wary as his eyes flick up to Slade’s own.

“What if I said I wanted to leave?” Jason asks. “Just... leave. Leave Gotham and not come back.”

Slade doesn’t answer right away. He mulls it over. Considers his options. How plausible it is.

“I’d tell you it’s a bad idea,” he says. “That you’ve got people who obviously care about you, and even if things are complicated, it’s probably for the better if you try and repair things with them. Even if it’s hard. It’s probably...”

Slade doesn’t say anything for a long moment.

“It’s worth it to have relationships with people who can support you,” he finally says.

“And if I still wanted to go?”

“Then I’d pack you into a duffel bag and smuggle you out of Gotham. I know a guy down at the airport who’d be willing to get us back to Argentina before the bats even know we’re gone.”

He means it. He doesn’t think it’s the best option--it might actually be the worst--but if it’s what Jason wants, then it’s what Slade’s willing to do.

Jason stares at him, and Slade gets the impression he’s trying to figure out if he’s being serious. 

“I mean it, kid,” Slade says. “You’re my boss, remember? Can’t just leave you high and dry.”

He reaches down, collecting the abandoned sandwich and holding it up. Jason snatches it out of his hand, wolfing it down, and Slade laughs despite himself.

“Relax,” he says. “Alfred put your name on them. So I’ll just have to suffer through the tuna ones.”

Chapter Text

Slade gets down to the dirty business of cleaning his armor. There’s something nice about it, methodical and regular. He knows his armor inside and out. He knows where the gaps are, and what places need extra attention. He ruins two of the wash cloths he finds in the bathroom, and it takes a bunch of extra time to clean out the tub when he’s done so it doesn’t look like someone just had their kidneys removed.

“Alright, kid,” Slade says, popping his head back into the room. “You need to get clean. You’re starting to stink up the place.”

Jason throws his hands into the air, which immediately makes him wince.

“How the hell am I supposed to do that?” He asks. “You put holes in me.”

Slade rolls his eye.

“It’s been more than forty-eight hours since your stitches. Doctor said you can shower but not soak.”

Slade has it all (more or less) figured out. It’s going to have to be in stages. There’s going to be a few complications, but he’s willing to work through them as he goes.

Step one is sitting Jason up. There’s a lot of wincing and Jason obviously trying not to show he’s in pain, but Slade’s wise enough to his game to spot it when he sees it.

Jason ends up staring at his cast, and Slade realizes he hasn’t seen it yet.

“Broken tibia,” he reminds him. “They did surgery, so you’re going to have a bonus scar from it.”

Jason lets out a wheezy laugh at that.

“You think I care?”

Slade takes the answer as a firm no, and gets to work. The hospital gown the doctor changed him into is soaked with blood and grime from Jason’s skin, and he peels it off carefully, dropping it into a plastic bag for disposal. He expects some kind of reaction to Jason being naked, but Jason doesn’t give him one. Whatever modesty he might have had is long gone, and Slade simply makes note of all the extra scars before grabbing one of the sponges and going to town.

He focuses on his injuries. The cast is obviously unworkable, but he carefully cleans around the dressings on each bullet wound before heading to his supplies. When he returns, he has a small bottle, and he sprays the hydrophobic coating over each dressing carefully.

“Should keep the worst of the water off,” Slade says. “Won’t hold up to a bath, but it’ll manage a shower.”

After that, he goes low-tech, wrapping a plastic bag around Jason’s cast and simply taping it down.

The bed looks goddamn disgusting when he finally helps Jason off it. Slade’s seen some messes, but this looks absolutely awful among the relative cleanliness of the hotel room. He gets upright in the shower, leaning heavily against the wall, and notes the grab bar built into the wall.

Perfect.

Jason lets out a noise when the water hits him, and for a moment Slade thinks it’s pain. After a second, he corrects his assumption. Jason isn’t in pain - he’s letting out a groan of sheer relief as all the muck and blood starts to slide off him.

“Just wash up for a bit,” Slade says. “I’ll come back.”

He ducks out of the bathroom, stripping off the bed and bundling the sheets up before dropping them in his disposal pile.

He leaves the room carrying it, and heads for the door at the end of the hall.

He’s correct in his assumption. The moment he passes through the door (carefully propping it open), he’s in a normal enough hallway of a normal enough hotel. Their room and the service hallway are built into a corner, totally hidden to almost anyone. He doubts the staff can even get in there without the owner’s access key.

He rounds the corner and finds a member of the housekeeping team, who jumps a bit when he clears his throat from behind her. He wonders if she even knew the room was there, and he makes a mental note to ask Alfred later.

“This,” he says, holding up the bag, “needs to get disposed of. Friend had a little bit of an accident and bled all over. Not exactly hygienic. And could we get another set of sheets?”

She looks confused, but after a moment reaches out to take the bag, dropping it in with the trash.

“I can come change it if you’d like,” she says, digging out a new change of sheets.

Slade shakes his head.

“Guy’s embarrassed,” he says. “Don’t think he wants anyone to see him. I can manage just fine.”

He takes the sheets and excuses himself, leaving the very confused housekeeper behind.

He makes sure the hotel door is firmly closed before he heads back into the room, and checks on Jason (still standing under the stream looking like he’s having a religious experience) before he goes to make the bed. It isn’t exactly hotel neat, but it’ll do, and once he’s done he pops back into the bathroom.

It feels good to be doing things. It feels good to be making progress.

“Alright,” he says. “Going to scrub you down. I’m not going to be nice about it either. You need to be clean before you’re back in that bed.”

He’s true to his word. He grabs the last of the cloths (should have gotten a stack when he got the sheets) and starts to scrub. He keeps going until Jason’s nice and pink. Jason’s starting to tilt though, leaning even more heavily against the bar, and his leg is starting to tremble from supporting so much of his weight.

“Alright,” Slade says, turning off the water. “Out you come.”

Jason’s unusually silent as Slade towels him off, helping him into some of the pajamas he bought for him. It’s only once he’s back in bed that he whimpers a bit, and Slade realizes--not for the first time--that he probably pushed too hard.

“Listen,” he says as he holds up a glass for Jason to drink from. “Next time I’m going too fast or pushing you too hard, you just tell me, alright?”

Jason has the exact reaction he expects: he glares up at him, pulls back from the glass, and then flips him off.

“I can handle this,” Jason says. “I’m not going to be bothered by a shower.”

“Uh-huh,” Slade says, pushing one of the books they bought into Jason’s hands. “Grayson said you liked to read, so I got you this.”

Slade expects a bit of happiness. Maybe a I didn’t think he remembered.

Instead he gets an annoyed look.

Sci-fi?” Jason asks, his scorn obvious. “You got me sci-fi? What about me makes you think I want to read about aliens and space adventures?”

Slade rolls his eye.

“Suck it up. It’s that or nothing.”

He doesn’t mention the second book still in his bag. Jason can get that one later.

Chapter Text

Slade lets Jason read. He seems to like it, despite Slade’s choice of book, and sinks back down into the bed, face buried in the book.

Slade is not much of a reader. He can, and he has, but he has other things to do. He grabs a protein bar and opts to do his standard no-equipment workout, just to keep himself from getting too rusty. But there’s not much that can be done, really.

It’s only after he’s done that he checks the cellphone that the bats left for him. It’s standard enough. Not a burner like he’s used to, but a proper smart phone. There’s a READ ME on the home screen, so he taps it and settles back to read.

It’s obviously written by Oracle, because it details the general features. Yes, it has internet. Yes, they can track it (he at least appreciates their honesty). Most interestingly is that no, no one else can track it. At least that isn’t so bad.

He finds a bunch of numbers already programmed in. Wayne Manor. Bruce, work. Bruce, personal. Bruce, night. He finds numbers for Alfred, Grayson, Drake, and Gordon listed.

He squints at that last one.

Eventually, he decides they probably mean Barbara, and he changes the name to match. Gordon, to him, is always going to be her old man.

It takes him a little bit to locate the note. A part of him wonders if Alfred just took it, but eventually he finds it tucked away under the sandwiches. He digs it out, cutting it open and pulling out the contents.

Another envelope (a letter within a letter?) and a single page of neat cursive font.

When Slade glances up, Jason isn’t reading. He’s staring at him across the room, watching what he’s doing and obviously interested in what the hell he has in his hands.

Slade ignores him and starts to read.

Even before he reaches the end, he knows it’s from Alfred. He’d be genuinely shocked if any of the other members of the extended family had such neat, precise handwriting. The contents are pretty much what he expected when he found a hand-written letter hidden in a cooler: Alfred thanks him for taking care of Jason, expresses a few of his worries (he’s not sure if or when he’ll be able to see Jason again), and fills him in on all the details Slade didn’t (and probably doesn't need to) know. Jason’s favorite food is chili dogs. He likes Neapolitan ice cream. His favorite color is green.

Slade wonders how many of those things are still true.

The end of the letter mentions the remaining envelope: a letter to Jason. It asks that Slade not read it, but instead turn it over intact.

There’s no way Alfred could know if he follows the instruction, but he carefully takes the still sealed envelope, heading over to Jason and dropping it on his lap.

He burns his own letter. He’s very firmly in the habit of not leaving that kind of evidence behind.

When Slade returns to the room, Jason is crying. It’s not the deep ugly cries of the day before, but soft sobs. He turns away, not letting Slade look at him, and Slade gives him his space, busying himself in the corner and letting Jason handle things on his own.

He takes inventory, noting what he’s going to need to replace. He cleans his guns. He makes a point of not turning around, even if it feels like he’s setting his own instincts on fire. He doesn’t like having his back to people. Even if Jason is, for the moment, mostly harmless.

He’d have to army crawl across the room to get a jump on Slade, which helps calm his nerves a bit.

“Slade,” Jason says from behind him, and Slade’s relieved he doesn’t have to keep pretending to be busy. He straightens up, turning around. Jason’s eyes are red, but he’s not crying anymore. The letter is clutched in his hand, neatly folded, and Slade tries to guess what he’s going to say. That he’s okay with seeing Alfred tomorrow?

“Let’s go back,” Jason says, firmly derailing all of Slade’s guesses.

“Back?” He asks, quirking an eyebrow.

“We don’t have a proper base here,” Jason says. “We can fall back to Argentina temporarily. Decide what to do from there.”

Oh goddamnit. Slade was just starting to settle in. Just starting to get used to things. And now Jason wants to bolt. Even though he literally offered him the option, he didn’t expect Jason to actually take it. There were signs, even before things went to hell. Indications that he cared for what he’d left behind. His protectiveness over Barbara. His attachment to Gotham.

The idea that he’s going to throw it all away seems wrong.

It isn’t an unworkable idea, though. If they move with the militia, they’ll get top dollar for it. Slade doesn’t think he’d stay around too long--just enough for one big job--but the money would be good. Jason would probably be able to adjust. He’d make do. He has all the skills. Maybe being away from Gotham would be better.

But Slade can’t bring himself to really believe that Jason would ever be happy like that. Alone and isolated. Doing work for cash the way Slade has always done. He’d make a good protege. A good successor. But Jason wouldn’t be happy.

“Slade?” Jason prompts, and Slade’s head snaps up.

Slade takes a deep breath and then exhales, centering himself. This is the job. This is what he’s getting paid for. Sometimes that means helping people make stupid decisions.

“Alright,” Slade says. “But I’m going to tell you right now, because it’d bother me if I didn’t. You’d be smarter to stay here. To see where things go.”

Jason’s eyes narrow.

“Are you going to do it?” He asks.

“That’s why you’re paying me the big bucks,” Slade says, and starts to get to work.

Chapter Text

He leaves the cooler and the phone the bats gave him. He packs some of his bulkier supplies in a duffel bag, and then heads downstairs via the elevator. There’s no one he can see waiting in the parking lot, but that doesn’t mean he’s not being watched. He climbs in, counting on the fact that they can’t see the back, and empties the duffel bag into the van. Then he uses a few strips of plastic to bulk out the duffel bag, making it look fuller as he leaves the van, heading back.

If anyone is watching, they’ll think he was getting something, not dumping stuff out.

It’s difficult to dump the rest into a duffel bag. He uses his clothes to pack the gear, dumping all but one of his burners by the TV. He mourns the loss of his whiskey, but is forced to leave it by the TV.

He’s going to have to get out, toss his bag into the van, and load Jason in before the bats notice. The timing is going to be tight, but he’s counting on the fact that the bats seem to have gotten complacent. He told Grayson he wasn’t going to run, after all.

It wasn’t a lie at the time, but he’s not sure Grayson’s going to believe that. Slade isn’t delusional enough to believe it’s the last time he’ll see them. One day he’s going to run into Grayson again, and on that day he’s going to have to make real sure he’s in top form.

“Alright,” Slade says. “Everything packed. If you want a sandwich for the road, you’re going to have to carry it yourself,” he says. He glances over Jason, frowning at the realization, and lets out a sigh.

“Alright,” Slade says. “Are you going to just let me carry you, or are you going to insist on hobbling?” He sure as fuck hopes he’s not. Someone else might have struggled with carrying someone as large as Jason--he’s no kid as far as size is concerned--but Slade is not someone else. He’s stronger than any human should be. He can punch holes in brick walls easily. And he can absolutely lift Jason, assuming he’s not going to spend all his time struggling and squirming around. The only difficulty is getting a good grip.

Jason obviously has had the same realization, because he looks deeply unhappy.

“...You can carry me,” he finally says.

Slade doesn’t waste time. Every minute they waste is another chance that the bats are going to show up. He does not want to get into a high speed car chase while driving a van he picked for its storage capacity.

He throws the duffel bag over his shoulder, hooks one arm under Jason’s legs, and wraps the other around his back. He can tell he’s hurting Jason by the way Jason screws up his face, clearly making a conscious effort not to show it, but either Jason’s gotten worse at hiding it, or he’s gotten better at noticing it.

“Just hold on,” he says. “We’ll be downstairs soon.”

In another situation he’d have torched the room to destroy any trace evidence, but he decides against it. He doesn’t have the time for it, for one. For another, he kind of feels like it’d be spitting in Bruce’s face more than he already is.

Slade takes a deep breath when the elevator reaches the bottom. He’s going to have to be fast and lucky, and neither of those play well with the pained noises Jason is trying to prevent himself from making.

Slade gets to the car, drops Jason in the passenger seat, tosses the duffel bag into the back, and is out of the parking lot inside of a minute. Even with no cameras on the exit, he’s sure that Oracle’s watching cameras around it. He’s sure they already know he’s pulled out. Do they think he left Jason? Or do they think they’re both making a getaway? It won’t be long before they figure out. Grayson’s probably already on his way, all his suspicions suddenly confirmed.

They drive in silence. Slade doesn’t know Gotham as well as the bats, but it’s an easy drive, and he knows their objective. Head up to the airport. Loop around the back. Tell the guy he knows Lou. Get herded into a storage facility. Get smuggled out of Gotham.

Once they’re out of Gotham, catching a flight is easy. The Bat has a far reach, but he’s not going to be able to do anything once they’re off in DC or Tucson.

Slade half wonders if Jason’s asleep, but every time he checks, Jason’s eyes are open, fixed on the road ahead of them.

It’s a forty minute drive, and Slade makes it in thirty. He pulls around into the right parking spot, and he has his hand on the door handle when Jason clears his throat.

Slade pauses.

Oh no.

“What?” He asks, fully turning his body so he can actually look at Jason. Of all the ways his missing eye bothers him, not being able to see his passenger at all is definitely near the top of the list.

Jason looks... odd. Guilty? Something in that general area.

“We should go back.”

“Oh hell,” Slade snaps. “Do not fucking tell me this was all a test to see if I was loyal to you.”

If it is, Slade’s sorely considering tossing Jason out on his ass right there in the parking lot and leaving by himself. He’s shot a hole into the uneasy alliance he has with the bats. He’s painted a target on his back. And if this was all some test...

“No,” Jason blurts. “It's - it wasn’t a test.” 

He seems less sure of himself. Younger. Almost afraid. Slade suspects he wasn’t expecting that kind of reaction from him. Slade rarely raises his voice, and while he’s willing to banter, it’s not often he gets really mad. 

He wonders if Jason has suddenly become aware of the fact that he’s in close quarters with a man who could snap his neck before he could so much as raise his hands.

He wouldn’t. Slade knows that. But he wonders if Jason does as he takes a nice, deep breath, calming his nerves. He’s overly tense, and he needs to not be. He still dreams that one day he’s going to get to have a serious fight with the Bat again, but not like this with so many disadvantages stacked against him.

Joseph was so much easier than this. He didn’t push Slade so hard. He didn’t test his limits.

“Jason,” Slade says. “While you probably don’t believe me, I’m not going to hurt you.” Maybe it needs saying, even if Slade doesn’t think it should. “I am just... very... frustrated that you tested my loyalty. Especially in a way like this.”

He’s gripping the steering wheel too hard, and he makes himself take his hands off it.

Jason’s voice seems small when he speaks again.

“It... it wasn’t a test,” Jason says. “I just... had to know it was an option. That I could get away, if I really wanted to.”

Slade should have realized. He should have made the connection. Jason’s whole life--especially since the Clown got him, but maybe even before that--has really just been defined by that single idea. That he has freedom. That he can make his own decisions. How many of his choices weren’t choices at all, just things he did to prove to himself that it wasn’t happening, that he was free? That he was... what was it? That he was no one’s puppet. That he was his own man. That he could make his own goddamn decisions.

Slade sighs, tipping his head forward until he feels the cool leather of the steering wheel on his forehead.

“Kid,” Slade says. “I get it. I do. So just give me a bit to adjust to the fact that I’m going to have to explain this to the bats when we get back, alright?”

He’s not sure if he can. He’s pretty sure Grayson’s going to jump kick him the moment they get within ten feet of each other. He’s going to have to deal with each and every one of them and they’re all going to fucking think it was him, aren’t they?

It feels like someone’s planted a wall between him and Jason.

Jason is silent behind him for the three minutes it takes for him to pull himself together, make some more plans, and finally sit back up.

“Alright,” he says, shifting the van into reverse. “Let’s get back before they call the national guard on me.”

Chapter Text

Slade’s absolute worst nightmare is that he’ll spot the batmobile in his rear-view mirror before they make it back. There are a lot of reasons for that, but really it comes down to a few simple ones. One: he isn’t in his armor. He’s wearing the same sweater he wore to the mall and a pair of jeans. Two: the van he’s driving is built for storage and transport, not car chases. It isn’t going to hold up to a hard bump, let alone getting rammed. Three: even if he’ll survive a car flip, Jason probably won’t.

Slade isn’t used to having to worry about things like this. He isn’t used to having to give a shit. If it was just him he’d step on the gas and be gone. If Bruce tries to flip him, let him try.

He’s holding the wheel so tight his knuckles have gone white by the time they pull back into the parking lot.

He’s faced, almost immediately, with something very close to the worst case scenario. It isn’t quite the worst, but he immediately spots Drake’s car and Grayson’s bike parked just beside the entrance to the elevator.

He smoothly pulls into the very same parking space he left, right in the blind spot of the camera, and things go from bad to worse.

Batman--not Bruce, because he’s in full costume--is standing in front of the elevator, having what looks like a heated argument with Nightwing. The moment they spot Slade’s headlights, they stop, staring at the car.

Slade turns his head, and Jason’s gone still. Can they even see him? Maybe. Probably not. But Jason’s frozen up, his breathing coming fast and fluttery.

He ignores his bag, cuts the ignition, and takes a breath.

“I’ll get you right inside,” Slade says. “You don’t have to talk with them.” He’s going to have to talk to them, but Jason shouldn’t have to.

Jason doesn’t give him a response. He’s beyond responding, his eyes unfocused. He’s hyperventilating. Or nearly there, anyway.

Slade lets himself out, hyper aware of the fact that Batman and Nightwing are maybe ten feet away from him, all their attention on him.

Maybe they’ll hold off if he’s holding Jason. He sure as fuck hopes they’ll hold off, because he’s doing his best to keep things under control for Jason’s sake, and if they decide to brawl he’s going to stop trying.

He loops around to the passenger side, popping the door open and gathering Jason in his arms. The kid’s only reaction is to curl, his breathing so fast that Slade’s not convinced he’s getting much air. It’s the sort of thing where he knows he should stop, sit him down, and try and help calm his breathing.

But he doesn’t want to. If he passes out, things will probably be easier. Easier on him, but also easier on Jason. Jason doesn’t want to see him. Even if Slade’s done a lot to help him realize that Bruce didn’t abandon him, that doesn’t mean he’s suddenly alright with him. It doesn’t mean he’s ready to see Batman.

Things would be different if he was okay. It’d be different if he was in his armor, with a gun in his hand. But he’s not. He can’t walk, can’t defend himself, and he’s sure that Jason feels powerless.

Slade doesn’t stop as he heads to the elevator. Nightwing steps out of the way, his expression mixed, but Batman doesn’t do the same. Slade simply knocks into him, effectively elbowing him out of the way as he pops open the elevator doors, steps in, and closes the doors behind him.

Jason’s hyperventilated himself into unconsciousness. His panic is so great his body’s literally turned itself off to avoid dealing with the situation, and Slade makes sure his head is propped up as he heads into the room.

Robin’s there. He’s inspecting something by the dresser when Slade shoves the door open with his foot, his mouth a little o of surprise.

“Out,” Slade says, and it takes Robin about a half a second to register the order.

Then he goes, brushing past Slade.

He settles Jason into bed, checking his breathing and his pulse, and then takes a moment, sagging against the headboard.

He’s going to have to go out and talk to them. He’s going to have to go out and explain. He sure as hell doesn’t want to, but he’s going to have to.

If not for his own sake, then for Jason's. Slade tries to close his eye and focus. He tries to think back. He combs his fingers through Jason’s hair, trying to pull himself back in time, to remember what it was like, but he can’t. Whatever memories he had with Joseph are all but gone. It’s been too long.

He’s spent every day since he started feeling things trying to convince himself that it wasn’t happening. And when he had to accept that it was, he’d tried to pretend that it was all about Joseph. That if he did things right with Jason, it would be like he’d never screwed up with Joseph.

But he can’t pretend that anymore. Jason is Jason. He’s not Joseph. He’s too different, the situations too dissimilar. And no matter what happens with him, it won’t change what happened to Joseph.

Slade makes himself take a deep breath. It would be so easy to leave. It would be so easy to walk away. No one knows enough about the situation to care. There’s not a person in the world who’d blame him for cutting his losses with a job like this. There’s not a person in the world who’d even know he’d cut his losses.

But he can’t make himself leave. He can’t make himself walk out. He doesn’t know if Jason needs him, but he can’t just leave him.

Things were so much easier when he didn’t care.

Chapter Text

Slade is not surprised when he opens the door to find the entire goddamn colony of bats standing right outside. He almost immediately regrets not putting on his armor, because all of them look varying levels of serious and/or angry. Nightwing looks like he’s having to hold himself back from swinging. Batman looks as serious as he always does when he’s working. Robin looks outraged.

But it’s Batman who acts first. He surges forward, and as fast as Slade is, his options are limited in such close quarters, surrounded on all sides by bats. It’s a losing situation. He can’t even see Robin unless he turns his head. He’s regretting going outside already. He should have stayed in the room.

Batman grabs his sweater, hauling him back before slamming him against the door. He actually lifts Slade, leaving his feet dangling.

Slade knows he could break his grip. It would be easy. The gauntlets that Batman uses aren’t strong enough to stand up against his strength. He could crush them and Batman’s wrists, and he considers it a testament to his self-control that he doesn’t, although he does reach up, grabbing Batman’s wrists so that if he does drop him, he’ll have a bit more leverage.

“Are you going to put me down,” Slade asks, “or am I going to have to break your wrists?”

At least he’s given some warning. That means he’s in the clear, right?

“Going to break my wrists like you broke Jason’s leg?” Batman says, and Slade knows he’s angry because he’s using the Batman voice. Lower. More growly. Less dignified.

It’s pointless, considering Slade already knows who he is. Which just makes him wonder about the end game. They can’t arrest him. Throwing him in jail would be begging for him to plaster their identities everywhere. He’d say they’ll just kill him, but they’re bats. They don’t do killing. It’s always been their greatest failing.

Batman pulls his hands back slightly before slamming Slade’s back up against the door again. It’s sheer intimidation, the sort of thing that would probably work on a low level thug, but Slade isn’t cowed. He barely feels it. He’s had so much worse.

“Come on Bruce,” he goads. “Go on. I’m sure you want to fuck me up.” Slade’s blood is rushing. He’s ready. If this is going to be a fight, it’ll be a fight. Can he take care of them while keeping them out of the room? Maybe not all three. He’ll have to count on-

“Bruce,” Robin says. No, Drake. His domino is off, apparently removed during the time he was in Slade’s blind spot. He steps forward, effectively inserting himself between the two of them, practically forcing Batman to drop him.

He does. Slade doesn’t even stumble as he hits the ground. He’s done this before. And he’s not half as intimidated as the people who Batman normally shakes down.

“Bruce,” Drake says again. “We can talk this out. We know you’re mad, and I’m mad too, but let's give him a chance to explain himself, alright?”

Nightwing hasn’t said anything. The Batman cowl hides most of Bruce’s expression, but Nightwing’s doesn’t do much for him. Slade can see how tense his jaw is, how tight he must be clenching his teeth. 

“Explain,” Batman says, leaning in again. “Quickly.” 

Slade considers not, just to see if he’ll take a swing at him. He seems on the edge of it. Like one more punch and he’ll lose it. It’s obvious to Slade that Batman is barely in control. 

He’s more concerned about the possibility of upsetting Jason than Batman’s anger.

“Jason was testing his boundaries. He’s worried about being trapped. I simply demonstrated that he wasn’t trapped, and we could make a run for it any time we wanted. Now he’s calm.”

“He was hyperventilating,” Batman snaps.

Bruce,” Drake hisses. “Step back.”

He’s actually between them now. Slade’s literally looking at Batman over the top of Drake’s head. Slade’s now firmly of the opinion that he didn’t give Drake enough credit, because he certainly wasn’t expecting him to insert himself between the two of them like that. It’s putting him in the crossfire. If either of them swings, he’s going to be the one hit.

Drake’s certainly got a pair on him.

Nightwing steps up, grabbing at Batman’s arm and physically pulling him back. He reaches up himself, pulling his mask off.

“Bruce,” he says. “This isn’t a masks thing. We don’t have to go chasing him down. This is just... this is a conversation. He’s in a sweater, for god’s sake.”

Slade suddenly feels confident about his choice to not wear his armor for once.

“He’s a hitman,” Batman says, making no move to pull back his cowl. “He’s killed five people that we know of in the last week.”

Six, Slade mentally corrects.

“Bruce,” Grayson says. “So has Jason.”

Batman reacts like he’s been slapped. His head turns, grimacing. He doesn’t want to think about it, obviously, and hearing it is even worse.

“That’s something we’re going to have to deal with,” Drake says, “but not right now.”

There’s a small pause, and then Grayson steps forward. He’s talking to the group, but his eyes are on Slade.

“Right now is about making sure that Jason’s safe and healthy. And if Slade says that Jason needed to do this to feel safe, then I believe him.”

Slade isn’t quite sure what he’s done to inspire this kind of trust and loyalty. Is it because he was straight with him? Because he gave him that harsh truth?

At the very least he’s calmed down.

There are several long seconds of staring, and then finally, Batman deflates. He reaches up, pushing off his cowl, and exposing his face. He looks tired. The anger’s all gone.

“He’s fine?” He asks quietly.

“A bit more banged up than I’d like,” Slade says. “Your roads are kind of shitty out here.”

“Where did you even go?” Grayson asks.

“That one’s staying with me,” Slade says. “The point is that he knows we can get away. That the option's open. The option stops being open if I tell you about it.”

Bruce grunts, but he doesn’t demand to know.

“One of you,” Slade says, “needs to call Alfred and let him know.” He isn’t delusional enough to believe he doesn’t already know.

“He knows,” Drake says. “I called him and Barb while you were in the room.”

That comes as a relief, because it means he has a clear answer when Jason wakes up and wants to know what’s going on.

“So, we’re done?” Slade asks, and Bruce grimaces.

“We’re not done,” Bruce says. “We have nothing other than your word that he’s alright. Someone needs to talk to him that isn’t you.”

Slade can’t entirely blame him for wanting to external verification. It’s hostage situations 101: talk to the hostage directly. Jason isn’t his hostage, but the same principles apply.

“Not you,” Slade says. “Alfred. He offered lunch, and I imagine Jason would be alright with him coming in to deliver it. They can talk then.”

He pauses for a moment, and then fixes Bruce’s eyes with his own.

“But if Jason says he wants Alfred out, I’m kicking him out. What he says goes. He’s calling the shots.”

“That’s fine,” Grayson says before Bruce can reply. “We’ll let Alfred know.”

He plants a hand on Bruce’s chest and starts to push him back towards the elevator, a gesture that Drake joins in on. He so obviously doesn’t want to go, but his two wards are actively working against him, and finally he relents, turning away.

Slade’s relieved to be able to head back into the room and leave the bats behind.

Chapter Text

Jason is not in bed.

He sees it the moment he steps inside. The sheets are pulled back, the bed empty. His heart doesn’t react, but his head does, every bit of adrenaline his body holds suddenly coming into play. Someone’s taken him. Someon-

He doesn’t get to finish his thought. The two steps he’s taken out on autopilot have taken him past the bed, and revealed Jason, awake and furious looking, lying on the floor.

He’s tried to get up, Slade realizes. He’s tried to balance himself and not been able to, and now he’s fallen. He’s half leaning against the bed, obviously trying to get back in, and his face is wet with tears.

They’re angry tears. Slade can tell, and he moves over, reaching down to wrap his arms under Jason’s armpits and pulling him to his feet. He allows him the dignity, at least, of crawling back into bed himself.

“You could have wrecked your leg,” Slade says. “You’re goddamn lucky you didn’t.”

Jason turns his head away, what might have remained of his dignity firmly dented. Slade’s having a hard time imagining how frustrated he must be. He’s never been in a situation like that, never been so helpless.

No, he corrects: he’s been helpless once. But he had other things to distract him, and Jason doesn’t.

“You should have stayed in bed,” Slade says anyway, because it’s something Jason needs to hear. If he pushes himself, he’s going to make it worse. If he pushes too hard, he’s going to lose his chance of ever running again.

“I heard a noise,” Jason says. He’s still angry, the frustration showing on his face. “Something was hitting the door.”

The room’s soundproof, but that isn’t going to stop him from hearing Bruce slamming Slade’s back into the door, apparently.

“Me,” he says. “I’m fine.” He won’t even have any bruises from it, because they’ll have healed faster than they can form. The same isn’t true for Jason. He’s got plenty of bruises, the most prominent being the ones on his face and running down his neck.

Slade wonders for a bit what might help, and decides it’s worth a try. He gets up, leaving Jason to resettle himself on the bed, and goes to dig through his supplies.

When he returns, it’s with the Arkham Knight helmet he took from the base. A prototype, he figures, but close enough. He holds it out to Jason, who doesn’t even hesitate to snatch it out of Slade’s hands, pulling it on with practiced motions.

He looks ridiculous, dressed in pajamas with the helmet slapped on top, but it seems to have the desired effect. Jason relaxes, the tension easing out of his shoulders almost immediately as he sinks back into the pillow.

It’s a crutch, Slade recognizes, but there’s no shame in using a crutch when something’s broken.

“What happened?” The Knight asks, his voice modulator kicking in by default. It throws Slade off a bit, but he catches himself. Nothing’s changed.

“Had to talk to the bats,” Slade says. “They wanted answers. Pretty sure they were working under the assumption that I’d kidnapped you.”

Jason laughs, and it’s a strange, hollow sound through the modulator.

“Alfred’s coming tomorrow,” Slade says. “He’s going to bring us lunch. Something he’s made.”

Jason doesn’t turn away, which Slade considers good. That’s progress. He’s still looking at him, his face impossible to read behind the mask.

“They’re worried about you, you know,” he adds. “Barbara and him.”

He doesn’t mention the others. He doesn’t need to hear about how they’re reacting. He doesn’t need to even be reminded they exist.

“Barbara...” the Knight says, momentarily unfocused.

“We could get her in here too,” Slade says. “Elevator’s wheelchair accessible.”

The Knight shakes his head.

“Later,” Slade says. Not too fast, he reminds himself. Just because he’d probably be dying for some friendly human contact doesn’t mean Jason is.

There’s a long silence, and Slade takes it as a chance to go get food. He collects a Jason sandwich, and then second guesses himself and goes for soup. It reheats well once he puts it in the provided microwave-safe dish, and he brings the whole thing over to Jason before going back to get some for himself.

He pours himself a glass of whiskey, picks out two of the sandwiches, and drags the chair over so that he can sit beside the Knight without having to actually sit on the bed.

He produces two pills, holding them up.

“Take them,” he says. “Toughing through how sore you are isn’t going to make things better.”

When Jason flips his helmet up, he’s obviously unhappy, but he does take the painkillers before he starts to eat.

Slade drinks his whiskey, leaning back in his chair and letting his eye drift closed. He’s asleep before he knows it.

Chapter Text

Slade wakes at the slightest noise, and the noises that Jason are making aren’t slight. He clears his throat. He coughs. They’re forced, intentional things, and when Slade cracks his eye open, he isn’t surprised to see Jason sitting up, staring at him from the bed.

He is surprised to see that the helmet is off. A quick glance confirms it’s still there, settled on the far side of Jason’s bed within easy grabbing distance, but he’s not wearing it.

Slade decides that it’s progress, even if small.

“I need to pee,” Jason says. “And I figured you’d kick my ass if I tried to make it there myself.”

They need to get the kid a crutch. He makes a note of that for later. For the moment, he’s more relieved to see that Jason’s a bit less shaky. He’s more together. He’s less terrified. He has at least a bit of the confidence he has as the Knight back, even without the helmet.

Slade helps him out of bed, letting Jason put his weight on him, and then leaves him leaning against the wall as he steps outside. In the time it takes for him to step away to grab himself a drink, Jason slams open the door and furiously hobbles back to bed.

Slade scowls, and Jason scowls right back.

“It’s easier once I’m already up,” he says, and Slade rolls his eye.

“You’re going to tear your stitches, and then you’re going to bleed all over, and then I’m going to have to stitch you up.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” Jason says.

Slade rolls his shoulders, stretching out as he considers if he wants to do it.

He’s going to have to. Now seems as good a time as any.

“I’m selling the militia’s contract,” he says. “Already contacted a broker about it. They’ll find a new boss. You’ll get your money back.”

Jason looks hurt. His eyes drift, his shoulders sagging. He’s so much easier to read without the armor. Slade thought he was pretty good at reading him before, but it’s only now that he can compare that he realizes how much of a difference there is.

“I know it’s not about the money,” Slade says, even though he knows no such thing. “But they’ll get good work. Your training will get good use. Because no matter what you decide to do about your revenge, it’s not going to be happening on Halloween.”

It’s a hard truth. All their planning, all their preparation, all their training has been for nothing. Jason’s maybe change of heart doesn’t even matter. Even if he was still all steam ahead on destroying the Bat, it still wouldn’t matter.

The damage to his leg means he’d never have a chance.

Slade’s brought the mood down by bringing it up, but it had to come up eventually.

“Fine,” Jason says. “We can always start over.”

Which is a good sign he hasn’t entirely abandoned the idea of killing the Bat.

Slade isn’t sure how he feels about that. But it isn’t his decision to make. He debates bringing up the other half of the plan, and then decides against it. Slade doesn’t need to bother him with the details. Jason trusts him. There are a lot of reasons for why he took the position as Jason’s right hand, but a significant part of it was that he didn’t hassle Jason with details.

He tries to make it better. He fetches another slice of banana bread, sliding it over to Jason along with the other book he got.

Jason squints at the title, some kind of adult fiction that Slade couldn’t even identify a genre for. He skims the first few pages, and then squints at Slade, obviously questioning his choices.

“It was, according to the shelf, the number one best seller,” Slade says, feeling slightly defensive. It’s not like he reads fiction. And yet Jason’s obviously judging him anyway.

“Thanks,” Jason finally says, and buries his nose in the book. He seems almost embarrassed, which throws Slade off.

Slade goes to find the phone the Bats left for him, and finally makes use of it. He weighs the pros and cons between Bruce, night and Bruce, personal before settling on night, deciding it’s probably a euphemism for Bruce, Cowl.

He’s amused when he sends a text and his name auto-completes as Deathstroke. He guesses it’s Oracle’s work, because when he double checks things, it isn’t a normal text message. It looks like it, but it seems to be going through another system entirely.

He’s underestimated Oracle again.

He gets a laugh when Bruce’s response comes through as Batman, the replies coming in rapid fire.

Deathstroke: Active now?

Batman: I’m at work. Is everything alright?

Deathstroke: Fine. Have information for you.

He ponders doing it face to face, but decides text is better.

Deathstroke: Need a crutch. Smaller and mobile is better.

Batman: I’ll send one with A.

Deathstroke: Have locations for Cobblepot, Dent, Crane, and Quinn.

Batman: What?

Slade takes a moment just to imagine what Bruce’s face must look like. He likes to think his eyes are probably bugging out of his head. How long has he been trying to track them down without succeeding?

Deathstroke: What I said. Have locations.

Batman: Current locations?

Deathstroke: Main bases. Secondary hideouts. Have to hit simultaneously.

Deathstroke: Extra allies would be helpful.

Batman: Are you inviting yourself in exchange for this information?

Deathstroke: No. Staying here. Simply giving advice.

He’s pretty sure he’s driven Bruce up the wall with suspicion, but his information is good, and he starts listing out locations. He keeps it brief and to the point, minimizing any possible miscommunications.

He’s sure Bruce is dying to ask why he’s handing the information over, but he doesn’t.

Batman: I’ll keep you updated.

Bruce doesn’t send any more messages, and Slade considers his next steps for a moment before he finally picks himself up, stepping over to the bed.

Jason looks up from the book suspiciously.

“You’re up to something,” Jason mutters.

“A bit,” Slade says. “I wanted to take your picture.”

Jason’s suspicion is immediately cranked up to a hundred. He squints, snapping the book shut.

“Why?”

“I don’t have any,” Slade says. “And people have expressed interest. Remember, most of them haven’t actually seen you conscious.”

He’s expecting him to say no. To reject the entire idea out of hand. But instead Jason seems to mull it over, his eyes shifting around the room.

“Do you think I should?” He finally asks, looking at Slade for an answer.

Slade’s surprised he’s asking, and even though he’s the one who asked, he stops to think about it anyway.

“Yes,” he finally says. “If nothing else, it’s good to have a record. So you can see how you recover over time. There’s no harm in it anyway.”

Technology to age people up is a lot better than it used to be. There have to be enough old photos of Jason lying around that they could make a good enough facsimile anyway.

He has too many defining features to be undercover for long.

“Then get my good side,” he says. Slade knows what he means, but doesn’t feel the need to point out to Jason that his good side has a massive bruise. What matters is that he doesn’t have a brand on it.

Slade wonders if Bruce even knows about the brand. Has anyone told him? Maybe. Maybe not.

Jason turns his head, and Slade takes the picture. He doesn’t make Jason pose for it, which means it ends up pretty neutral, but it’s a good enough picture. It shows him as he is, rather than how someone might want him to be seen.

He leaves Jason to his book and goes back to the phone.

He sends the photo to Bruce, and after a moment’s thought, sends it to everyone else. Barbara, Alfred, Grayson, and even Drake get the photo, and each has a different response. Barbara chatters excitedly. Grayson comments on the bruise. Drake tells him it’s a ‘good photo’. Alfred doesn’t reply directly to the photo, but instead asks him if he has any requests for lunch.

Bruce takes the longest to reply, so long that when, almost an hour later, his phone lights up, Slade is surprised he even bothered.

Batman: Thank you.

Chapter Text

Jason’s reaction to the knock at the door is the best indicator of what’s to come. There’s immediate tension in his shoulders, and he stares down at the page, eyes no longer moving.

“You sure about this...?” Slade asks. It’s still not too late. He could still send Alfred away.

Jason doesn’t speak, but he does nod. So he’s going to go through with it, even though the idea is clearly causing him anxiety.

Scratch that. ‘Anxiety’ might be too mild a descriptor.

Slade gets the door. Alfred is alone, with a pair of crutches in his hand, and a picnic basket held on his arm.

“Hopefully I’m not too early,” he says. “I wasn’t sure what time you usually ate.”

“I don’t have a schedule,” Slade says. “I eat when there's food.”

He steps back, letting Alfred into the room, and notes the way the other man pauses. The way he has to force himself to step inside.

It’s a big deal to him, and it shows.

Slade considers leaving. Just excusing himself and letting the two have their reunion. But his paranoia runs too deep. He can’t risk the bats having decided to take Jason with them. He can’t risk that Alfred is a trojan horse, accepted into the room without protest.

He pulls away, settling into a chair in the corner of the room, and tries to read. He can’t, of course. His eye keeps losing its place on the page as he surreptitiously glances up.

“Master Jason...” Alfred says, pulling off his hat and holding it to his chest like an old English gentleman. There are tears in his eyes, and his voice sounds softer than usual when he speaks. “It’s good to see you.”

Alfred has already seen Jason, even if he was unconscious at the time. It helps smooth things over. There’s no reaction to the J on his face, or his general appearance, beyond Alfred muttering to himself over the bruise on his face and how purple it’s gotten. He takes a seat on the edge of the bed, close enough to Jason to touch without actually touching, and Slade can only half see what they’re doing.

He ponders if moving his seat three feet to the right would be too obvious, and decides the answer is a firm yes. He stays put.

But even from where he sits, he can see the way Alfred handles it. Slade can’t decide if he’s handled a similar situation, or if he’s just read up on what to do. He doesn’t reach out to touch Jason. Instead he lays his hand flat on the sheets, giving Jason space to make the first move. Jason does, laying his hand on Alfred’s own.

Jason’s also crying. Slade can’t see it, but he can hear it. It’s a sound he’s gotten too used to.

“Alfie,” he says, sounding so much more like a child than he usually does.

Jason sags forward, and Slade sees that he’s resting his forehead against Alfred’s shoulder, his face buried in the other man’s chest.

“It is... it is so good to see you again. To know that you’re alright,” Alfred says, gently laying his arms across Jason’s back. It’s an intimate moment, private and deeply personal, and Slade tries his best to turn his attention back to the book he was supposed to be reading. He can no longer remember what was happening in the story.

“I brought your lunch,” Alfred says. “All your favorites. And a - I brought a little cake for you. Because it was your birthday. Master Richard said it was a bad idea, and that it might be too overwhelming, but I wanted to celebrate it anyway.”

Alfred’s rubbing slow circles on Jason’s back, physically propping him up, and every so often, seemingly without even noticing it, he says good to have you back under his breath like it’s a mantra.

Slade wonders if they’re not catching up because he’s there, but then decides it’s probably just a general avoidance. The past is sad. There’s too many pitfalls and accidents waiting to happen, so it’s better to stay in the present, where it’s just the two of them.

Alfred waits until Jason’s caught himself enough to pull back before he gets up, heading over to where he’s dropped the things he brought.

“Mister Wilson requested we bring you crutches to aid in your mobility, although I would strongly encourage you to stay in bed longer. You really shouldn’t be out and about,” Alfred says, his tone of voice making it extremely clear that he’s aware of the odds of that happening.

For more or less the first time since the conversation started, Alfred spins his head around, and only Slade’s training keeps him from jumping like a guilty student who’s just been caught peeking at someone else’s test.

“Would you like to join us?”

He does.

He helps haul over a table and some chairs for him and Alfred, setting them up by shifting the bed a few feet to the left. Alfred laughs a bit at that, light and polite, and admits he wasn’t sure if the bed could be moved.

“Heavy,” Slade says, “but not unmovable.”

Alfred’s packed enough food to feed an army. There’s absolutely no way the three of them could eat it all, and yet Alfred continues to pull more food out. Slade grabs some brisket while Jason inspects things, and Slade catches himself staring when Alfred produces... something.

Slade can’t really recognize it. Some kind of bread and meat and... beans?

“Gourmet chili dogs,” Alfred says. “I thought arriving with the ones from the Knight’s stadium might be a bit unusual, so I endeavored to create something better... and a bit healthier.”

Jason’s crying again, and Slade does his best to look away. It feels more personal this time, playing off things he doesn’t understand. There’s probably some significance to the fact that Alfred brought him a very fancy looking chili dog, or maybe to the ones at the Gotham Knights' stadium, but he doesn’t get it.

“Did you have any particular favorites?” Alfred asks, and suddenly it’s all eyes on him. Jason’s in the middle of mauling his way through the offered chili dog, but even so he’s staring up at him, eyes attentive.

Slade swallows down his food, considering.

“Eggs,” he says after a bit. “Over easy, scrambled, hard boiled, sunny side up... I eat a lot of diner food, and eggs tend to be the best. Everyone has their favorite way of preparing them. Good variety.”

Alfred seems pleased with his answer.

“Have you had a scotch egg?”

Slade has absolutely no idea. He’s eaten a lot of stuff over the years, and doesn’t remember even half of it. But he suspects the better answer would be no, so that’s what he says.

“Can’t say I have.”

“Perfect,” Alfred says. “Now I know what to make when you come for a visit.”

When he comes for a visit. Alfred has just, very casually, invited him over to the manor and assumed he’ll come. It wasn’t a question, just a statement of fact. Eventually, he’s coming over.

Fantastic, just what he needs.

Chapter Text

Slade keeps waiting for it to go wrong.

It seems like an inevitability that it will. That things will go horribly, awfully wrong. That they’ll derail.

He keeps waiting through the rest of lunch, and expects something to happen when Alfred pulls out a small birthday cake for Jason. He expects it when they talk, and when there’s silence, and when someone looks at someone else too long.

The fact that Alfred keeps the conversation topics light doesn’t change the fact that eventually he’s going to stumble into the wrong thing.

Jason asks how the Knights are doing, and Alfred is happy to give him all the stats. Slade suspects Jason already knows how his apparently-favorite-sports-team is doing, but just wants to hear the old man talk. Alfred talks about the gardening he’s been doing, and about a new recipe he’s been trying, and about a book he was reading.

He seems to be being extra careful, bouncing between topic to topic.

Jason doesn’t talk about himself. When he does, it’s only the lightest things. Alfred asks if he’s been eating well, and Jason admits he doesn’t cook much before launching another question back. Alfred asks if he reads much, and Jason says he doesn’t have the time before asking about something else.

Slade notices, and he’s sure Alfred notices too.

But after almost an hour--during which Slade tries to clean away the leftovers only to have Alfred swat his hands away so he can do it himself--Jason finally asks a real question.

“How’s Barbara?”

There’s an immediate tension in the air.

“She’s doing well,” Alfred says. “She’s retired from being Batgirl, but her skill with electronics has only increased. She is quite proficient in... well, almost anything that has to do with a computer.”

Jason already knows every word of what was shared, but he nods along anyway as if he doesn’t.

“She was quite helpful during the disaster at Arkham City,” Alfred adds. “Her father is aware of her work now, and I think it would be hotly debated over who’s more worried about the other. I suspect her father would insist he’s more worried about her, while Miss Gordon would argue she’s more worried about him.”

Jason doesn’t look focused. His eyes are drifting, and Slade does what he can to pull him back to the present.

“She could probably come by soon, right?” Slade asks. “That’d be nice.”

He doesn’t know if it’d be nice. But he’ll say anything to try and pull Jason out of it.

“No,” Jason says, his eyes drifting down. “I don’t... she almost got hurt.”

Oh fucking hell. Slade knows where this conversation is going.

“Jason,” he starts, but gets almost immediately cut off. Jason’s gone from mournful to agitated in the flip of a switch, his eyes wide, posture aggressive even sitting down.

“No!” He yells. “They have to - we have to tell them. We need to tell them before someone gets hurt. What if Barbara gets hurt? What if Alfred does?”

“Jas-” Slade tries to interrupt again, keenly aware of how alarmed Alfred looks.

“No! We can’t - we can’t hide it, they’re going to-”

He’s working himself into a full panic attack. All the signs are there, the way he’s yelling, the way he’s gesturing, and Slade does what he can to shut it down. Slade surges forward, pressing his hand over Jason’s mouth, and makes him listen.

“Jason,” he says. “You don’t have to worry about it. I already took care of it. None of it is going to happen. The plan’s gone.”

Jason recoils from the touch, but it has the desired effect. It makes his panic falter just long enough to hear what’s happening. When Slade pulls his hand away, it’s obvious that Jason’s still there, right on the edge, but it’s not getting any worse.

“What?” He asks, looking confused more than panicky.

“I already told the bats where to find them. They have all the information they need, and they’ll get them. The plan isn’t going to happen.”

“What?” Jason asks again, and Slade lets out a sigh, dragging his fingers through his hair. He’s hyper aware of Alfred’s presence there, of the fact that the bats don’t even know that the plan existed. They probably suspect (he’d be embarrassed if they didn’t), but that’s a mile away from actually knowing what it is.

“I knew the plan wasn’t happening. And I knew that Crane would try and force the plan through even without us. So I stepped in and made sure he wouldn’t be able to. I fed the bats the information we had, every single detail. Their hideouts. Their forces. Their preparations.”

“When?” Jason asks, finally coherent enough to manage a real question. “When did...?”

“This morning,” he says. “Right before the photo. They’ll be getting ready for it. Probably hitting all four tonight. Probably working with GCPD. I didn’t ask for details.”

Jason looks stunned, staring at Slade’s face as if expecting Slade to yell just kidding! at any moment.

Alfred clears his throat, and Jason manages to tear his eyes away.

“What Mister Wilson said is correct,” Alfred says. “They’ve all been working themselves into a frenzy making sure things are all handled. They’ve been working with the GCPD in order to coordinate strikes and bring in all four at once, which is quite an undertaking.”

It’s the closest any of them have come to acknowledging the fact that Bruce exists. Slade can’t help but notice that Alfred always refers to they or them. Never Batman and the others. Never Master Bruce. He’s making a clear choice to not bring Bruce up, and Slade’s happy for it.

“We should - we should be helping,” Jason says. “We should be helping them. They need people-”

“Jason,” Slade says. “You need crutches to go to the bathroom. You’re not going anywhere.”

“You should,” Jason says, and Slade winces. Fantastic, that’s another thing he didn’t need. “You should help. You know them...”

“I was going to stay here,” Slade says. “They don’t trust me, and for good reason.”

“You could handle them,” Jason says. He’s insistent, almost desperate, and Slade’s beyond wary. There’s no goddamn way he’s leaving Jason alone. Absolutely no fucking way.

He’s not even sure why Jason’s so insistent. Guilt? Worry that one of them will escape and come back to bite them in the ass?

“You have to help,” Jason says, desperate and insistent. “What if someone gets hurt?”

Oh, there it is. Jason’s feelings about Bruce and Drake might be neutral at best, but he clearly dislikes the idea that people are going to get killed because of him.

Slade grinds his teeth.

“You can’t be left alone,” Slade says. “Your health is too touch and go right now. You need someone to monitor you.”

Alfred clears his throat, and Slade considers tossing the old man out the window.

“Perhaps I can be of assistance,” he says. “I have no part to play tonight. Keeping an eye on Master Jason would be no trouble at all. And I’m sure they’d welcome another hand to help.”

The situation is a nightmare. He’ll be leaving Jason behind. With Alfred. While out with the bats, taking down his former allies.

Slade wants to scream, but instead he gives what he hopes is a friendly enough smile.

“Sure,” he says. “I’ll talk to the bats about it.”

Chapter Text

Slade had been hoping they’d say no. That Bruce would say absolutely not or we’re not letting you near them or something like that.

Instead he says Alright followed a short while later by We’ll need all the help we can get.

He’s forced to leave Jason and Alfred behind, and he doesn’t like it at all. He has no idea what they’re going to talk about. He has no idea if things are going to be okay. 

It’s only years of professionalism that lets him pack away his concerns, shoving them in a box and leaving them for later. He’s out of the hotel already. There’s nothing he can do. He has to focus on the job.

It feels good to be back in his armor. There’s a comfort in it, a reliability. In his armor, he knows what to expect. In his armor, he feels like himself again.

He wishes he had his own bike, but instead he makes do with the one the bats dropped off for him. Grayson, he thinks, who dropped it off in civilian clothes before climbing into Drake’s car. He isn’t sure where they’re all going, or what the plan is. He only knows the rendezvous point. Considering it’s the rough midpoint between their four primary destinations, he guesses it’s going to be an all hands meeting.

He’s not the last one there, but he makes sure he looks like he is. He parks off to the side, keeping a low profile as he scouts the place out. Nightwing and Red Robin are already there. Batman arrives a few minutes later. There’s no sign of Oracle, but the Robins have set up a speaker for her.

The most obvious thing are the cops.

There have to be a dozen cops, standing in little groups, talking among themselves. They keep their voices down, but the tension and suspicion are tight in the air. Is this the most blatantly the bats have worked with them?

Slade suspects that the answer is yes, but Batman does a lot to bridge the gap. He calls people out by name, and seems to recognize most of the cops. From his perch up on the second floor of the warehouse they’re meeting at, he checks their uniforms.

There’s not a man below sergeant. Gordon’s there, along with three lieutenants. That makes more sense. They’ve probably got men ready to go without knowing where they’re going. The corruptness of Gotham’s police force is well known, but these are almost certainly men that Gordon’s handpicked. They have to keep the information quiet. They can’t let anyone find out.

Someone lets themselves in the far door, a man in white and red that Slade doesn’t recognize. He stands off to the side until Batman finally acknowledges him, drifting over for a muted conversation.

Slade drops to the floor, confident more or less everyone is there, and he’s pretty sure half of Gotham’s finest just shit themselves.

They should know better. He doesn’t have a gun out, and if he was coming in to mow them all down, he’d sure as hell have a weapon in hand. Beyond that, he wouldn’t be attacking them anyway. He’s smart, and only a complete goddamn idiot would attack a gathering of every fucking masked vigilante in Gotham.

Gordon’s eyebrows are so high they’re hidden under his hair.

“Hold on,” he says, voice carrying in the empty room. “This is your source?”

He’s disbelieving, and for a good reason.

“Deathstroke’s a man of his word,” Batman says. “Even as a criminal, he’s stuck to it. I had one of my contacts check, and from what we gathered the information’s all good.”

“It could be a trap,” one of the men says. His nametag says Hanrahan, and Slade makes a note of that.

“The trap was a month from now,” Deathstroke says. No matter what, it’s going to get back to them. He’s under no illusions about Alfred keeping information from his master. “A coordinated assault that would have absolutely overwhelmed you. Crane’s fear toxin would have been a main component, but he’s still finalizing the solution. He hasn’t started mass production.”

There’s a soft murmur from among those gathered. Slade even catches Nightwing and Robin muttering among themselves, which all but confirms they already suspected. Their reaction is too muted otherwise.

“You’re sure?” Gordon asks, but he’s not looking at Slade. He’s looking at Batman, who gives him a nod.

“I have every reason to believe his information is good,” he says. “This is the best chance we’ve had to get them all. Even if we’re playing into whatever plan he has going, the priority is getting them off the streets.”

Slade isn’t surprised that Bruce is suspicious. Really, he isn’t. If anything, he finds a sort of relief in knowing exactly where he stands. Bruce is willing to put up with him because of the situation, but he obviously doesn't like him.

“Who’s going where?” Deathstroke asks, and that’s everyone’s cue to rally up. They form a loose (and entirely ridiculous) half circle, with Batman and Gordon standing in the middle. It’s clear to everyone who’s calling the shots.

“We have four targets,” Batman says. “We also have a string of secondary targets. We’ll be splitting into four teams. Gordon will handle the distribution of GCPD forces. The bulk of GCPD’s forces will be handling Two-Face. Of all our possible opponents, he’s the one who has the most mundane forces.”

No one needs an explanation of what a mundane force is.

“He’s working out of Hell’s Gate Disposal services. He has two backup locations that anyone who escapes will fall back to, so even once you’ve cleaned that place out, you’ll need to move quickly to the next place.”

Gordon starts assigning men to the first group, and Slade has to admit he’s impressed by the coordination. It’s a smart choice to send the bulk of the men after Two-Face. His gang is the largest, but also the worst of the lot. They have the least equipment, and the least training, and that makes them the best fit for GCPD to go after.

“Azrael will be assisting with Penguin,” Batman says, nodding to the man in red and white. Slade has no idea who the hell he is, which is unusual. Is he new? Whoever he is, Jason never mentioned him, which throws him off. Penguin himself is largely useless and no real opponent, but his force is probably the most well equipped. Whoever Azrael is, Bruce is obviously counting on him.

“Iceberg lounge, obviously,” Batman says. There’s never been any secret where the Penguin was hiding. The only question was where his backup locations were, and Slade’s happily provided for those. “He has three fallback points, but we’ve identified the most likely one. Azrael will be going straight for Penguin himself. Hopefully we can use him as a hostage to force a surrender.”

Gordon barks out more names, which helps Slade understand the general feel of things. Only two officers remain, plus Gordon himself. The GCPD is sending the bulk of their forces after Penguin and Two-Face, and leaving only a handful of men for the others.

“Most of the Joker’s forces were already taken out. Harley’s running things now, but her numbers are severely down. Nightwing and Robin are going to be taking things out. They’re working out of an abandoned comedy club on third.”

There’s only one man going with them when Gordon gives the order, which makes it obvious who’s going after who.

“I’ll be taking Deathstroke, Sergeant Ginn, and his men to go after Scarecrow. We know he has access to a new batch of fear toxin, but his actual forces are unimpressive at best. Our number one priority is to secure Scarecrow himself, and collect the fear toxin before he can start mass production.”

Slade can’t help but feel like he’s being underutilized. If he was in charge, he’d put himself against Penguin’s men and let him mow his way to the man himself, which he supposes is probably the reason he’s not. Keeping him nearby lets Bruce keep an eye on him, and make sure he’s not pulling anything.

As if he could even stop him.

“Alright,” Batman says, “let’s move out.”

Chapter Text

Slade is expecting the lecture, and he gets it.

“I don’t think I should have to tell you the rules,” Batman says as they head out.

“Don’t kill. Don’t maim. I get it,” Slade says. He knew it was coming. He’s not surprised. Everyone knows how strict the bats are about that rule.

“If you can’t-”

“I can do it,” Slade says. “Do you really think I’ve never had to go non-lethal?”

“I know you can,” Batman says. “That doesn’t mean you will.”

Slade doesn’t argue with him. Batman’s made it clear what he thinks about things, and nothing Slade will say is going to change that. The only thing he can do is demonstrate it.

He wheels the bike around and lets Batman take point. They only get two patrol cars behind them, and he’s sure Batman is communicating with them, because the patrol cars hang back. They’re letting Bruce go first.

He slips the communicator into his ear.

“Bats,” he says, earning himself a grunt of acknowledgement. “How about we play this smart?”

“Callsigns,” Batman chides him. “Or initials if you want to be short.”

“B,” Slade says with a roll of his eye. “Again, how about we play this the smart way?”

“What do you suggest?”

“I’m supposed to be Crane’s ally,” Slade points out. “I should be able to walk right in there. I can take him down before it becomes an issue. With Crane out of the picture, what men he has will fall like cards.”

“Which means leaving you alone with him.”

“Think things through,” Slade says. “What’s my endgame?”

There’s silence on the line as they zip through the city, and Slade ponders hopping his bike onto the top of the batmobile just to force the issue.

“We’ll try it your way,” Batman finally says.

Slade takes that as his cue. He zips ahead, shooting past the batmobile. He needs to get there first.

He does. He’s not sure where Batman goes, but he’s not trailing directly behind him anymore. Slade slides to a stop in front of the facility Crane’s been using as his base. He doesn’t bother to park, just hops off and heads inside.

He’s met at the door by Crane’s men, but he doesn’t stop. He’s found, more than once, that simply walking through things is enough to get him places. Crane’s men try to stop him, but in the face of Slade’s overwhelming size, they’re simply knocked aside.

“Hold on,” one of them says desperately. “We need to-”

“I need to talk to him now. I don’t have time to follow your procedures.”

He makes it halfway to Crane before someone higher up the food chain catches on that he’s there. Before the word spreads faster than he can walk. Running will give it away. He’s just walking with purpose.

“Hold on,” the man says. Slade recognizes him, at least. Not by name, but simple familiarity. He’s been in planning meetings with them before. He knows who Deathstroke is. He should let him through.

Instead he tries to shoot him.

Things do not go according to plan from there on out. There’s no longer any pretense of him being an ally coming to talk to Crane. He’s an enemy, infiltrating their base. The fact that literally none of them stand a goddamn chance doesn’t change things.

He taps his comms in between clubbing Crane’s men with his staff. It’s a lot harder trying to be non-lethal. If he wasn’t trying, he’d already be at Crane, but instead he has to work his way through the men one by one, dispatching them with an excess of self control.

“B,” he says, “you’re going to want to come help.”

He doesn’t know what Batman’s doing, but he knows he’s in the building by the sudden explosion to his right. If he was going to guess, he’s pretty sure the batmobile has just gone through a wall.

Slade decides he really hates being non-lethal. He should be faster than this. He should be dealing with Crane. But someone has to handle the guards, and that someone apparently has to be him.

Slade’s feeling good and agitated by the time he kicks the door in to Crane’s office and finds him in the midst of brawling with Batman. But this is easier. This isn’t having to play nice with every idiot who decides to try and punch Deathstroke. This is one person who he knows he can handle.

Crane’s never been a threat to him. He’s almost disappointed that Batman hasn’t already shut him down. Slade closes the distance as the two across the room scramble, and when he sees Crane’s hand dart forward to bury his needles into a soft spot in Batman’s armor, Slade decides a bit of excessive force is necessary.

He doesn’t smack Crane’s hand away. He simply uses his staff to destroy Crane’s wrist, and decides that the man should be happy he wasn’t using his sword.

“Deathstroke!” Batman barks, because of course he does. “We -”

“He’s not dead,” Slade snaps. “He’ll be just fine. He just won’t be stabbing anyone any time soon.”

Batman’s eyes narrow.

“Deathstroke...” Crane hisses in that overly raspy voice of his. “You betrayed us.”

Slade was hoping for this.

“No,” he says. “I’ve always been up front about my motivations. I go where the money is, and the moment the Knight stopped paying me, I became a free agent.”

He leaves his apparent new employer unspoken as Batman cuffs Crane, stripping the fear toxin injectors off him and dumping him on the floor.

They don’t speak until the police have arrived, and even then it’s only quick orders to make sure they clear out the rest of Scarecrow's men. Some get away, but it doesn’t matter. They have his notes, and the serum, and there’s no chance of anyone mass producing it without Scarecrow himself.

He expects Bruce to inspect the room. He’s supposed to be the World’s Greatest Detective. But instead he lingers on the edge of the room.

Slade wonders just how angry he is. He doesn’t like the silence.

It’s not until they’re almost outside that Bruce speaks again.

“Deathstroke,” he says. “We need to talk.”

Slade doesn’t like the sound of that at all.

Chapter Text

Slade has a pretty good idea of what’s coming. He’s going to get the if you can’t play by my rules, you don’t play at all. Or he’s going to get the we can’t trust you. Or maybe it’ll be the you’re bad for Jason so we’re taking him.

He’s extremely wary when Batman loads the bike into the back of the batmobile and tells Slade to get in. Slade doesn’t want to get in. The only reason he even considers it is because he knows that Batman’s still caught in a catch-22 that could only be solved by breaking his unshakable code.

He considers for a long moment, and then slides into the passenger seat.

“You were selling it,” Batman observes. He doesn’t start the car. Getting in, it seems, is just for privacy. “Disconnecting Jason from the betrayal. They don’t know what happened to him. He might have stopped paying you. He might have had a falling out. Or he might be dead. There’s a lot of ways you could play it, but it puts the blame on you.”

“That was the idea,” Slade points out. “Better to avoid over complicating things. The next person who works with me will pay more to avoid this exact thing.”

He smiles as he says it, and Batman grunts, looking away.

That’s bad. He still hasn’t brought up whatever he wanted to talk about.

His communicator chirps in his ear, and Batman activates the car’s system instead, holding out his hand for the communicator that Slade somewhat reluctantly hands over.

“Oracle,” he says. “Mission accomplished here. How’s everyone else handling things?”

“They’re going relatively smoothly,” she says immediately. “GCPD are having a hell of a time with Penguin’s men, but they’re already mopping up Two-Face’s men. Nightwing’s in pursuit of Harley, while Robin handles her men.”

“Understood,” Batman says. “We’ll be off comms for a bit. I’ll let you know when we’re back.”

There’s a slight pause, and then Oracle confirms. Batman turns off the communicator.

Slade really doesn’t like that.

The entire encounter seems out of place. Why are they going off comms? If he had to guess, he’d have assumed they’d have been sweeping in to assist one of the other teams, but Batman’s clearly in no hurry.

“Deathstroke,” Batman starts, before pausing a long moment. Then he reaches up, peeling the cowl back and turning to face Slade.

Oh, he really doesn’t like that.

“Slade,” Bruce corrects. “I need you to make me a promise.”

Slade’s brain is running a mile a minute, running through the options. Taking care of Jason seems like the obvious one, but he keeps his mouth shut, waiting to see what Bruce is going to say.

He doesn’t.

“I’m not promising anything without knowing what I’m promising,” Slade says. “I won’t even make a contract, no matter what I’m offered, without knowing the criteria.”

Bruce grimaces. He obviously doesn’t want to say it, which means it’s probably not look after Jason if something happens to me. But even then, that idea seems outlandish. Bruce doesn’t trust him as far as he can throw him, which isn’t very far. Why trust him with one of his kids?

“Slade,” Bruce says, trying again. “I’m coming to you out of necessity. This is something I can only trust you with.”

Slade feels a flash of anger that he quick taps down, but he doesn’t bother to hide the spite in his voice.

“You’re coming to me, because you trust me? No wonder all the people you’re involved with have issues. You should be trusting Drake or Grayson with this.”

“No,” Bruce says. “This isn’t something I can trust them with. Only you.”

“Bruce,” Slade says pointedly. “I’m a killer for hire. The fact that you’re trusting me with anything before you’d trust your own second in command is horseshit.”

Bruce is as solemn as ever. Slade’s always wondered how he manages to just brood like that, because he’s sure as hell brooding right then.

“It’s because you’re a killer that you have to be the one I ask to do this. You’re the only one.”

There’s a slow, dawning realization.

“Oh hell,” Slade mutters under his breath. “Is this a death pact? ‘If I go over the line, I want you to be the one to put me down’?”

The idea that Bruce would want someone else to enforce his no-kill directive seems exactly like the kind of thing Bruce would do, and who better to get his hands bloody than a man whose hands are already soaked in blood?

“Fine,” Slade says. “Pact accepted.” He doesn’t believe for a moment that Bruce is going to break it. Joker killed his son and kept on living, and if that didn’t break him, nothing would.

Bruce turns away from him, hands rising to pull the cowl back into place without a word. He shifts the car into drive and pulls away. Slade expects to go back to the cave, and when they don’t--going the absolute opposite direction--he feels the hairs on the back of his neck begin to stand up.

Slade doesn’t like it. He’s worked for years, and now he can’t turn off the part of his brain that is screaming that he’s in danger.

He keeps his hand on the handle of his knife as they drive in silence.

They slide up to an old shuttered facility, and Slade isn’t surprised when there’s a hidden alcove that slides open as the batmobile approaches. The car fits perfectly, and Slade is well and truly relieved when he finally gets out of the cramped car.

“Inside,” Bruce says, pressing his hand to a hidden hand scanner to open a concealed door.

A second base, obviously. Slade knew he had several, but his brain is running overtime, trying to figure out why Bruce has brought him there.

Slade steps into the elevator, noting the old movie posters on the walls, and ponders what sort of stupid life choice lead to him standing in an elevator with a brooding Batman.

Chapter Text

Slade isn’t sure what he’s looking at when they finally reach the bottom. There’s a large room, a computer that looks similar to the one Oracle uses, and then cells. Five cells, largely made of plexiglass.

Three cells are occupied. Two are empty. One has a woman in business attire, her face pale, her hair tinted green. The second has a flashy man with the same attributes. The old man on the opposite side of the room has no such features.

But it isn’t hard to figure out.

“The Joker had one more trick, didn’t he?” Slade asks, wondering how many plans the lunatic had. “Who knows about this?”

“Robin’s been helping me search for a cure. The vector was diseased blood from the Joker himself. I managed to administer a cure to the majority of the people who the blood spread to, but some fell through the cracks.”

“And the cure doesn’t work when the... infection takes hold.”

Slade tries to puzzle it out. How? Did the Clown even know this was going to happen? 

“How many more?”

“I’m still trying to confirm,” Batman says. “I’m not sure yet.”

There can’t be many, Slade theorizes. The effects are subtle, but they’re still noticeable. The woman is too pale, like someone who’s never seen sunlight. He doesn’t need to ask about other changes, because the woman’s smiling at him in a way he recognizes.

“They become the Joker,” he says aloud, just to hear it said. “Body and mind.”

Batman nods.

Slade thinks of Jason, and decides that he understands why Bruce brought him there. Jason can’t know. Jason can never know.

“You should put them down,” Slade says. “Or let me. If you-”

“I’m working on a cure,” he says, stepping over to the older man. He looks intimidated. Nervous. He’s staring at Deathstroke and Batman, so Slade decides he can cut the man some slack.

“Henry here is immune to the effects. We think that using his blood, we can synthesize a new cure. One that can revert the effects.”

Slade thinks Batman’s an idiot. There's too much risk keeping them around, even incarcerated.

“And you want me to be their jailor,” Slade says. “Or at least know about them, so that if something happens I can take care of things.”

“No,” Batman says. “But having another person who knows will be helpful.”

He gestures back towards the elevator, and Henry speaks up.

“Please don’t - please tell the police. I don’t know what kind of man you are, but he’s keeping us down here...” He’s begging, but he doesn’t sound particularly convinced that it’s going to work.

Slade ignores him, stepping back into the elevator.

Batman goes silent again, which Slade doesn't like. That means there’s more, and he already has enough on his mind. It isn’t until he’s back in the Batmobile, pulling his cowl off, that he speaks.

The removal of the cowl raises a red flag. It means he’s trying to make things personal. Slade doesn’t want them personal.

“I have dreams,” Bruce says, like he’s in a confessional at church. “Violent ones. I always have. Since I was a little boy, but especially since I took up the cowl.”

Slade wonders why Bruce thinks that he’d be the one to talk about this to. Does he look like a therapist? Does Bruce think he’s going to be touched by his admission of how screwed up he is? That they’ll bond over shared trauma or some shit like that?

“A few weeks ago I had a particularly vivid one. I was... hurting Dick. He was in his costume, and I kept hitting him, over and over. And then I started talking... I can’t even remember what I said. But in the end...”

There’s a long silence. Slade doesn’t think there’s enough money in the world to pay him to speak.

When Bruce looks at him though, Slade’s nerves ratchet up. Something’s wrong.

“Jason’s face was branded, wasn’t it?”

Slade feels, very suddenly, like he’s going to vomit. He’s not stupid. He can catch the insinuation. The promise, extracted from a killer, that wasn’t quite an if I cross the line. The people down below. The extra cells. The refusal to deal with the rest of the bats.

“You can’t be serious,” Slade says, desperately clinging to the hope that maybe, just maybe, he’s misunderstood the situation.

Bruce is no longer looking at him.

“I assumed the effect was physical at first. Then they started showing... erratic behaviors. Taking on the Joker’s traits. Miss Bell is obsessed with me. Browne has the Joker’s extravagance. But now...”

Slade considers screaming. It seems like a good idea, right then. Screaming himself hoarse because he’s struggling to imagine a worse scenario then the one he’s in right then.

“I dream of what happened to him. Of what happened to them. Of Barbara, and of Jason. I want to see him. I want to tell him how much I missed him, how much I regret the mistakes I made back then. But I can’t. I can’t be allowed near him. He can’t know. Do you know what I thought when I first heard he was alive? Do you know what my first thought was?”

Slade doesn’t want to know the answer. He knows that much, but Bruce tells him anyway.

“I thought that he was mine again. Mine. Like an object. Just like Joker said he was when he killed him. That should have been my first warning sign. That I... that I thought that even for a second.”

Bruce is squeezing his hands so tightly that Slade’s sure, if not for the gloves, that he’d be dripping blood.

A part of Slade wants to tell Bruce that he’s wrong. That he should go see Jason. That what Jason needs is family.

But he knows it would be wrong. It would be on the verge of wrong without this, but with this? Bruce can’t be allowed near him. He can’t come back into Jason’s life and then become the very thing that tormented him. Slade doesn’t even want Jason in the same city as him, and he’s already mentally considering plans to just take him and go, revenge be damned.

“You should tell the others,” he says. “Have you told Drake? Grayson?”

“No,” he says. “I can’t. If I-”

Slade reaches over, grabbing the front of Bruce’s armor. There’s not much to grip--the suit was designed that way--but it gets the point across.

“That’s nice,” Slade says, “but I’m overruling you.”

Bruce’s eyes narrow.

“This is why you brought me here. To put you down if you went too far and there wasn’t any hope. But I’m putting myself in here before it gets to that point. You can’t be out and about. You can’t be walking around. You should have already incarcerated yourself for everyone’s safety, and instead you’re running around.”

“I have-”

“No,” Slade interrupts. “If you fight me on this, I will stop you.”

He means it. They’re in the batmobile, and Bruce has the home field advantage, but he means it. He’s not letting him do it. He’s not letting Bruce--infected by the Joker--run around the city. He’s not opening up the possibility that he’ll slip away and come after Jason.

“You’ve already been compromised,” Slade says. “You have no way of knowing if you’re making the decision, or if he is. You’ve already admitted he’s tampering with your thought process. So you’re going in the cell.”

Bruce doesn’t bolt. He doesn’t slam an eject button. He sits there, his face twisted in anguish. Grief? Fear? Slade has no idea. He isn’t used to seeing that kind of a reaction on Bruce’s face, and he doesn’t know how to process it.

“Make me,” Bruce says, but it isn’t defiant. It’s desperate. He means it. Slade needs to make him.

He does.

Chapter Text

For the most part, Bruce doesn’t resist him. He lets Slade send the elevator down. He lets Slade march him towards the cell. It’s only at the last second that he starts to struggle. Slade can’t tell if it’s Bruce or the Joker doing it. It doesn’t really matter.

Slade’s pretty sure he’s broken at least one of Bruce’s ribs by the time he slams the door shut on him.

The situation is bad, and it’s only going to get worse. Mentally, Slade can’t stop himself from lining things up in his head. He’s going to have to deal with the rest of the bats. He’s going to have to tell Gordon. He needs to figure out if the Joker’s tampered with Bruce's thinking. It’s a lot, and it all stacks up to a ton of things Slade’s going to have to deal with before he can get back to Jason.

Jason.

Fuck.

How is he supposed to explain any of it? In terms of things that could set him off, the existence of at least three Jokers isn’t the top of the list. It’s beyond the top of the list, exceeding all possible expectations.

Slade, not for the first time, considers killing the lot of them. It would be easier. One less thing to worry about. Would Bruce even blame him? Probably, but not any more than he already blames him for all the other murders.

He considers the situation. He considers his options. More than anyone, how things play out are going to be in his hands right then. The next few minutes will change how things work. So he has to be careful. He has to be precise.

He has to know what Bruce suspected.

“Oh thank god,” comes a raspy voice from his right. “Thank god. You’ve put him away. He’s been acting more and more erratic.”

Slade steps away from Bruce’s cell, stepping over to the one beside it. Henry Adams. The only man immune to the Joker infection. He looks desperate, wringing his hands together as he looks up at Deathstroke.

“Please,” he says. “You have to let me out. I’ve been here for... for I don’t even know how long. He’s just keeping me down here indefinitely.”

The man isn’t afraid of him. Or maybe more accurately, he’s not afraid of him as much as he’s afraid of being kept in his little cell.

Slade’s happy for his mask. He leans against the wall, casual as can be, letting his body language do the talking.

“You don’t have to keep up the pretense,” he says. “The Bat’s not getting out. You know my terms.”

He doesn’t know. Not really. He wouldn’t even rank it as a general suspicion if not for the circumstances. But he’s in a position where there’s no harm in checking.

And if he’s honest? There’s something that bothers him about a little old man talking to him. A little old man who isn’t afraid. The others aren’t afraid, but that’s because they’re infected. Anyone not infected, Slade reasons, should be hiding in the back of their cell.

Adams’ face splits into a too-wide grin, and Slade hates that his little suspicion is right.

“Of course!” Adams says, his voice suddenly much more playful. He no longer plays at being cowed. No longer nervous. Slade knows what he’s looking at. He’s dealt with the Clown enough.

No, he decides. Things have changed. There isn’t the old familiarity of knowing that the Clown is mostly good to his word. This is something else. He hates him, Slade realizes. Just the same way he hates Harley.

Jason’s done a number on him, hasn’t he?

“They say no one really knows where the bodies are buried,” Adams says. “But I do! And more importantly, I know just where I buried a body with a fat sack of cash underneath. And it can all be yours, for the low low price of letting me out. Think of the bang for your buck! What do you think the hourly rate on pushing one button is?”

Slade considers what he could do with it. Not the money, but the situation. The Joker (the Jokers?) think he can still be bargained with. They think he’s still playing by his old rules. What can he get out of it? What does he want?

Truthfully, he suspects that one of the only things he actually wants out of it is a chance to kill the Joker, only that option’s already on the table.

“You haven’t always been good about payment,” Slade says. “And I’d rather not dig up a body only to find dirt underneath.”

He’s buying time, and he hopes that the Clown doesn’t notice.

“Oh puh-lease!” Adams says. “I was good the last time I paid you, wasn’t I? When I sent you to help my little friend escape.”

He makes a pointed look towards his right, where Bruce still sits in his cell, and then gives an exaggerated wink.

“How is the old boy, anyway? Probably not doing well without his dear old Joker! I bet he misses me. Practically cries himself to sleep at night thinking of all the great times we’ve had.”

Slade thinks of Jason. He wonders if he’s alright. If his visit with Alfred is going well. He thinks about how he’d react if he knew what was happening. About his response if he knew what had become of the Joker. If he knew about Bruce.

Slade decides, then and there, that Bruce has let his morals get in the way of getting results. That he isn’t willing to make the hard choices.

Slade isn’t going to make the same mistake. If Bruce Wayne isn’t going to fix the problem, then Slade Wilson will have to.

Chapter Text

Slade ignores the Jokers. That’s what they are to him now. A collective. Bruce and all the others are the Jokers, and they aren’t getting out of their cells. He pays them no mind, even as Adams calls out for him to come back, that they can still make a deal.

What Slade wants, no Joker can offer.

It takes a few minutes to figure out the computer. He’s good at them, but this is something else entirely. Custom build, similar enough to the one Oracle uses in the clocktower, but different enough he has to inspect it a few times to figure out how to activate the comms.

He reaches up, pulling his helmet off, and sets it on top of the computer before leaning back in the seat and waiting for Oracle to reply.

She does, her face popping into view on the screen. The setup is good, he decides. None of the cells can see what’s happening on the monitors, or see him at all. It’s a perfect blind spot, and he’d bet they can’t hear anything either. Only what’s happening directly around them.

Her eyebrows press together, concern written large across her features. She’s worried, and she has every right to be.

“Slade?” She asks, taking a cue from his lack of helmet. “Where’s B?”

“Indisposed,” he says, aware he’s being intentionally cryptic. “What’s everyone else’s status?”

She pauses, clearly weighing her options, and then her eyes flick to the side, checking monitors.

“Nightwing’s escorting Harley to lockup,” she says. “Azrael’s done his work, and Robin’s finished his mop-up and is on route to help with Penguin.”

“Redirect them,” he says. “I need them at my location.”

There’s another long, awkward silence, and Slade feels like if he turned the volume up high enough, he’d be able to hear the gears whirring away in her head, trying to put the pieces together and understand the situation.

“Slade,” she says. “I don’t know how things work with you, but I’m going to need some kind of an explanation. I want to talk to B.”

“You can’t,” Slade says. “He’s locked in one of his own cells.”

“What?!” She sounds almost panicked. “Slade, if this is-”

“This isn’t anything you think it is,” Slade says. A part of him wants Alfred there, but that can’t happen. He needs Alfred with Jason.

“What’s J’s status?” He asks.

The fact that Jason’s initial is branded on his face irritates him. He wants it to be something else. Knight? He decides to use that.

At the very least Oracle doesn’t hesitate on that part.

“He’s fine,” she says. “He’s still with A. They’re watching a movie.”

It feels so normal and domestic and a million miles away from his present situation. Like it’s happening in another world.

“Tell A he needs to stay there a bit longer,” Slade says, folding his hands together in his lap as he kicks his feet up on the center console. “Maybe through tomorrow. He isn’t to leave until I get there.”

Oracle obviously doesn’t like the order, because her eyes narrow. She sees what he’s doing--sliding neatly into Bruce’s role while Bruce is gone--but seems to make the choice not to argue before she knows what’s going on.

“General ETA is around twenty minutes,” she says.

“I’ll call you back when they get here,” Slade says. “I have work to get done.”

He cuts the call.

He suspects Oracle doesn’t quite get cut. The system is her baby. She knows it inside and out. If she’s smart--which she certainly seems to be--she’s probably flipping through the security feeds. He wonders if she’ll find it before he can even talk to them. He wonders if she’s watching him right then.

The bats don’t trickle in like he expects. Instead, the two of them come down together, both Nightwing and Robin looking intensely wary.

“Where’s Azrael?” Slade asks immediately. He’s wary of an outsider, a stranger he knows nothing about. It feels like a trap.

“Home,” Nightwing says. “Whatever this is, he doesn’t need a part in it. Batman barely trusts him, but we needed an extra set of hands.”

Robin’s already jogging to the newly filled containment cell. This is the part Slade didn’t think of, and for a moment he feels a spike of panic. Is Robin in the system? He’d assumed it was just Bruce. But if he was working with Drake, there’s a possibility he’s in the system. If he opens the cell-

Slade doesn’t even get fully out of his seat before there’s an electronic buzz. Rejection.

“What?” Robin says, reaching up to inspect the panel. He’s desperate, but he’s also thinking, clearly trying to come up with the solution. “How the-”

He spins in place, leaning back to get a better view of the system.

“Oracle!” He yells. “Override-”

“I can’t,” Oracle’s voice comes through the speaker. “I can’t. You need to sit and listen to him.”

That answers Slade’s question about if she was smart enough to check back and see what happened. Even if she can’t see what happened outside (he wouldn’t be surprised if she could), she probably knows enough. Bruce didn’t fight it at first. Not until he was almost in the cell. That tells the story, doesn’t it? That tells enough.

Slade leans back in his chair, and both of the former Robins step closer. Out of sight of the cells, both favor pulling off their masks. Personal business. He wonders if Batman impressed that idea on them, or if it’s simply something they picked up on.

One of the monitors on the side lights up, and Oracle stares out at them. She looks deeply unhappy, haunted by what she now knows.

“You both already know about the Joker infection,” Slade says, “so I’ll save us all the time explaining it. There are only two relevant details you need to know. The first is that the infected don’t just look and act like the Joker. They also, through some mechanism I can’t imagine, gain his memories.”

It makes no sense, but neither does anything else about the clown. 

“The second is that B’s been infected since Arkham City.”

The room is almost silent. The only sound is one of the Joker’s--probably Browne--pacing in their cell, rambling to themselves.

“No way,” Drake says, his voice almost whisper quiet. “There’s no way-”

“Did you tell him about the Knight’s brand?”

The two exchange a look.

“No,” Grayson finally says. “We agreed we wouldn’t. It would just upset him, and he doesn’t need that right now.”

“Well he knows,” Slade says. “Because he dreamed it. He dreamed beating Jason and then branding him. He thought it was you, for the record.”

Grayson looks extremely uncomfortable.

“He’s right,” Oracle says. “I already checked the tapes. He’s not lying. B is... he’s infected. He’s already showing signs, he’s just been hiding it from us.”

“He’s staying in the cell,” Slade says, tone firm. There’s no room for argument. If they try, they’re going in the spare cell. “And I’m in charge.”

“Says who?” Grayson barks, and Slade surges to his feet, closing the distance and taking full advantage of the five inches he has over Grayson to loom over him.

“Says me,” he says. “If you want to take charge, Grayson, feel free to explain how you’re going to manage to keep B’s incarceration from the public. Feel free to explain how people aren’t going to connect the two when Batman stops showing up.

“I’ll wear the costume,” Grayson blurts out, and Slade rolls his eye.

“You’re two inches too short and forty pounds too light,” Slade says. “You have the wrong profile. You aren’t going to fool anyone within fifty feet of you.”

Grayson seems to wilt in front of him. He knows Slade’s right. He knows it isn’t going to work.

“Even if you’re wearing the suit-” Grayson starts, and Slade cuts him off.

I’m not going to wear the suit,” Slade says. “Your friend is.”

“What?” Grayson asks.

“Azrael,” he says. “He doesn’t need to know why. But if he’s an ally, he should be happy to take B’s place in the suit. He’s the right size, the right build. He could pass as Bruce well enough that I don’t think I’d even recognize him.”

The Robins exchange a glance, but it’s Oracle who speaks up.

“We don’t know him that well.”

“You don’t need to,” Slade says. “If he’s supposed to be on your side, he can fake it long enough. If he goes rogue, he’s an imposter trying to take Batman’s place. It’s happened before. No one would bat an eye.”

He’d be the first imposter with an actual batsuit, but that doesn’t matter.

“What about B himself?” Grayson asks. “He’s going to have to make appearances.”

“Leave that one to me,” he says. “Who runs the company otherwise? You have to have a contact.”

“L,” Grayson says. “He knows about us. If we explain, he’ll cover for B as much as he can.”

“Unnecessary,” Slade says. “I’ll have it handled.”

He wonders when Grayson and Drake are going to stop exchanging looks. Because they keep doing it, and it’s irritating him.

“Robin,” he says, turning to look more at Drake. “You’re in charge of investigating a cure. Adams is a dead end. He’s not immune, just hiding it, which means you’re going to have to throw the majority of your assumptions out the window. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist. If you need extra help, we’ll locate some. Otherwise, we’re going to need to sedate him, remove the costume, and put him back in there as Bruce Wayne.”

It raises a lot less questions. It opens up the possibility of other people helping.

“We need to let the commissioner know,” Oracle says. “He needs to be kept in the loop on this.”

“Loop him in,” Slade says. He has enough to do without giving Gordon the details. “You’re in charge of that. You’re in charge of coordinating everyone’s efforts as well.”

There are a lot of moving parts. Everyone has a part to play, and Slade has never played as well on a team as he has solo. But he’s going to have to.

“I have places to be,” he says. “Oracle, put me in the system. I need full override powers.”

He expects backtalk, but instead she simply nods.

“Expect me back in a few hours.”

It’s four AM. He doesn’t have a lot of time. But he’s going to have to take advantage of what he does have. The faster he works, the less mess there’s going to be to clean up.

Chapter Text

As awful as the situation is, Slade has to admit to himself that a part of him likes it. It’s not the same adrenaline rush as a good fight, the kind that pushes him to his limits and to the very limits of his skills. But it scratches a similar itch. There’s a challenge to it, a real struggle that comes with trying to wrangle all the moving parts he’s playing with into their correct positions. Someone’s dropped a chess board in front of him and told him to play, only half his pieces are checkers tokens and one of the bishop’s been replaced by a half eaten chocolate.

He has to make do.

And as he takes a bike from the garage and slides out onto the street, he does.

He listens to the comm chatter in his ear, visualizing how all the pieces move. Robin dumping out old theories they tossed out because of Adams. Nightwing cutting his way across the city to find Azrael. Oracle reporting in when her father finally knows.

“B says he wants to help,” Robin says in his left ear, indicating a private line, as Slade slides through the city.

“Ignore him,” Slade says. “Don’t even talk to him.”

“He’s still himself,” Robin says. “We need his help.”

“He’s still himself almost all the time,” Slade corrects. “But not all the time. Even if only one in a hundred things he says are twisted by the joker, you can’t risk it. He’s poisoned the water. You can’t drink it, even if the odds are good you’ll be fine.”

Robin doesn’t argue with him and goes back to his work.

“Oracle,” Slade says, tapping his comms as he takes the corner a bit too sharply. “I need you to send me a photo of a roughed up B to my phone.”

There’s no pause before she replies.

“Costume or no costume?”

“No costume,” he confirms. She doesn’t ask any questions, which gives him a strange spike of pride.

They don’t like him. He’s an outsider, a stranger to their way of life, but they’re accepting him just the same. They don’t have a choice. There’s no one else that can do what he does, riding right down the line between the two sides.

Slade eases the bike down into one of his old bases and hopes that his information is right.

It is.

He’s not even parked before a man in a long trench coat appears in the doorway, his face hidden by bandages. Even so, Slade can sense his scrutiny.

“You’re not the Knight,” the man says, his hand itching towards a gun.

“No,” Slade confirms. He doesn’t get off the bike. He stays where he is, still astride it, ready to go at a moment’s notice. “I was his second in command.”

He wonders if he should feel bad about taking advantage of one of Jason’s resources, but now that he knows what he knows, it’s obvious that Jason was always planning to throw him away anyway. 

Hush doesn’t know who Bruce Wayne is. All he wants is revenge on the man, but even so he doesn’t know the truth. At one point, Slade thought that Jason was going to give him that revenge, but now he knows that was never the plan.

“Was,” Hush says. “Where’s he now?”

“Gone,” Slade says. “He cut out on the bill. So now I have a new employer, and I’m here to offer you an opportunity.”

“The one thing I want is something you can’t give me,” Hush says.

Slade pulls out his phone, pulls up the picture--Bruce, unconscious, a bruise on his temple--and then holds it up for Hush to see.

He thought about this a lot. About the options. The paths he could take. But in the end, the best solution isn’t a lie. It’s something close enough to the truth it’s almost indistinguishable.

“The bat hired me to handle things,” Slade says. “He doesn’t have enough hands right now. The Clown’s poisoned a bunch of people, and Wayne’s one of them. He wants me to cover it up so he has time to cure him.”

He can tell that Hush is thinking about it, so he lays it on a bit thicker. Spells it out for him.

“This is a no-lose situation for you,” he says. “If the Clown gets his way, whatever plans you had go to nothing. You can’t take revenge on a corpse. If you want a chance to face Wayne on your own terms, you’ll need to help.”

It’s all he needs to say.

“What do you need me to do?”

Slade has him, hook, line, and sinker.

Chapter Text

Slade wants to go back to the hotel. He wants to see Jason. As enjoyable as running Batman’s empire is, thinking about Jason is giving him anxiety. He has no idea if he’s alright. And even the infrequent check ins--they’re sleeping, apparently--aren’t helping much.

But he doesn’t have time. He can’t make it back to the hotel and still make it all the places he needs.

“D,” comes Nightwing’s voice in his ear. “We have a problem.”

Slade doesn’t have an exact place to go. He knows he needs to be mobile, ready to go anywhere, but right then? He doesn’t have a place he needs to be. So he slides off the road, tucking himself into an alley and lets himself focus.

“What’s happening?”

“Azrael’s black.”

There’s a long, confused pause.

“What?” Slade asks when his brain catches up.

“Black. African-American. He doesn’t... he’s not going to pass for B.”

Slade wishes he didn’t have his mask on, because he feels a headache already starting to form. He wants to rub at his temples and try and ease it away, but he can’t.

Okay. He can work with this.

“Stay put,” he says. “I’ll get back to you.”

He flips channels.

“Oracle,” he says. “Put me through to L.”

She does, and after a moment the voice of Lucius Fox, CEO of Wayne Enterprises, comes through on his ear.

He sounds tired. Like he just woke up. Maybe he did.

“Huh?” He says.

“This is Deathstroke,” he says. “Has someone filled you in?”

“No,” he says after a moment. “I got a message from Oracle saying things were happening and someone would fill me in.”

Slade considers for a moment how much he needs to know, and decides that the answer is very little.

“Wayne’s out of the picture for a while,” he says. “But we need to cover up his disappearance.”

“I’ll only be able to cover for him so much,” Lucius says. “I’m limited in-”

“Already taken care of,” Slade says. “In... forty five minutes, Bruce Wayne will be showing up to work. Do what you can to assist him.”

There’s a confused noise on the line, and he hears the sound of Lucius getting up and taking a long drink of something. Water, hopefully, but something alcoholic if he’s smart.

“Do I want to know?”

“Thomas Elliot,” Slade says. “Childhood friend of the Wayne family. He has a whole complicated revenge scheme that I’m kneecapping as a result of this. But in order for him to get his revenge, Wayne needs to survive, and I’ve convinced him this is the best way to do that.”

“So I’m supposed to... help him pass as Wayne?”

“No,” Slade says. “He shouldn’t need help. Not really. Pretend like you have no idea. As far as he knows, no one in the company will know he’s there. What I need you to do is meet him in the lobby and give him Wayne’s pass. Chide him for forgetting it yesterday.”

Lucius laughs under his breath.

“Should I be worried he’s going to ruin Mr. Wayne’s reputation?”

“No,” Slade says. “And if he does, it’s easy enough to handle. He doesn’t know anything we need to be concerned about.”

He’s on a schedule, so he moves the conversation along.

“I have a second issue you might be able to help with,” Slade says. “Have you ever made a gasmask for the suit?”

“Of course,” Lucius says, sounding offended. “I did what I could to convince him to wear it, but he believed in the value of showing his face. Said it made him more adaptable in social situations.”

“Does it fully cover his face?”

“It was intended to slot into the opening of his existing suit,” Lucius confirms. “No skin exposure. I updated it the last time he went after Scarecrow.”

There’s a short pause.

“Yesterday excluded,” Lucius adds.

“Perfect,” Slade says. “I need one dispatched to Nightwing. I also need an equivalent one for Nightwing.”

“Should I be updating it for the new toxin...?”

“Only if you can do it within the next two hours.”

“I’ll send the one I have,” Lucius says, “and then work on the updates.”

“Perfect,” Slade says. “Pleasure working with you.”

He cuts the line and wonders what he’s going to have to do in order to get his own Lucius Fox.

He calls Gordon directly, hoping he's going to still be at home. It’s almost six in the morning, the sun’s starting to rise, and he needs to make things happen as fast as he possibly can.

“Gordon,” comes the voice on the other line. “Is this... Deathstroke?”

Gordon does not sound happy to hear from him, and he says his name like it’s a slur.

“It is,” Slade says. “I need you to do something for me.”

Gordon grunts on the other end.

“This is in the best interests of everyone,” he says. “If you don’t, we’re going to struggle to keep the Bat’s identity intact.”

He actually isn’t sure if Gordon knows. He imagines, at the very least, that he must strongly suspect. How could he not? Knowing what he knows? His daughter’s dating Tim. His guess is that it’s simply unspoken, because things are easier if Gordon doesn’t actually know. Less messy moral quandaries that way.

“What do you need?” Gordon asks, and his tone of voice makes it extremely clear he isn’t actually committing to anything.

“I need you to put out an alert to all GCPD officers. Alert them to the fact that you believe that some of Scarecrow's new fear toxin might have been distributed into the city. There’s a chance some of it is aerosolized. They need to be aware.”

Gordon makes a strangled noise.

“I’m already running low from last night,” Gordon says. “You can’t be serious. We don-”

“Gordon,” he interrupts. “I don’t have any reason to believe it’s true.”

Gordon makes another little noise. Slade imagines he must be having one hell of a morning. Did he even sleep? He was at the raid all night, and then had to hear it all from Barbara...

“So it’s a bluff,” he says. “Why?”

“I’m putting Azrael in the batsuit with Nightwing,” he says. No point in hiding it. He might need Gordon to cover if anything happens. “Unfortunately, he doesn’t look like Batman at all under his mask. I’ve got a gas mask coming to cover the issue, but I need a reason for him to wear it.”

“Thus the gas,” Gordon says. “If there’s a concern that Scarecrow’s got gas around the city, no one would bat an eye at Batman running around with a mask.”

“Exactly,” Slade confirms. “Can you do it?”

Gordon lets out a sigh.

“Let me put some pants on and I’ll get back to work.”

Chapter Text

He feeds the information he has to Oracle. She, more than anyone else, needs to know about all the moving pieces he has in play.

By mid-morning, everything is more or less ready to go. Nightwing has the masks. He’ll meet with Azrael that night, get him into the suit, and go patrolling.

Robin’s not going on patrol. He’s locking himself in the base, throwing everything he has at the problem. Slade doesn’t think he’s going to stop until he passes out.

Oracle’s coordinating, feeding everyone information on everyone else. Progress reports. Updates. He specifically assigns her to monitor the police channels, keeping an eye out for any other potential infections.

Lucius reports back a few hours into the day to express surprise and deep concern that ‘Bruce Wayne’ is so convincing. In particular, he emphasizes that the fingerprints are even the same, seeming deeply alarmed by the whole thing.

Gordon goes quiet midway through the morning, and when he checks in with Oracle, she confirms that he’s asleep on a cot in the station, down for a ‘nap’ that ends up taking six hours.

But that’s it. He’s got all his pieces in place, moving by themselves.

There are only two pieces left to go.

When he finally gets back to the hotel, Slade lifts the bike, sliding it into the back of the van to hide it. He wants to be inside, but he makes himself take things slowly. He has to work through things bit by bit.

He has things to do. He’s a professional. That’s why he’s here.

When Slade reaches the elevator he catches himself leaning against the wall without meaning to. Exhaustion? Or just anxiety? He’s wary of what he’s going to find.

He opens the door, but the layout of the room doesn’t show him anything. All he knows is there’s no one standing by the window, but there’s only a few seconds before Alfred’s head pops out from around the corner, checking who it is. Seconds later, Jason’s head joins him.

“Slade!” Jason says at the same time Alfred says, “Mister Wilson.”

Slade can only half see what’s happening as he pulls off his boots at the door, but he gets the general idea. Jason’s trying to climb out of the bed, and Alfred isn’t having it.

“Sit down this instant, Master Jason,” Alfred chides. “Mister Wilson will be inside in just a moment, and you crawling out of bed isn’t going to change anything.”

“Stay in bed,” Slade calls. “Just give me a minute.”

His armor is intended to be removed by himself, but it still takes a bit to do. If it didn’t, someone might be able to strip it off him mid-fight. Peeling it off makes it very obvious to him that he’s going to need a shower. There’s some blood on his right arm he can’t quite place. His? Maybe, but there’s no damage to his armor. Seems more like a leak that smeared.

It takes him two minutes to peel his armor off and check it all over, dumping it just beside the door before finally coming into the room.

Jason looks angry. Or maybe frustrated. He’s not used to Slade leaving him waiting. That’s fine though - Slade isn’t used to any of this. It feels like... well, like coming home after a long day of work. It feels strange. Different.

But as always, there’s other things to do.

“Miss Gordon wouldn’t share any details with me when I last called,” Alfred says. “She said you wanted to be the one to tell me.”

He looks worried, and he’s right to be.

“I’ll tell you outside,” Slade says, but Jason’s already protesting before he can even gesture to the door.

“Absolutely not,” Jason snaps. Some of his fire’s back. A bit of confidence. “You aren’t going to just leave me in the dark. Do you think I didn’t know you were hiding things?”

Slade winces.

“Fine,” he says, but it’s a lie. He’s not going to tell him everything. Not right then. Not ever, if he can help it. As angry as Jason would be that Slade’s protecting him, the consequences of him knowing what's at risk are so much worse. Jason can’t know about the Jokers. At the very least, not until they’re all dead, one way or another.

“Batman’s sick,” he says, noting the flinch when he says Batman from Jason. “Bad enough it could kill him. I’ve taken control of the group and am coordinating efforts to minimize the impact for the time being.”

For all Bruce’s talk of training his small army of proteges, Slade’s of the opinion he’s done a shitty job. Bruce’s control is so tight that none of them have had enough of a chance to spread their wings. They work solo or in small groups, but none of them can handle an army. They rely too heavily on Oracle for coordination, which means everything Jason said during their planning for Halloween about taking Oracle devastating the bats ability to respond was dead on.

Jason’s probably better than the lot of them, Slade thinks with a swell of pride.

Alfred looks pale. He looks like he’s just heard his beloved master, who he raised more or less from childhood, might be dying. It’s worse than that, but Slade can’t even say that much.

“I’ve dispatched Nightwing and Azrael to patrol, with Azrael in the suit to cover for his disappearance. I’ve reached out to an ally of Jason’s to cover for his civilian life. And-”

“Hush?” Jason cuts in. “You send Hush in?”

“I had two hours to cover,” Slade says. “If that. So yes, I used what I had on hand. He has every reason to assist. I’ve set things up.”

Jason chews on his own lip, and Alfred takes a moment from his distress to look confused.

“Hush?”

“Oracle will fill you in,” he says. “She knows all the details. Drake’s handling the medical side of things, and I’ve looped Gordon and Lucius in on things.” Fox sounds wrong. Like he’s some kind of super-villain in his own right.

Jason doesn’t seem as unfocused as Slade expected. Normally he slips a bit when they talk about the bats, but he seems almost together.

“Drake?” He asks. Slade purposefully didn’t call him Robin, but now it’s backfired.

“The new Robin,” he clarifies.

Jason snarls.

“My replacement.”

“Master Jason,” Alfred says. “Master Timothy has done nothing to you. Your anger towards him is entirely misplaced, and I won’t have you talking badly about him.”

Slade expects Jason to... do something. To be angry. To throw something around. Or maybe to retreat and shut down.

Instead he sulks like a child who’s just been chided, cowed by the disappointment of a too-British butler staring him down like he’s just caught Jason with his hand in the cookie jar.

“...fine,” he mutters under his breath.

Slade uses all his self-control to keep from showing his surprise on his face.

Alfred seems to relax. He looks tired--stressed from not being told what was happening, most likely--but happier than he was.

“I’m sure you’ll both get along, given enough time,” Alfred says. “You just have to get to know each other. I understand she’ll be busy, but I think it would be good for you to see Miss Gordon as well. She’s been quite eager to see you.”

Slade thinks that’s too much too fast, but he keeps his mouth shut. He can bring it up later, once Alfred’s gone.

“Alright,” he says. “If you want to send someone with dinner, that’d be nice, but I need to shower and sleep.” He hasn’t eaten since dinner the day before, and he hasn’t showered in far longer.

He all but pushes Alfred out of the room, and as he does mouths check with Oracle to him. He doesn’t know if Alfred can read lips, but he suspects he can, and one way or another he’ll find out what’s going on from her.

Better than Slade having to tell him.

Chapter Text

Jason’s already about to say something when Slade holds his hand up.

“Hold on,” he says. “I need a shower, and then I need some food, and we can talk then.” He doesn’t leave room for argument, ducking into the shower and stripping down. There’s not much blood, but there is a lot of sweat, and he feels considerably less dead by the time he climbs out, wrapping a towel around his waist and slogging out to go find something to sleep in.

Maybe he should have gotten himself some pajamas, but he’s rarely comfortable enough to sleep out of armor.

“Go,” he says as he sorts through the drawers.

“What are you hiding?” Jason asks immediately. He’s too smart for his own goddamn good.

“More things than you could possibly count,” Slade says, pulling on a T-shirt. “You’ll have to be more specific.”

“You know exactly what I mean,” Jason says, and Slade knows he’s dead on.

“You’re not ready to hear it,” Slade says, grabbing a pair of loose pants he bought to wear over his armor. “You can’t even hear me talk about the Bat without flinching.”

He’s not looking at Jason, but he knows there’s a reaction anyway.

“You still don’t like him,” Slade points out. “And for good reason. You haven’t had time to process anything we’ve learned. If I had my way you wouldn’t see Alfred again for days, and we wouldn’t introduce you t-”

“I’m not a kid,” Jason snaps. “I’m not delicate. I don’t need guarding.”

There’s the Knight’s aggression, coming through so heavily. When he’s upset, it’s easier for him to get angry. Jason doesn’t do scared. Or at least he tries not to.

“You do,” Slade says, making no attempt to not be painfully blunt. Jason needs to hear it. He needs to be told no. “You don’t know what you’re getting into. You're still struggling to adjust. And if you push too hard, you’re going to break.”

He moves over, sitting down on the end of Jason’s bed, watching Jason’s posture. The ease he had with Alfred is gone. All that’s left is a ball of anger and rage, gritting his teeth and ready to pick a fight at the drop of a hat.

Even with a broken leg and four holes in him, Jason’s already ready to jump into a fight. Who caused that? Was he always like that?

Slade’s never really wondered before.

“Fuck that,” he says. “I can handle myself. I handled the militia, I handled the plan. I nearly handled you. Don’t think I forgot the damage I’d done to you before you broke my leg.”

Jason, he decides, is trying to get a rise out of him. Unfortunately for him, he’s not easily intimidated.

“A big part of fighting,” Slade says, “is knowing when not to fight. And you’re too hotheaded to look at the situation and think that maybe, just maybe, you shouldn’t get into a fight with a man with five inches and thirty pounds on you who can punch through a wall.”

“Anyone can punch through a wall,” Jason counters, “if it’s a shitty wall.”

Slade snorts at that. As much of a little shit as Jason can be at times, he has an excellent sense of humor. It matches Slade’s own.

“Listen,” Slade says. “I know your instinct is telling you that you can handle this.” Slade pauses, taking a moment to decide before forging ahead. “So I’ll give you an option.”

That sounds right. Giving him options. He knows so much of Jason’s meltdowns are because of a lack of control, so theory holds that giving him options should be good for him.

That’s the theory anyway. He’s not quite sure how it’s going to work out in practice. Especially considering that he’s pretty sure if he took Jason off his metaphorical leash he’d proceed to immediately go and do something monumentally stupid. Like... what, hunting down Harley Quinn? No, that’s Slade’s own wishful thinking. Probably going to kick the shit out of Drake just to establish his dominance as the superior Robin or something stupid like that.

“What are my options?” Jason asks, folding his arms across his chest and making no attempt to hide his clear distaste for the whole idea.

“I’m going to be busy,” Slade says. “I’m basically stepping in to handle things for the Bat, and-”

“Why?”

Slade has to take a moment, because he doesn’t actually have an answer. Not really. It seemed like the correct thing to do. He has plans, but he tends to fly by the seat of his pants. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.

He stops to think. And think. And think.

He thinks so long that Jason actually has to prompt him.

“Slade?”

His eyes drift up, considering, and then he settles on something that’s close enough to the truth.

“You deserve better,” he says after a minute. “I’m a mercenary. I kill people for a living. I hurt people for a living. But even so, I’d never do what the Clown did to you. No one deserves that.”

He’s not sure where to stop. He’s not sure how much is too much. But despite the flinching at the mention of the Joker, Jason’s at least still with him, watching intensely.

“I can’t undo what happened. But I can do what I can to make sure you’ve got a place to go back to. Even if you hate them now, they obviously care a whole hell of a lot about you. The reactions they had when they found out about you...”

They were real. Pained, but real. He remembers their faces. He wishes he’d seen all of them.

“So, I’ll try and fix things. I’ll-”

Slade falters. Jason’s started to cry, hunching over where he sits. They’re ugly, pitiful noises.

“Jason,” he says after a moment. Jason doesn’t answer, and he scoots over, sitting down on the bed, trying to remember how to do it. Trying to remember what he needs to do. What did Alfred do? What helped before?

He isn’t any good at it, but he tries.

For the second time, Slade wraps his arms around Jason, pulling him close and letting him cry. It seems to help, and he rubs slow circles on Jason’s back the way he saw Alfred do almost twenty-four hours before.

Chapter Text

It takes a while for Jason to calm down. Slade’s tired--god is he tired--but he stays where he is. He makes small noises, trying to be comforting.

He knows he’s not doing a good job. He was never good at it, and Adeline was no better. He doesn’t do comfort. His life is the opposite of comfort. His life is about people exchanging money for the misery and suffering of others.

He doesn’t do comfort. He doesn’t do support.

Except he does, apparently. And he is.

Eventually Jason quiets, going still against him, and finally pulls back. His eyes are red, and he looks embarrassed. Slade isn’t surprised.

“You were going to ask something,” Jason says.

Slade was, but he puts that aside. He isn’t sure it’s important. Not right then.

“Jason,” Slade says. “I meant what I said. I’m going to put things right for you. Not revenge, but close enough, alright?”

Maybe still revenge, though. If he can find a way. And if not Jason, then he’ll handle things himself once things are over and done with.

He half expects another round of crying, but instead he gets a sullen nod. He doesn’t respond otherwise.

Alright. Back on task then, because it’s obvious Jason doesn’t want to talk about it.

“I’m going to be busy,” he says. “I can’t just leave you here. If we come and go too much, we’ll draw attention. So we need to relocate. There are a few options. But the most important thing is that I’m not leaving you alone.”

“Just take me with you,” Jason says.

“You can’t walk, Jason. If you want to improve, you’ll get some goddamn physiotherapy, but I can’t be hauling you all over the city while coordinating things.”

He’s under no illusions about how much work it’s going to be. He has to make sure everything’s in order. He has to keep everything organized.

“So you have options,” Slade says. “If you have suggestions, I’m open to them. You could stay with Alfred somewhere--Manor or otherwise. You could see about staying in the clocktower with Barbara. You-”

“I’m going to stay with you,” Jason says. “You’re supposed to be my second in command. I’m paying you. So you’ll have to figure out how to manage it.”

Slade smiles, despite how screwed up the situation is. It’s just like Jason to outright reject every possible compromise, demanding the most complicated solution. He didn’t just want a way to counter the batmobile. He wanted his own goddamn tanks. He couldn’t settle for killing the Bat. No, instead he had to be the one to personally ruin him. To tear down everything he’d built.

Jason never takes the easy options.

“I’ll look into it,” Slade says. “If you cooperate.”

Jason’s eyes narrow.

“What does cooperation entail, exactly?”

“I tell you to do something, you do it,” Slade says. “You don’t heal like me. You’re going to need physical therapy for your leg. You’re going to need to not strain your stitches. You’re going to need to go slow.”

“I don’t do slow,” Jason says, and Slade thinks it might be the truest thing he’s ever goddamn said.

“You do now,” Slade says. “Or I’m not going to play along.”

He knows Jason has to be going insane staying in the room. Even with visitors, he’s not used to sitting.

“Did Alfred already change your bandages?” He asks, and Jason nods.

“No sign of infection.”

If nothing else, Slade’s firmly of the opinion that wallowing in the clown’s filth for years has given Jason the immune system of a fucking god. Anything that didn’t infect him back then sure as hell isn’t going to infect him now.

“Healing neatly?”

“As well as can be expected,” Jason says.

“Which means no.”

He sighs. He’s tired. But there’s even more to do, so he gets up off the bed, heading to where he dropped his phone.

He has to admit it’s useful. He sends Drake a quick message about potential healing technologies. There’s no way that Bruce simply waits to heal back up with all the punishment he takes. The man seems to hop back to duty as fast as Slade himself does, but without any of the fun benefits of actual regeneration.

He isn’t all that surprised when Drake replies with a detailed list of options. Most of them can be ignored entirely. Some show potential. The last message, though, is what catches his eye.

Robin: O wants me to come over with her. Maybe I can bring dinner? Wouldn’t mind getting out of this place for a bit.

Slade considers, and then sighs, turning back to Jason, who’s already staring at him expectantly.

“Drake wants to come over,” he says. “He’ll have some stuff that might help your injuries. He wants to bring Barbara.”

Jason shifts in place, and Slade decides for him. The fact that he’s not sure doesn’t bode well. He turns his attention back to the phone, tapping along the keyboard.

Deathstroke: Not now. Too soon. Medical?

Robin: I’ll bring them with food. No worries. We’ll get there eventually.

Messages over, he sets the phone back down. He still hasn’t gotten into the habit of actually keeping it on him.

“Maybe...” Jason says, and Slade waves him off.

“Already decided,” he says. “He’ll drop off the stuff. I’ll sort through it. We can have them on the phone.”

“I was going to say I was fine with it,” Jason says with a scowl.

“And it took you this long to decide. There’s no big rush. We can wait.”

Jason scowls even harder.

“Try and do some stretches,” Slade says. “Be careful, but stretch out.”

“What about you?” Jason asks, confused.

“I haven’t slept. I’m going to pass out.”

He doesn’t need to say any more. For that matter, he doesn’t have any more to say. He crawls into his own bed, barely making it under the sheets before his body gives in and he finally sleeps.

Chapter Text

Slade wakes to the sound of motion. He keeps his eye closed, feigning sleep as he lets his brain wake up. He’s in a bed, which is good, and a quick, motionless inventory of his appendages confirms he’s not bound. He’s...

His brain wakes up.

Right.

He’s in the hotel room, and the noise he heard--someone shifting in another bed--is almost definitely Jason, napping in his own bed.

Slade pops his eye open and is proven partially wrong. It is Jason, but it’s Jason sitting on the edge of the bed, watching him. The moment Slade’s eye opens, he jerks back, spinning his head to the side in the most blatant what??? I wasn’t watching you! gesture that Slade’s ever seen.

Slade reaches over, grabbing the phone to check the time. He’s gotten nearly a full eight hours, which is rare, and he has maybe an hour until someone shows up. There’s also a stack of messages that he flicks through. Mostly progress reports. Drake, saying he’s finished sorting through the files. Grayson checking in. There’s a report from Oracle, letting him know that Alfred’s visited the containment facility, but that she’s confident he isn’t going to try and break Bruce out.

Slade isn’t so sure, but there’s another message--an hour later--letting him know that Alfred’s left.

Slade supposes that someone has to feed the Jokers.

“Did you stretch?” Slade asks, hauling himself out of bed. He has his own set of warm up stretches to start the day, and he starts going through them. No reason not to. He’s setting a good example, he decides, as he stands and starts to go through it.

Jason watches, and after a bit joins in. There’s not as much he can do, but stretching out his injured leg is important. They can’t let the muscle atrophy. They need to keep his activity up.

He considers changing before Drake arrives, but doesn’t get the chance. He hasn’t been up a full ten minutes before there’s a knock at the door. He glances immediately to Jason, who’s gone tense, but when Slade gets up Jason does yet another stupid thing.

“You should let him in,” Jason says.

“No,” Slade says. “Absolutely not.”

“I’ve already met him,” Jason counters. His hands have wandered over, fingers dragging over the metal of his helmet where it sits on the bed beside him. “I might as well meet him without the mask.”

“That’s not the same thing,” Slade said. “For one thing, I’m going to be pretty pissed if you kick him in the head.”

“Back,” Jason corrects. “Which would be hard to do.”

Slade rolls his eye.

“Fine,” Slade says. There’s no point in arguing. If he tries, Jason is liable to hobble out of the room after them on his crutches.

He gets the door.

Drake is dressed in civilian clothes, and absolutely looks the part of teacher at the fanciest school in town. The guy’s wearing slacks. He has a dress shirt. The only thing that gives any sort of hint as to what he gets up to at night is his buzzcut and the faintest hint of a deep purple bruise at his collar.

He’s also carrying both a duffel bag and a backpack, which Slade’s done himself on more than one occasion. Generally when carrying weaponry.

He steps aside and waves him in, but Drake pauses, his mouth forming a little o of surprise before he looks at Slade and mouths really? like he can’t quite believe he’s being let in.

Neither can Slade, but he puts a hand on Drake’s shoulder and pushes him into the room.

The tension is obvious more or less immediately. Jason squares his shoulders, his expression dark as he sizes Drake up. Drake does a bit better (probably because he’s already seen Jason, albeit unconscious), and he shrugs off his bags, dropping them by the foot of the bed before stepping up.

“Jason Todd, right?” Drake asks, holding out his hand for a handshake. Slade’s firmly of the opinion that it’s going too far, and is surprised when Jason returns it.

For all of ten seconds. Then Jason tightens his grip so hard he hears Drake make a noise of pain.

Replacement,” Jason hisses, as if that’s Drake’s name.

Slade steps in and swats Jason’s shoulder, right on the bullet wound. The pain is enough to make him yelp, and he releases his death grip.

“Try that shit again and it won’t be me intervening,” Slade mutters under his breath. “Alfred’ll have some choice words for you if he finds out you called him that.”

Drake’s still wincing, rubbing at his hand. It’s probably going to bruise, which is going to be a fun explanation to make, but at the very least he hasn’t bolted out of the room yet.

Jason looks like a storm cloud come to life. Slade isn’t sure he’s ever seen him quite this bitter, and then decides that he probably has. Those times were just hidden behind a helmet.

“Uh,” Drake says, “I won’t tell if you won’t? I’d rather not upset Alfred right now.”

Drake is very obviously doing his best, and Slade is of the opinion it’s not going to matter. Jason’s already decided how he feels about Drake, and he’s in no hurry to change his mind.

“You had some stuff for us, right?” Slade asks, trying to steer the conversation to something a bit more helpful. He can’t help but feel he’s not just dropped Drake into the lion’s den, but maybe even directly into the lion’s mouth, and he’s in a hurry to get him out of there.

“Alfred sent dinner,” he said. “It’s in the duffel bag.”

“And you’ve got stuff for me?” Jason cuts in.

Slade’s going to go insane, isn’t he?

Drake rolls with it.

“Yeah,” he confirms. “Some of it is stuff we use pretty regularly. Some of it is a bit more experimental. B’s pretty big on letting us suffer through normal healing rates so we remember to be careful next time. Says that regeneration powers make people sloppy.”

Slade doesn’t want to, but he does sort of agree. The moment someone gets regeneration, they stop dodging the way they used to. It matters less. He even catches himself doing it sometimes.

Drake digs into his backpack, pulling out item after item. The first one he brings out is... ridiculous looking. It’s like a shotgun grip with a bunch of tubes on the top. Some kind of a dispersal mechanism. Slade decides it’s like if a shotgun and a spray bottle had a kid, but also has no idea what it actually does.

Drake snaps a syringe with a green liquid in it into the mechanism, and Slade still has no idea what it actually does.

“Skin graft gun,” Drake explains. “Point at injury, shoot, and it drops a ton of stem cells into the injury. The problem with growing skin for skin grafts on bioreactors is that they’re too fragile. They just die off. So instead, you grow them on the wound, and let that serve as the bioreactor.”

He’s obviously enthusiastic about the whole idea, talking with a clear passion.

“Lets the whole wound heal at once, rather than just outside in. Basically gives you an epithelial layer to help hold the injury together.”

Slade knows just enough to think hmm, that sounds plausible, but not enough to actually critique it.

“So, you spray that gunk and it heals wounds like magic?” Jason asks, squinting at the gun.

“I need a sample of skin from you,” Drake says, "and then I can use that.”

Jason squints, glancing briefly to Slade before holding out his arm. It takes a bit to find a spot without scarring, and then Drake steps back, going to grab a little kit.

“Hold on, I’ll freeze-”

“Don’t,” Jason snaps. “Just take what you need.”

“It’ll hurt,” Drake says. ‘I’m basically cutting off a chunk-”

“Just do it.”

Slade rolls his eye and sits down on the edge of his own bed.

Drake does. He doesn’t look happy about it--he actually looks pretty nervous--but he does cut away a little half inch square, wrapping gauze around the injury to keep Jason from bleeding onto the bed. Jason doesn’t even flinch, which Slade suspects has more to do with not wanting to show weakness than his actual pain tolerance.

Drake hunches over the kit, doing some work before finally setting it aside.

“Give it time to cook,” he says. “It’ll take about an hour.”

An hour? Slade’s having a hard time imagining Jason not having started foaming at the mouth by that point.

“What else have you got?” Slade asks, desperate for a distraction.

“Uh, two more experimental technologies,” Drake says. “I have an injectable that’s in early FDA testing that helps speed up bone healing, but it hurts like he-”

“I’ll do it,” Jason says.

If Drake had offered to saw Jason’s arm off with a rusty butter-knife for a chance of speeding up the healing of his leg, Slade’s convinced Jason would have taken it.

“Finish your explanation,” Slade says, which earns him an angry glare from Jason.

“We already know I’m going to do it,” Jason says, which is true.

“And want to know what I’m dealing with,” Slade says, which is also true.

“It’ll hurt,” Drake says. “It’s like doing a marrow donation, if you’ve done that. Or I guess more like a test, because it doesn’t last as long. And you have to do it every day, because the effect fades too quickly. That’s the real reason it’s not going anywhere in trials, because it hurts so badly that it requires-”

“I don’t need painkillers,” Jason says. “I don’t need anesthesia.”

“You really, really do,” Drake says. “This hurts like... like breaking the bone in the first place, but even worse.”

“Try me,” Jason says through gritted teeth.

Drake does.

Chapter Text

Jason thinks he’s ready. When Drake pulls out a needle that could be used on an elephant, Slade’s convinced Jason has no idea what he’s asked for.

“I need you to pin him down,” Drake says to Slade as he prepares the injection. “Because he’s going to move, and if he moves, it’s going to hurt more.”

Slade slides over, giving Jason a look.

“Last chance to back out,” Slade says.

“Bite me,” Jason replies.

It takes some angling, but eventually he finds a position where he can fully hold Jason’s leg. Jason’s arms and torso are free, but Slade’s physically in between him and the leg, meaning all he’ll be able to do is smack at Slade’s back. It’s not a great position, but it’ll do. 

Slade reaches down, peeling the leg of Jason’s pajamas up. They’re oversized, which makes it easy, and Drake clicks his tongue as he looks over the thick cast the doctor fitted him with.

“Hold on,” Drake says. “Going in.”

He cuts the cast off. Jason makes a noise of joy when the cast finally comes off, revealing deeply bruised skin. It’s an old style cast, thick and useless for moving around in, and Slade’s happy he’s effectively sitting on Jason’s leg, totally immobilizing it. He doesn’t want him shifting.

Drake doesn’t go right for the needle though. Instead he produces something else, a loose frame of metal parts split into two that he starts to fit around Jason’s leg. They don’t actually touch his skin, so Slade isn’t sure how they’re supposed to work. What’s the point? What are they for?

But Slade gets a better idea when Drake pushes the last piece into place.

“It’s only a frame,” he says, screwing it down as the frame tightens around his leg. “But it’ll hold his leg in place. It’ll also get me the measurements for his dimensions, so that we can 3D print a new cast. Barb’s got the information, so it’s probably already started to print. This is just a temporary one.”

It doesn’t look comfortable, and there’s no way Jason can walk on it.

“You’ll have to keep him from moving while it’s on,” Drake says. “You don’t want it twisting.”

He spends a bit more time adjusting it while Jason sits still. Slade can’t see his face, but he’s sure Jason’s sulking as Drake makes sure his leg’s good.

“We’re kind of lucky it’s a clean break,” he says. “Makes my job a lot easier.”

He picks up the needle, and Slade presses his hand to a bit of unbruised skin on Jason’s leg.

“You sure, kid?” He asks. He can’t see Jason’s face, but Drake can, and he makes a face in response to whatever Jason’s doing behind Slade’s back.

“Just fucking do it,” Jason snaps.

Slade knows it’s going to be bad. Drake knows it's going to be bad. He’s pretty sure everyone knows it's going to be bad. But Jason’s too stubborn to take the easy way out. It’s about control, and anesthesia doesn’t give him enough.

“Alright,” Drake says and starts to push the needle in. Jason braces himself, his muscles going tight even with Slade immobilizing him. He’s doing pretty well, Slade has to say, until Drake hits bone.

He hasn’t even really started, Slade realizes, right as Drake presses a button. He can’t see what’s happening. Not really. But he can imagine. He has a general idea of how it works. The mechanism needed to punch through the hard bone to get to the marrow inside. 

Jason screams. The pain has to be intense, because he bucks, and only Slade’s weight keeps him from making his leg much, much worse. He holds tight, even as Jason rakes his hands down Slade’s back. Drake carries on, trying to steel himself but obviously shaken. He doesn’t torture people. He’s not used to people screaming like this. Screaming like they’re being torn apart. The pain is intense, and Drake has to shift his other hand to steady the first.

“I have to finish,” he says, and Slade barely hears him over the sounds Jason’s making behind him. 

He does. It seems to take forever, but he does, yelling ‘done’ as he jerks the needle out. There’s barely a dot of blood, but Jason’s entire body is heaving like he just ran a marathon.

Slade gets off him as Drake pulls back. When he turns, he isn’t surprised by what he finds. Jason’s eyes are wet, his mouth twisted into a grimace. He looks angry. At them? Slade decides probably more at himself.

“Idiot,” Slade mutters, reaching up to comb his fingers through Jason’s hair. “You should have just taken the anesthetic.”

Jason doesn’t answer. He seems hyper-aware of the stranger at the foot of his bed, the man who replaced him, who still goes out at night wearing a costume so like Jason’s own. It’s a mercy he’s not in it right then.

“I need to...” Drake falters for a moment, and then surges on. “I have to do the other side. So they’ll grow together.”

Slade weighs his options. Jason’s breathing still isn’t quite stable, still dealing with the after effects of the pain. But he’s not sure how much better it’s going to get, either. Slade doubts he’ll actually be calm until Drake’s long gone, which means getting it over faster will be better.

He pulls Jason up against him, looping an arm around him. He does better if he has something to hold onto. He seems to like the physical touch, and knowing what he does about Jason’s situation, he isn’t surprised.

“Finish it up,” he tells Drake. “With anesthesia.”

Drake seems far, far happier to do it with anesthesia. The pain of the first needle he uses is so minor Jason doesn’t even seem to notice with Slade distracting him. He doesn’t let Jason watch. That’ll just make him worse.

“You should see the technology they’ve got,” Slade says. “They have a guy over at Wayne Industries who handles all their R&D. Have to admit I’m a little bit jealous that the bats have all that tech.”

Jason grunts, but doesn’t reply. He isn’t giving Slade much to work with.

“You end up finishing that book?” He asks, trying to prompt Jason to say something. He still doesn’t, and Drake tries to join in while they wait for the freezing to take effect.

“Alfred said you were a big reader,” Drake says. “He was talking about putting together a box of some books for you, but he wasn’t sure if you were going to be staying here or not.”

“Probably smarter not to,” Slade says. “We’ll be moving around, and too much to travel with makes it a pain.” He’s always kept his physical possessions to an absolute minimum. He doesn’t do mementos. If everything he owned was burned up in a fire, it’d be a mild inconvenience at worst. The only thing he really cares about is his suit, and it gets replaced regularly enough that it hardly counts.

Slade continues combing his fingers through Jason’s hair, relieved when Jason finally responds. He’s not looking at the proceedings, staring off towards the window.

“Don’t think he’d know what I like anymore,” Jason says.

“I mean, there’s a bunch still in your room,” Drake says. “I think he was going to grab some of your favorites.”

Jason makes a small noise. He doesn’t seem to have noticed that the needle's already back in. If there’s pain, he doesn’t seem to notice it under his general discomfort.

“Is it still there...?”

“Your room?” Drake asks, sounding surprised. Slade’s impressed by his ability to multi-task, because he’s working with the needle without breaking stride in the conversation. “Yeah. I’ve never been inside, but they kept it intact. Alfred still cleans in there, but aside from that it’s been left as is.”

“Done,” Drake adds, withdrawing the needle.

Jason doesn’t acknowledge it, and Slade releases him, getting up to help Drake pack up his supplies.

“I should get going,” Drake says, taking the hint with as much grace as he can manage. “But I’ll let you know if I hear anything else.”

Slade sees him to the door before immediately returning to Jason.

He seems zoned out, which isn't that unusual. Slade debates, and then decides it might be better to let him sit. To let him come back to himself in time. He tidies the room a bit, and then makes himself lunch, unsure if Jason will end up joining him.

Chapter Text

Jason does eventually eat with him, but only after some gentle coaxing. As night falls, he starts getting more and more messages, and after the first hour he pops his communicator in, leans back in his chair, and starts coordinating. Oracle does a good job of it, but she’s clearly used to deferring to Bruce, and he’s not around.

Things go relatively smoothly. The big things--the ones he focuses on--are making sure Azrael gets the picture. It’s making sure he’s willing to play ball. Lucius reports in that Hush is doing just fine, and adds, sounding quite nervous, that he’s not sure he’d have realized the difference if he hadn’t been warned.

Hush, mercifully, stays at the office, declaring he’s going to work overnight. Slade isn’t sure why, and decides it doesn’t matter. Him not being around the mansion is better anyway. There’s less to find at Wayne Enterprises.

Jason sleeps. He doesn’t seem to mean to, curling up with his book and trying very hard not to move his (equally sore and numb) leg, but when Slade checks on him he’s asleep, nuzzled into the pillow.

Slade’s filled with nervous energy when Oracle calls in, reporting that they have a potential Joker on the loose. He considers leaving, and ends up trying for responsibility instead, gently shaking Jason’s shoulder.

Jason jerks awake, eyes wide and terrified.

“Jason,” he says. “Just me. I need to go handle something, but I’ll be back tonight, alright?”

“Where’re you going?” Jason asks, his voice slurred with sleep.

“Just out,” he says. “Work. I’ll be back.”

He doesn’t like leaving Jason alone, but he reasons that it’s probably harmless. Keeping Jason entertained has a significantly lower priority than making absolutely goddamn sure that every Joker is rounded up.

Jason nods, mumbles something that sounds like alright, and then buries his face back in his pillow.

Slade armors up and heads down to the van, hopping onto his bike before roaring off into the dark Gotham night.

To his intense disappointment, he doesn’t get a chance to beat the Joker’s face in. By the time he arrives on scene, both Nightwing and Azrael are already there, their faces hidden behind gas masks. Azrael’s fits perfectly into the gaps of his suit, while Nightwing's is a simpler thing, not quite matching his look.

The Joker is already trussed up, swimming in and out of consciousness.

“How sure are we?” He asks, relieved he’s shown up before the cops.

“He tore the arms off his own family,” Nightwing says. “Started laughing when he took a swing at me. Called me ‘baby bat’. So yeah, pretty sure.”

He can hear, in his ear, Oracle talking with Robin. He’s sure they do too, which means it’s just a matter of waiting for the batmobile to show up so they can transport him.

“That’s five,” he says. “And five cells.”

“He said he was pretty sure,” Nightwing says. “We have to hope it’s just the five.”

Slade does the math. There’s no way any of them could have been infected that much long after. Considering how long it took to build up...

“Probably just the five,” he says. “But double check. Oracle, I want a full run down of our suspect. What have we got?”

“Police have been called to his home three times in the past month,” she says. “No arrests. Signs of increased aggression. But his family managed to talk the police down after neighbors called from the noise.”

“It cost them,” Slade says. “But it fits. All the Jokers should be showing clear signs. In this case, his family just helped cover it up.”

If there are any others left, someone would have to be hiding them. He’s already handled Harley, who would be suspect number one. But who else? Who could there be?

Himself is the obvious one. The Clown could have paid him. He considers other options. Not a mercenary. The Jokers aren’t a hive mind. They have no way of knowing that he’s working with the other side. If they were watching the news, they’d think he was actively crossing the bats. So who?

Bane, maybe. He’s pretty sure they’ve worked together, and that’s one more thing to check off. Calendar Man doesn’t seem likely, but Slade’s eager to tick him off the list anyway.

“I want you to locate Bane and Calendar man,” he says into his comms. “And I’m going to go find Ivy.”

Ivy is not terribly difficult to find. She never is. The quick and easy way is to just figure out what part of Gotham has suddenly started turning into a botanical garden, and then wading right in.

As much as he hates to admit it, Slade sort of likes Ivy. She’s got a clear, easily understood set of motivations. She isn’t like so many of Gotham’s other denizens, likely to lash out or act unpredictably. As long as he follows her rules--keeping damage to plant life to an absolute minimum, not setting fires, etc--she simply leaves him alone.

He already knows where to find her, and he comes bearing gifts. Not cut flowers (possibly one of the most insulting gifts he can imagine for someone like her), but a slightly strained looking plant he’s stolen from someone’s front yard. Under watered. In need of attention. Like bringing a crazy cat lady a lost kitten, he thinks.

Whether she’s expecting him or simply willing to tolerate his presence, her plants part as he steps off the sidewalk, curling back to let him walk without trodding on anything that’s going to break. She’s much the same as she always is, perched atop a plant that should absolutely not be as big as it is, and when he holds up the plant she coos gently, taking it into her hands. The plant all but springs to life immediately, and she drops the terracotta pot, letting it shatter among the grass.

“You come with gifts,” she says, reclining back with the little plant in her arms. “Which means you want something.”

Slade wants to say she has him figured out, but at this point she’s seen him enough to know. He’d be embarrassed if she didn’t.

“I’m looking for something,” he says. “And your children are the best spy network in Gotham.”

He wonders if Bruce realizes that. If he knows the extent of Ivy’s reach. The only reason she doesn’t know everything is because one man can’t be looking at everything. But if she knows what to look for...

She’s dangerous. Beyond dangerous. But they have a nice working relationship, and she’s more than willing to exchange information for help.

“They say that you’re working for the Bat,” Ivy says. “If you’ve come to arrest me, I have to say I’ll be very disappointed.”

"We’re not nearly so friendly,” Slade says. “We have mutual goals at the moment, so we’re working hand in hand. I don’t think he likes me much more than he likes you.”

On reflection, Slade realizes it’s true. They hold a similar place when it comes to the various enemies that Batman’s had over the years. Both of them are enemies. Both of them have fought him. But both of them have a certain willingness to put things aside and collaborate as needed. Too many of Gotham’s other criminals put their grudge against the Bat above everything else.

“So,” Ivy says. “Who am I supposed to be looking for?”

“The Clown stiffed me,” he said. “Paid the first bit up front, and then skipped out on the rest.”

“He died,” she points out, as if he didn’t already know.

“He’d cheated me of my money before he’d died,” he counters. “What matters is that he’s infected a bunch of people. He’s turning them into him. And my professional ethics mean that I’m going to do everything I can to put a stop to that.”

It is a careful, tactical choice to reveal this much to Ivy. But Ivy’s spies are literally everywhere. If anyone would know about other Jokers, it would be her.

“Anything else?” She asks, giving nothing away.

“Calendar man,” he says. “And Bane, if you know where they are.”

She shrugs.

“I have no quarrel with either,” she says. Her stare is scrutinizing. His motivation with the Joker is clear. With the other two, less so.

“I’m more concerned about the Joker,” Slade says. “The other two are just a bonus.”

She pauses to consider, clearly taking her time with it. It’s late and dark and she could certainly make an attempt to kill him, but he doesn’t think she’s going to. There's no reason for it. No motivation. Why kill one of the few people who knows better than to damage Gotham’s greenery?

“I will consider,” she says after a moment.

That means it’s time for him to go. The plants are already starting to collapse inward, pushing him out at the risk of stepping on them.

He makes sure he’s back on nice solid pavement before he glances behind him, but there’s no sign of Ivy in the dense patch of woods.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t linger long. It hasn’t been a full two hours and he’s already on his way back to the hotel, sliding the bike into the back of the van before heading upstairs.

He’s worried. He shouldn’t be--lord knows Jason can handle himself for two hours--but he’s worried anyway. There are a lot of possible things that could go wrong. He could have tried to get out of bed. He could have moved his new cast.

The communicator in his ear beeps, and he pauses just before the elevator.

“D?” Comes Drake’s voice.

“Progress report?” Slade asks. If he’s made a breakthrough, that would be nice, but he’s not counting on it.

“I finished printing the cast,” he says. “If you want me to stop by, we can snap it on and give him a bit more mobility.”

Slade lets out a sigh of relief. Bizarrely, the more mobile Jason is, the less of a pain in his ass he’s going to be. The more he has his freedom, the less he’s going to rail against every possible limitation on it.

“Sure,” he says. “I’m just getting back.”

Slade doesn’t wait for him. He heads upstairs, grabbing his communicator and getting Oracle to report what he knows. She lets him know that she’s following a lead on Bane--probably on Santa Prisca--and that she’ll get back to him if anything comes up.

He lets out a sigh of relief when he finds Jason still in bed, his leg propped up like it’s supposed to be, his nose buried in a book. He looks unhappy, but he’s obviously been behaving.

“I have to piss,” he snaps. “How am I supposed to do that when I can’t move?”

“Give it a bit,” he says. “Drake’s on his way with your new cast. You’ll be able to hobble around on that one.”

“Thank god,” Jason says. “Because if I had to stay with this one I’d have snapped.”

He feeds Jason some of the food Drake’s left, and gets the door when Drake knocks. There’s a thing in his arms, but Slade’s hard pressed to describe it as a cast. It looks almost like two halves of a very confused honeycomb, a thick structure with large holes. It seems to be intended to allow the skin to breath, but it also has the added effect of letting them inject things without having to haul it off every time.

“Alright,” Drake says. “I’m ready to go.”

Jason goes back to scowling the moment Drake’s in the room, but he keeps his mouth shut as the two of them slowly remove the metal temporary brace. When Drake produces his skin graft gun, Slade realizes they never even applied it earlier.

“It’s ready to go,” Drake says. “I’m going to spray it on your surgical scar, and then we can snap the brace into place. Shouldn’t hurt at all. Maybe some discomfort.”

Jason doesn’t seem to look much at his leg. It’s all bruise and injury, the scar largely minimized but still visible, and he doesn’t have much reaction as Drake sprays a fine mist along the scar. He applies some medical tape to help keep it closed, and then waves Slade over to help getting the cast on.

Once he’s seen the two pieces a bit more carefully, he gets a better idea of how it holds together. It extends from just below Jason’s knee down to his ankle, extending over his foot while leaving his toe exposed. There’s obviously not going to be any motion coming from his ankle with the cast on, but it’s significantly more motion than the previous cast--which covered most of Jason’s knee--afforded him.

It’s also far, far lighter, not that it really matters.

They snap the two pieces together, and Drake sets about securing it. It doesn’t take long, and once it’s done, Drake gestures to the room.

“You should try walking in it.”

Jason hasn’t walked in days, and it takes absolutely zero urging to get him to hop off the bed. There’s some balance issues--the cast bulges a bit under his heel--but within a few minutes he’s hobbling his way around the room with only a single crutch.

Thank god. Slade thought he was going to go crazy if he had to deal with bedridden Jason any longer.

“Should be good to shower in,” he says. “We should do the rest of your injuries, though.” His hand goes back to the spray gun, and Slade looks over at Jason.

The leg is one thing. The bullet holes are a totally different thing.

It does take some coaxing to get Jason to show the injuries. He seems extremely self conscious of just how many scars he has, and Slade doubts that a reminder that anyone connected to Batman is liable to have plenty of their own is going to help much. He knows Jason’s are the worst. Jason knows that. So Slade keeps his mouth shut and lets Drake handle things. There’s one on his side, just missing his shoulder blade, one just above his hip, and on his upper arm. None of them hit anything vital, a fact that Slade would love to claim credit for, but instead was largely by accident.

Drake is good and patient as he sprays each hole down. They’ve all been stitched closed with nice dissolvable stitches, but Jason doesn't object to a chance to minimize the scars and help them heal faster. He puts up with Drake’s physical closeness, and the way he tapes each one shut, and when Drake finally pulls back, Slade thinks that Jason might actually have stopped scowling at him.

Slade considers nudging Jason until he thanks Drake, but decides not to push his luck.

“I should get going,” he says. “Sleeping over tonight. I talked with Barb and we’re going to bring in an epidemiologist who has experience with Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.”

Slade nods along. He’s heard the name dropped a few times, but he’s not a doctor or a scientist. He doesn’t know the details, and he’s not going to try and learn them. If there’s one thing he knows, it’s how to delegate.

Drake gives Jason an overly cheery wave, and then lets himself out.

Jason’s up and out of bed before the door’s even shut. He grabs a new pair of pajamas, and practically slams the door to the bathroom closed.

“Showering!” He hollers, and Slade doesn’t hide his laugh.

Chapter Text

There’s no question that the new cast improves Jason’s mood. He goes from sulking in bed every waking moment to working his way around the room, filled with barely suppressed energy. Slade goes out to get lunch when Drake says he’ll be late, and walks in on Jason attempting to perform a cartwheel.

Maybe too much energy.

“You’re going to break your other leg,” Slade chides as he drops the bags of food onto the bed. “And if you do, I’m sticking you in the hospital and leaving you there.”

“I’m fine,” Jason says, snatching up one of the bags and digging in. “Feeling way better. Replacement’s magic medical shit seems to have worked.”

Slade rolls his eye.

“He’s trying to win you over, you know,” Slade says. “Doesn’t seem like he’s the only one. I think they’re all chomping at the bit to get to know you again.”

Jason hmphs into the hamburger he’s shoveling into his mouth, swallowing it down as he does.

“Doubt it.”

Slade has to fight the urge to roll his eye.

“Nice thing about being a mercenary,” Slade says, “is no day job. All the bats are running around doing real life things that put food on the table, and meanwhile I can do whatever the hell I want.” So long as he stays on call anyway.

“So what’s on the menu?” Jason asks, kicking his feet up and letting his good leg rest atop the cast.

“We’ve got some options,” Slade says. “Most of your stuff was destroyed when I had to blow the base. We both need to pick up some new clothes.” All Jason really has are pajamas, which aren’t going to work well. He needs actual clothes.

Jason makes a face.

“You expect me to go clothes shopping?” He asks.

It occurs to Slade that Jason probably hasn’t been inside a mall for almost five years. They certainly never went, and Slade had always handled all their shopping. He ordered online, or he paid other people to do it, or on rare occasions, he did it himself. It’s not as if Jason hasn’t been out and about by himself, but he’s always been out and about with a purpose.

“Don’t see why not,” Slade says. “We can find a store, get you something that’ll fit over the cast.”

Jason sulks, but Slade isn’t letting him get out of it.

“It’ll be good for you to get out of the room,” he says. “We’ll take the van.”

He gets dressed himself, sending a quick message as he does.

Deathstroke: Closest bookstore?

Oracle: There’s one a few blocks away from you

Oracle: I’ll send you the address

Oracle: I’m going to lunch with my dad at the restaurant right beside it

Oracle: You guys could drop in :)

Deathstroke: No promises.

She types so fast that every time he looks his phone’s alerting him to a new message, and even as he shoves his phone into his pocket it beeps again.

Jason is, for lack of something better, effectively just wearing his pajamas. They’re baggy enough to cover the cast, but it leaves his foot exposed, and as he finally leaves the room--for the first time in literal days--he grumbles the whole way.

“I’m going to get frostbite,” he says.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Slade says.

He’s surprisingly mobile, and Slade has to forcibly remove him from the driver’s seat after Jason slips past.

“No,” he says. “Absolutely not.”

Jason doesn’t like it, but he ends up in the passenger seat, sulking the whole while.

He’s overly aware of his exposed face, and Slade knows it. When he was the Knight, he always had his helmet on. If his helmet wasn’t on, he was in something with a big hood, hiding his face in shadows.

The brand is far from the worst of Jason’s injuries, but it’s the most obvious. It’s the one that so clearly has meaning. A broken leg or a healed up cut could be a million different things, but a branded J on his cheek? That has a story, and it isn’t one Jason wants to tell.

Slade considers letting Jason stay in the car. He can estimate his sizes well enough, and he’s bought clothes for him before. But there’s a lesson, he decides, that needs to be learnt.

People don’t care half as much as Jason thinks they will.

Slade knows that better than most. He’s had a missing eye for years, and when he was younger he worried about it drawing too much attention. Even with sunglasses, the tips of a scar--a harsh vertical slice that runs through his missing eye from a completely unrelated incident--are still clearly visible. He was sure that someone out there was going to notice and... what, call the police? He wasn’t sure.

It didn’t matter. Most people wouldn't give it more than a second glance. Most people didn’t. They still don’t.

But he takes mercy on Jason as they park, and leaves his sunglasses in the car.

The two of them must make an odd picture to anyone who really looks at them. An older man with plenty of visible scars, an eyepatch on one eye and a vertical slice through the same. A younger man with plenty of scars of his own, a sullen look, and a big J branded on his cheek.

A few people--very few--give them a second glance. Most don’t. It’s Gotham, and half the people who actually notice make a point of not giving them a second look. Better not to know in Gotham. Better not to ask questions.

But the majority?

The majority don’t even notice, and that’s something Jason will have to learn sooner rather than later.

Jason’s obviously eager to be done with it, and the big box store Slade’s picked out is mostly empty. He makes Jason actually try the shirts he grabs on, much to his clear annoyance, but he’s not leaving the store with something that doesn’t fit.

To Slade’s distinct lack of surprise, Jason picks a stack of clothes with hoods.

Slade lets him.

The only person to really stare is the cashier, who seems caught off guard by their general look. Only when Slade gives the woman his very best charming smile does she stops looking, too busy blushing as she finishes checking them out.

Jason seems that much calmer as they head back to the car.

Chapter Text

Jason goes from calm to nervous less than a second after Slade misses their exit. Really, Slade’s pretty sure he should be impressed that Jason knows the area so well that he’s memorized the exact way there and back.

“Not going back to the hotel,” Slade says. “Not yet, anyway.”

“Where are we going?” Jason demands immediately. He’s already pulled on a hooded sweater, and between Slade’s eye and Jason’s hood, Slade can’t see his reaction at all. His voice is the only indication Slade has, and he sounds... agitated.

Goddamnit.

“I was trying to make it a surprise,” he says.

“I don’t like surprises.”

Oh, right. Slade curses himself for not having figured that one out on his own.

“There’s a bookstore not far from here,” he says. “Just a few streets down. Thought it would make a nice birthday gift. Letting you pick out a book that isn’t, you know, fucking awful.”

He has absolutely not missed the fact that Jason makes faces every time he picks up the book Slade gave him.

“It’s not awful,” Jason says. “It’s just... not my taste.”

“Like I said,” Slade says, “you can get something better.”

Jason doesn’t protest. He doesn’t say anything until they’ve pulled in out front of the bookstore. Slade eyes the restaurant--a little obviously family-run Chinese food place--that’s off to the side, and then ushers Jason in.

The phrase a kid in a candy store does not begin to cover Jason’s reaction.

Slade doesn’t do books. He lets Jason go running off and wanders his way over to the magazine section, picking out the latest Firearm Buyer’s Guide to flip through.

Jason seems to take a long, long time. Long enough that Slade’s nearly through the magazine and starting to cast furtive glances around. Did he make a mistake bringing him there? Is he somewhere lost in the stacks, having a breakdown?

And then, out of nowhere, Jason arrives.

With his arms full of books. There have to be twenty of the things. It’s a complex mix of books, and Slade squints at them.

“Kid,” he says. “You have to be kidding me, right? We can’t get all of those.”

“You’re rich,” Jason says, looking at him, as if he’s being completely ridiculous. “You can afford some twenty dollar hardcovers.”

“It’s not about the cost,” Slade says. “It’s about portability. You can’t haul all those books around with you every time you move. And we’re going to be moving before long.”

The situation with the hotel room feels increasingly untenable. Maybe a few more days at most. They’re going to have to move.

Jason frowns, and it’s obvious he hadn’t considered that.

A store clerk pops up so fast that Slade’s momentarily caught off guard, his face wide with a customer service smile.

“If portability is an issue,” he says, “can I recommend an e-reader?”

Jason doesn’t like it--he likes the smell of books--but sense prevails. He can’t haul around a hundred books every time they have to move. Massive libraries are not conducive to a lifestyle like theirs. So Jason reluctantly replaces the stack of books with a neat little box, and then reluctantly replaces that box with a different box, one that doesn’t have 3G or wifi at Slade’s insistence.

“Pick one,” Slade adds, and Jason looks at him in confusion.

“Not the e-reader,” Slade says. “But you should pick one of the books. Makes a better gift.”

There’s absolutely no question that Jason’s already thought this out. That he expected... something. What, that Slade was only going to buy him one thing? But there’s no hesitation as he digs through the pile, producing, of course, the largest of the books.

It’s a thick leather bound book with a price tag of more than fifty dollars, and when Slade reads the cover and discovers it’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare he decides, then and there that Jason was always a weird kid.

“Sure,” he says, dropping the book onto the box they already picked out and heading up to the counter. He does his best to scrutinize Jason’s reaction, trying to get a feel. Embarrassed? It’s hard to tell. He seems uncertain himself as to how he’s supposed to be reacting.

Probably didn’t get many gifts, Slade decides.

Well aware of the fact that he is technically going behind Jason’s back, he suggests lunch, letting Jason drop his new prizes in the van before they head over to get food.

Chapter Text

Slade is very good at situational awareness and getting an idea of the situation. It takes him maybe half a second to spot a wheelchair in one of the booths at the back, and he nudges Jason as they wait for the waitress to show up.

“What?” Jason asks, and Slade nods his head towards where the Gordons sit, out of sight.

There’s still time to leave. If Jason doesn’t want to--if he freaks out--they can go and Barbara will never even know he was there.

Jason doesn’t freeze up. Instead, he rotates his head, squinting at Slade suspiciously.

“You knew she was going to be here,” he says.

“Guilty as charged,” Slade says, showing his hands. “Asked her where the bookstore was, and she said she’d be here. Thought it might be more casual to do lunch.”

“Except I eat like a man who’s just learning what food is,” Jason mutters under his breath, and Slade can’t stop himself from laughing.

“That’s an Alfredism,” he says. “Do you really think she’s going to care about your table manners?”

Jason shuffles in place.

“If it gets too intense, I can fake an emergency,” Slade says. “So give it a shot.”

Jason, with obvious reluctance, allows himself to be steered forward. He does not move quickly. In fact, Slade’s pretty sure he’s slowing down the closer they get to the corner booth.

“Jason,” he says quietly. “You can do this.”

It is clearly not the pep talk Jason was hoping for, and it does not make him go any faster. If anything, it makes him worse, because he stops about three feet short.

Slade makes one last attempt to push Jason onward, and then simply steps around him, heading to the booth and hoping Jason’s going to join him.

“Gordons,” he says. “Fancy meeting you here.”

Jim Gordon chokes on a french fry at the sound of Deathstroke the Terminator’s voice. Unlike Batman, Slade’s never made any attempt to hide his voice. Doesn’t see the point. He doesn’t have enough of a civilian identity for someone to identify him. He cranes his head back, looking up at Slade’s smiling face, and then glances to the side as he notices Barbara rapidly wheeling herself around Slade.

Slade doesn’t turn. He knows what she’s up to, and he leans over, blocking Gordon’s view of his daughter.

“Ignore them,” Slade says. “Barbara invited us to come for lunch.”

“Who’s us?” Gordon asks. He looks less than happy to see Slade, and his voice drops to near a whisper.

“Listen, as much as I appreciate what you’re doing to help them out, you’re a wanted man. I can’t just let you-”

“You can do whatever you want,” Slade says.

“I’m not dirty,” Gordon says, clearly insulted by the insinuation.

“This isn’t about being dirty,” Slade says. “This is about practicality. If you try and take me in, you’re going to be putting everyone into a giant mess. And just because I’m playing for team bats for a while doesn’t mean I’m above cutting my way out of a cell.”

“You’ve already done that once, Wilson,” Gordon says.

Slade wonders if he looked into him after the raid, or if he already knew. Maybe he always knew. It doesn’t really matter.

“Sure have,” he says. “Waller would love to get her hands on me, but it’s not happening. Learned from my mistake the first time, and you guys don’t have enough heavy hitters to take me down at the moment.”

No Bruce severely cuts their chances of stopping him.

“Anyway,” Slade says. “Point is, not here to fight. I’m a guest. So you can put your morals to the side for the sake of your daughter and play along, alright?”

Gordon looks like he’s strongly weighing his options when Barbara pops back into view. Her face is split into a wide smile, and she’s latched herself onto Jason’s arm, physically pulling him into view.

Slade decides it’s time to rearrange things. It takes some doing--during which Gordon looks increasingly confused--but eventually he manages to slide Jason into the booth, with Barbara across from him. Slade sits beside Jason, across from Gordon, at which point Gordon expresses what’s obviously been on his mind from the moment he saw Jason.

“Is that your son?”

Jason chokes. Slade doesn’t. He keeps his cool, suddenly on very thin ice.

“No,” he says. He knows what Gordon means, even if Jason doesn’t. “This is Jason.”

Gordon makes a confused noise.

“Did you kidnap a -”

Dad,” Barbara hisses. “He didn’t kidnap a kid!”

“You haven’t seen his file,” Gordon says. “He would absolutely kidnap a child, so don’t act so shocked.”

“Well he didn’t kidnap this one!” Barbara says.

Jason looks like he’s going to die. He’s trying to vanish into the bench, or maybe sneak out under the table.

“Dad,” Barbara says. “This is Jason-” She makes a furtive glance towards both Slade and Jason himself, unclear on how to introduce himself. The second Robin? Bruce’s Ward?

“Jason Todd,” Slade finishes for her.

There’s a slow moment of dawning realization on Gordon’s face, and he turns to look at Jason like he’s seeing him for the first time.

Then, ever so slowly, he turns to look at his daughter.

“Is this what you were hiding from me?” He asks.

“Among other things,” she says, sounding a teeny tiny bit smug.

“Jason’s staying with me,” he says, “but we shouldn’t be talking about work. Civilians, and all.”

There’s no way he’s risking Gordon letting things slip. Not a chance in the goddamn world.

“Hard to imagine you as a civilian,” Gordon grumbles in Slade’s direction.

Dad,” Barbara hisses, smacking him under the table. “Can you not be nice for ten seconds?”

It’s at that exact moment that the waitress shows up. She seems confused by the appearance of two new people at her table, but rolls with it. 

Jason keeps his head down. Slade orders for the both of them, ignoring Gordon’s looks.

“You should tell her about your trip to the bookstore,” Slade says, elbowing Jason.

For the most part, he wants to let Jason and Barbara talk. Or more accurately, he’s content to let Barbara talk at Jason, while Jason occasionally gets a word in. She seems to recognize he’s reluctant to speak all that much, and eases his nervousness by not allowing any silence.

Which leaves Slade to deal with Gordon.

The conversation is strained. Gordon doesn’t like him, and seems reluctant to make small-talk. He avoids most of Slade’s conversation starters, and when the food finally arrives it’s a mercy. The conversation on the other side of the table stops immediately, and Jason wolfs down the food at a record pace. Slade makes a point of eating fairly quickly, getting the hint when Jason kicks him under the table.

“Probably shouldn’t stay too long,” he says between bites. “Wouldn’t want any police showing up to sniff around.”

He can’t help himself, shooting Gordon a big ‘ol grin. Gordon glares at him, and Barbara rolls her eyes and shoots a glare at Slade herself, probably for the lecture she’s going to hear when they leave.

Slade doesn't wait for the bill. Instead he drops a bill sizeable enough to cover their portion and a generous tip (but not generous enough to put them into ‘memorize their appearances so I can get their table next time they come in’ territory) before he finally stands up.

Jason practically shoves past him with only the quickest bye Barbara as he heads for the car. Slade lingers a little bit longer, giving Gordon his very best winning smile.

“Good seeing you again Barbara,” he says, wondering if she neglected to mention their last face to face meeting to her father. “And you too, Gordon. I’m sure I’ll see you around.”

“Hopefully not without bars between us,” Gordon mutters under his breath.

Slade laughs and excuses himself, heading back to the car.

Chapter Text

Jason is too smart for his own goddamn good.

He’s quiet when Slade gets back to the car, climbing in the moment Slade unlocks it, and doesn’t say much when Slade gets in himself. Slade figures, entirely incorrectly, that Jason’s probably worn out. It’s the first time he’s been outside in days. He’s just run all over the place. He’s probably tired, right?

Jason cradles his purchases in his arms as they drive, as if he’s worried they’re going to vanish.

“Alfred says he’s sending food for dinner,” Slade says when he checks the phone. “And round two of Drake’s medical stuff.”

Jason grunts, obviously unhappy with the latter, and slides out of the car himself on arrival. Slade doesn’t go in right away, double checking the bike in the back of the van is fine, and then locks up before heading up to the room.

Jason’s sitting on the bed, staring at him when he comes into the room. His clothes are already shoved in drawers (less neatly than Slade would like, but he’s not going to pick a fight over it), the tablet and the book on the nightstand...

And Jason’s looking at him.

Slade can’t help but feel a sinking feeling in his gut as Jason sizes him up.

“What?” Slade asks. He knows there’s something coming. Jason might be considering his options, but he’s obviously got something going on. “Was it something Barbara said?”

Did she let slip about the Jokers? She should know better than anyone why he’s keeping it from Jason. Every bit of progress they made would backslide immediately if he knew what was going on. If he knew that the Joker was still out there. That he knew about Jason.

Jason’s eyes narrow. 

Wrong guess.

“You have a son.” It isn’t a question. It’s a statement of fact, and approximately one second into maintaining his usual stoic non-reactions, Slade realizes he’s made a mistake. It’s the wrong response. The correct thing--the thing he should have done--was laugh. Play it off like it was ridiculous. Say something like you really think someone like me would have a kid?

Playing stoic has all but confirmed it to Jason.

Slade lets out a sigh and leans his weight against one of the dressers.

“Yeah,” he says. “I had a kid.”

Jason clearly catches the had, and for a second Slade wonders if the conversation is going to end there. He’s not so lucky, though.

“What happened?”

“He died.”

He doesn’t want to talk about it. Not really. But things are uneven between them. Slade knows all Jason’s secrets. He’s seen things he shouldn’t. He knows things he shouldn’t. And Jason didn’t get any say in that. By comparison, Jason knows nothing about him. He’s a mystery.

And Slade decides, as much as he hates it, that if Jason wants to know, he should be allowed to know. Even if Jason isn’t asking, the look on his face makes it clear that he wants to.

“I was married. Surprises a lot of people, but I was. She knew what I did, and did similar enough stuff herself. Neither of us wanted kids, but when it happened, we both kind of decided ‘what the hell, why not?’. It was a bad choice. Shouldn’t have jumped into it without thinking it all out. Neither of us were good parents. She hated staying at home with him. I hated being home. Neither of us were at the point in our lives where we were ready to settle down. But we did what we could. I think he knew she resented him. And I was just...”

Slade pauses, waving his hand. He doesn’t know what the gesture means anymore, but he needs something to do with his hands.

“Not there,” he finishes. “Most of the time, anyway. I did all the dad stuff when I was home, but I just wasn’t home most of the time. Places to go, people to kill, things to steal. I had a reputation and people lining up to give me work. Easier for me to do the work while she stayed home with him. And then one day I came home and he wasn’t there. Someone wrote This is what you get on the wall in blood. Adeline got back from doing groceries to find him missing.”

He isn’t done with the story, but that doesn’t stop Jason from interrupting. He sounds distressed. Slade’s doing his best to keep his tone neutral, but Jason sure as hell isn’t.

“Did you find him?”

Slade doesn’t look at him.

“Eventually. We found the guy who’d taken him, tortured the location out of him, and then killed him. But too late. By the time we found him, he was already dead. He’d died alone, thinking no one was even coming for him.”

Slade can’t look at anything, so he doesn’t. He turns, staring out the window. 

Jason’s quiet for what seems like forever. Slade’s expecting the same thing he gets from everyone. Platitudes. A quiet I’m sure he knew you were looking for him. He’s heard them all before and he doesn’t want any of them.

Jason doesn’t end up saying anything at all. Instead he gets up, stepping over until he leans on the dresser beside Slade.

He doesn’t do anything else. He doesn’t try and tell him he was a good dad. He doesn’t try any of that stuff. It’s only after minutes that he finally says something.

“What was his name?”

“Joseph,” Slade says, and he feels like he’s cracked off a part of himself and handed it over for Jason to take.

Jason leans against him, and Slade just lets him for a long, long time.

Chapter Text

They don’t talk about it any more. Not right away. Jason reads and Slade does his work. It’s just after three when Drake shows up, still wearing his work clothes.

“Going to be busy tonight,” he says. “Figured it was better to do it now.”

He doesn’t give further details, which Slade is thankful for. The second injection seems to go a lot smoother. Jason complains about it aching, but there’s no real pain. They double check the bullet wounds, which look better, but Slade’s not sure how much of that is wishful thinking.

Then Drake excuses himself, with the promise that Alfred will be dropping off dinner.

It’s at that point that Jason takes a sledgehammer to the peace they’ve carefully built up.

“You’re using me as a replacement for Joseph,” Jason says. It’s not a question. This, like the one before, is a statement.

“No,” Slade says immediately. The insinuation--even if it’s something he wondered about himself--bothers him. “I’m not.”

Jason fixes him with a look, clearly waiting for an explanation, and Slade sighs, sitting down heavily on the bed and tipping his head back.

“It wasn’t about you,” he said. “Not originally. It was selfish. Or I guess originally it was curiosity. I felt like there was something the Clown had hid from me, and he had. And then when I found out what had happened, it... bothered me. Personally. When Joseph went missing, I was terrified that we weren’t going to find him. I searched... everywhere. Turned every brick. Interrogated every person. Tore the town apart. And the whole time, I was living with the fear that I wasn’t going to find him. That I’d keep searching and searching and I’d never find a body. What do you do then? What do you do then as a parent?”

Jason doesn’t answer. He doesn’t know what to say. No one ever does.

“The thought of burying an empty coffin--of never knowing--was one of the worst thoughts I ever had. So finding out that Bruce went through the same thing--that he never got any real closure--was a hard thing to swallow.”

It’s the first time he’s mentioned Bruce in Jason’s presence. Until this point he’s always avoided it, dodging around any possible mention. But he takes it better than Slade thought he would, glancing away. It’s different, Slade guesses, hearing his name compared to actually seeing the man.

“Did they bury me?”

Slade is caught off guard with the question, and he turns to really look at Jason before he answers. He seems lost in himself again, unfocused and staring at nothing.

“They did, yeah,” Slade answers. “They had a funeral. You’ve got a gravestone, even if there’s no body under it.” Nothing to bury. Did they give him a casket? Probably. Bruce would have wanted to. Probably the most expensive empty casket in Gotham.

“Did you see it?”

Slade doesn’t bother to hide his surprise and confusion at the question.

“Yeah,” he says. “Visited it when I started sticking my nose into things. Nice and fancy.”

“Can I see?”

Oh hell.

The last thing Slade wants to do is show Jason Todd his grave, but the more he thinks about it, the more convinced he becomes that maybe--just maybe--it wouldn’t be too bad for him. So much of what the Joker’s told him is that Bruce forgot him. That the moment the Joker took him, everyone basically just wiped him out of existence. Showing him otherwise might help. Showing him that he was mourned. That he wasn't forgotten.

Slade grumbles a bit.

“Fine,” he says. "We’ll go see it. How’s the leg-”

“It’s fine,” Jason interrupts. “We can go now.”

Slade rubs at his temple, but there’s no point in arguing. Once Jason has something in his mind, he’s not going to be deterred. Nothing’s going to stop him.

Jason tosses his e-reader and a change of clothes in a bag, which makes Slade intensely suspicious. There’s no reason he might need a change of clothes. Absolutely none. But Slade packs up his own, just in case, keeping a close eye on Jason. He’s being more quiet than usual, and it’s not a good thing. Quiet means he’s thinking.

Bad things happen when Jason Todd has time to think.

Slade sends a quick message to Alfred as they get into the van, tossing their bags in the back. Slade doesn’t know where they’re going after the graveyard, but it’s pretty clear to him that Jason is planning to twist his arm to go somewhere.

“I want it on the record,” Slade says as they drive, “that I think this is a stupid idea. You’re going way too fast, and while I get that you’re trying to push yourself and all, you need to give yourself time too.”

“I wasted two years with the Clown,” Jason mutters under his breath.

Slade’s pretty sure it’s the first time he’s mentioned the Joker to him, and he can’t help but feel a flare of amusement that Jason’s picked up his insulting nickname for the man who tortured him for years.

And then the feeling fades, because he realizes what Jason said.

Two years. Jason absolutely knows what year it is. He knows how old he is. But his aversion to thinking about what happened is so intense he hasn’t made the connection that it was a lot more than two years.

Slade debates correcting him. There’s pros and cons to each. But the truth always catches up, so he decides correction is better.

“Four years,” he says.

Jason doesn’t reply. He’s not even entirely sure he hears him as they make the drive to the cemetery.

Chapter Text

Gotham Cemetery looks the same as it did the last time he visited. The same big graves. The same designated family plots. It was dark when he visited, and the feeling's a bit different in the daylight, but he’s too distracted by Jason to really pay much attention. He can see the angel before they’ve even parked, sticking up above much shorter graves, but he doesn’t point it out.

“You’re sure?” Slade asks, but Jason ignores him, sliding out of the car before craning his neck around.

But he knows where to go. Slade isn’t sure how until he stops to really think about it and realizes that he’s probably been there before. It’s not as if Jason’s the only tomb in the Wayne family plot.

Slade hangs back, keeping just a bit behind Jason as he heads up towards the plot. He walks right past the twin graves of Bruce’s own parents, stopping in front of the massive angel.

Here lies Jason Todd the carving says. Below it, missed by Slade the first time he visited, are Jason’s date of birth and apparent death. He notes that the date is the same date Bruce got the tape.

It’s not as if they had any idea of when he’d actually died. They’d have had to guess. Slade wonders why they put the date of the tape, and not the date he went missing. He’s not sure he’ll ever get an answer.

Jason’s silent. He reaches out, dragging his fingers across the carved marble. They drag over his name, and the date, and then he simply stands there, staring.

This is another place where he’s at a loss. Does he support him? Does he leave him to his grief? Slade half expects the sky to open up and start dumping rain on them, but it remains stubbornly dry, as overcast as Gotham ever is. The whole city’s miserable.

Eventually, Alfred joins him. He’s not sure Jason even notices the butler approaching, but Slade sure does. He stands just beside Slade, watching Jason’s back as he stands in front of his own grave, staring up at the angel and the carving and thinking about who knows what.

The silence lasts too long. Slade can’t take it, so he steps up, clearing his throat.

“Jason?”

There’s no response, so he very, very cautiously reaches forward to touch Jason’s shoulder.

He jerks away, spinning in place, and Slade wonders if Jason had completely forgotten that he was there.

“Kid,” Slade says. “It’s alright.” Jason isn’t crying, and that bothers him. He should be crying. Crying is the normal response to seeing your own goddamn grave. But Jason isn’t, and the more he thinks about it, the more he’s bothered.

Slade reaches up, wrapping his arms around Jason’s shoulders and pulling him in.

It’s only when Jason’s face is buried in his shoulder that the tears finally come. They’re hot and wet and Slade just lets him go. It’s different from the first few times, in large part because Slade has a better understanding for the why. He knows why Jason’s breaking down.

This is the truth, kicking its way in. This is proof. There’s a difference between being told after the fact that people didn’t forget him and seeing actual proof. His grave doesn’t have anything under it, but it’s still a clear, physical sign that Jason Todd left a mark on the world. It’s a sign that people mourned.

It’s the most clear sign Jason could ever get that the Joker lied to him for all those years.

Slade isn’t sure how long they stand there. The first time, Jason was asleep by the time he pulled back. The second time, Jason was the one who pulled away. Slade doesn’t want to break the pattern. He doesn’t want to be the one who stops things. Doesn’t want to do anything that might possibly signal rejection to Jason while he’s in such a fragile state.

He shifts to rubbing circles in Jason’s back just to ease the numbness of his arms, and even after Jason’s stopped crying--he’s probably dehydrated with all the crying he just did--Jason doesn’t make any move to pull away.

Slade suddenly has all the time in the world to think, and he wishes he didn’t.

In the end, it isn’t him who breaks away. For that matter, it’s not Jason anyway. It’s Alfred, softly clearing his throat in the silence, and snapping Jason out of it. He jerks back, suddenly self aware, and he spins, noticing the butler for the first time.

He’s been standing there the whole time, giving them their space, and Slade’s pretty sure Jason had absolutely no idea.

“I thought you two might like to come for dinner,” Alfred says. “It’s getting quite cold out here.”

Slade isn’t sure what answer he’s expecting. A yes, because it is cold and Jason’s probably hungry? A no, because he’s not yet ready to go back to the mansion?

“We have somewhere to be,” Jason says, which catches Slade off guard. He almost says we do?, but decides to roll with it instead, nodding to Alfred.

“Of course,” Alfred says, even though he obviously has no idea where they have to be. “If you need anything, please do not hesitate to call. The manor is quite lonely at the moment.”

It makes sense. He needs to be out and about in Gotham to keep an eye on Azrael, but it does mean that Bludhaven is going ignored.

“I’m sure we’ll stop by eventually,” Slade says, and Jason nods before starting back towards the car. Slade trails after him, giving Alfred a quick shrug before finally turning away. He doesn’t know where he’s going to end up, but he’s already convinced Jason’s going to talk him into doing whatever it is he wants.

Chapter Text

Slade doesn’t ask until he’s already in the driver's seat. The sun’s starting to dip low in the sky. He’s hungry. And he’s done what he can to emotionally prepare himself for whatever shit Jason’s about to suggest.

It’s going to be something bad, isn’t it? Asking Slade to help him break into GCPD to murder Harley. Hosting a bat family dinner. Wanting to visit Bruce (not an option, no matter what Jason says).

“I want to go see your hometown,” Jason says, and Slade slowly rotates his head to actually look at him.

“My hometown?” He asks. He’s baffled. “What, you want to go see the house Slade Wilson grew up in?”

“I want to see where you were born,” he says.

“Kid,” Slade says. “One, we are absolutely not driving to Oklahoma. Two, the place where I was born, the place where I spent my childhood, and the place I grew up are three completely different places. Three, you aren’t going to get any sort of insight on me from staring at a house.”

Jason’s getting at something, he’s sure, but he has no goddamn idea what.

“You think I’m going to get any insight if I go look at where you were born?”

“You’ve probably seen most of it,” Jason points out. “Born on a rooftop that was part of Falcone’s area. Grew up around there. Ended up living in Hapling Hills.”

Slade’s surprised by that, and he squints.

“You?” he asks. “Hapling Hills?”

The whole area’s a richie-rich part of town. Not much crime there. Not many homeless people, let alone homeless kids. The idea of Jason there doesn’t fit at all.

“I was the precious, hardworking kid who was down on his luck. Lots of idiots willing to give me things. And those who lived there long enough knew that as long as I was around, everyone else would stay out of the area.”

That makes more sense to Slade, who nods carefully. Street kid fits. It makes sense with what he knows. It’s also all a side point. None of it really affects things.

“Kid,” he says. “Just tell me what you’re actually after. Because all this beating around the bush doesn’t suit you.”

Jason obviously has something in mind, and Slade’s starting to have a pretty good guess at what it is.

“You buried him, didn’t you? I want to... to go see his grave.”

It’s personal. It’s so, so personal, but all Slade can think is I’ve seen everything Jason has to offer and he knows nothing about me, so he reaches down and shifts the car into reverse, pulling out of Gotham cemetery without protest.

“You’re really going to show me?” Jason asks as they turn onto the highway.

“Not going to hurt anyone to do so,” Slade says. “Might help things, maybe.” Might help establish that Joseph’s a separate person. That Slade can tell the difference.

He’s struggling to see a way it could really hurt.

Not long before they hit interstate 70, Slade pulls off to find a gas station. He fills the car--they’re going to need all the gas--and then knocks on the passenger window.

Jason squints.

“Get out,” he mouths.

Jason’s asking him why even as he’s getting out, but Slade doesn’t answer, just sliding into the passenger side himself and tilting the seat back.

“You’re driving,” he says. “You can manage the highway.” He knows Jason can drive. He’s seen him drive. He’ll do just fine.

“Slade,” Jason says like he’s having to explain what two plus two comes out to. “I don’t know where we’re going.”

“Get on I-70,” Slade says. “Go west. Keep going west. Continue west. I’ll wake up before we have to do anything else.”

He sends a quick text to Oracle--they’ll be out of town, call if important--and then goes to sleep.

He wakes five hours later. It’s dark, and the road is mostly clear, but he’s hungry so he tells Jason to find a rest stop.

Two AM. They have another five hours to drive. He does the math, and decides they can eat in the rest stop. It’s not a diner, much to his disappointment, just a fast food chain. He lets Jason order whatever he wants, which turns out to be three hamburgers, and then settles in to eat himself.

“How much farther?” Jason asks.

“Still hours away,” Slade says. “It’s not a quick drive. I’ll take over the next leg, and you can sleep.”

Jason grumbles in between bites of his burger.

“If you were worried about too much driving,” Slade says, “you should have asked how far away it is.”

“I thought you were a local,” Jason mutters under his breath.

“To Gotham?” Slade asks, his eyebrows going up. “God no. Can’t believe you took me for a Gothamite.”

“You’re as screwed up as most of us,” Jason says, finishing his last burger.

Slade buys them a box of donuts and some water bottles for the car before they head back. He drops them on the center console, adjusts the seat again, and hits the road. It takes longer for Jason to fall asleep, watching the exits go past.

“Before we went down to Argentina,” Slade says. “Had you ever left Gotham?”

Jason shakes his head.

Figures.

When Slade goes to make small talk the next time, Jason’s already asleep, his head resting against the window.

Chapter Text

Slade wakes Jason after they get off the highway. He startles easily, but settles back in, face glued to the window as he watches buildings go by.

“Point things out to me,” Jason says.

“Like I said,” Slade answers, “I didn’t grow up here. Just moved here after I got married.”

“But you lived here, right?”

“Sure,” Slade says. “In a house I’m not convinced I could pick out. Suburb. Lots of samey houses. Someone else lives there now.”

“Your ex-wife?”

“Long gone,” Slade says. He’s not entirely sure where she moved. Still in town maybe?

“You didn’t keep the house?”

“God no,” Slade says. “I don’t get attached to things like that. Especially not when there’s so many bad memories. Easier to leave it behind... so I did. Gave her the house, took my half of the money, left town. I came back a little bit after, but after that I started staying away. I was abroad too often. Didn’t make time.”

“When’d you last come here?”

That’s an uncomfortable question, and Slade doesn’t answer right away.

“Few weeks ago,” he finally says, and even if he can’t see Jason with his eye on the road, he can hear the surprise in his voice.

“That rec- hold on,” Jason says, interrupting himself. “This is when you ditched me, wasn’t it? The day before I stole Dick’s bike.”

Jason’s way too smart for his own good.

“It is, yeah. Helped me figure out what I was doing. Relaxing. Had to get away from Gotham for a while.”

“I was so pissed at you,” Jason mutters. “Ready to fire you then and there.”

“Except I’m not replaceable,” Slade points out. “So you couldn’t.”

“Exactly.”

Slade throws him a bone as they head through the center of the small suburban little town he once called home.

“Pretty sure we lived down that street,” he says. “It’s been years. Can’t say I remember which one.”

Jason swings his head around like he’s expecting a sign to point out the right one, and Slade lets out a snort.

The gates to the graveyard are open. Only recently, but open. The place looks almost empty, with no distant funeral like there was last time. There are a few cars, but he doesn’t pay much attention to them until he finds the right row, turning onto it and spotting a car parked up ahead.

It’s not until he starts to slow that he leans forward, reading the license plate and cursing under his breath. He parks where they are, several rows down, and when Jason goes for the door, he locks it.

“What?” Jason asks.

“That,” Slade says, jabbing his finger towards the car parked ahead of them. “Is my ex-wife’s license plate.”

Is she still local to the town? Or is this all an elaborate coincidence? He wouldn’t entirely rule out her knowing he was coming, only he didn’t know he was coming, so it’s not as if anyone else did.

“So?” Jason asks, but he’s already craning his neck, looking for the mysterious woman as if she’s a lion at the zoo.

“Kid,” Slade says with a tired sigh. “We’re not having a chat with my ex-wife. She’s going to do her thing, get in her car, and leave. She doesn’t know this van, and there’s no reason she should look too closely at us.”

Jason very obviously wants to meet her, and Slade very much does not want him to. Adeline is not a part of his life. They are not friends. He settles back in his seat, watching her car, and then-

Someone knocks on the driver’s side window.

Slade grumbles to himself, cracking his eye open, and sees Adeline standing outside the door, arms crossed.

“Stay in the car,” he says. “Do not get out. I am not fucking around, Jason.”

He gives Jason his very best ‘I am so serious, so help me god’ look and opens the driver’s side door.

Adeline does not look happy, which is nice, because he’s not happy either. It’s a great big load of misery, but she’s the one who knocked on his window, so the blame’s firmly on her.

“What?” He asks, closing the door behind him before Jason can possibly say anything.

“I want to say that I can't believe you'd do this, but I absolutely can,” Adeline says. “Who's the mother?”

Slade isn’t quite so slow on the upkeep this time around. He’s gotten used to Adeline throwing wild accusations out and him having to sort through them.

“Christ, Adeline,” Slade says. “He’s not my biological son. Why does everyone keep thinking we’re related?”

Adeline dips her head down, staring in the driver’s side window at Jason, who’s staring right back.

“He has your scowl.”

After a moment’s consideration, Slade’s forced to admit to himself that Jason does have his scowl. Learned behavior, probably.

“We’re not talking about him,” Slade says. “Why are you bothering me? I didn’t come here to bother you.”

“You brought your new son to visit Joseph? Are you kidding me? How is this not my business, Slade?”

Slade’s going to start tearing his hair out if the conversation goes much longer. He doesn’t want to argue with Adeline. She’s always known how to push his buttons. She’s always known how to punch his buttons so hard that he breaks.

He’s not doing that. Not anymore. And sure as hell not in front of Jason.

"I have just as much right to be here as you do,” he says. He’s not going to let her push him out.

“He doesn’t,” she says, nodding her head to the side.

Slade turns and spots Jason out among the graves. He’s not entirely sure how he got out of the car without Slade noticing, but Jason apparently has many, many talents.

“It’s a public place,” Slade says. “He can do what he wants.”

“Slade,” Adeline says, her tone harsh and insistent. “What the hell are you doing with a kid? What the hell is this? You’ve decided to take on a protege?”

“He’s not my protege,” Slade says. “And you have no place in this, so butt out.”

He wants her to leave. He wants her to just go. But Adeline has never been good at getting the hint.

“And what did you do to his face? It’s-”

Adeline,” Slade says, his voice dropping dangerously low. “You are going to shut up right now. I am not having this conversation with you. And if you ever mention his face again, you better make absolutely sure I don’t find out, or else I’ll do to you what I should have done when you first shot out my eye.”

He isn’t screwing around. Before was banter. Or maybe not even banter. Before was them fighting the way they always fought. This is something else entirely, and he means it.

Adeline seems taken aback by the viciousness of it, and for a while, she actually goes quiet.

“Get out of here, Adeline.”

He expects her to argue. She always argues. But this one time she doesn’t. She turns away, flipping him off over her shoulder as she goes, and climbs into her car.

She leaves without another word, and Slade’s that much happier for it.

Chapter Text

He finds Jason standing by the right grave, staring down at the stone. There’s no sign of the pie he left, but it’s been long enough that he didn’t think there would be. As he approaches, he hears Jason saying something, but he doesn’t catch it. The moment he’s close enough to hear, Jason stops, glancing over his shoulder to watch Slade approach.

“What were you saying?” Slade asks.

“Guess you’ll never know. What’d you say to the ex?”

“Several nasty things,” Slade says. “We barely got along when we started dating. We didn’t get along when we were married. And we sure as hell don’t get along now.”

“She seems like a real nice lady,” Jason says.

“If we’re lucky,” Slade says, “you’ll never be in the same state as her from now on.”

“Luck is a word that’s never been used to describe me.”

Slade really can’t disagree with that. Jason has possibly the worst luck of anyone he’s ever known.

“So,” he says. “Joseph. Now you’re here.”

“Guess I am,” Jason says. “What was he like?”

It’s a hard question to answer, and it takes Slade a moment to try and come up with a response that might possibly satisfy him.

“I’m... not really sure anymore. I wasn’t around much, and it’s hard to say what was real and what was wishful thinking on my part. He was a nice kid. Wouldn’t hurt a fly. Not sure where he got that from, because it sure as fuck wasn’t from me, and it sure as hell wasn’t from his mom.”

If ever there was an argument for nature versus nurture, Slade’s pretty sure Joseph would be it.

He isn’t sure what else there is to say, and he stares down at the little plaque for a while longer.

“We should probably get going,” Jason says. Slade thinks it’s probably him trying to be nice, but he’s willing to take it at face value.

“Then let's get breakfast and hit the road.”

Slade wants eggs, and he knows exactly which diner in town serves the best ones. He grabs a booth and lets Jason pick through the menu, but he waits until their order’s already been taken before he hits Jason with the big question.

“Alright,” he says. “Out with it. You’ve obviously got something to ask.”

He doesn’t actually know that Jason does. But he can guess. The whole trip out there, the talking to the grave? That screams let's talk about something important. Maybe a diner isn’t the right place for it, but it’s not as if they have someplace better to do it. If things get too intense, it gives Jason a chance to escape to the bathroom. In the van, he’d have no option.

Jason fidgets.

“What if I don’t want to go back to the bats?”

Oh. Slade wasn’t quite expecting that right then, but he knew this was coming. Jason’s got too many worries for it to not come up at some point. For him not to make the stupid assumption that’s lead to that very question.

“Then you don’t have to,” Slade says. “Despite what I’ve claimed to several people, no one’s hired me but you. My job isn’t to ship you back to them. I’ll encourage you to talk to them and get a relationship because that’ll be good for you, but I’m not going to make you go back to them. If you decide you’d rather do something else, I’m sure as hell not going to stop you.”

Jason fidgets. What he’s said isn’t enough, and Slade ponders before realizing that he probably wasn’t explicit. Jason doesn’t do well with implied stuff.

“If you want to come along with me when things are said and done, then you can. We’ll work something out. Deathstroke Jr sounds awful, but I’m sure you can come up with some other name if you wanna go that route.”

Jason doesn’t cry. He looks happy, his face all red as he buries himself behind the menu he’s holding.

“This is one of my longer jobs, but-”

Slade’s phone rings, and he scowls at the interruption, but when he checks the screen, it’s Oracle.

“Going to step outside and take this,” he says. “If the food shows up, don’t eat my eggs.”

He waits until he’s outside before he answers, watching Jason out of the corner of his eye as he listens in.

“S?” She asks.

“Not sure who else would be answering the phone,” he says.

“J, for one,” she says. “Is it just you?”

“He’s inside,” he says. “Spying on me through the glass, but inside.”

Jason quickly looks away, and Slade turns away so Jason has no chance of reading his lips.

“What’s going on?”

“T made some progress on the infection,” she says. “But the news isn’t really good. It’s not something I want to share over the phone.”

“I’m ten or eleven hours away,” Slade says. “Is it going to hold?”

There’s a pause, and Slade thinks he can hear Oracle shuffling things around.

“It’ll hold,” she confirms. “We have - it’s not... it’s not extremely time based. It’s just something we should deal with sooner rather than later.”

“How’s everything else?”

“L says he thinks that your decoy’s attempting to embezzle from the company. He’s keeping an eye on things, but we might have to do something about that sooner rather than later.”

“That’s fine,” Slade says. “We can deal with that criminally. It gets Elliot out of your hair more or less permanently.”

“One less thing to worry about,” she says. “How’s J?”

“Better,” Slade says, glancing over and catching sight of Jason shoveling something into his mouth that looks a lot like the eggs he ordered. “Mobile as anything. You wouldn’t even notice the cast. I think he’s just happy to be able to be out of the hotel room.”

“Are you going to bring him?”

“Absolutely not,” Slade says. “He can’t find out.”

Oracle makes a little noise of distress, but doesn’t argue the point. Slade does some math in his head.

“I’ll show up a bit after it gets dark. Where am I going?”

“All hands meeting,” she says. “Where we’re holding them.”

“How all hands is all hands?”

“We’re going to let the bat patrol solo. That level of all hands.”

“I’ll be there then,” he says. “I’ve got to go eat.”

“See you then,” she says, disconnecting the call.

It’s just one more thing for Slade to worry about, but right then he’s more worried about Jason eating his entire breakfast.

Chapter Text

He lets Jason drive the first leg, napping as he does. Halfway back, they stop to refill the tank, and Slade takes over driving.

“I’ve got work to do,” Slade says. “So I’m going to drop you back at the hotel. Think you can handle yourself?”

“I already memorized the door code, so yeah,” Jason says, squinting at him suspiciously. “What work, exactly?”

“Stuff that isn’t for you to know,” he says, and Jason makes a face.

“You’re going to have to tell me eventually,” he says. “Or it’s going to bite you in the ass.”

“I’m pretty good at making sure things don’t bite me in the ass,” Slade points out. “I can handle this. Enjoy your books.”

He picks them up fast food, handing Jason the bag with his as he drops him off.

“Don’t tell Alfred I’m letting you eat this,” Slade calls as Jason ducks inside.

He waits around long enough to make sure he doesn’t suddenly come back out, but when he sees the light flick on at the proper room he pulls back out.

It turns out that Oracle’s understated how all hands the all hands meeting is. Grayson’s there, as is Drake. Neither is in costume, although Slade’s pretty sure Grayson has his on under his jacket, ready to go later that night. Between the two of them stands Alfred, looking grim. On the other side of Tim is Barbara in the flesh, and beside her is Jim Gordon. The last member of the circle is Lucius Fox, who’s in the middle of a tense conversation with Gordon when Slade arrives.

It’s every person who knows who Bruce is outside of Jason. If Gordon didn’t know before, it’s obvious he does now. The only person who might be missing is Azrael, but Slade’s pretty sure--considering that none of them knew what he looked like--that he doesn’t know who Bruce actually is.

“Slade,” Barbara says. “Finally.”

“Just got back,” he says, holding up the bag of McDonalds. “We all on the same page?”

“With identities?” Barbara asks. “Yeah. Everyone knows everyone at this point. I had to clue my dad in.”

“Easier this way,” Grayson says. “Less worry about one of us tripping up and saying the wrong name.”

Slade’s happy he didn’t wear his armor. Gordon’s already not a fan, and reminding the other man of what he does for a living isn’t likely to go over well.

“Jason’s back at the hotel?” Barbara asks, and Slade nods.

“He isn’t finding out about this. He’s asked, and he knows we’re hiding something, but I’ve already told him it’s better if he doesn’t know.”

“He’ll find out eventually,” Drake points out.

“When we’re done, as long as none of you crack.”

Slade glances disapprovingly around the room. If any of them leak it to Jason...

“We should get on topic,” Gordon says. “You said it was important?”

He turns to look at Barbara, who turns to look at Drake. He’s the scientist. He’s the one who knows what’s going on more than anyone else. He clears his throat, glancing over to the cell that Slade knows contains Bruce, and then turns back to the group.

“I’ve spent the last while working with a specialist. He knows a lot about Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, which was the closest thing we’d been able to relate it to. Similar structures, but... different. It mutated. I showed him a lot of samples, we did a ton of tests, and...”

Drake pauses, taking a breath.

“How much do you know about CJD?”

Most people shrug, so Drake decides to give a quick explanation.

“It’s a degenerative brain disorder. Changes are minor to start. Memory problems, poor coordination, and so on. Then it gets worse. Dementia, blindness, coma... Basically, you have a protein that’s shaped wrong, and it copies itself onto other proteins, making them shaped wrong. The brain starts to develop holes, and the brain loses its ability to hold data.”

Slade’s mostly following, but he’s not entirely sure how it relates.

“What’s the connection?” Gordon asks.

“The Joker infection--or whatever they’re calling it--has a similar process. The infection introduced a... a Joker protein. Once the Joker protein was in their brain, it started copying itself onto other parts of the brain. Only each protein copies, which means...”

“The infection speeds up,” Grayson says. “It starts slow, but every copy makes it faster, right?”

“Exactly,” Drake says. “The big difference is that CJD is fatal. The Joker protein is a valid protein though, so the brain doesn’t end up with holes. It just ends up... well, jokerized. It makes it harder to scan for, but we worked up a test that lets us estimate.”

“How accurate is the test?” Alfred asks.

“Pretty accurate,” Drake says. “Basically, we run a normal brain scan to establish a baseline. Then we run the scan while showing them images that should be upsetting. Dead animals and people being hurt and things like that. The parts of your brain that light up when you see something upsetting are different from the ones that light up when you see something funny, so...”

“The more funny bits that light up, the more Joker they are?”

“In very simple terms, yes. It’s not really... diagnostic. But it gives us at least an idea.”

“What about a cure?” Gordon asks. “If we know how it works, and we know what it’s based on, that means it’s a step closer, isn’t it?”

“There’s no cure for CJD,” Drake says. “Most people die within six months. Longest estimates are four, maybe five years. Living that long is extremely rare though.”

“But this isn’t fatal,” Grayson says. “So we have time, right?”

Drake’s face says it all. His lips press into a thin line, his eyes shifting away so he’s not looking directly at anyone.

“No,” he says. “The problem is the mechanism. The Joker proteins are copying themselves over, replacing the things they’re copying. Even in an absolute best case scenario, where we wiped out all the Joker proteins and replaced them with normal ones, the damage would be done. You can’t unjoker a protein. You’d just be leaving it empty.

“So at best,” Grayson says, “they’re brain dead.”

“Not necessarily,” Drake says. “But whatever was there before was gone. They’d be... like babies. Blank. Depending on what parts have been copied, they might end up dying, since the parts of their brain that handle automatic processes like breathing are gone.”

“Lord,” Alfred says quietly, and turns away.

The mood is grim. No one else wants to say anything, but Slade isn’t going to stand around. Every minute that goes by, things are getting worse.

“What numbers are we looking at?”

“Bruce was the first infected, so he should be the worst, but he’s not. They seem to have different rates of infection. King’s at sixty percent. Browne and Bell are both around seventy percent. Adams is the worst. He’s around ninety percent.”

Slade isn’t surprised. Of all of them, he’s the one who acts the most like the Joker. If any of them was going to be high, it’d be him.

But he’s not the one who matters. Slade already knows what he’s going to do with that.

“And Bruce?” He asks, because he knows no one else is going to.

“Thirty percent,” Drake says.

It’s obvious that no one knows if that’s good or bad. Better than they thought for some, worse than they thought for others. Still bad. Is he going to still be Bruce with thirty percent of his brain replaced by Joker?

Slade doesn’t think he will, but he keeps it to himself.

“Alright,” Slade says. “We can’t revert it. But can we stop the progression?”

“I have... a theory,” Barbara says, sounding less than sure of herself.

“It’s better than what we’ve got, which is nothing,” Grayson points out. “So go for it Barb.”

“Bruce should be the worst, right? Because he was infected first. But he’s not. What if that’s not a coincidence? This is a mental thing, right? Is it possible he’s got a slower rate of infection because... he’s kind of stubborn and his brain’s fighting back?”

Everyone turns to look at Drake, who offers a shrug.

“We don’t really know how this works,” he says. “We barely know anything about CJD. This is a whole other thing, totally off the map. Bruce fighting back against it makes as much sense as the very existence of this kind of thing.”

“So we need to... to help Master Bruce fight back,” Alfred says quietly.

Slade notes that no one else has mentioned the other Jokers. There’s no point. They can all read the writing on the wall.

“That would be the best idea we’ve got, yeah,” Drake confirms.

Slade has no ideas for them. Providing emotional support for Bruce Wayne is not his wheelhouse. Handling the rest of the Jokers is.

“Let’s all be honest with ourselves here,” Slade says. “If you care about mercy, the no killing rule goes out the window. Only thing you can give them is a merciful death. They’re all more than fifty percent Joker.”

“Then we should treat them like the Joker,” Gordon says. “We could-”

“Could what?” Slade asks. “Put them on trial? For crimes committed by someone else? Gordon, be serious for a moment. Can you imagine the panic that will set in if they know that this exists? That the Joker can infect you with his blood and turn you into him? How do you know that their blood isn’t the same way?”

Gordon looks at Drake, who shrugs.

“Maybe?” He asks. “It’s possible.”

“Gordon,” Slade says. “I know you’ve made your entire career on being the good cop. On not being rotten like almost every other cop in this godforsaken city. So I’ll take this out of your hands. You do not get a choice. You do not have a say. I am going to kill every single Joker above fifty percent, regardless of what you do, and you do not have the ability to stop me. So take the out, accept it as an inevitability, and consider it a mercy to whatever tiny portion of the human being they once were that still remains.”

Gordon stares at him, but in the end he doesn’t fight. His shoulders sag and he glances away, but he doesn’t argue.

Slade doesn’t feel the need to point out that he’s going to enjoy it.

Chapter Text

For a while--a few minutes at most--he thinks about letting Jason do it. He has four Jokers to get his revenge on. But there’s no way to let him without explaining what happened. Better he doesn’t know. Better he never finds out. 

He weighs his options and decides a shot to the head is the least likely to personally offend Gordon. The cells aren’t set up for asphyxiation, and going in there himself would just drag it out.

Slade would prefer to drag it out. He’d prefer if he had a few hours with each Joker. But Gordon’s barely tolerating the inevitability of their murder, so he’s definitely not going to tolerate torture. Even if he can’t stop Slade, he can certainly make things inconvenient.

He leaves Adams for last, working from left to right. He always has a gun on him, so it’s a simple matter of catching the first one off guard. They go down in one shot, still contained in the cell. The second one doesn’t panic or try and dodge. Instead, she presses up against the plexiglass, laughing hysterically before Slade shoots her in the head.

Slade doesn’t let himself focus on the crowd behind him, watching him execute each Joker in turn. It takes two shots to take down King, which only leaves one left.

He has to walk past Bruce to get there. He looks paler, but it’s hard to tell if that’s an actual result of the infection or simply because he’s been locked in a cell for days.

“Slade,” he says, and Slade slows even though he knows he shouldn’t. He told himself he’d ignore Bruce. It’s the right thing to do. “Tell me he’s still alright?”

“He’s fine,” Slade says. “Worry about yourself.”

Bruce looks away, and Slade ends up in front of Adams.

He’s up against the glass too, his face split into a wide grin.

“You hardly need me anymore, do you?” He asks. “You’ve got the superior Joker right next door.”

“This isn’t about that,” Slade says, drawing closer to the plexiglass so that he can keep his voice down. “This is about Jason Todd.”

Adam’s face lights up at the mention of his name.

“Oh! My little sidekick. It’s good to know he’s still out and about, you know. Brings a real tear to my eye.”

“One day,” Slade says, “he’s going to forget you even existed.”

For just a second, the Joker’s smile falters, and Slade shoots him in the head when it does.

It’s not as satisfying as he’d like, but it’s better than the alternative, and he holsters his gun, heading back to the group.

All of them have seen violence before. Most of them have seen people die. But watching four point blank executions is something else entirely. They give him a wide berth as he rejoins the loose circle. Drake’s holding Barbara’s hand, and Alfred, off to the side, is weeping softly.

“I’ll have them incinerated,” Gordon says. “We can’t risk the bio hazard otherwise.”

“That’s one thing down,” Slade says. “Do we have ideas about Bruce?”

The silence speaks volumes.

“Alright,” Slade says. “We’re getting nowhere sitting around. We’ve all got things to do. Anyone comes up with something, report in.”

Slade keeps waiting for someone to argue. For someone to say who died and made you king? No one does though. He’s got the most aggressive personality, he’s physically the most capable, and he’s the only one with serious leadership experience in the field.

Gordon’s the only one who could potentially do what he’s doing, but he’s too much of an outsider. He’s part of a loose ring around the bats, not part of the inner circle.

Slade apparently is. He’s elbowed his way in on Jason’s behalf, and no one’s attempted to throw him out yet.

“I’ve got to meet up with Azrael,” Grayson says. “He’s been doing fine. Not as competent as Bruce, but he’s passable. As long as he doesn’t get hurt too bad, no one will notice for at least a few more days.”

“Elliot’s becoming a problem,” Lucius says. “I’m not sure how much longer I can handle things.”

“That’s fine,” Slade says. “You don’t have to. I assume you have enough evidence to get him for impersonation?”

“Easily,” Lucius says.

“Gordon,” Slade says. “Can you raid Wayne Enterprises tomorrow and arrest him?”

“If Lucius makes a report later today,” he says. “We could raid it tomorrow morning.”

“Where are we saying Master Bruce is then?” Alfred asks with a glance towards the cell.

“Missing,” Slade says. “Let it be a mystery. It’ll keep attention off the fact that Batman’s running around wearing a gas mask. We’ll come up with a story when we know what’s going to happen.”

The story they’ll run with is going to be different depending on what happens with Bruce, and there’s no point trying to speculate until they know.

“He’s going to name you, isn’t he?” Gordon asks with a nod towards Slade.

“Let him,” Slade says. “Helps our story. What I gave him was a mix that’ll make him sound crazy. He thinks Batman hired me, and that I was going to hand over Bruce Wayne to him when things were done.”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” Grayson says. “If Batman hired you, there’s no way-”

“Alright,” Gordon says. “I get it. I’ll roll with whatever I get. For all we know, he’ll clam up.”

Slade glances around the gathering.

“Everyone got their marching orders?”

There’s a round of nods and people start to trickle out. Slade leaves about halfway through.

Grayson catches him in the elevator.

“Listen,” he says. “I know none of the others are going to say this, but thanks. What you did... it had to happen. It was... it was a necessary thing.”

“I know,” Slade says. He doesn’t tell Grayson what Bruce made him promise. He’s sure they already know.

“I’m going to stop by tonight,” he says. “Tim’s staying here until this is over. I won’t mention any of this, but I’ll bring the medical stuff. Tim showed me how it all works, and it... it’ll be nice to see Jason.”

He’s the only one, outside of Bruce himself, who hasn’t yet spoken to Jason.

“He’ll be happy for company,” he says. “But I’d recommend bringing food. He’s easy to bribe.”

Grayson nods enthusiastically at the tip, as if he wasn’t already going to be bringing an armload of food provided by Alfred.

“I’ll see you around six?”

“Six,” Slade confirms, heading to the van.

Chapter Text

Six o’clock comes too quickly. When he gets back, Jason probes him for information, but Slade has had a lifetime of experience. He knows how to dodge the questions that Jason throws at him. He tells him to rest and gets back to work, focusing on his own while dutifully ignoring Jason’s whining.

He gets a report from Oracle that Lucius has gone ahead and made a report, and that the GCPD are going to raid Wayne Enterprises the following morning. 

He’s skimming through world news when there’s a knock at the door, and Jason beats him to it. He’s too damn fast, even with the cast, pulling the door open to reveal a surprised looking Grayson.

He’s in street clothes, which is nice, but he also looks nervous as he looks at Jason.

Good. Better Grayson be awkward and hesitant than to hop into things the way he was originally going to.

“Jay,” he says, taking a deep breath. “It’s... it’s good to see you.”

Jason steps back, and Grayson enters, carrying a familiar picnic basket, along with a bag of what Slade’s sure is medical equipment.

Jason doesn’t exactly answer. He just grunts, hopping down onto the bed and pulling his pant leg up to reveal the cast.

“Oh,” Grayson says, craning his neck. “It’s less bruised than I thought it would be.”

“It’s healing,” Jason says. “Still aches, but it’s healing.”

Slade excuses himself to the far side of the room, grabbing a seat and busying himself with his phone while he listens in. He’ll let them have some amount of privacy, he’s just wary of what Jason will do if he has enough of it.

“You want to do the...?” Grayson asks. He’s definitely more hesitant. He doesn’t know how to react around Jason now that he’s awake, and Jason is basically just steamrolling over him.

“The injection? Yeah,” he says. “That’s why my pants are half off.”

He shifts his leg, presenting the bare skin to Grayson as if insisting he get on with it.

“So,” Grayson says, frantically searching for a topic of conversation. “You saw Barbara?”

“For a bit,” Jason says. “We had lunch. Her dad hated me, I think.”

“Gordon? He’s a good guy, just a bit uptight. I don’t think he’s a big fan of any of us. Seems sweet on Tim from what I’ve seen.”

“Probably thinks we’re going to get his daughter killed,” Jason says, and Grayson winces as he preps the anesthesia.

“Probably,” Grayson agrees after a little bit. “So, uh, how’ve you been?”

“Awful,” Jason says, and Slade is starting to develop a sneaking suspicion that Jason might actually be intentionally making Grayson more awkward. This isn’t just his usual bluntness. This is him picking and choosing his words to make Grayson squirm that much more. “All my murderous plans got ruined when my star employee decided to shoot me.”

Grayson lets out a small wheeze, giving Slade a desperate, pleading look. Slade makes a point of ignoring it, pretending to be busy with his phone.

“So,” Grayson says as he freezes Jason’s leg. “Murderous plans...?”

“Shutting down the city,” Jason says, sprawling back on the bed while his leg freezes. “Fear gassing the entire populace. Destroying the Bat. Killing Drake. You know, the usual.”

Okay, now there’s absolutely no question that he’s being mean on purpose. Slade’s fifty fifty on if he’s doing it because he enjoys watching Grayson squirm, or if it’s more of a test to see how he reacts. To see if he’s going to shove him away.

Grayson clears his throat as he puts away the first needle and waits for the freezing to set in.

“I guess that was, uh, to do with the people who got killed?” He asks. “Croc and -”

“Nope,” Jason says, sounding almost smug. “Those were something else entirely. That was just revenge. They helped torture me, so I killed them.”

Slade doesn’t quite manage to cover his wince. Holy crap. Jason’s absolutely brutalizing poor Grayson.

“Jay,” Grayson says. “Please. I don’t know what you’re doing-”

“Oh, come on, Dick,” Jason says. “Am I making you uncomfortable?”

“Jason,” Slade says, bringing his head up. “Stop being a dick.”

“This is between me and Dick,” Jason fires back. “Butt out.”

“If you think I won’t just come over there and stop you from mauling him like you are, you’re dead wrong,” Slade says.

“Woah,” Grayson says, throwing his hands up. “I’m not trying to get into a fight or anything. I’m just trying to... to get used to things again.”

“You were never used to them in the first place,” Jason says. “You barely knew-”

“Jason,” Slade cuts in again. “He knows. You can cut it out.”

Jason falters for a moment, glancing back over towards Slade.

“Or what? You’ll send me to bed without dinner?”

It isn’t just Grayson, Slade decides. He’s agitated already. He’s frustrated because Slade isn’t telling him what’s going on, and Grayson’s a convenient punching bag.

“Or I’ll let Alfred know you’ve been harassing Grayson when he’s done absolutely nothing to you.”

Jason scowls at him.

“That’s low,” he says.

“So’s this,” Slade snaps back. “I already gave Grayson the whole goddamn lecture about how he was going to come on too strong and freak you out, and he made an effort to dial himself back and let you handle things at your own pace, and you were still an asshole to him from the word go.”

Jason’s cheeks are steadily going red as the embarrassment stick in. He knows Slade’s right. He knows he’s being an ass. But he didn’t know that Slade already warned Grayson off. He expected something he didn’t get, reacted as if he did, and now he’s left sitting there, embarrassed.

“It’s fine,” Grayson says. “Really. You’re in - you’re in a really shitty situation and it’s understandable you’d lash out. I’m not going to hold it against you.”

Grayson’s glaring at Slade, and Slade finds he doesn’t really mind. Instead, he holds up his hands.

“I get it,” he says. “I’ll butt out. You two can work it out among yourselves.”

His intervention’s given Grayson space to assert himself into, without worrying about upsetting Jason, which is all he really needs. So he settles back, letting the conversation shift to something that could almost pass as normal.

Chapter Text

Slade can’t help himself: he stops listening. He has other things to do, messages to send, people to contact. While Grayson and Jason finish the injection and talk about baseball, he checks in with everyone and finally gets a call back about the militia.

“I’ll be back in just a minute,” he says, stepping outside.

It’s taken longer than he thought, but then he gets more than he thought. The new job's a good one, and the new commander buys all the supplies they’ve left in Argentina. Slade’s pretty sure he just accidentally set up a foreign warlord, but he’s not all that concerned. He’s sure that in a few years he’ll be heading down there to take him out, and then maybe he’ll see their commanders again.

It all comes home to roost eventually.

Once he’s confirmed the money’s in his account--which takes no time at all--he thanks the buyer for his purchase, thanks his broker for handling the sale, and then excuses himself, stepping back inside.

Right in time to hear Grayson say something that sounds a lot like I’m not sure I’m supposed to tell you that.

Goddammit.

“Jason!” He barks, and Jason sits bolt upright like he’s just been caught red handed.

“What?” He asks immediately. “I didn’t do anything.”

Slade doesn’t look at Jason. Jason’s a good liar, and he knows how to keep things quiet. Instead, he looks at Grayson, who squirms under his gaze, deciding that the headboard is a lot more interesting.

“What’d he just ask, Grayson?”

“Nothing important,” Grayson says, mostly pulling himself together, but the damage is already done.

“Jason,” Slade says. “We already said-”

“Fuck what we already said!” Jason protests. “Everyone knows but me. Do you really think I’m not spending every minute imagining what’s happening? I’ve already convinced myself it’s the worst case scenario, so you might as well just tell me!”

He throws his hands into the air, his agitation written across every part of him. It’s in the scowl on his face, it’s in the tension in his shoulders. He’s been obsessing over it, and even if Slade’s still absolutely convinced that Jason’s worst case scenario isn’t even close to the truth, it’s hard to deny that not knowing is having negative effects on him.

Slade lets out a strangled noise of frustration.

“Fine,” he says. “Fine. We can talk about it. Grays-”

“Already going,” he says, grabbing his bag. “Food's over there. I’ll see you guys around!”

He doesn’t even wait for a goodbye before he’s letting himself out, closing the door quickly behind him.

Jason is seething. He’s still sitting on the bed, but he’s moments away from out and out growling at Slade when Slade finally sits down. Slade can’t bring himself to be angry. He’s just frustrated, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

“Listen,” he says. “I know you’re pissed. I know you think I’m treating you like some idiot kid who can’t make his own decisions. But you don’t know the situation. And whatever you think is the worst case scenario, kid? It’s way worse than that.”

He doesn’t think the situation is one that anyone could come up with. Multiple Jokers. Bruce becoming a Joker. It’s the stuff that nightmares are made of.

“I know about the Joker,” Jason says, and Slade freezes. Immediately he starts raking through his memories, trying to figure out who, exactly, screwed up. He’s been clear with everyone. They all knew and understood that Jason couldn’t know. But someone’s let something slip, or else Jason has managed to... what, overhear?

“I asked Dick how Bruce was,” Jason says. “And his response was wait, Slade told you about the Joker?”

He looks so angry. So hurt and betrayed. And Slade realizes that he doesn’t know, not really. He just thinks the Joker’s back.

“Jason-”

Don’t,” Jason snaps. “When were you going to tell me he’s back? When were you going to tell me? You should have known I could handle it. Not knowing is so much fucking worse than this. And whatever he’s done to Bruce--if he’s caught him or poisoned him or what--I deserved to know that too.”

Jason’s standing, pacing around the room as he gestures frantically, literally working his agitation out as he goes.

“I don’t even fucking like him. I can’t even think about him without getting angry, but I still don’t want the Joker to touch him. I don’t want the Joker to have anything. I want him to fucking suffer, and I want him to die, and now he’s back and he’s out there and you were going to just let me sit in this goddamn room doing nothing abou-”

Jason,” Slade says. “Shut up, sit down, and let me talk.”

Jason hesitates for a moment, and then finally hobbles to the bed, sitting down heavily as he glares at Slade. Slade sits himself, opposite Jason, and lets out a sigh.

“Jason,” he says, trying intentionally to avoid the can’t-help-but-be-patronizing kid, “if that was it, I would have told you. If the clown was back I’d have handed you a gun, loaded you into the van, and we’d have gone off to pop him ourselves, bats or no bats. If you thought I was holding back because of them, you were dead wrong.”

Jason shifts in place, which means that, at least partially, he did think that was going to be an issue.

“Do you know what I did today? What my work was? Do you know what I did right before I came back to you?”

He fights the urge to give Jason the answer. He wants Jason to think about it, to really try and come up with an answer.

“...Go looking for him?” Jason asks, but he doesn’t sound sure at all.

“No,” Slade says. He reaches down, pulling out his handgun before flipping it around and holding it grip first to Jason. He takes it, but only hesitantly, and he looks increasingly alarmed about the direction of the conversation.

“I shot him,” Slade says. “With that gun. Fatal, through the skull. It was better than he deserved.”

Jason looks confused, and he’s right to be. The story Slade has told him doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t connect to Bruce’s apparent illness. It doesn’t connect to Slade’s unwillingness to speak to him about it.

“Do you know what I did after?” Slade asks, and Jason doesn’t manage to answer at all, simply shaking his head. Slade can see the dread growing in him, the slow dawning realization that whatever it is Slade is leading into, it’s so much worse than what he thought.

“I shot and killed him again,” Slade says. “And then again. And then the fourth one--the one that was most like him--I made sure I told him that one day you’d forget he even existed, and then I shot him.”

Jason does not understand. It’s written all over his features as he looks down at the gun in his lap. Slade reaches out, tapping a finger on the side of the gun.

“That gun has killed four Jokers,” Slade says. “He didn’t come back from the grave, Jason. But he did something worse than that. He spread an infection through his blood all over the city. Everyone who gets infected starts to turn into him. They look like him. They act like him. They get his memories. They know who you are. They know what happened to you. Bruce stopped almost all of them. He put out a cure that stopped it before it started. But it missed some. And we’ve been dealing with those ones they missed.”

For all his bravado and insistence that he wanted to know, Jason’s trembling slightly. Slade takes the gun, setting it to the side, and then rests his hand on Jason’s knee.

“We’re making sure none of them slip through the cracks,” Slade says. “But once they’re too far gone, they’re too far gone. There’s no coming back. So I put a bullet in their brains, and not a single member of the entire family objected. They all knew it was the right thing to do.”

Slade’s pretty sure Jason knows. He’s smart--too smart at times--and the clues are all there. Bruce’s sickness. His complete absence. The fact that the bats have started deferring to Slade.

“Come here,” Slade says, but even as he says it he gets up, moving over to sit beside Jason, pulling him up against his side. He’s shaking like a leaf. Slade’s not sure if he’s about to have a panic attack, or if he’s skipped right past a panic attack into a complete shutdown.

Slade’s pretty sure he should tell him. He’s pretty sure he should say the words Bruce Wayne is infected, he’s turning into the Joker. But he can’t make himself say them. He can’t make himself bring the house crashing down on Jason.

Instead, he lets Jason lean into him, shaking and unfocused. He lets Jason sit there until he finally comes back to himself enough to start to cry, and then bends down to press a kiss to the top of Jason’s head.

“It’ll be okay,” he says quietly. “Not going to let him get anywhere near you, alright?”

He’s not sure if Jason even hears him, but at least it makes Slade feel better to say it.

Chapter Text

The fact that Jason knows changes things. It means he doesn’t have to dance around the situation, making sure he doesn’t hear. It changes the options that Slade has. But it also changes how he treats Jason.

Jason’s still not good, but after a few hours he’s eaten, showered, and gotten dressed again, and Slade knows they’re on too tight a schedule to lounge around the hotel room.

“I need to check in with Ivy,” he says. “No reason for you not to come along.”

“Street clothes?” He asks, looking confused. It actually presents an interesting issue the more he thinks of it. The Knight’s supposed to be gone. He’s supposed to be working for either the bats or a mystery employer.

“Can’t risk the Knight showing himself,” he says. “But we shouldn’t show your face, either.”

“Hold on,” Jason says and steps away. Slade has no idea what he’s doing as he retrieves his helmet, leaning over it and doing... something.

There’s a harsh click, and then Jason pries the top display of his helmet off. It removes the batlike ears, leaving the red, expressionless face shield as the only real feature. It looks opaque, like he shouldn’t be able to see through it, but he knows he absolutely can.

Jason pulls it on.

“Not bad,” Slade says. But he finds he doesn’t like it anymore. Not really. He doesn’t like not being able to see Jason’s face and read his reactions. Jason’s a wall with the mask on.

The suit's a harder sell.

They take a bit to modify it, stripping out some of the blue bits and leaving only the red. The legs take the most work. Jason removes several of the metal bits, leaving only the fabric, and after a bit of shifting he’s able to slide on the suit of his pants in a way that hides his cast.

“Not enough armor,” Jason complains.

“I’ll talk to Lucius,” Slade says. “He’d probably enjoy the design challenge.”

“It’ll be off before he could make anything,” Jason says. “It’s not staying on for much longer.”

“You need at least two weeks,” Slade says. “Longer is better. You don’t want it getting twisted out of shape.”

“It’s already starting to bother me,” Jason says as he finishes pulling on his gear. Slade doesn’t make him wait, pulling on his own and pressing his mask into place.

Jason’s leg isn’t good enough for bikes, so they take the van. He’s already planning to ditch it before long. He’s used it too long, traveled too much. Normally he ditches between jobs, but... this is something else.

He goes to Ivy where he last found her: a small park in the part of the city that was once Arkham City. It’s run down, a part that Bruce Wayne’s hand hasn’t yet touched, and the only sign of Ivy’s presence is the suspicious overgrowth of the hedges.

He heads in with Jason hot on his heels. He’s sure Jason’s happy for the distraction. For him to finally be back in armor. He isn’t surprised when one of the hedges parts, opening a path for them that he takes.

“Welcome back,” Ivy says, sprawling out on a particularly large plant like it’s her own personal sofa. “I can’t say I was expecting you back so soon.”

“I wanted to check in,” Slade says, but he can tell Ivy’s focus is already lost. She’s staring at Jason where he stands just behind Slade.

“And who’s this? You brought a little friend?”

Ivy slides forward, the entire plant twisting to support her weight as she leans in, inspecting Jason with no regard for Slade.

“Red Hood,” Jason says, and the name sounds familiar to Slade even if he can’t actually place it. There’s obviously some significance to it, because Ivy laughs.

“Quite a name,” she says, drawing back. “And what are you, exactly? Sidekick?”

“Partner,” Slade corrects, and Ivy lets out another tinkling little laugh. Dainty. Harmless. So unlike the danger she actually presents.

“Here I thought you worked alone, Deathstroke,” she says. “But if you have a partner... maybe you’re eager to get down to business?”

“Curious to know if you found anything,” Deathstroke says.

“If Julian Day is still in Gotham, he’s not anywhere I can locate,” she says. “The same can be said of Bane. I’ve heard that he’s returned to Santa Prisca, and no matter how powerful my powers are, I certainly can’t reach that far.”

Slade had almost forgotten he’d asked about them. His attention has been too concentrated on the Jokers. What does Calendar Man even really matter? They can hunt him at their leisure if Jason wants once things are all over and done with.

Jason’s quieter than usual, which is probably for the best, but it makes Slade wary. It’s a balancing act. He can’t give Jason time to adapt to what he’s learned. They don’t have that much time. Every hour that ticks away is another percentage point towards the Joker’s win.

“And the other?”

Ivy smiles. There’s something sickly sweet about it, but at the same time, it’s not false either, just amused. Even so, the hair on the back of Slade’s neck stands up.

“You wanted me to see if I could find any little clowns hiding in the bushes,” she says. “To my surprise, I did.”

Slade was expecting a no, nothing. He assumed that five were all there were. But there was no reason that five was going to be the magical number, only that five was what they found.

If there are six...

No. Six is fine. There can only be so many of them, since by definition they fell through the cracks. There’s no way someone could still be out there but not showing symptoms already. So anyone left must already visibly look like the Clown.

Ivy waves a hand to one of the many, many plants behind her, and Slade realizes that it’s some kind of gigantic flower. As he watches, it blooms open, revealing the horror inside.

The Joker is dead. There’s no question, either of his status or of the fact that he’s infected. His skin is ghostly white, his hair bright green. He’s younger than the others, maybe in his late twenties, and even in death his face has the Joker’s signature smile.

But it’s also very clear that he’s been tortured. There are bits of him missing, and signs of their forcible removal. He’s not quite rotting yet, but he’s on his way, and Slade can’t let himself give anything away by glancing back towards Jason. There’s nothing to see behind the mask, anyway.

“Consider this a freebie, mercenary,” Ivy says with mock kindness. “You see, I thought I’d pay him back for all the kindness he’s shown to my friend Harley over the years. Of course he’s not the same Joker, but he’s close enough, wouldn’t you say?”

“Just the one?” Slade makes himself ask, and Ivy laughs.

“Just the one,” she confirms. “Hiding off in the woods in a base he must have used before. It’s gone now though. The trees just swallowed it right up.”

He nods, and then excuses the two of them. He doesn’t like the way Ivy’s eyes linger on Jason as they go, but he keeps it to himself.

Just six, Slade tells himself. But that’s fine. If there’s a seventh, he’ll put them down just like the rest.

Chapter Text

Jason’s armor is a mask. The helmet, the gear--it all conspires to keep Slade from getting any idea what’s going through his head. He waits until they’re well away before he picks a mostly empty parking lot, pulling in and stopping the car.

“Jason,” he says, reaching up to pull off his own helmet. He’s hoping Jason will do the same, but he doesn’t, leaving the mask firmly in place. “Talk to me.”

“I’m fine,” Jason says, which is not helped at all by the fact that his mask remains on.

“Jason,” he says again. “You just saw him for the first time in years-”

“Not years,” Jason corrects. “I saw him before. Months ago. Right before he died. When he told me your real job.”

So he knew. Has known. For months. But it doesn’t change things. It’s not a new revelation to him, and Slade just nods.

“It’s still the first time in a while,” Slade says. “It’s still-”

“That wasn’t him,” Jason says, and Slade can’t read his tone at all through the voice modulator. There’s no telling what he’s feeling. Is he crying? Angry?

“Jason,” Slade says, his tone pleading. “Just take off the helmet so we can talk about this.”

He does. Whatever Slade expected, what he gets isn’t it. Jason’s stony faced, not dissociating, but not reacting emotionally either.

“That wasn’t him,” Jason says. “That was a body that looked like him. But it wasn’t him. Everyone else is just a shitty imposter. We both know where the real thing is.”

The way he’s reacting might be unexpected, but his fixation on the real Joker isn’t. Of course it would be the Joker that’s taking over Bruce that would be the real one for him. The rest hardly even matter. Why should they? Joker-Bruce is everything he hates in one neat, convenient package.

“Let's not mention that one to the bats,” Slade says. “I think they’d take issue with Ivy torturing them, and I’d rather not burn bridges.”

Jason mimes zipping his lips and tossing away the key, and Slade sags back into his seat, rubbing his face with his hands. As stressful as the situation is, that’s one more thing down. He can’t tell how bothered Jason actually is--maybe he’s better at hiding his emotions than Slade’s giving him credit for--but he can’t exactly force him to talk about it if he doesn’t want to either.

“Alright,” Slade says. “It’s late. We should go sleep-”

“We should check on Alfred,” Jason says.

Slade turns to look at him again properly.

“Alfred?”

“He’s probably losing his mind,” Jason says, already pulling his helmet back on. “He’s always treated Bruce like Bruce was his own kid. And now with all this...?”

He’s worried about him, Slade realizes. Worried for the old man who was as much--if not more--his father than Bruce ever was.

“Alright,” Slade says, pulling on his own helmet. “We can go visit.”

But he’s certainly not going right there. They’re not showing up to Wayne Manor in their gear, which means a trip back to the hotel. Jason seems significantly less enthusiastic to be going back to the room, and Slade realizes he’s probably overthinking things. Jason has a lot going on. He has a million different things happening. For all he knows, his reaction to the room is just because it’s starting to feel a bit cramped now that he’s moving around.

He really needs to stop obsessing over the little things.

“We should pack up,” Jason says. “We could just stay at the manor. It’d be easier, and there’s easy access.”

Slade isn’t sure about staying. It’s not a matter of being invited, because he’s pretty sure Alfred would trip over himself in his eagerness to have Jason staying in the house again. No, it’s what it may or may not do to Jason’s state of mind. Is he really going to be alright in the house that was his home? Is he going to be alright seeing his room

“You realize he’s not alone, right?” Slade asks. “Grayson’s staying over while he’s in town.”

It’s obvious Jason had no idea about that little fact, because his packing comes to an abrupt halt.

“Dick’s at the manor?”

“Until this is all over, yes. It’s not worth the commute back and forth every night.”

Jason takes a moment to mull it over. Slade expects he’ll decide to just stay in the hotel, but is surprised when he goes back to packing.

“That’s fine,” he says. “It’s a big manor. He can take the east wing and we’ll have the west.”

It’s the second time Slade’s been told he’ll be coming over to the manor without so much as an invite. He’s always wondered where Jason got that quirk of his, and now he’s pretty sure it’s Alfred’s influence more than anything else.

Slade does the nice thing and gives Alfred some warning while Jason packs things up. The fact that his name comes up as Deathstroke still hasn’t stopped being amusing.

Packing doesn’t take long. They don’t have much, really. It’s largely gear, which gets loaded into the back of the van. Both sets of armor get packed into their respective bags, and then he hands Jason an empty backpack to load with his own possessions. It’s not much. All he has are his clothes, his e-reader, and his book.

Slade has even less. He doesn’t do personal possessions. He has his clothes, the phone, and nothing else.

He strips the sheets, double checks the room to make sure there's nothing there, and then lets Alfred know so he can pass on a message to the hotel.

They’ve only been in the hotel for a week, but it feels like they’ve spent months there. Slade just hopes he's not back anytime soon.

Chapter Text

Slade has only been in Wayne Manor once before, under far less friendly circumstances. He likes to tell himself that Alfred’s warmed to him since then, but there’s no actual telling how true it is. For all he knows, Alfred still hates him and is only playing nice for Jason’s sake.

Slade decides he’s fine with that, as long as he’s willing to keep playing ball while Jason’s around.

For all Jason’s insistence on the matter, he’s increasingly tense as they get closer to the manor. When they stop in front of the entrance, Slade reaches over, rubbing at the tension in one of Jason’s shoulders before he hits the call button.

“We can still turn around,” he offers, but Jason simply shakes his head.

He’s met at the door by Alfred, who looks suspiciously at their van.

“Should I assume that you have a large amount of sensitive gear within?” He asks, and when Slade answers with an of course, where else would I put it?, Alfred directs them around back, into a shed that Slade assumes is going to lower them into the batcave.

It doesn’t. It’s just a shed, intended to hide the van from prying eyes.

Slade grabs both armor bags before Jason can try, and then grabs his own backpack, leaving the rest of the gear in the car. What matters is that they have enough to go if they need to. Anything specialized they can get from the bats.

Slade’s happy he took the larger bags, because Alfred greets them at the door, pulling Jason into a tight hug before he’ll even let him inside. When he steps back, it’s with a grand flourish, gesturing behind him.

“Welcome home, Master Jason.”

There’s a tremble in Jason’s shoulders as Alfred says it, but Slade’s not sure the old man notices it.

Slade gets a much less friendly welcome.

“I’ve only just finished repairing the kitchen,” Alfred says, “so I’ll expect your best behavior during your stay.”

“He knows the rules, Alfred,” Jason says, which is a bold faced lie. The Rules have not been explained to him, and Alfred seems expecting enough that he doesn’t doubt for a moment that there are several he isn’t prepared for.

“Breakfast is at seven, lunch at noon, and supper at six-thirty,” Alfred says. “Anyone in the manor at those times is welcome to join us, and if you need anything else you just need to ask. While Master Bruce has never complied with my request, I do ask that you let me know if you’ll be coming and going so I can prepare accordingly."

“Still the same place...” Jason mutters under his breath. He keeps swinging his head back and forth, craning his neck to take in all the details. Slade wonders how much of it he even remembers. He only lived there a few months if his numbers are right.

“Have you two eaten?” Alfred asks as he gives them a quick tour of the house. Bathrooms. Kitchen. Slade knows almost all of it from when he broke in, but he lets Alfred explain anyway. Things look different in the light.

“Dinner,” he says. “A few hours ago.”

“Should I expect a nocturnal schedule from you...?”

“Elliot’s getting arrested tomorrow morning, so I need to be awake to keep an eye on that. I think we’re playing it by ear,” Slade says, glancing to Jason, who only nods. He’s extra quiet.

“Then I’ll show you to the guest quarters,” Alfred says. “And set Master Jason-”

“Up in the guest quarters as well,” Jason says.

Alfred, to his credit, doesn’t falter.

“Of course,” he says. “The guest wing of the house is well equipped to host several guests at a time. It won’t be an issue.”

It isn’t. The room Slade is shown to is clearly intended for the visiting elite, not a tired mercenary. It’s tastefully decorated, obviously expensive, and the bathroom’s well stocked. When Slade leans against the bed, it sags under his weight, impossibly soft.

“I’ll go prepare some food,” Alfred says. “Can you find your way back to the kitchen when you’re ready?”

He gives Slade a knowing smile, and Slade nods. 

Slade decides to make good use of the shower, letting the hot water soak in. He reasons he’s probably the safest person in the world right then, because the entire house is so loaded with security that it took him an hour to get through, even with all his preparation and skill. Slade’s known saferooms with less security, so when he gets out, he doesn’t bother dressing in the light version of his armor he usually wears, instead grabbing a fluffy bathrobe that’s been left behind. He’s amused to find a pair of fluffy slippers just underneath, and pulls those on too.

Jason gives him a look when Slade emerges from his room. He’s fully dressed, and obviously hasn’t just enjoyed the world’s most luxurious guest shower, which is a real shame.

“Are you kidding me right now?” Jason asks.

“God no,” Slade says. “That shower is heaven.”

“We might have to run out at any moment-”

“In which case I’ll change,” Slade says. “But this is one of the only places on earth where I can not wear my armor without succumbing to absolute paranoia, and I’m going to enjoy it.”

Apparently Alfred enjoys it too, because when they join him in the kitchen, he doesn’t bother to hide the smile of amusement at Slade’s manner of dress.

“I’m happy you enjoyed the shower, Mr. Wilson,” Alfred says, sliding a plate at him. “Your midnight snack.”

It looks like a ball of... something. Breadcrumbs? When Slade bites into it--because he’s certainly not going to waste food, even if he has no idea what it is--he discovers that it’s apparently a hard boiled egg, wrapped in sausage and then baked.

“Scotch egg?” He asks, and Alfred nods.

There’s no question that Alfred’s acting like a mother hen with Jason. In addition to the scotch eggs, he’s made a number of other snacks, which he slides over to the abruptly ravenous Jason. He double checks his injuries, commenting on the rate of healing (good, although not fast enough for Alfred’s taste), and the nearly consistent number of bruises.

“For every one you get rid of,” Alfred points out, “you boys always manage to get a new one to take its place.”

Slade’s wary of leaving them alone, but he knows it’s inevitable. He can’t keep hovering over Jason all the time. Eventually he’s going to have conversations with the others he’s not a part of.

“I’m going to head to bed,” Slade says. “I have to be up early to keep an eye on the Elliot thing.”

“Of course,” Alfred says with a small nod. “If you need anything-”

“I won’t hesitate to ask, I know.”

As Slade heads back to his room, he wonders how Bruce musters the energy to leave the house when things are this nice for him all the time.

Chapter Text

Slade decides that the guest room bed is the closest thing to heaven on earth. When he wakes to sunlight streaming through the window (bulletproof glass, he discovered when he checked the night before) in a bed that feels like he’s sleeping on a cloud it takes him a few moments to remember where the hell he is. He doesn’t think he’s had a sleep that good in... well, a long time. Years. Maybe ever.

Probably better not to get too used to things.

Slade very nearly steps on Jason when he gets out of bed. He’s not in his own room (Slade’s pretty sure he should have expected that), but instead curled up on the floor beside Slade’s bed, his entire body pulled into a tight ball.

The position looks awfully uncomfortable, and Slade argues with himself over the next course of action. If he wakes him, Jason might not get back to bed. If he doesn’t, he’s going to end up awfully stiff.

Slade’s careful as he picks Jason up off the floor. Jason’s eyes crack open, obviously still tired, and he stares at him warily as Slade tucks him into bed.

“...Slade...?”

“Go back to bed, kid,” Slade says. “Just have to check on some stuff. Alright?”

Jason doesn’t answer. He just rolls over and goes back to sleep.

If there’s one thing Slade knows about Jason, it’s that he can sleep anywhere.

Slade’s feeling good and relaxed as he walks through the house, right up until he turns the corner to the kitchen and nearly slams into Batman's back. His knife’s already out of its sheath before he stops himself, letting out a quick exhale as he reaches up, rubbing his hand through his hair.

Slade's surprised to find Azrael in the house, but when the figure turns to face him, it's obvious that it isn't Azrael at all. They sweep their hand up, pulling the cowl back, and Slade recognizes Grayson beneath the mask, grinning at him cheekily.

Grayson seems to get the exact wrong idea from his scrutinizing look.

“I was making food,” Grayson protests. “I’m allowed to eat.”

“Not that,” Slade says with a roll of his eye. “What are you doing in the suit?”

“Oh, this?” Grayson asks, as if he forgot he was wearing the fucking batsuit. “Improvising. As long as I keep at a distance, no one notices I’m a bit smaller than Bruce is. And if we keep sending Azrael out with the face mask, people are going to start wondering what’s up. So I made sure to make an appearance last night with my face exposed.”

“You don’t have Bruce’s jaw,” Slade points out.

“Neither does Azrael,” Grayson says, turning his attention back to the bacon on the stove. “What matters is that I pass at a glance so people don’t think Batman’s suddenly welded a mask to his face.”

“Are you wearing heels?” Slade asks, looking him up and down. He’s definitely taller. Maybe not quite Bruce’s height, but not many people have stood close enough to Batman to be able to tell the difference.

“They’re insoles,” Grayson says, dropping his bacon onto the plate. “Lucius helped set them up so I could do this exact thing.”

Slade hmmms. The bats are adapting faster than he expected.

“If you want a turn in the suit,” Grayson says with a cheeky smile, “we can just cut your feet off at the ankle and stick a googly eye into the hood.”

“Grayson,” Slade says. “If you-”

He’s interrupted by his phone beeping, and at the exact same time Grayson's does as well. When he checks, the message is simple: check the news.

Slade has no idea where they keep the TV, but Grayson does, so he trails him into one of the larger rooms, where he grabs a remote out of one of the many drawers, hitting a button. A part of the wall slides back, revealing a TV that is far too many inches wide, and Slade settles in on the couch, leaning back to watch.

There’s no worry about missing it, because for the entire rest of the morning, the kidnapping of Bruce Wayne is all Gotham news will talk about. Every channel has its own theory for what happened. In the first hour, Slade’s seen the footage of Elliot being led away (by Gordon!) in cuffs no less than five times. Everyone wants to know who Elliot is. Everyone wants to know where Wayne is. There’s the same interview of Lucius Fox, asking for anyone with information to contact the police. There’s the same No comment line from Gordon.

“They’ll be spinning this for months,” Grayson says “Digging into Elliot’s background.”

The only thing that matters to Slade doesn’t end up on the news. Instead, almost an hour after the arrest he gets a message from Oracle, letting him know that Elliot’s clammed up and isn’t saying anything.

Good. That makes it easier.

Alfred’s horrified when he arrives home to find Grayson sitting on the couch in the batsuit, dropping his groceries in the kitchen and coming out to chide him.

“Master Richard,” Alfred says. “You know the rules. No suits in the house, and certainly no suits on the furniture. If you’ve already eaten, then off to bed with you.”

Alfred sends him packing, and Slade slides into the kitchen to help unload. Alfred’s picked up several bags of groceries, and even if he doesn’t know where most of it goes, there’s only one fridge, which makes that part easy.

“It’s good to see you feel so comfortable,” Alfred says as he looks over Slade’s wardrobe. “Do you know how Master Jason slept...?”

“I’m not sure he made it to his room,” Slade says as he loads a carton of milk into the fridge. “Found him asleep on the floor in my room when I woke up.”

“Hmm,” Alfred says quietly. “I cannot say that I am all that surprised. Master Jason took some time to adapt to life in a real bed when he first moved in with us. I found him in the closet on several mornings... Master Bruce found it quite distressing.”

Considering the bedrooms in their base were glorified closets, Slade’s not all that surprised by that little nugget of information.

“Now,” Alfred says. “With that all put away, I was going to request your help down in the cave. I’ve been told you’re quite efficient with that sort of thing, and none of the boys have been free enough to assist.”

It sounds suspiciously like Alfred’s making work to keep him busy, but it isn’t like he has anything else to do while Jason sleeps.

“I’ll go change,” Slade says. “And maybe take another shower.” There’s no actual bath in the guest room, but he’s strongly considering tracking one down for later. There’s no telling how long he’ll be in the manor, and Slade intends to take full advantage of the facilities while he can.

Chapter Text

Jason’s asleep when Slade ducks into the bathroom, doing his best to keep quiet, but by the time he emerges fully dressed, Jason’s up, dressed, and sitting on the edge of the bed. He looks sourly at Slade, his face twisted into a frown.

“You woke me up.”

“You were asleep on the floor,” Slade points out. “Bad for the back.”

“I’ve had worse,” Jason says. “What time is it?”

Slade has to check his phone, because he has no idea either.

“Ten,” he says. “Grayson’s here, but asleep. Alfred asked for my help down in the cave, and I’m not passing up an opportunity to pick at Bruce’s gadgets.”

Jason’s stopped flinching every time someone mentions Bruce’s name, which is good. He’s sure there’s still a reaction to it, but it’s more muted, less in your face. Probably for the better.

“I’ll come with,” he says, and Slade considers telling him he needs to shower before deciding it’s fine. He personally doesn’t care, but he suspects Alfred might. Might as well let Alfred pick his own battles.

“Suit yourself,” Slade says.

Alfred’s still in the kitchen cleaning up when they arrive, and he looks delighted when he spots Jason is up and out of bed.

“Master Jason!” He says. “Breakfast?”

“I’m fine, Alfred,” Jason says, maybe a bit too quickly. “I can just grab a protein bar or somethi-”

“Absolutely not,” Alfred says. “I insist. I’ll whip you something up.”

“You had something for us to do...?”

Slade suspects that no, he didn’t. Alfred’s just wanting them to stick around and not just take off, so he’s curious to see what the man’s going to pull out of his hat.

“Master Bruce was not particularly organized in his last few days in the cave,” Alfred says. “You’ll see when you get down there. It all needs to be moved back into storage, which I’m sure Master Jason can direct you to.”

Despite all of Slade’s suspicions about it being a make-work project, he’s proven dead wrong. Beyond being impressed by the size of the cave (because boy, is it big), he’s mostly impressed by the sheer number of evidence boxes stacked up in various piles around the computer. It’s a giant mess, and shows clear signs of hasty work.

“He wasn’t kidding,” Slade mutters under his breath as Jason cranes his neck around.

The boxes remind him a lot of the GCPD evidence lockup, to the point where Slade suspects Bruce even has the same brand of boxes. From where he stands he can see the batmobile, the bat copter, and he’s momentarily taken aback by the appearance of an honest to god T-rex statue.

“Why?” He asks, but Jason doesn’t answer. He’s glancing through the boxes, but doesn’t seem to be giving them much attention. Instead, he grabs one, hefting it up onto his shoulder to lead the way.

Slade grabs three boxes, balancing them as he follows Jason across a walkway, past the T-rex, and up a flight of stairs to an evidence room. The room shows obvious signs of having been picked over, and Slade’s happy to note there are numbers on the side of each box, which makes getting them in the right place a lot easier.

Most of the boxes are labelled with their contents--sometimes a date, sometimes just a name--and Slade can’t stop himself from noticing how many of them reference the Joker.

Great.

He doesn’t pay much attention when Jason wanders away, staring at things in the cave. The new computer (because there’s no way it was that high tech five years ago). The T-rex. The batmobile itself. Grayson’s bike.

He’s half done moving the boxes when he realizes he hasn’t seen Jason in almost ten minutes and decides it’s time for a break. He doesn’t like the idea of Jason wandering around the cave unsupervised for a multitude of reasons.

The fact that Jason planned to break into the cave himself as part of their original plan isn’t lost on him either.

All of Slade’s worries are proven true when he finds Jason standing in front of a person-sized glass cylinder off to the side of the cave. The glass is cracked, making the contents hard to see, but when Slade steps up it isn’t too hard to tell what’s inside.

Jason’s old suit. Or a copy of it. Whether it’s a copy or a spare hardly matters, because Jason’s staring at it like the Joker himself’s come back to life to taunt him. His hands are balled into fists. His teeth are clenched. Slade isn’t sure if he’s the one who punched the tube--he thinks he’d have heard the sound of it, but isn’t certain--but decides it doesn’t matter.

“Jay,” Slade says, careful not to touch him. He knows how Jason gets when he’s like this. He’ll lash out if he’s startled, and he doubts Jason even heard him coming in. He’s not sure Jason even hears him right then.

Jason’s breathing is erratic and fluttery, and Slade decides that he’s not going to just stand there and watch Jason melt down again. He’s a doer, not a talker. So he does.

Slade punches the glass.

The sound is so loud that he’s further convinced that Jason wasn’t the one who originally punched it, and it’s followed moments later by a cascade of glass as the entire structure collapses. It’s a mess. There’s blood on his hand. But the cuts are already healing, and he’s not concerned about the blood.

He’d be genuinely disappointed if Bruce didn’t have his blood on file somewhere.

Jason’s snapped out of his moment by the sound, his eyes widening as he looks over at Slade, mouth hanging slightly open. He seems... confused. Shocked, even.

“You’re going to want to step back,” Slade says. “Or you’re going to end up stepping on glass.”

If he ends up injuring Jason again he’s going to have an entire flock of bats and a pissed off butler after him.

Jason steps back, staring down at the mess Slade’s made. Slade doesn’t do much staring, digging the suit out and holding it up.

“He said he’d get me a new one,” Jason says. He still sounds unfocused, but better than Slade was expecting. “With a big J on the chest.”

He was in the suit for the tape, and Slade would bet money that he’d been in it from the moment he was caught. That the Joker just kept him in it until he had to physically cut it off his body.

“I know, kid,” Slade says. “Bad memories. You want to burn it?”

Jason does.

Chapter Text

The suit doesn’t catch the way it should, and Slade realizes the material is actually fireproof. Even so, Slade is far more determined than he should be, and with some work he manages to get it to catch, curling in on itself and probably dumping a severely toxic amount of smoke into his lungs.

Oh well, he’ll heal.

It isn’t a very good bonfire, but Jason watches it like it’s the most interesting thing in the world: the last of his old suits, going up in flames.

There’s a loud crash from the far side of the cave, and Slade abruptly remembers oh right, Alfred was going to bring food down.

To say Alfred is distressed does not begin to cover it. He fetches a fire extinguisher, spraying the sad little burning pile of material as he fixes the two of them with an absolutely ferocious stare.

“I leave you alone for one hour,” Alfred says, “and then come downstairs to find glass everywhere and the two of you sitting in front of a fire. Mister Wilson has blood all over his hands, and I had better not find the same on you, Master Jason. Show me your hands.”

Slade is trying to remember a point in his life where someone talked to him like this, but he’s pretty sure this is the first time. He’s being admonished like he’s a child, and it’s taking a whole lot of effort to not crack up in response. There’s realistically speaking nothing Alfred can actually do to him. He couldn’t even kick him out if he really wanted to, but he talks like he has absolute control of the situation, which makes the effect that much more comical.

He apparently decides that Jason’s hands pass muster, and then immediately rounds on Slade, drawing himself up to his full height.

Mister Wilson,” Alfred says with a surprising amount of venom. “You may be a superhuman with an immense capacity for regeneration, but the rest of us are not. Master Jason could have been seriously injured-”

“Alfred,” Jason says, sounding almost desperate. “I’m fine, really-”

Alfred doesn’t even pause, his eyes fixed firmly on Slade’s own.

“-and that would have been entirely on your own shoulders. If you have any care for Master Jason’s safety at all, you should act like it, and if you don’t, you should leave.”

It’s at that exact moment that Slade realizes he’s completely, absolutely serious. Slade might have more than sixty pounds on him, but that factor doesn’t seem to be entering into Alfred’s head, because he is absolutely willing to toss Slade out physically if he has to.

Slade considers letting him try, just for a moment. Considers just saying come at me, old man and seeing what he does. But Jason’s right there, looking distressed at the thought of the two of them fighting, so he throws his hands up, palms exposed in what he hopes is a nearly universal gesture of surrender.

It probably isn’t as effective as he’d like, considering his palms are covered with blood.

Alfred scrutinizes his face, looking for something he doesn’t find, and then finally he turns away, letting out an exasperated sigh.

“You need to go upstairs and clean up,” he says. “Master Jason, if you’d be so kind as to fetch me the broom, I can start cleaning up the mess you’ve made.”

His eyes slide over to the broken case, and to the burnt remains of what was once Jason’s suit.

“...I’ll make sure to dispose of things safely,” he says, his tone softening.

Slade’s pretty sure he can take a guess at what happened, even if he still seems good and upset.

Slade excuses himself, heading up to the bathroom to clean off his hands. He has to pick a few pieces of glass out of them so they’ll heal properly, but for the most part it’s already done, and the blood just needs to be washed off.

He’s debating how long he should linger in his room to give the impression he’s feeling guilty about his actions when there’s a knock at the door.

It’s Alfred. Of course it’s Alfred, because Jason would have just let himself right in. He looks significantly less angry, which is good, and he makes a small little hmm noise as he looks at Slade’s still damp hands.

“May I come in?”

“It’s your house,” Slade says, stepping back to wave him in. He’s a guest. It’s the guest room. As far as he’s concerned Alfred can go where he pleases. Jason isn’t with him, which makes Slade worry, but he doesn’t have too much time to think about it before Alfred catches him off guard.

“I came to apologize,” he says, which is so unexpected that Slade needs to take a few seconds to catch up.

“...For?”

Alfred frowns at him, his hands clutched together in front of him.

“I spoke overly harshly,” he says. “And questioned your intentions when I shouldn’t have.”

Alfred seems to be under the impression that Slade has been gravely offended, but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. He doesn’t mind, really. Alfred’s obviously looking out for Jason, and he was largely correct: Jason could have been hurt.

“It’s fine,” Slade says. “Really. I’m not bothered.”

“I assumed you did so for... frivolous reasons. However, when I realized what you had been burning...”

Alfred makes a face, and Slade takes advantage of the opportunity to find out what he really wants to know.

“Was the case already cracked?” Slade asks. “I wasn’t sure if it was Jason.”

“That was Master Bruce, I’m afraid,” Alfred says. “He damaged the case the night he discovered Master Jason was still alive.”

Slade can imagine it. That was the same night that Jason was injured, the same night Slade injured him so badly he needed medical intervention. And Bruce wasn’t there. He’d had no idea.

No wonder he broke the case.

“I’ll dispose of the suit,” Alfred says. “I imagine Master Bruce will be upset when he returns, but Master Jason’s discomfort with it is a far more pressing matter.”

When he returns. Alfred still has faith Bruce is coming home. Slade doesn’t. He feels like the odds are a coin flip at best, and rapidly getting worse. The odds that Bruce Wayne is going to live to walk back through the door of his own manor are poor.

Slade sort of expects that the conversation is over. Alfred’s said his piece, and he’s ready to go check in on Jason. But Alfred isn’t done, looking up at Slade before giving him a warm smile.

“It’s good he has you, you know,” Alfred says. “I’m not sure he’d be as comfortable as he is right now if not for you.”

Slade is once again caught off guard by it, and after a moment his face flushes. Is he being complimented by Alfred?

Slade can’t begin to figure out how to respond to that, so he simply grumbles a bit and heads for the door. Jason’s been alone long enough.

Chapter Text

It’s a relief when Slade finds Jason. He’s not in the cave, for one. He’s not alone, for two. Grayson’s there, dressed in street clothes and looking considerably less tired than he was the night before. He’s shoveling cereal into his mouth as Jason sits nearby, and Jason seems to perk up when he spots Slade coming into the room.

“Your hands?”

“Please,” Slade says. “You’ve seen me take bullets without issue. Some glass isn’t even going to slow me down.”

Jason’s seen him go through walls before without breaking a sweat, so the fact that he’s worried about some glass strikes Slade as strange.

“I hear Alfred almost tossed you,” Grayson says between bites of cereal.

Alfred makes a little hmph as he eyes the bowl of cereal Grayson’s wolfing down, stepping over to the kitchen to start cooking again. Slade has no idea what he made for Jason in the first place, but whatever it is has no doubt been cleaned up with the shards of plate.

“He’s welcome to try,” Slade says with a snort.

Grayson looks up at him, looking confused for a moment, and then his eyes widen in realization.

“Oh!” Grayson says. “You think we’re kidding?”

Now it’s Slade’s turn to be confused, and he glances between Grayson and Jason. Grayson looks surprised. Jason, for once, looks amused.

“Oh no,” Grayson says. “We’re not kidding. He’d have tossed you. I’m not sure he’d have been able to actually stop you, but he’d have given you a run for your money.”

Alfred’s facing away, so Slade can’t tell his reaction, but for a moment he thinks he sees a hint of a smile at the sheer, absolute confusion on his own face.

“What?” Slade asks. Alfred is... not intimating. He’s a very British butler. He’s imposing by power of his personality, not because of any physical aspect.

“No, really,” Grayson says. “He’s... MI6?”

“Special Air Services,” Jason corrects.

What?” Slade asks, doing a double take at Alfred’s turned back. “The family butler is SAS?”

He knows more about the US military than the British one, but he knows enough to know that it puts Alfred past military service and into did a lot of things Slade himself once did.

“I am long since retired,” Alfred corrects, holding out a plate of what looks like grilled cheese for Jason. “Although it has come in handy on more than one occasion during my time in Master Bruce’s service.”

“I couldn’t imagine why,” Slade says with a snort. 

But the mention of Bruce is obviously weighing on them, because Grayson’s shoulders slump. He glances quickly towards Jason, and then away again, glancing back towards Slade as he clears his throat.

“So... how’s that going?”

“Jason already knows,” Slade says as he heads to the fridge, getting himself some water. “So you can stop picking your words.”

Grayson lets out a small sigh of relief, but glances towards Jason again anyway.

“So?”

“Drake’s working on it,” he says. “But it’s not an easy thing to fix. Our hands are tied.”

“Pretend one of us only found out about this yesterday,” Jason says. “And re-explain?”

“Some of his brain cells are converting into the brain cells of the Joker,” Grayson says. “The cure didn’t take for whatever reason.”

“He didn’t get enough of it,” Alfred says. He doesn’t mention why. Probably better, because while Slade doesn’t know, he suspects, and what he suspects he doesn’t like. Jason doesn’t need to hear that Bruce might be dying because he tried to help the clown.

No, not even dying. Worse than dying.

“And it doesn’t work anymore?” Jason asks.

“Tim already tried giving him a super dose,” Grayson says. “No effect. Once it’s started changing things, the cure we had doesn’t do anything.”

“The problem, I’m afraid,” says Alfred, “is that it cannot be cured in traditional means. Even if we were able to target only the changed cells, killing them would kill him as well.”

“So why isn’t he dead already?” Jason asks.

“Because so much of what they share is the same,” Slade points out. “The parts of your brain that tell your body how to breath, how to walk... those things are all shared between them. Like, say the parts of his brain that control walking are Joker parts. Right now he can walk, because they’re working as a unified whole. If we kill those parts, he suddenly can’t walk at all.”

Jason grunts. He looks agitated, and Slade reaches out, sliding his plate towards him until he gets the hint and finishes off the grilled cheese.

Alfred starts making more.

“If we’re brainstorming,” Grayson says, “I’m putting Tim on speaker.”

“No objections,” Slade says, and Grayson pulls out his phone. The conversation pauses, and then there’s a quick shuffle as Drake patches in Barbara so they’re both on speaker.

“Any updates?” Slade asks once things are all set up, with everyone circling the phone on the kitchen’s center island.

“No,” Drake says. “No major changes. He’s got a green tint to his hair now, but it’s hard to see. Glossy black to glossy black with green undertones. I only noticed it because I’m taking samples and comparing.”

“Still cooperative?” Slade asks, and there’s a pause, and then a hasty yes.

Slade’s confident Drake just nodded to the phone before he caught himself.

“Still working with me,” he says. “But he doesn’t have any suggestions we haven’t already tried.”

Jason’s started drumming his fingers on the counter, not even looking up as Alfred deposits a grilled cheese in front of him. Without asking, he goes and starts making even more.

“Percent?” Slade asks.

“I haven’t tested,” Drake says. It’s unlike him, which means he’s probably afraid of the results. Otherwise he’d be desperately searching for every possible data point.

“What we need,” Barbara said, “is a way not to kill the cells, but to... I don’t know. Ensure Bruce is in charge? It doesn’t matter if they’re there if Bruce is still in full control, right?”

“Easier said than done,” Drake says. “Even if you treat the Joker as a fully fledged second personality with Bruce, it’s... well, it’s the Joker. You can’t talk him down. You can’t reason with him. Mind over matter only gets you so far.”

Alfred slides a grilled cheese in front of Slade, and Grayson sulks that he still hasn’t gotten one. The room’s silent as everyone tries to come up with... well, anything.

Slade has nothing. He has no ideas. He’s not a scientist, not an expert on the Joker. If it was a matter of fighting or winning or something, there’d be no problem. If this required tactics, sure. But this isn’t something he does.

Jason makes a small noise, hardly more than a grunt, but the room is so quiet that everyone turns.

“What?” Grayson asks.

“Nothing,” Jason says.

“Anything’s better than nothing,” Drake says.

Slade reaches out, resting a hand on Jason’s shoulder and giving him what he hopes is a reassuring squeeze.

“Jason,” he says. “If you’ve got an idea, you might as well say it.”

Jason shifts in his seat, seeming almost uncomfortable with the sudden attention on him.

“Fear toxin,” Jason says, and there’s a round of confused exchanged glances among those gathered. Slade gives his shoulder another squeeze, and Jason continues. “It doesn’t just scare you and kill you. You... you face your worse fears. If you’re strong enough mentally, you’ll come out on the other side unharmed. If you die, it’s because you succumbed to your own fear.”

There’s an excited noise from the phone, and Slade can’t tell if the source was Drake or Barbara.

“That...” Grayson says, lost in thought. There’s the sound of papers rustling, and Slade can just imagine Drake digging through a mountain of paperwork for what he’s looking for.

“That might work,” Drake says. “It’s a bet. A coin flip. If they both overcome it, we’ll be no worse off than we are now. If they both succumb...”

Then they die, but he doesn’t say that.

“What we need is for Bruce to overcome it while the Joker falls to it,” Barbara says. “If we had a way to guarantee that...”

“There’s no guarantee,” Jason says. “It’s up to him. Whether you live or you die is up to you.”

“You got dosed?” Slade asks, raising his eyebrows. Jason never mentioned it to him, but it makes sense. Crane would want to make sure the person he was working with was worthy in his own twisted worldview.

“Once,” Jason says. “It wasn’t pleasant.”

Slade doesn’t want to think about what Jason saw, so he’s quick to move the conversation onward.

“Do we have any objections?”

“I don’t see how anyone can,” Alfred says. “While this plan might potentially end in Master Bruce’s death...” Alfred’s voice cracks as he says it, but he takes a deep breath and carries on. “While this may result in his death, I firmly believe he’d prefer dying taking this chance than succumbing to the Joker.”

There’s a murmur of agreement.

“Good,” Slade says. “Then let’s get going. Who knows where we can find some fear toxin? Or do I need to go break Crane out of prison?”

“We have some,” Barbara says. “The commissioner does, anyway. The police seized his new supply when he was arrested.”

Slade was there for it. He’s pretty sure he helped hand some of it over. But at the time, it hardly seemed relevant.

“Good,” he says. “I’ll contact Gordon. When are we doing this?”

“Today,” Drake says. “Every hour we delay, the situation gets worse. This plan isn’t going to undo the damage, so sooner is better.”

It’s a bit after noon. Gordon’s probably busy dealing with Elliot, but he can make time.

“I’ll get it,” Slade says. “And I’ll meet you at the compound.”

“I’ll drive,” Grayson says. “We can take the car.”

“It might be smarter for us to leave via the back exit,” Alfred advises.

“The back exit?” Slade asks.

“He means take the batmobile,” Grayson says. “There’s going to be the press outside the grounds, hoping for a comment on the situation. Gordon’s asked for them to respect our privacy, but I wouldn’t count on them actually doing that.”

Neither would Slade.

“I’ll take a bike,” Slade says. “And meet you there.”

The plan’s set, and there’s a level of obvious anxiety among almost everyone. Slade feels like the only one not moments away from freaking out. He’s resigned. What happens happens: it’s out of his hands.

He just hopes, for Jason’s sake, that things will go better than he expects.

Chapter Text

Gordon seems significantly more friendly when Slade pulls up to GCPD on a bike. Even if his identity is known to the police, he’s far from a public figure. Gordon’s there to meet him at the entrance, waving him in with a temporary visitor pass as he guides him down to evidence lockup.

Slade neglects to mention that he’s been there before, but is delighted to spot a familiar face at the evidence desk.

“Prolowski,” Gordon says with a quick nod. The man looks up, nods to Gordon, and then is halfway to going back to his work when he spots Slade, his eyes widening.

Slade holds a finger to his mouth, and the man swallows and keeps his silence.

“Can’t say I expected to be doing this,” Gordon says as he starts pulling evidence boxes. “How much do you need?”

“As many as you can afford to give,” Slade says. “This isn’t an exact science, and no one but Crane knows how this works.”

“Well,” Gordon says. “Good luck.”

He makes a point of walking Slade all the way back to the entrance, and when he hands over the vials he ends up clasping Slade’s hand in his own, taking a deep breath and shaking his hand.

It’s far too solemn for Slade’s tastes, but he’s not eager to burn the bridge, so he simply nods, carefully loading the vials into the bike’s saddlebag before he sets off.

He listens to people check in over comms as they arrive. He almost insists Jason wait outside for him to show up, but he knows that kind of order won’t go over well. He settles for speeding a bit, arriving not long after the others do.

They aren’t waiting outside, but they are waiting for him at the bottom of the lift.

“I’ve let Lucius know,” Alfred says. “Both he and Gordon couldn’t possibly excuse themselves from work with the news being what it is. He’s asked we contact him as soon as we know.”

“Of course,” Slade says as he hands the vials over to Drake, his eye running around the room to find the one he’s looking for.

Jason is lingering near the wall at what Slade’s pretty sure is the absolute farthest possible point from Bruce’s containment cell.

Slade brushes off Grayson when he tries to say something, heading over to Jason. He picks his positioning, stepping in such a way to break Jason’s line of sight with the cell.

“Jason,” he says, and Jason glances up at him. He’s started chewing on his lip hard enough that it’s bleeding. “You don’t have to be here.”

Jason hasn’t seen Bruce at anything more than a distance since he was taken by the Joker, and the circumstances couldn’t be worse for a reunion. Slade doesn’t really want Jason seeing Bruce as he is. All it would take is one errant word to set him off. Even if he’s still mostly Bruce, that doesn’t change that a part of him is still the Joker.

He doesn’t want Jason within a hundred miles of him, and now they’re in the same room.

“I’m fine,” Jason says, but he doesn’t look fine. He looks impossibly agitated. Or maybe not even impossibly. He just looks agitated, which is what he should be in this circumstance.

“Jason,” Slade says. “Please just... stop trying to be the tough guy for five minutes, alright? This is a bad situation. It’s a bad situation for you, it’s a bad situation for me, it’s a bad situation for everyone. You can say you’re freaked out.”

Jason takes a deep breath. He’s not looking right at Slade anymore.

“...I don’t... know if I want to see him.”

Slade nods, and Jason hesitates before continuing.

“I felt like I should be here, because - because everything. Because this might be my only chance to face... all of this. But...”

“Say the word,” Slade says, “and we’ll leave right now. They’ve got plenty of people. We can go get dinner or something.”

“But then...” Whatever Jason’s trying to say, he can’t quite make himself say it. Slade reaches down, taking Jason’s hand and letting it ground him in the moment.

“Then I’ll be as bad as he was,” Jason says. “I’ll be - he abandoned me, and I’d be abandoning-”

“Jason,” Slade knows better than to let Jason ramble like this. Better to interrupt, to bring him back to the present. “Your situations are different.” He doesn’t correct that Bruce didn’t abandon him, not in the way that the Joker convinced Jason he had. That doesn’t matter.

“You’re a good kid, Jason, and you want to help people. But you’re not responsible for Bruce. If you want to help people, so be it. But you aren’t responsible. Whatever happens to him, none of that’s going to be your responsibility, alright?”

He needs Jason to hear that. He needs Jason to understand that. To know that it’s true. That no matter what happens, it isn’t his fault. It isn’t his responsibility.

Jason squeezes his eyes shut, nodding once. He doesn’t cry. His face is dry, and Slade tries not to think about what anyone else might be doing as he steps forward, pulling Jason into a brief hug.

“You were the only one with an idea,” Slade says. “And I’m proud of you, alright? You did a good thing. A smart thing. But I don’t want you beating yourself up if something goes wrong.”

Slade isn’t attached enough to Bruce to think he’ll weep over his death. But he knows that if Bruce dies with so much left unsaid, it’s going to hurt Jason, and he doesn’t want that.

“So,” Slade says, stepping back. “What do you want to do?”

Jason takes a long, long time to answer. Slade can see him turning it over, can hear the hustle and bustle of things happening behind his turned back. But right then Jason has all his attention, so he doesn’t push him to answer until he’s ready.

“I’ll stay,” Jason says. “But... just here. To see how things turn out.”

Slade nods.

“Pull up a chair,” he says. “We’ll probably be here for a bit, alright? I’m going to go check in.”

He waits for Jason to confirm things before he finally turns away and goes to find out what exactly is going on.

Chapter Text

Slade doesn’t like leaving Jason, but that’s exactly what he does. He leaves him standing at the edge of the room, striding over to where everyone else has gathered around Drake as he works.

“How is Master Jason?” Alfred asks, his voice quiet and obviously hoping to avoid being overheard.

“As well as can be expected,” Slade says, which is a very formal way of saying shitty. Jason is not doing well. If he was doing well, something would be horribly wrong. “What’s happening?”

“I’m trying to figure out a dose,” Drake says. “I have some of Crane’s notes, but the whole thing is like... filled with random ramblings about his theories that don’t make any sense.”

Slade isn’t surprised in the slightest.

“I figure we can give him a vial,” Drake says, tapping his finger against one. “And then periodically add more as needed until... something happens. Either it stops having an effect at all, or...”

Or one of them stops appearing.

“Who’s doing the honors?”

“You are,” Grayson says. “The cells don’t have an easy way to give injections. Bruce was relying on his own strength, or from goading them to put their hand through the bars. That might work for the first one, but it’s not going to work for any other ones, which means...”

“Which means I get the honor of climbing into the cell with him and injecting him,” Slade says. He doesn’t like the idea.

“Upside,” Drake says, trying to sound cheerful, “the toxin doesn’t need to hit a vein. You can stab him basically anywhere and it’ll work.”

“How considerate of Crane,” Slade mutters. “Now I just have to wrestle Bruce down, not wrestle him down and get his arm straight.”

One vial is far less than Crane usually uses, but they’re also trying to avoid murdering Bruce from the strain on his heart. Slade makes Drake prepare several more vials, holding them at the ready just outside the cell.

“If anyone wants to say their piece to him,” Slade says. “Now’s the time.”

The chance that Bruce ends up dead or severely brain damaged is high, and Slade doesn’t want anyone crying about things left unsaid. He lets himself drift away, giving them their privacy as they head up to the cell to say what might very well be their last words to him.

Slade has nothing to say that can’t be said while stabbing him with fear toxin.

He fights the urge to drift back towards Jason. Instead, he lets himself think about the toxin itself. About what Jason must have seen. About what he might see. What does he fear?

He doesn’t know. He wants to say nothing, but that feels wrong now. But the more he thinks about it, the more a scene pushes his way into his mind. He isn’t afraid of being alone, or being killed, or being unable to work.

Instead, he thinks only of Jason, cold and dead on the ground, his throat cut.

It feels like a mercy when Grayson comes over to let him know they’re ready.

“Listen,” Slade says, deciding to be direct. “Whatever happens, just ignore me. Don’t freak out because Wayne starts choking me out or anything like that. Anything short of death is something I can come back from, and if he manages to actually take me out in his state, with me fully prepared, I think I’d prefer dying to living with the shame of having fallen so far.”

He means it as a joke, but no one smiles. Everyone’s too goddamn grim for it. Slade lets out a huff, stepping up to the containment room.

Technically, the only people who should be able to open it are Bruce and Drake. He actually has no idea who has control now. Did Drake get it back after Barbara revoked it? Does Bruce still technically have override power?

Slade presses his palm to the panel and is unsurprised when it flashes green. He isn’t even slightly shocked to learn that Bruce has access to a scan of his palm, and he’s not going to pretend like he is.

The door slides open, and Bruce doesn’t move. He’s sitting on the little fold out bed, his hands clasped together in his lap. The physical changes are obvious. He’s paler--not quite the white of a clown’s face paint, but noticeably so. Like he’s the vampire that everyone thought the Batman was back when he first started. The green sheen of his hair is easier to miss, and Slade’s not sure if it’s the light or if his eyes have actually started changing shade as well.

He looks unwell. He looks like he hasn’t been eating, and Slade suspects that’s because he hasn’t.

“You know the plan?” Slade asks him, staying on his feet as Bruce nods.

“You’re going to dose me,” Bruce says. “And hope that I do better against it than the Joker does.”

“That’s the idea,” Slade says. “You going to fight me?”

Bruce pauses, and then shakes his head.

“You’d win,” Bruce says. “And it’s probably for the best.”

Bruce is true to his word. He doesn’t fight him as Slade presses the auto-injector into Bruce’s shoulder. Drake’s made it idiot proof, which is nice, because Slade is about as far from a medical professional as one could get. Press the tip to Bruce. Use his thumb to press down the trigger. Hold, ideally while Bruce is still.

The effect is fast, but it’s not instantaneous. Bruce stares at nothing, not reacting to the pain he must be feeling, and then exhales deeply.

“...This is going to be fun,” Bruce says, and Slade has absolutely no idea which man he's talking to.

Chapter Text

The effect of the toxin is almost entirely within Bruce’s head, but that doesn’t mean he just sits there. Bruce twitches and shudders, his eyes glazed and unfocused, and when Slade grabs his wrist he can feel his pulse, his heart pounding away.

He doesn’t talk. Not in full sentences, anyway. But there’s little fragments that bubble up as he thrashes.

Slade considers it a mercy when he eases Bruce off the bed before he falls, letting him twitch on the ground. There are tears on his face, but Bruce doesn’t seem to actually be crying.

He says Dick’s name, and Alfred's, and Tim's, and Barbara's. Slade feels a spike of happiness when he says Jason, despite the circumstances, and makes note of how many names he recognizes. Some are unfamiliar. He doesn’t know who Selina is, and he’s not sure if the Talia Bruce is thinking of is the same one he’s thinking of. Jason comes up again. Then Barbara again. Thomas and Martha come not long after, and Slade wonders if he’s seeing his own failings, or if he’s just being tormented by the people he’s hurt and lost.

Aside from the names, No comes up a lot. The longest fragment Slade manages to catch--too many are so soft that they’re lost in Bruce’s jerky movements on the floor--is I won’t let you.

He has no idea what Bruce is seeing. For all his curiosity, he doesn’t want to know. Not really. Whatever he’s seeing while affected by the toxin is both private and horrific.

Slade reaches down, grabbing Bruce by his shirt (when did they get him out of the suit, anyway?) and hauling him back towards the center of the cell before he hits the wall. Before he releases him, Slade leans in.

“You don’t have to worry about hurting Jason,” he says, voice low enough that the watchers outside can’t hear. “I’ll put you out of your misery long before that happens.”

After a few minutes, Bruce goes quiet. It isn’t a comfort. He’s panting, but he’s not talking, and then he stops even doing that.

Someone outside the cell starts to cry, but Slade pays them no mind. His focus has to be on Bruce.

When Bruce starts to laugh--high and wheezy--Slade decides that one wasn’t enough. He pulls a second auto-injector, getting Bruce in the shoulder with it. He doesn’t even try and fight, and the laughter just keeps on going.

He’s trapped in a small cell with an absolutely hysterical man who probably isn’t even Bruce Wayne anymore. For all intents and purposes, he’s just the Joker now.

Slade kicks Bruce in the gut.

There are some complaints from outside, but Slade covers his agitation by crouching down, injecting Bruce with a third vial. Scarecrow usually uses four. Four seems like the magic number, and they’re at three right then.

The laughter mercifully fades out. He’s happy he didn’t let himself bring a weapon in, because he’s not sure what he’d do if he was trapped alone in a room with the Joker, even if the Joker is in Bruce’s body. He’s still not entirely sure what he’ll do if it fails. He’s not sure he has the mercy in him to make it quick, even with the knowledge that Bruce’s loved ones are watching.

Slade settles back on the cot, leaning over to watch Bruce. He’s sweating, twisting in place, and Slade wonders if tying him up wouldn’t have been better for him. He’s liable to hurt himself, which he suspects was probably an intentional part of the design. Crane is nothing if not sadistic.

Slade debates a fourth vial. Is three enough? Bruce is almost completely non-responsive, moving only rarely and making even less noise.

Slade gets up, stepping over to the door. There’s a little slot for conversation, and a ring of worried faces standing just outside.

“Should I hit him with a fourth?” Slade asks, tapping the auto-injector against the glass for emphasis. Drake looks like he’s forgotten how to speak English for several moments before Barbara reaches out, touching his arm and bringing him back to the present.

“I - I don’t know,” he says. “We don’t know which one is the dominant personality right now. We don’t even know if there is a dominant personality.”

“Weigh the odds, boy genius,” Slade says. “Do I do it or not?”

Drake looks like he’s moments from a mental breakdown, but things are too time sensitive for him not to push for an answer.

Drake bites at his own lip, and Slade watches his fingers go up and down as he runs the odds.

“Do it,” he says. “If one of them won, it won’t have any effect. It’ll only affect if they’re still struggling.”

Slade doesn’t need to be told twice. He leans over, pressing the injector into Bruce’s neck.

The veins of his face are more visible than usual, dark and obvious on his paler-than-usual skin. His breathing’s still unsteady, speeding up and slowing down. If the reassurances from those waiting outside are doing anything, Slade can’t tell. No matter how many encouraging things are called out to him, Bruce doesn’t respond.

Slade feels like things are backwards. One of them should be in here, telling Bruce things are going to be okay and that people are waiting for him. He should be out there, checking on Jason and making sure things are okay. But the fact is that if things go wrong--and it still feels like a coin flip that could go either way--Slade’s the only one willing to do what has to be done.

The others might not know about it, but Slade still remembers the promise he made to Bruce without knowing the significance. The implicit if something should happen. The explicit you’re the only one.

Bruce doesn’t want his blood on the hands of the people he cares about. He doesn’t mind if his blood is on Slade's. It is, simultaneously, absolutely selfish and absolutely selfless, taking the choice away from them in an attempt to minimize their suffering.

It’s a very Batman thing to do.

But what matters more to Slade is how Jason would react. He’s been through enough. He doesn’t need to see Bruce like that, hollowed out and replaced with the thing that hurt Jason so badly. It’s something out of a nightmare, something so much worse than anything Crane could come up with.

If it comes to it, he’ll kill Bruce for Jason, not for Bruce himself. Not because of the half extracted pact. That’s just icing on the cake.

He’d have done it anyway.

Chapter Text

Bruce is non responsive. He’s got four vials of fear toxin in him, and the only reason Slade knows his heart hasn’t completely stopped is because he can still see the fluttering of his chest up and down as he breathes. He’s no longer making noises, sunk too deep in his own head for anything like that.

Slade’s already starting to think about the worst case scenario. It’s easier if the Joker wakes up. If the Joker wakes up, anything he wants to do to him is on the table. The bats might not like it, but they’ll look the other way. They’ll look away as Slade destroys him and tell themselves that there’s no blood on their hands because they weren’t the ones who did it.

They won’t admit to themselves that they’re happy to see the Joker finally get what he’s had coming for years. For what he did to Gotham. For what he did to Barbara.

For what he did to Jason.

Slade is suddenly very happy he didn’t bring a knife, because Bruce sits bolt upright with so little warning that Slade’s convinced he’d have put a knife in him out of sheer instinct. As it is, he only just manages to stop himself from kicking Bruce in the side, stopping himself only immediately before impact.

Bruce is panting, but it’s not the erratic way his breathing was before. This is different, deep sucking breaths trying to get air into lungs that aren’t prepared for them. His eyes are wide, pupils dilated, and Slade’s entire body feels wound tight, ready to jump.

What’s he going to do if he starts to laugh? Break his neck before he can say anything else? Break his neck before he can start to hurt the ring of people standing just outside the cell, their faces all but pressed against the plexiglass as they wait for a reaction that might destroy them?

Bruce’s breathing is slowing down, becoming more regular and less desperate. He reaches up, pressing a hand against his own chest, feeling his heartbeat in a gesture that Slade’s familiar with. He’s trying to ground himself.

It’s a very Bruce gesture, but that doesn’t mean anything. He steps over, kneeling beside Bruce as he reaches over, tilting his head back to check his eyes. Still the flecks of green. Still the pale skin. He’s not sure if that changes things. Maybe not.

“Tell me something only Bruce would know,” he says, and it takes a few moments before Bruce replies. When he does, his voice is hoarse and raspy.

“Stupid test,” he says. “I knew what he knew, and he’d know what I know.”

Slade was expecting something like that, and it’s a nice firm check in the favor of it being Bruce. But checks aren’t enough. He needs confirmation, and he glances over towards the door. There’s no longer any almost, because Drake’s forehead is pressed against the glass, his breath obviously held.

“Drake,” he says. “How do we check to make sure?”

“Brain scan,” he says. “Glorified MRI. I used to have to get them into a straight jacket and roll them into one, and then I test-”

“Hand it over,” Slade says.

Bruce looks like he’s in full control, but that doesn’t mean anything. They all know it, too. Alfred hasn’t spoken, and Grayson’s face is pale.

Drake threads a jacket through the slot in the door, and the irony of the situation--of him putting a straight jacket on Bruce Wayne--isn’t lost on him. Bruce is largely compliant, his entire body trembling slightly as he lets Slade help him into the jacket, and only once it’s on does Slade reach down, hefting Bruce up using the jacket as a handle.

If he tries to get away, Slade will stop him. He keeps that in mind as he walks him out, marching him towards the back of the room where Drake waits. Did the building always have an MRI, he wonders? Or did he somehow manage to get it down here? It’s not exactly a small piece of equipment, after all.

The room is dead silent as everyone waits. Even Bruce isn’t saying anything, silent as the grave as Drake slides him into the machine. Slade keeps waiting for something else to happen, for Bruce to laugh or scream or something. Instead he gets a constant stony silence, only interrupted by the sound of Drake working the computer.

“I’m running it again,” Drake says after what seems like two or three millennia.

“What does that mean?” Grayson asks. “Is that good?”

“I’m just retesting. I don’t want to say anything until I know for sure.”

Grayson looks at Barbara, who looks at Drake.

Drake doesn’t even notice. He’s too busy rerunning things, totally lost in whatever the computer’s showing him.

Eventually, the machine beeps, and Bruce--still in his straight jacket--slides out of the machine.

Everyone turns to Drake, except Slade, who glances over his shoulder, double checking that Jason’s still where he’s supposed to be, lingering on the far side of the room.

He is, and Slade finally turns his attention back to Drake, who seems to have been waiting to have everyone’s attention.

“The results are... inconclusive,” Drake says after a moment. “There’s a definite change. The reaction is... muted, I guess?”

He doesn’t look certain. He’s leaning towards the screen, squinting as he looks over the result.

“He’s not gone,” Bruce says, breaking his silence. He still sounds hoarse, and he still looks like shit, but talking is a good step up. “He’s just locked up. He lost. I won.”

There’s a confused exchange of glances. No one really knows how to respond to things. Slade feels like the only one who hasn’t had the rug jerked out from under them.

“How under control?”

Bruce doesn’t answer right away.

“...Enough,” he says after a moment. “I have a... sense of him. Like...”

“A roommate?” Greyson offers, offering an example Slade would most definitely not have picked.

Bruce seems to agree, because he grunts.

“What matters,” Slade says, “is the danger level of this. Just because he’s asleep now doesn’t mean anything in the long run.”

He’s not sure enough has changed. He’s not sure he trusts the new status quo enough to let Bruce so much as cross the room unaccompanied. There’s a reason he hasn’t pulled the straight jacket off him.

“It’s enough,” Bruce says. “I can feel him. And if he starts to wake up, I can... we can deal with that. Can keep him from taking over. Before, I couldn’t separate what was me and what was him.”

He sounds certain. Certain enough that Grayson looks at Slade with hope in his eyes.

“That’s enough, right?”

“It’s enough for Bruce Wayne,” Bruce says. “It’s not enough for Batman.”

The room goes silent again, but Slade had been waiting for it. He’d been waiting for the realization. Nothing aside from one hundred percent success would be enough. Saving Bruce is one thing. Saving Batman is another.

Grayson starts to tear up, reaching up to rub at his eyes with the back of his hand. Drake reaches out, and Barbara takes his hand. Alfred is the one who steps forward, wrapping his arms around Bruce’s shoulders and pulling him close.

“Oh, Master Bruce...” Alfred says. “It’s just good that you’re back.”

The sentiment, it seems, is shared by almost everyone there.

Chapter Text

There’s only one person in the room who Slade can say he really cares about, and that person isn’t Bruce Wayne. So he leaves the bats to their tears and their welcome backs and cuts his way across the room to where Jason stands, alone and isolated from the group. It isn’t a happy image. Jason looks equal parts unhappy and exhausted, even though he hasn’t been doing anything other than standing around.

“How’s your leg?” Slade asks, preferring to rule out any possible physical causes.

“Fine,” Jason says. “Is it him?”

“Bruce?” Slade asks with a shrug of his shoulders. “More or less. Joker’s still there, but Bruce is in full control. Drake confirmed.”

Jason stares towards the group, and Slade’s careful to reach out slowly, touching Jason’s arm.

“What do you want to do?” Slade asks. “We can go back right now to the manor. Or we can stay here. Or-”

“Nothing,” Jason says. “I don’t - I don’t want to do anything. You have things you need to do, and-”

Slade grunts.

“I’m here because you’re here, Jason. I’m not here because I’m emotionally invested in the bats for their own sake.”

Does Jason really think he’s there because he’s worried for Bruce’s mental health? That couldn’t be farther from the truth. He might have gotten into the situation because he sympathized with the man, but he’s well past that.

“You still should... you were in charge. You should finish it.”

Slade snorts.

“They can manage just fine without me. They always have.”

“Just... you should handle things,” Jason says again. He’s insistent, which Slade finds annoying in this particular case. “They need you.”

Slade doesn’t think he’s going to win the argument. He thinks he’s going to lose it, because Jason is infinitely more stubborn than him.

“Fine,” he says. “I’ll be quick.”

But he’s not going to just leave Jason standing there feeling sad. He eyes the gathering as he returns, and then taps Barbara on the shoulder. She glances up at him, confused, and he gestures over his shoulder. Her mouth makes a little o of surprise, and she nods, rolling backwards.

“You got it, boss,” she says, heading across the room while Jason attempts to glare a pair of holes in Slade.

If looks could kill, Slade would be good and dead.

“What’ve I missed?” Slade asks, ignoring the glare he’s getting.

“Nothing,” Drake says. “We were just... catching Bruce up.”

Well good, because that means he doesn’t have to.

“What’s our next step?”

“The police,” Bruce says. “I understand I was kidnapped.”

“Having a consistent story would be helpful,” Alfred says. “And ensuring we’re all on the same page about it.”

“Bruce Wayne comes back from a week of jet setting, confused as to why people think he’s missing?” Grayson suggests.

“No,” Bruce says. “We need to tell as much of the truth as possible. I need to... to tell the police about the infection.”

“Full offense meant, but that’s a stupid idea,” Slade says. “It’s one more thing connecting you back to the bats. It begs the question of why no one noticed, and how you got infected in the first place. Even with Gordon’s help-”

“It’s non-negotiable,” Bruce says. “The police have to know.”

“Are you going to say why the police need to know?” Slade asks with a roll of his eye. “Being intentionally cryptic might fly with them, but it’s not going to fly with me.”

Drake looks a tiny bit embarrassed. Alfred looks a lot amused behind Bruce’s back.

Bruce, on the other hand, looks uncomfortable. It’s a strange look on him, an expression that doesn’t quite fit his face.

“Is it the skin? Because we can just tan-”

“No,” he says. “I... know what he’s done. All the things he’s done. Before it was bits and pieces, but now I have...”

“Hold on,” Grayson says, his voice rising in pitch as he says it. “Are you saying you remember the things the Joker’s done?”

“How many dozens of cold cases do you think are linked back to him?” Bruce asks. “I know where the bodies are buried.”

Slade’s pretty sure he doesn’t mean that metaphorically, either.

“Fine,” he says. “So how did you get found?”

“I would recommend giving them the truth,” Alfred says. “Or as much as possible. Master Bruce became aware of the infection a few weeks ago, but arrogantly assumed he could handle it through his own methods. Batman discovered him and intervened, taking him captive. He’s been down here since then, with both Batman and Robin assisting him in finding a cure.”

“And the others?” Slade asks. “Do you think they aren’t going to make the connection?”

“A few missing persons would hardly be noticeable in Gotham,” Alfred points out. “But you are correct. The families deserve some kind of closure. Turning them over to the police would grant them that.”

“Going to be hard to explain a bullet hole,” Drake mumbles.

“I’ll take the fall if-” Slade starts.

“Unnecessary,” Bruce says. “You forget I have every reason to know what happened. Henry Adams shot the others, and then turned the gun on himself, deciding that someone in my position would be the best possible candidate to become the new Joker.”

Slade tries to find a reason it wouldn’t work, but the story sounds alarmingly plausible.

“...That’s good,” Drake says.

“It’s the truth,” Bruce says. “Or near enough. The Jokers would always have fought each other until the best one remained. They couldn’t stand each other.”

Slade’s pretty sure whatever rule the bats have about not framing people doesn’t apply to the Joker, so he doesn’t object.

“The cure?” Slade prompts. He wants every part figured out.

“The truth,” Bruce says. “Batman dosed me with fear toxin in an attempt to kill the infection. I owe him--and the people he worked with--my life.”

“Good optics,” Drake says quietly.

“We’ll have to work with Gordon,” Grayson says. “What about Elliot?”

Bruce frowns, folding his hands together.

“From what I understand,” he says. “The story he’ll give won’t make sense to anyone but Gordon. I don’t like asking him to lie, but we have limited options. So we say nothing. The worst case scenario is that they figure out that Batman’s been working with Deathstroke.”

“We can deal with that when we get to it,” Grayson says. “What about Batman? He’s been out and about, but we can’t just keep Azrael going as is...”

“Batman was injured by Henry Adams,” Bruce says. “Now that the crisis is over, I’m sure he can leave it to others for a while.”

Which is a very long way of saying we’ll deal with that later.

“Which means,” Alfred says, “that I’ll need to escort Master Bruce to the hospital and contact the police directly. If everyone else could go back to where they need to be...”

“I’ll handle the bodies,” Slade says. “All of you have places you need to be if the police come knocking. I’m the only one who doesn’t.”

Alfred makes a little hmmm that Slade’s pretty sure means that’s what you think or maybe for now.

“I’ll take Jason,” Grayson says.

“I’ll head to Barbara's,” Drake says.

Slade’s going to have to leave the bike here, take one of the bat-vehicles with the bodies, and then come back for it. It’s more time he’s going to be away from Jason, but he’ll be alright with Grayson for now.

Just for a bit.

Just while Slade finishes what he started.

Chapter Text

As it turns out, just dropping off four bodies is significantly harder than it appears. The problem, he finds, is not dropping them off. The problem is getting away from the station after showing up with four bodies. The base has its own mini-morgue, so the bodies are cool and not yet rotting, but they’re still dead bodies, and any cop worth their paycheck is going to want to ask some questions.

Slade settles on a workaround. He rigs up a generic as possible disguise that hides his features, loads the body bags into the back of a truck, and then skips the police station entirely. He heads instead to the local morgue, and is halfway through unloading when a member of the staff shows up to receive the bodies.

The man helps him unload, looking confused (but not confused enough to stop him, since why would anyone drop off extra bodies if they weren’t legitimate?) as he does it. When he holds out the clipboard for Slade to fill out, Slade simply brushes it off.

“You’re going to want those,” Slade says. “But you should probably call the police.”

The morgue worker makes a meager attempt to stop him, physically placing himself between Slade and the driver's side door. He’s got a pair on him, but Slade isn’t easily deterred, especially not by someone who obviously has no actual training.

“You can move,” Slade says, “or I can move you. But either way, I’m leaving.”

Slade, unfortunately, does have to move him. He simply picks the man up, setting him aside, and in the face of someone who can lift him like he weighs nothing, the man balks.

Slade leaves the morgue without any further ceremony, the poor worker looking confused and alarmed as he goes to call the police.

Slade’s pretty sure he breaks a speed record as he heads back to the base, and he knows he breaks one as he takes the bike back to the manor. The longer he’s gone, the higher a chance that something goes wrong. Jason and Grayson seem to get along okay, but that was in very limited circumstances with near constant supervision. He’s less confident in their ability to get along while alone.

The batcave is empty when he slips in, and Slade drops the helmet on the floor as he heads up the stairs. There’s a peephole he knows he’s supposed to check--just to make sure any guests don’t see the door opening--but he ignores it, pushing the entrance open anyway.

He finds Grayson in the kitchen, but Jason isn’t with him.

Slade hasn’t even finished craning his neck around to make sure Jason isn’t sitting on the counter or something when Grayson speaks.

“He’s in his room,” he says. “I need to get in my suit and go fill in Azrael.”

Slade doesn’t like the idea of Jason being alone.

“His room?” He asks, glancing over his shoulder. “Which one?”

Grayson’s looks momentarily confused, and then he seems to realize.

“...I think guest wing?”

Slade grumbles under his breath at the fact that he gave Grayson one job, and he’s somehow managed to fail at it. He waves the other man off, heading towards where Jason was supposed to sleep the night before, and hoping that he finds him there.

He does.

Jason’s in his guest room, sitting on the edge of the bed, staring down at his own hands. His head snaps up when Slade pulls open the door, and it occurs to Slade that knocking probably would have been a good idea.

Not that it seems to matter. Jason doesn’t get angry, just looks back down at his hands again.

“Thought Grayson would be keeping an eye on you, but instead I found him in the kitchen,” Slade complains as he steps inside, closing the door behind him. “Not exactly responsible, is he?”

He’s hoping for a Dick’s never been responsible or some kind of jab, but Jason’s too invested in staring at his own hands to manage one.

“Kid,” Slade says quietly, sitting down on the bed beside him. “Want to talk about it?”

“No,” Jason says immediately, which is at least truthful. “I just want to go to sleep.”

He’s obviously not doing a very good job of going to sleep, because he’s sitting up, and Slade rifles through his memories, trying to figure out how to make it better. The sleeping arrangements of the night before obviously didn’t work. He’s probably hungry, and he’s technically overdue for a shot (Slade’s not going to bother trying to do it so late), but sleep seems like the most pressing concern.

“What do you want to do, sleep wise?” Slade asks. Probably better to ask. He’s not sure he’d guess right, and he worries that whatever he thinks to offer, Jason will take. Putting the ball in his court and letting him decide seems like the better option, even if Jason seems uncomfortable with the question.

After some thought, Jason shrugs, and Slade sighs.

So much for that plan.

“Alfred says you used to sleep in the closet-”

Jason goes pink. He’s embarrassed, which would be kind of cute if it wasn’t so fucking depressing.

“I’m not a kid,” Jason snaps, and Slade’s happy for it. The anger’s easier to deal with. The anger feels more normal. Maybe he shouldn’t be happy Jason’s upset, but it feels so much easier.

“Kid, I get it,” Slade says. “I had a hard time sleeping in beds for a while after I got back too. So how about this: we grab some blankets and pillows and go sleep in the living room. Couch isn’t as soft. Probably easier for you to sleep on.”

Slade’s pretty sure that the Arkham Knight spent most of his time sleeping on a couch--far easier to find than a full bed--so it feels like familiar territory.

“...’Kay,” Jason says, and it’s obvious he isn’t going to need further convincing.

Slade doesn’t know where the linen cupboard is, so he settles for stripping the sheets off both their beds, letting Jason grab the pillows and hauling it all into the living room with the TV. There’re two couches, and he takes the larger one, setting up a little bed for each of them. He’s pretty sure that in the distance he can hear Alfred screaming at how disorganized and messy they’ve made his living room, but when Jason crawls into bed and goes right to sleep Slade decides that Alfred can get over it.

Chapter Text

Jason might have gone right to sleep, but Slade can’t. He lies awake, staring up at the ceiling and listening to the sounds of the house. To Jason’s soft breathing. To the creak of old wood as it settles in the night. He isn’t sure how long he’s been listening when he hears the soft sound of the hidden door swinging open, and the sound of footsteps as someone enters the house via the cave.

Slade sits up, peeking over the back of the couch as he watches Grayson, dressed in street clothes, head into the kitchen.

He’s not sure if Grayson is naturally quiet, or if he’s intentionally trying to be so, but even with Slade’s enhanced senses, he can only just hear him.

Slade sinks back down onto the couch and lets himself listen.

He hears the warning signs, but he doesn’t know them well enough to recognize them for what they are. He knows when Jason’s breathing changes. He hears it when Jason shifts, curling tighter. But it’s not until Jason starts whimpering that he gets it, pushing himself up from the couch.

“Jason,” he says quietly. He hears, even over the sounds Jason is making, the sound of Grayson coming out of the kitchen. He can hear Grayson, and he’s sure Grayson can hear him, but he puts the other man out of his mind as he bends down, trying to wake Jason up without startling him.

It’s a fool's errand. He jerks awake with a pained noise, pulling away like he’s just been hit. He’s almost feral, acting on pure instinct as Slade tries to keep himself from crowding him while he’s still half asleep.

“It’s fine, Jason,” he says. “You’re safe. You’re at the manor. It’s just us.”

Grayson seems to get the hint, because after a moment Slade hears the sound of retreating footsteps as he pulls Jason against him. His breathing is fluttery and erratic, and he doesn’t seem even half awake. His eyes are open, but nobody's home.

Slade lets Jason rest against him, dragging his fingers through Jason’s hair until he finally falls back asleep. He doubts Jason remembers what happened--he isn’t sure he was ever awake enough to keep the memory--but he’s extra careful as he eases Jason off of him, heading back to his own couch to sleep.

He wakes hours later to a massive crash, a round of distant swearing, and a shouted SORRY from the direction of the kitchen. Jason’s up too, sitting bolt upright with his hand resting where his gun used to be. 

“Dropped something,” Slade mutters under his breath. He peeks at the window and guesses it’s probably close to nine, which means he’s slept long enough. He stretches, digging around on the coffee table before finding the remote. Jason still looks wound, ready to spring as needed, and he shows no signs of relaxing until Slade’s already reclined back on the couch, kicking his feet up as he tries to find the news.

He finds it, with Vicki Vale standing in front of Gotham’s police headquarters. There’s a podium set up, which means press conference, and Slade turns up the volume, twisting around to glance over his shoulder.

“Grayson!” He yells. “Gordon’s about to do a conference!”

“I know!” Grayson yells back. “Just give me a minute.”

Jason makes a face as he untangles himself from the sheets, sitting up to get a better view of the screen. The conference doesn’t start right away, but even several minutes later, Grayson still hasn’t shown up.

Gordon looks even more exhausted than usual when he steps up to the podium, and Slade’s pretty sure he hasn’t slept all night.

“It’s starting!” Slade yells.

“Coming!” Grayson says.

When Grayson shows up, it’s balancing three plates of bacon and eggs in his hands, with three glasses of orange juice pinched between his arm and his torso.

“Please take them,” he says desperately. “I am good at balancing, but I’m not this good.”

Slade reaches up, grabbing a plate and a glass for himself before helping Grayson unload his own. Grayson hands over a plate and glass to Jason, who squints at them skeptically even as Gordon starts to talk. He’s an old hand at press conferences, and as tired as he obviously is, there’s an ease with which he talks. He’s been through this before. This is just another day.

“My name is James Gordon,” he starts. “I serve as commissioner for the Gotham City Police Force. The purpose of this conference is to inform the public about events which transpired late last night, and to answer any questions as needed in order to minimize misinformation on the subject.”

The news ticker at the bottom of the screen scrolls WAYNE FOUND along the bottom, among other news stories apparently deemed less important.

“Last night at around eleven PM, we received a report from Gotham General Hospital that Bruce Wayne had been admitted as a patient. As a missing person, we launched an investigation into Wayne’s whereabouts since his disappearance, and when the hospital determined that Wayne was in good health and not in any immediate danger, we questioned him.”

Gordon stops to take a drink of water, and Slade gets the distinct impression that every member of Gotham’s press has leaned forward slightly in the moments it takes.

“I’m sure many of you remember the contaminated blood transfusions from a few months ago,” Gordon says. “While at the time we reported that we’d managed to track down and cure every person provided with the contaminated blood, it was brought to our attention today that we’d missed some. Five Gotham citizens became infected as a result of receiving blood donations which were not properly documented, and as a result began to take on the physical and mental traits of the man known as the Joker.”

There’s an immediate stir in the crowd, but Gordon simply carries on, talking over them until they go quiet.

“While the Gotham police department were unaware of this development, the vigilante Batman became aware of it a few weeks ago when he encountered one of the infected. Hoping to avoid a panic, he confined the man and used his own resources in an attempt to stop the infection from advancing. Over the next few weeks, the Batman became aware of the remaining infected, the final of which was Bruce Wayne.”

Grayson nudges Slade with his foot, and Slade grunts and starts to eat. The food isn’t bad, much to his surprise. Not Alfred level, but still good.

“Yesterday,” Gordon says, “two important matters happened. One, an infected patient managed to escape containment. This patient killed three of the others, before turning the gun on himself. Two, the vigilante Batman was able to synthesize a cure that would prevent the risk of the Joker’s return, rendering the infection inert.”

It’s a layman’s explanation, intended to be as simple as possible, but Slade still winces at how imprecise it is. He’s used to mission briefings, which are on a whole different level.

“All four bodies have been turned over to GCPD by Batman and his allies,” Gordon says. “And Bruce Wayne is being treated at Gotham General. We have no reason to believe that there are more infected, but will be closely monitoring the situation. We ask that the media give Wayne and his family their privacy, and allow him time to rest.”

Slade things, just for a moment, that it’s done. That he’s going to wrap things up with that and walk away. So he’s surprised when Gordon clears his throat, leaning forward once again.

“In addition to what we know of this event,” Gordon says, “we’ve been given access to a large amount of previously unknown information on the Joker. We’ll be looking into this information as it comes in, and hope to use it to close a large number of unsolved cases. We hope to give families who are missing loved ones closure as soon as possible.”

Gordon takes another long drink of water, and then opens the floor to questions.

The first is obvious. Everyone knows what the first question is going to be, and everyone seems eager to be the one to ask it.

“Can you explain where the information you mentioned came from?”

Gordon grimaces. It’s obvious he doesn’t want to answer it, but there’s no real reason not to.

“As a result of the infection, Wayne has access to at least a portion of the Joker’s memories. While obviously we cannot verify the memories as being true, we can verify the information itself. Members of Gotham’s police force are already following up on some leads that Wayne has provided us.”

The next question is particularly pointed.

“Is it not possible that Wayne is the Joker?”

“Beyond the fact that the Joker is two inches shorter and fifty pounds lighter?” Gordon asks, cracking a smile. “Several of the cases Wayne has provided information on were not things he could have been involved in. Either because he was out of town, or because his whereabouts were well known. Beyond those facts, I would like to remind the press that the Joker had been incarcerated in Arkham Asylum several times, during which Wayne was certainly not.”

“That went pretty well,” Grayson says as Gordon fields a question about the possibility of other Jokers still existing. “Somehow I don’t think the press is going to listen to that please leave the family alone thing though.”

Slade doesn’t think they’re going to either.

Chapter Text

The press don’t. There’s a veritable camp of media waiting just outside the gate, and even after the press conference, they show no sign of moving. Drake calls in to report that his apartment’s been swarmed, but opts to stay where he is with Barbara rather than coming back to the manor right then.

Slade carries the dishes back to the kitchen, and then wanders back to deal with the sheets.

Even if Grayson’s been raised with an honest to god butler, he’s obviously had to take care of himself. He’s already stripping the sheets off the couches, bundling them up and heading down one of the hallways to handle them himself. Jason stays sitting, watching him work, but he glances towards Slade once Grayson’s out of earshot.

“We can leave,” Slade says. He wants it clear the offer’s still on the table. Whatever plan they had before no longer exists, not even in pretense. There’s no pretending they’re both working towards the Bat’s death anymore.

“No,” Jason says. His voice is quiet, and Slade isn’t sure if it’s because he’s thinking, or because he wants to be extra sure Grayson doesn’t hear. “You said I’d be stupid to leave them.”

“I said,” Slade grumbles, “that you’d be smart to try and work with what you have.” He doesn’t like the way Jason’s internalized the message he was going for, twisting things around to make it sound worse. “I still stand by that. You don’t want to end up like me.”

“Like you?” Jason asks, squinting up at Slade like he has no idea what he means.

After a few moments, Slade realizes he probably doesn’t have any idea what he means, and he huffs.

“Relationships take time and effort,” Slade says. “If you ignore them, they’ll wither and die. You spend all your time focusing on your work, and you end up like me, with zero support structure that you aren’t paying cash for.”

Slade has a support structure. He’s just very aware that they’ll all vanish the moment he stops paying them for their work.

“Did you just give me the don’t be like me, a sad old man speech?” Jason asks. “I’m not sure I can take you seriously anymore.”

Slade rolls his eye.

“I mean it, Jason. If you want to leave, you can leave. If you want to abandon Gotham, then you can. Just don’t do it lightly.”

He’s not sure he’s getting his point across. He’s not sure Jason hanging out with the bats will be good for him, but he knows Jason running away isn’t. The best case scenario of that path is that he ends up just like Slade: dedicated to his work and with nothing else.

Slade doesn’t regret his life--far from it--but it’s not the life he’d choose for Jason either.

“You...you want something from me I can’t give,” Jason says. “I can’t just... I can’t just go back. I can’t just pretend like none of it-”

“Jason,” Slade interrupts. “I’m not asking you to just pretend like it didn’t happen. It happened. It shouldn’t have, but it did. But there’s more to life than revenge schemes. Is Grayson so bad? Is Drake?”

He doesn’t ask about Barbara and Alfred. Those two were pre-existing relationships, people Jason cared about even if he didn’t admit it to himself. Grayson and Drake are effectively new. They’re people Jason had no opinion of, or even disliked. If he can befriend Grayson--if he can be happy sharing a room with Drake--then it’s progress.

Jason grumbles under his breath, which means they’re probably not so bad, I guess.

Grayson returns, making so much noise that Slade’s pretty sure it’s intentional.

“Just got off the phone with Alfred,” he calls as he slips into the living room. “He says they’re going to discharge Bruce later today, and then he’ll be back. I’m kind of eager to get back to Bludhaven, but I’ll stick around until he’s home, at least.”

The fact that Grayson is a big boy with big boy responsibilities and a whole city of his own to patrol has not been lost on Slade. Bludhaven’s effectively been abandoned while he helps Bruce keep his shit in order, and Grayson’s very obviously chomping at the bit to get back to it.

Thinking about it is making Slade antsy, so he decides to do something with his energy.

“You guys have a workout room?”

It’s a question, but not a very serious one. There is a zero percent chance that the manor doesn’t have a workout room. There’s no way Bruce is half as fit as he is without a good one, he just doesn’t want to have to open every door in the place to find it.

“Huh?” Grayson says, dragging his eyes away from Jason. “Oh, you want to like... train?”

“If I wanted to do push ups,” Slade says, “I’d be doing them right here.”

Grayson sloooooowly nods, his face lighting up.

“Perfect,” he says. “Just come right on this way.”

Slade isn’t surprised to find out that there’s a training room down in the cave, but he is confused when he ends up in what amounts to a big flat space that looks totally empty.

“Simulator,” Grayson says as he slides up to the control panel.

Slade is alarmed when he appears out of one of the storage rooms. Not him, but Deathstroke, a near perfect replica. The movements are stiff and automatic, but it’s unnerving as he watches himself come down the steps, stopping ten feet away, staff at the ready.

“Robot,” Grayson says. “Don’t ask how much this costs.”

The fact that Bruce Wayne has a robot duplicate of him under his house is not exactly a pleasant thought. Slade’s seen a lot of weird shit, but this is pretty weird, even for a man who runs around dressed like a bat.

Or ran around, he guesses.

Jason perches atop a table to watch as Grayson starts up the simulator. It’s obvious to Slade that the robot is built using him as an example, because it--very simplistically--attempts to copy his moves. He tosses it easily, taking advantage of its slowness, but the robot simply resets immediately after.

“I’m training it, aren’t I?” Slade asks, unable to stop himself from laughing.

“That’s the idea,” Grayson says. “Normally we don’t get such good data. I don’t think this one’s been used in months, because it’s not very good.”

Slade doesn’t have his armor, and he doesn’t have any weapons. It’s a good handicap against the slow robot, but it seems to be picking up things every successive match. It gets faster. It starts to use his own moves against him. And while he’s still faster and stronger, the matches start taking longer.

“This is so bad, I’m pretty sure I could fight it,” Jason complains. Complaining is good, in Slade’s opinion, because that means he’s comfortable.

“I’d hope so,” Slade says as he breaks the robot’s arm. “You trained against the real thing.”

“I meant with my leg broken,” Jason says. “I could still beat it.”

“I’d hope so,” Slade repeats. “Maybe if we broke both your legs it would have a chance.”

Grayson looks scandalized.

“It’s not that bad!” He protests.

“You realize he’s been holding back?” Jason asks. “He’s really not even trying.”

Grayson throws his hands in the air, exasperated.

“Fine,” he says. “I’m going to go make lunch then. Have fun ruining the simulator programming by holding back.”

Chapter Text

Grayson seems to have decided that the fastest way into Jason’s good books is through his stomach, and he’s not entirely wrong. When they emerge from the cave having worked up a good sweat and are met with a small mountain of food that would make Alfred proud, Jason ends up in a particularly good mood.

Jason’s easy to bribe.

They check the news after lunch, watching the talking heads pour over every aspect of the case. GCPD has started recovering bodies, and everyone’s trying to guess how many will get recovered.

Slade goes to shower and change, and Jason ends up doing the same not long after. He suspects it has less to do with a desire to clean off the sweat (because Jason hasn’t been sweating like he has), and far more to do with not wanting to be left alone with Grayson without a chance of rescue.

Drake shows up with Barbara midway through the afternoon, and they come bearing gifts: three large pizzas from a place they swear makes the best pizza in Gotham. Barbara makes it clear that her father is absolutely dying, buried under more work than should be possible, and that he sends his regrets that he can’t show up for the pizza party.

Slade wants to say, as he sprawls out on the couch eating pizza and watching a movie with a bunch of kids, that he feels like a kid again, only when he was a teenager he wasn’t doing anything like this.

It’s nice to see Jason with the group. He’s initially worried it’ll be a bit too much. Too many people he has too little history with. But Barbara does a good job of easing him into it. When she finds out he hasn’t seen The Princess Bride she insists on watching it, and they’re nearly done with the movie when Grayson checks his phone.

“Alfred says they’ll be here in twenty,” he says. “Just checking out.”

Slade’s pretty sure they’re wading through a sea of paparazzi on their way out of the hospital, no matter what Gordon’s asked them to do or not do.

“You’re leaving tonight?” Drake asks, craning his neck from his spot on the floor to look at Grayson.

“That’s the plan,” he says. “I already talked with Azrael, and Bludhaven’s gone to hell without someone’s hand on the wheel.”

“Try not to work yourself to death,” Drake says. “The city will keep without you for one night if you’re going to take time off.”

“Bold of you to assume Bludhaven will keep itself from falling apart for a whole night,” Grayson says with a groan.

They finish the movie right around the time the security system beeps to let them know someone’s heading through the front gate.

Grayson springs up with surprising grace, heading towards the door as everyone starts to pull themselves up from their seats.

Jason hangs back. Slade isn’t surprised, and he hangs back as well, letting Barbara go on ahead with only a quick glance back over her shoulder.

“We can-”

“I’m fine,” Jason says, not even letting him finish. “I don’t need you hovering.”

Slade’s very much of the opinion that Jason does need him hovering, but he’s not going to argue the point. He gets up, double checking to make sure Jason’s trailing behind him, and heads to the door.

Alfred is hovering beside Bruce as he comes in, but it’s completely unnecessary. He’s in perfect physical health, and looks like he’s had a good night sleep even though Slade’s sure he hasn’t.

He keeps his distance as Bruce hugs Grayson, Tim, and then Barbara. Alfred continues hovering, and when Bruce spots Slade, his eyebrows shoot up in surprise. He’s not sure if Alfred didn’t tell him, or if he’s just surprised by the sight of Slade dressed casually, hanging out in his foyer.

For maximum irony, he’s wearing a batman t-shirt, and the irony is not lost on Bruce, who cracks a smile when he sees it.

He offers his hand, and Slade shakes it. Nice and professional. Like they’re coworkers or business partners, not a man who dresses up like a bat every night and his multi-time rival.

“I understand I owe you a debt of gratitude,” Bruce says. “Alfred was telling me about how you stepped up to the plate while I was indisposed.”

It’s all painfully formal, and it makes Slade that much more aware of the fact that he can’t spot Jason in his peripheral vision. Did he duck back out of the hallway?

“Among other things,” Slade says, releasing his grip. “I understand you keep a robotic copy of me in your basement.”

Bruce laughs at that, which feels that much more out of place. Bruce isn’t the sort of person who often laughs, and Slade’s hyper aware of the differences.

“You can relax,” Bruce says. “I just... have a lot off my mind. It’s good to be back.”

Slade wants to say he’s a changed man, only those words aren’t half as comforting as they should be. Bruce’s reaction feels fake. Even if he’s gone from nearly dying to a clean bill of health, it still feels wrong. Like it’s a facade he’s putting on to reassure people.

“Perhaps we should get out of the entranceway?” Alfred suggests.

They shuffle into the living room, and Slade’s alarmed to find Jason not there either. He breaks away from the group, heading to Jason’s room and finding it empty. It’s not until he checks his own room that he finds him, sitting on the floor with his legs pulled up to his chest.

“Jason,” he says, closing the door behind him. “You alright?”

He still hasn’t talked to Bruce. The closest he’s gotten was being in the same room, while Bruce was locked in his cell. He hasn’t exchanged a single word in five years with the man who was supposed to be his father. Who was supposed to take care of him.

Slade feels anger bubbling in his gut and pushes it down.

“What do you want to do?” He asks, sitting down beside Jason. He wants to push. Wants to go out there and drag Bruce in. Wants to make him acknowledge him. The fact that Bruce’s first action wasn’t seeking Jason out is bothering him.

“I just want to sit here,” Jason says. “This isn’t home-”

“You have as much right to be here as any of them,” Slade says. “Grayson likes you. Drake likes you. Barbara loves you. Alfred loves you. And if Bruce doesn’t? He can go fuck himself.”

Slade’s already plotting ways to ruin Bruce’s fucking life and he’s been home less than thirty minutes.

Chapter Text

Jason doesn’t want to do anything. He just sits there, even when Slade tries to coax him out of the room. They’ve been in there almost a half an hour when there’s a knock at the door.

It better be Bruce, Slade thinks to himself right as the door opens to reveal Grayson.

“You guys okay?” He asks, looking wary. “Alfred was worried.”

“Fine,” Jason says quietly. “You can go back.”

Slade feels another bubble of anger, but it recedes when Grayson steps in, closing the door after him. He pads over on bare feet, crouching down beside them.

“I know I’ve been a pretty shitty brother,” Grayson says as he folds his legs under him. “And you’ve already got Slade. But if you want to talk, door’s open, alright?”

It’s a good way to handle it. Propping the door open, rather than trying to force Jason to talk, but Slade’s surprised when Grayson isn’t done.

“For the record,” he says. “Literally every single person in the house things it’s bullshit Bruce hasn’t talked to you yet.”

Jason’s head popped up, not bothering to hide the look of surprise on his face.

“...Really?” He asks, voice quiet.

“Oh, absolutely,” Grayson says. “Alfred made a very obvious ahem when he asked if I’d come check on you. I think he was hoping Bruce would say no, let me, only he didn’t. And then Tim and Barb kept nudging each other under the table. I think she was trying to convince him to ask what was up that he was just sitting at the table all smiles.”

“He never smiled like that,” Jason mutters into his kneecaps.

“No kidding,” Grayson says. “It kind of freaked me out when he first came back, but it’s not the same thing. It’s not like... Joker-smile. It’s more like Bruce putting on a big smile to convince everyone things are fine. Like he put the smile on to get through the paparazzi and forgot to take it off.”

Slade’s heard more than enough, and he pushes himself to his feet.

“I’ll be back,” he says. “Don’t go anywhere without me, alright?”

Grayson seems to have a pretty good idea of where he’s going and what he’s planning, because he shoots him a look as he heads out, giving him a serious nod of approval.

He finds them in the kitchen, with Alfred obviously ensuring Bruce is catching up on all the home cooked meals he missed. The moment Slade enters--without Jason or Grayson--there’s a palpable change in the air. Drake and Barbara exchange a quick glance, and Alfred clears his throat and suddenly gets busy at the counter.

“Bruce,” Slade says. “We need to talk.”

Bruce is still wearing the same smile he was earlier, but it no longer matches his body. There’s a tension in the shoulders. He’s prepared for violence.

Slade expects Alfred to intervene on Bruce’s behalf. To speak up and say something like Master Bruce needs some more rest, perhaps later? But he doesn’t. All of a sudden, the vegetables that Alfred are cutting are taking his complete concentration.

Funny how that works.

“...Alright,” Bruce says, standing up. “My office?”

Slade has no idea where that is, but he nods anyway, and opts to simply let Bruce guide him. It turns out to not be far from the kitchen, down a hallway and through a locked door that Bruce has to work open.

It’s exactly the kind of office that Slade expected. Something that fits Bruce Wayne perfectly, and Batman not at all. Ornate. Decorated by committee, without anything in the way of personal touches.

Slade’s sure this isn’t his only office.

Slade doesn’t bother sitting down. Instead, he does what he’s wanted to for a while, grabbing Bruce by the front of the shirt and slamming him back against the wall. He’s expecting a fight, but he doesn’t get one. Bruce puts up no resistance, letting himself get tossed around like a rag doll.

It makes it a hell of a lot less satisfying.

“You’re going to explain to me,” Slade says, “why you’ve decided to ignore Jason. Or did you forget that you’re supposed to have three sons?”

Bruce doesn’t meet his eyes. He’s no longer smiling, which Slade supposes is probably more genuine, but he’s too irritated to give Bruce any credit for the fact that he’s stopped bullshitting him.

“I can’t,” he says.

“Go fuck yourself, Bruce,” he snaps. “If you’re going to keep doing this, tell me right fucking now so I can take Jason and leave before you fuck him over even more.”

“How can I-” Bruce starts, his voice cracking. Slade realizes he’s crying, but the tears do nothing to calm his anger towards the man. “How can I even be in the same room as him, Slade?”

“Stop being so goddamn pathetic,” Slade says, dropping Bruce back down to his feet. He stumbles, but catches himself, reaching up to rub at his face.

“I remember, Slade. I remember every single thing the Joker ever did to him. I remember hurting him like it was me. How can I be in the same room as him? How can he stand to be in the same building as me, knowing what I am?”

“Let me make this clear,” Slade says, unable (or perhaps unwilling) to stop himself from grabbing Bruce by the shirt and slamming him back against the wall.

You don’t get to decide that. You don’t get to decide if Jason’s disgusted with you. That’s something he decides. Right now, he’s sitting in his room feeling like he doesn’t belong here. In his house. Because you haven’t so much as looked at him.”

Bruce seems genuinely taken aback, and he’s silent for a moment.

“It’s his house,” he says after a moment. “I’m the one-”

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself for one goddamn second,” Slade says, “and think about what he’s thinking about. You’re an adult. Act like it.”

Bruce is silent again.

“...Does he really think-”

“I don’t know what you’re going to say,” Slade says, “and I don’t care. Yes, he really thinks it. He really thinks you hate him. He really thinks he doesn’t belong here. He’s had a million fucking issues and he’s been working through them, and you ignoring him isn’t helping.”

Bruce swallows, staring off to the side. He’s still not meeting Slade’s eyes, which doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

“...I think I need to talk to Jason.”

Slade fights the urge to say you think?, and settles for releasing Bruce again, stepping back. He’s not used to feeling so angry. Not like this.

“You do,” he says.

And he’s going to goddamn supervise, because he doesn’t trust Bruce to not screw it up. He doesn’t know Jason well enough. No matter what their relationship was supposed to be, the fact still stands that he didn’t even know Jason for a full year. He doesn’t have enough experience.

The only reason the relationship might be worth salvaging at all, in Slade’s mind, is because of the significance Bruce holds in Jason’s mind: the first person to show him real kindness.

“Let’s go,” he says, literally scooting Bruce out of the room and towards the bedroom.

Chapter Text

As they walk through the house it becomes very obvious to Slade that literally everyone knows what’s happening. Drake pops his head into the hallway as they pass just to give Slade a discrete thumbs up. Alfred, usually hovering, suddenly finds himself impossibly busy with standard kitchen tasks he should be able to do with his eyes closed. And when Slade opens the door to his room, Grayson doesn’t even bother making up a shitty excuse for why he’s leaving. Instead he just pats Jason on the shoulder, pushing himself upright and telling Jason that he'll see him later.

Slade slides Bruce into the room, closing the door behind them. If Bruce thought he was getting any privacy, he was kidding himself. Slade stays by the door, but he’s still watching them like a hawk.

There’s almost no reaction to start. Jason sees who it is and turns away, knees still pulled up to his chest. He doesn’t talk, doesn’t try and say anything to the man who’s supposed to be his father. Bruce seems to not know what to say either, standing there until Slade reaches out and literally pushes him forward.

If he’s going to have to walk Bruce through every part of this he’d rather just pack Jason up and leave right then.

Thankfully, the shove seems to bring Bruce back to reality, and he swallows before crossing the room to where Jason sits, his back against the wall.

It’s a good sign when Bruce doesn’t just stand there. Instead, he slowly lowers himself down, sitting on his ass just in front of Jason. Literally putting himself on Jason’s level.

A part of Slade’s brain thinks hmm, I bet Jason could take his throat out before he could react. Maybe not the best thing to think.

“Jason,” Bruce says, and his voice sounds ragged. He’s not smiling, which is good, because if he’d tried that fake nonsense he’d have enraged Jason at best. “We should have... have had this conversation a while ago. I’m sure you can imagine why we didn’t, but...”

It’s not exactly a great start. Slade can tell how poorly things are going just from watching Jason’s body language. He’s turning inward. Protecting himself, whether he realizes it or not. He’s bracing for something worse.

Slade fights his urge to intervene. If it doesn’t come from Bruce, it doesn’t even matter.

“I’m sorry,” Bruce says, which is a good start. “For... for a lot of things. I’m not even sure where to start. For not finding you. For letting myself stop looking when I should have kept searching.”

If not for Jason himself, then for a body to bury.

“But..” Bruce says, and Slade braces himself. Jason still hasn’t moved from where he sits on the floor. Slade’s not even entirely sure he hasn’t just zoned out so hard he can’t hear the conversation. “Not just for that. Even before that, I had - I made a lot of mistakes.”

It is killing Slade keeping his comments to himself.

“Even now. Even today. I wanted to... to protect you from this. From what I am now. But in the end I just...”

Bruce’s voice is cracking up. It’s more emotion than he usually shows, and for the first time Slade feels like he’s actually intruding on something private, rather than watching a one man show of Bruce’s shitty attempts at reconciliation.

“I let you feel unwanted,” Bruce says. “I let you feel like you didn’t belong here. I... ignored you, rather than talking to you.”

Jason turns his face, burying it in his knees. Slade suspects he’s crying, but he’s also making an effort to hide it from Bruce.

“I shouldn’t have. I should have talked to you. I should have... I should have been clear.”

Jason’s still not responding, and Bruce seems lost for words, unsure of whether or not to continue. He’s struggling, unsure if he’s getting through, and when Bruce glances over his shoulder, Slade takes pity on him, mouthing keep going.

Bruce turns his attention back to Jason.

“I know I haven’t been a good father figure to you,” Bruce says. “I’ve barely been a good adult to you. There were so many things... things I should have said, things I should have done. I kept telling myself that I did just fine with Dick, so I should have been able to handle you.”

It’s a misstep, and Slade’s not sure Bruce realizes it. Bringing up Grayson’s a bad idea, and he’s not entirely sure that Grayson would agree that Bruce did just fine with him.

“I wasn’t prepared,” he said. “You were a smart kid, but you had so much energy, and the way you thought about things...”

Slade wishes he had a steering wheel to grab, just to veer the conversation back on course. He doesn’t want to directly interject, but he knows the direction Bruce is going is the wrong way.

He clears his throat, and Bruce glances at him, seeming to get the hint.

“I should have done better,” Bruce says. “I should have done a lot of things that I didn’t, and when I lost you...”

Bruce shakes his head.

“I should never have stopped looking. I should never have let myself stop. I should have made the Joker tell me where you were, should have-”

“He wouldn’t have told you,” Jason says. He’s speaking into his knees, and the sound is muffled, but it’s the first thing he’s said to Bruce in years. “You could have tortured him to death and he’d have never said.”

“I should have found another way,” Bruce says, and he’s overly hesitant as he reaches out, resting a hand on Jason’s shoulder.

Jason doesn’t flinch away, but he doesn’t move either. He just lets it happen, his face buried in his knees.

“I’m sorry I did such a... such a poor job of letting you know that you’re important to me.”

It is, in Slade’s opinion, probably the best thing he could have said. Not that he’s sorry for his mistakes. Nothing that makes an excuse, or places blame elsewhere. It’s owning up to his real mistake: letting things get so far that Jason felt unwanted. Letting things get so far that he felt like an assistant rather than a son. They’re the mistakes that led to Jason’s capture. They’re the mistakes that lead to the Joker turning Jason against him.

Bruce bears the weight of those mistakes with obvious shame.

“I don’t know what you’re thinking about doing next,” Bruce says. “If you - if you’re going to leave with Slade, or something else entirely. But whatever you do, you can always come back here. This will always be your home. Even if... even if you do things I don’t approve of.”

It isn’t permission for Jason to seek revenge, but it’s acknowledgement. Bruce is accepting the possibility that it might happen, and laying it out on the table. It’s the right thing to say, and Jason wipes his eyes with the back of his sleeve, lifting his head ever so slightly.

“You’re bigger,” Bruce says quietly, the faintest hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth. “If you get any bigger, you’re going to be taller than me. I don’t know what I’ll do then.”

“And stronger,” Jason mumbles into his kneecaps. “I could kick your ass.”

“Mmm,” Bruce says. He settles back a bit more, some of the tension visibly leaving his shoulders. “Not with that leg you couldn’t. Give it a few months, and I think you have a good shot.”

“Assuming I couldn’t kick your ass with a broken leg?” Jason asks. His head turns, looking at Bruce out of the corner of his eye. “I’ve been training, you know.”

“I can't imagine who you were training with,” Bruce says with a small glance towards where Slade still stands, leaning against the wall with his arms folded across his chest. “But I’ll remind you they haven’t beaten me.”

“Haven’t beaten you yet,” Slade can’t stop himself from saying.

Jason laughs at that, and it’s a broken, sad sort of laugh, but it’s still a laugh, and Slade takes that as a win.

“Mmm, and you’ll never get a chance,” Bruce says. “Retired, remember?”

“As if that would stop me from breaking into your house just to get a rematch.”

He’s done it once before.

“Breaking in?” Bruce asks with mock surprise. “As if you couldn’t just knock and have Alfred let you in. You’ve got the whole family wrapped around your finger.”

Slade laughs at that, and steps over, sitting down on Jason’s other side.

“Give me a bit with him?” Slade asks, glancing over the top of Jason’s head at Bruce. He pauses for a moment, and then nods, swallowing down a lump in his throat as he pushes himself to his feet.

“I’ll be in the kitchen,” he says. “Alfred said he was going to make something.”

He gives Slade a nod, but Jason’s head is still mostly down when he looks. Bruce swallows again, takes a deep breath, and heads out of the room, leaving Slade and Jason alone.

Chapter Text

“I don’t think that was too bad,” Slade says once Bruce is gone, the door shut behind him. “How’re you feeling?”

He reaches out, combing his fingers through Jason’s hair and watching the way he relaxes into it. Jason turns his head, his face no longer buried in his knees, and Slade notes that his eyes are red and puffy.

“Like shit,” Jason says.

“Kind of expected that, honestly,” he says. “Alfred’s making food in the kitchen, if you want to get in on that.”

“You’re bribing me with food.”

“No,” Slade says. “Alfred is bribing you with food. I’m just facilitating that bribery.”

Jason makes a sound that’s halfway between a wheeze and a laugh, but finally starts to get up, pushing himself to his feet.

“Fine,” he says. “You’ve got me.”

“I always do,” Slade says, ruffling Jason’s hair for a moment before Jason swats his hand away.

Bruce isn’t in the kitchen when they return. There’s no sign of him, even if everyone else’s there, and Slade’s suddenly very aware of Jason’s state. The sag of his shoulders. The red of his eyes.

None of them comment.

“I was just preparing a meal,” Alfred says. “I understand you all ate, but I thought something more healthy might be nice.”

He seems to intensely disapprove of Drake’s choice of meal.

Jason twists his head around, looking for someone that isn’t there, and then glances back to Alfred.

“Where’s Bruce?”

“I sent Master Bruce to bed,” Alfred says. “He hasn’t slept a wink since he was freed from his cell, and looked about ready to drop where he stood.”

Jason looks confused, but after a little while finally settles on an oh.

“Alright,” Grayson says. “As fun as this has all been, if I leave Bludhaven alone much longer it won’t be there when I get back. I need to take off, but keep me posted?”

Slade’s surprised Grayson didn’t already leave, but he figures out why when he does a round of goodbyes, stopping in front of Jason. He’s not sure how well the whole thing is going to go, and he catches himself holding his breath as Grayson opens his arms in an attempt to get a hug out of Jason.

Slade expects the answer to be no or maybe fuck off, dickhead. Instead, Jason stands there and lets Grayson pull him into a hug without fighting it. He doesn't even punch him in the gut the way Slade’s expecting, just tolerates the attempt at brotherly affection while Grayson lets himself enjoy the moment.

It’s probably the first time they’ve hugged, Slade realizes.

Grayson says something, and it’s so quiet he catches only a few words. Something about crashing at his place as needed is the gist, and then he steps back, releasing a grumpy looking Jason.

“Alright,” Grayson says as he grabs his stuff. “See you kids. Try not to burn the place down!”

Grayson ducks out the door, leaving Slade wondering if he’s classed under you kids.

Alfred makes dinner. They’ve already eaten a bunch of pizza, but that doesn’t stop Jason from eating a whole other full meal while Alfred hovers over him. 

Barbara and Tim are the next to go. There's work to be done, and Tim has ptrol that night. They’re going to be shorthanded without Bruce, but it’s obviously a subject that has to come later. Drake promises to check Jason’s leg the next day, and the two head out.

That just leaves him, Jason, and Alfred, and Slade suspects that Alfred’s eager to sleep himself.

“We slept in the living room last night,” Slade says, “just for the record.”

Jason shifts, looking guilty, but Alfred doesn’t seem nearly as bothered as he expects.

“I saw the sheets in the wash,” he says. “Which I assume was Master Timothy’s doing.”

“Grayson, actually,” he says, and Alfred looks momentarily impressed.

"Well,” Alfred says, “if the two of you plan to spend the night in the living room, I’ll bring up some proper blankets up."

“No,” Jason says. “We can just - we’ll just use the bedrooms.”

Alfred does not look convinced, but nods after a moment.

“Of course,” he says. “But if you find yourselves in need of blankets, perhaps I can show you where the linen cupboard is?”

Alfred does, and Slade makes a note of it as they head back to the guest wing. He wonders if the fact that they’re sleeping there and not where everyone else sleeps has added to Jason’s feeling of estrangement, but he’s not quite willing to bring it up. 

“You going to be alright in your own room?” Slade asks once Alfred’s left, and Jason huffs.

“I slept on my own without babysitting for a year, in case you forgot.”

“It’s debatable how much you slept in that time,” Slade points out. “Don’t think I forgot walking into the base at all possible hours to find you working on things.”

“I had things to do then,” Jason says, and it occurs to Slade that he’s right: he did have things to do then. He doesn’t really now. For the first time in years he’s directionless, adrift. Jason doesn’t have a job, or a goal, or anything he needs to be doing.

For that matter, neither does Slade. He’s used to having missions lined up, but this job was so long that he never ended up planning for anything else.

He hmmms and considers, but decides it’s just another thing to go onto the pile of what happens after Batman.

“Night, Jason,” he says, lingering at his door until he sees Jason duck into his own room with only a quick goodnight in return.

Chapter Text

Jason isn’t on his floor when he wakes up, which feels like a good sign. He’s not in Slade’s room at all, and it’s not until he checks Jason’s room that he finds him. He’s in bed, buried under the blankets, and his eyes crack open when Slade opens his door.

“Morning,” he says. “Going to go check what Alfred is cooking up. You want to shower and meet me there?”

He knows Jason takes longer than he does to shower. He’s got too many injuries to deal with, and has to be overly careful in a shower.

“Sure,” Jason says, but he doesn’t make any move to get out of bed. Instead he simply rolls over, turning his back to Slade as if he’s going to go back to sleep.

Slade rolls his eye and leaves Jason to himself.

Alfred’s already up, preparing food in the kitchen. When he hears Slade, he glances up, and then waves him over.

“Perfect timing,” he says. “I don’t suppose you’d mind watching the stove?”

Slade doesn’t, and he steps up to handle it. He’s not a chef, but he can handle the basics, and occasionally stirring a pot while keeping an eye on Alfred. The man’s a genius in the kitchen, and it shows that he’s been at it for years. Precise. Practiced. Hard for Slade to forget he was apparently part of the SAS.

“So,” he says. “Bruce?”

“Showering,” Alfred says, “or was last I checked. He slept in, which for him means waking after seven.”

“And do we have a plan for the day?”

“I believe that Master Timothy has made plans to join us for dinner,” he says.

That leaves, by Slade’s reckoning, at least twelve hours to kill.

“And the rest of the day?”

“Whatever you’d like,” Alfred says. “Master Bruce will be staying in whether he wants to or not. He needs time to recover, and Commissioner Gordon has asked him to make sure that he’s available if needed.”

Slade is delighted by the possibility of the police showing up. He knows he shouldn’t be--he’s not trying to stir trouble--but the chance feels tantalizing.

He gets his wish around lunch. Jason and Bruce aren’t talking so much as they are existing in the same place, with Alfred acting as a happy mediator to keep them both in line. 

Slade tries not to be overly mean. He can’t stop himself from a few jabs here and there, but for the most part he tries to play nice. Bruce is trying to be kind to Jason, and it’s only fair he try and return the sentiment.

But that doesn’t stop Slade from answering the door when someone knocks at it, even though he knows damn well who’s likely to be outside.

Slade isn’t wearing his sunglasses. He’s wearing an eyepatch, and anyone who knows anything should be able to recognize him.

Gordon does. The moment the door opens, he recognizes him, immediately burying his face in his hand and letting out a sigh.

One of the officers with him doesn’t. The other one most certainly does, because he looks like he’s about to piss himself as he stares up at Slade with wide, terrified eyes.

Why,” Gordon says, “are you here?”

A part of Slade’s surprised that Barbara didn’t tell him, but the other part can’t help but think that she didn’t for this exact reason.

“It’s a free country,” Slade says. “But if you must know, I’m private security.”

That’s not going to fool Gordon for a hot second, but it should prevent anyone from thinking too badly of Bruce Wayne. Using his sizeable bank account to hire the best security money can buy is a very Bruce Wayne thing to do.

“Is Wayne here?” Gordon asks, grumbling the whole while as Slade steps back, gesturing for them to come in. Alfred appears in the entrance way, his look stern as he realizes what Slade’s done.

“Commissioner Gordon,” he says. “It’s good to see you. Master Bruce is in his study at the moment.”

Gordon nods, glancing over his shoulder. “Wait outside,” he tells the man who recognized Slade, who’s all too happy to scoot out of the house as if he’s worried Deathstroke’s going to cut him down where he stands.

“So,” the other officer says once the door’s closed. “You going to explain to me what Deathstroke’s doing here?”

Slade’s equal parts surprised and impressed that the man recognized him and kept a straight face.

“He’s playing nice with the bats,” Gordon says, staring towards Bruce’s office. It’s obvious he’s been there before, because he knows where to go. “Probably guarding Wayne as a favor.”

Slade lets out a laugh, trailing behind the two of them just to get on Gordon’s nerves. Alfred doesn’t let him into the office though, shooing Slade away.

He goes to find Jason, but he’s not in the living room. For that matter, he’s not in the kitchen or either bedroom. Out of obvious options, Slade opts to simply start exploring the house.

He finds Jason down the east wing, where Bruce--and everyone else--has their bedrooms. Slade hasn’t been down it yet, but even from a distance he can see Jason lingering, standing outside a door.

It’s not a hard guess as to whose door it is.

“Jason,” he says, startling Jason just by speaking. “You can go in, you know.”

“Not sure if I want to,” Jason mumbles. “This isn’t... it’s not mine. It’s... someone else's.”

“It’s yours,” Slade reminds him. “Just the you from a long time ago. Just go in. Don’t build it up. Don’t make it a big thing.”

He nudges Jason forward, and he’s worried Jason’s going to just let Slade nudge him straight into the closed door. He does end up grabbing the handle though, pushing the door open.

It’s been cleaned. There’s no dust, but it’s also very clear that things have been left as is. There’s a bed, still neat and tidy. Dressers. And an entire wall made of nothing but bookcases, three quarters full of books. The place is practically a library on its own.

“Surprised you didn’t sneak in here to get some books,” Slade says, stepping in as he looks around.

“I have them all,” Jason says. “I put them on my e-reader. More portable, remember?”

“Nothing like a good book,” Slade counters, even though he doesn’t really believe it.

He watches as Jason walks over, dragging his fingers along the spines of long-abandoned books.

“Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad,” Jason says quietly.

Slade isn’t sure what he means, but he doesn’t ask.

Chapter Text

Gordon leaves sometime in the afternoon. Slade doesn’t get to see him off, much to his disappointment, but he does get an irritated look from Bruce.

Drake and Barbara show up for dinner around five, and Drake comes bearing gifts. He drags Jason down to the cave, insisting on checking on Jason’s leg before he injects him any further.

“Healing nicely,” Drake observes after what seems like a lot of squinting.

“So the cast can come off?” Jason asks immediately, already reaching for it.

“No,” Drake says, swatting his fingers away. “The longer it stays on, the less chance of you re-injuring it. I’m just saying that it’s healing nicely.”

They check the bullet holes, but there’s no signs of infection, and Drake eventually gets around to doing the injection. Slade has to help Jason back up the stairs, because walking with one leg numb is far from comfortable.

“How’s the leg?” Bruce asks from his spot at the dining table. He’s less mobile than he was, and Slade’s not entirely sure why. Exhaustion?

“Healing,” Drake answers. “But he should probably have some kind of physiotherapy. There’s damage that needs to get looked at by a professional.”

“Good luck explaining my injuries,” Jason mumbles, reaching up to run his fingers across the brand on his cheek. It’s an automatic response, and Slade’s pretty sure he doesn’t even realize he’s doing it.

“We’re going to have to deal with that eventually,” Bruce says, and for a moment Slade thinks he’s talking about the brand and considers throwing himself across the table.

“Legally, you’re still dead,” Bruce continues, and Slade lets himself ease back.

“Dad’s probably the one to talk to,” Barbara says. “But I’m not sure how many options we have.”

“My concern,” Alfred says, “is that Master Jason’s sudden return, combined with the disappearance of Batman and what happened with Master Wayne might raise a few too many red flags.”

It’s a good point. Slade wishes it was easier, just a matter of paperwork. Flipping a switch from dead to alive. This is something else though. It’s not nearly that easy.

“I suppose,” Drake says with a particularly unsubtle clearing of this throat, “that it would kind of depend on what’s happening with Batman.”

“Hold on, hold on!” Barbara protests, pulling out her phone. She fiddles with it, and then props it up on the table, setting it so they can all see the Calling Dick Grayson screen. When it answers, Slade realizes it’s a video call.

It’s not even dinner, but Grayson’s already in his domino mask, taking advantage of the twilight.

“Oh god,” he says. “What happened?”

“Nothing happened,” Bruce says. “Is this a bad time?”

Even through the domino Slade can tell that Grayson’s squinting at them.

“Nnnnnnnno?” He says. “What’s going on?”

“We’re about to have the Batman talk,” Barbara says, leaning over so she’s visible to the phone camera.

“Oh! Oh,” Grayson says. “Alright, yeah. I’m not currently punching anyone, so now is as good a time as any.”

The camera suddenly flips up to a view of the sky, and then Grayson settles back down, his face popping into view, framed by the night sky.

“Alright,” he says. “Hit me. What’re we talking about?”

“I’m retiring,” Bruce says after a moment’s pause. “I have things under control enough to be out of a cell. To be Bruce Wayne again. But I can’t guarantee I’ll keep that control if I was Batman. I don’t know how I’d react to being exposed to fear toxin. I don’t know how I’d respond to a lot of things. The safest way... probably the best way is for me to step back.”

It’s what they already knew was coming, but things are still relatively grim.

“Who’s taking the cowl?” Slade asks. He’s not going to beat around the bush. The others might have, talking about what everyone was doing, but Slade knows there’s only one real question.

Everyone’s glancing at everyone else. Jason’s too busy looking at the table, staring at the little D someone’s carved into it like it holds the secrets of the universe. Alfred seems like the only one who’s really keeping his composure.

“Azrael’s an option,” Bruce says. “He’s expressed interest. But I have my reservations. He still has ties to a group that is... less than ideal for Gotham.”

“He did fine with the cowl when he wore it,” Grayson says. “But I’m not sure he’s ready either.”

He pauses for a moment, clearing his throat.

“And for the record, I’m taking myself out of the running,” Grayson adds. “Bludhaven needs me. And as much as I like Gotham, I’m the only person handling Bludhaven.”

Four (or maybe five, it’s hard to tell through the domino) sets of eyes slide over to Drake.

It’s obvious, at least to Slade, that Drake doesn’t want it. He’s the obvious choice, being Batman’s literal second in command at the moment, but he seems clearly uncomfortable with the idea more or less from the word go.

Drake takes a deep breath, swallowing hard, and then catches Slade off guard.

“I nominate Jason.”

Jason’s head snaps around so hard Slade’s surprised his neck doesn’t crack.

“What?”

Jason’s not the only one surprised. Even Barbara looks surprised, her mouth a little o.

“Why not him?” Drake asks. “He’s got more training than most of us. He also doesn’t have a clear identity which he needs to worry about hiding. He’s obviously got an interest in keeping Gotham intact. He’s all pluses and no minuses.”

Even Slade wouldn’t say no minuses, and Jason shifts uncomfortably in his chair.

“Master Jason,” Alfred says, his tone quiet but severe. “Before we even discuss it further, we should ask you directly. Do you want it?”

It’s a good choice, asking him directly, because it lets him back out before there’s too much more talk of it. Slade has, for once, absolutely no idea what the answer's going to be. He can’t even begin to guess what Jason’s thinking as he sits there, clearly trying to process the unexpected nomination.

“...What about Slade?” He asks, and Slade can’t stop himself from laughing.

Me?” He asks. “Absolutely not. You guys have more interest in Gotham’s well-being in your pinkie finger than I have in my whole body. I don’t do charity work.”

There’s a quiet hmmm from the table, and four (or maybe five) sets of skeptical looks.

“Jason would do just fine with it,” Slade says. “He’s already had training with the best.”

He smirks in Bruce’s direction, but Bruce doesn’t rise to his bait.

“I think it has potential,” Bruce says. “I haven’t seen you fight, but from what I’ve heard you can hold your own. You have an obvious interest in making Gotham a better place.”

Slade knows it’s coming, and he braces himself.

“But,” Bruce says, and Slade’s pretty sure every person at the table is holding their breath. “You know the rules of the cowl. Those weren’t just my rules. Those were Batman’s rules. If you take it, you can’t kill. That’s the symbol Batman has to be for Gotham.”

Jason’s staring at Bruce. Bruce is staring at Jason. Slade’s strongly considering scooping Jason up and leaving, and it looks like Alfred’s considering trying to do the same for Bruce.

“Alright,” Jason says.

All the tension vanishes in an instant, and Grayson vocalizes what they’re all thinking.

“Well, that went well,” he says. “I was kind of worried we were going to have a big group fistfight for the right to wear it.”

“You’re not getting it yet,” Bruce says, raising a single finger before jabbing it in the direction of Jason’s leg. “You need to heal. Gotham can manage with just a Robin for a while.”

“Uh,” the Robin in question says. “Well, actually, while we’re talking about it I have to admit it’s been a bit hard to keep up with. I’m used to having someone I can switch off with. I have papers to grade, and my work has been getting a bit... uh, neglected.”

“Jason’s injured,” Slade says with a scowl. “He’s not going anywhere until he’s got a clean bill of health from a doctor.”

“Actually,” Drake says. “I was thinking about you.”

“I literally just said-”

“Easy,” Bruce says. “You’re currently between jobs, correct?”

Oh no. Slade knows where this is going.

“Are you saying you’re going to pay me to patrol Gotham?”

“Not as Deathstroke,” Bruce says. “For obvious reasons. But yes. We desperately need manpower, and you aren’t doing anything aside from taking up space on my couch.”

Slade tries to feel offended, but Bruce has him dead to rights.

“Who says I’ll take your contract?” Slade asks.

“You aren’t fooling anyone,” Bruce says with a roll of his eyes. “You’ll do it because if you don’t, Jason’s going to start sneaking out to try and do things himself.”

Jason doesn’t bother trying to deny it.

“We still haven’t dealt with Jason’s status,” Slade says. “Unless you’re recommending he just becomes the bat full time.” He narrows his eye, making it obvious just what he feels about that.

“I’ll talk to dad,” Barbara says. “See what our options are. He might be able to come up with something.”

“There are a lot of options,” Bruce agrees. “But I agree with Barbara. I’ll talk to Gordon.”

“I’m going to...” Jason starts to say, and then simply stops and stands up. “I’m going to head back to my room. I just need to think.”

“Of course,” Bruce says. “I think we’re about done anyway.”

“Alright,” Grayson says. “Signing off then.”

The group separates, and Slade debates his options before going after Jason.

Chapter Text

“So,” Slade says when he catches up to Jason. “That was something.”

“It feels like a trick,” Jason says quietly. “Why would they want me to take the cowl? Dick should have it. He’s Bruce’s protege.”

“So were you,” Slade points out. “And you’re my protege. Which means you have double the training.”

“In how to kill people,” Jason says. “Eventually...” He glances over his shoulder, wary of being overhead. “Eventually they’re going to find out about what we did to Croc and Zsasz.”

“Jason,” Slade says, “Bruce knows. He’s supposed to be the world’s greatest detective. He knows it was us.”

Jason looks deeply uncomfortable with that.

“Jason,” Slade says. “He knew about that before he offered to let you take the cowl. If he was going to deny it on those grounds, he already would have. The fact is, he knows what you did, and he...”

Saying Bruce doesn’t care is wrong. He obviously does care. So he stops for a moment, letting himself reword things a bit.

“He’s not going to hold it against you, as long as you put it behind you.”

“As long as I don’t kill anyone again,” Jason says.

“That’s the idea,” Slade says. “It would mean giving up any revenge plans you have against anyone.”

Like Harley, for one.

Jason pauses a moment, and then shakes his head, sitting down on the edge of the bed. Slade joins him, sitting beside him and watching his reaction.

“I never really... I don’t think I ever really wanted that anyway. Harley’s just... she hurt me, but she’s just sad. The Joker had her twisted around his finger even more than he had me.”

It’s more empathy than Slade has in him, and he doesn’t really agree, but he does nod.

“So. Non-lethal. That’s a whole other training regimen.”

“Can you even do non-lethal?” Jason asks, raising his eyebrows as he turns to look at Slade.

Slade does his best to look offended.

“Of course I can,” Slade says. “You think I’ve never had to kidnap anyone before?”

“Oh come on,” Jason says. “I know the kind of work you did. It’s like ninety percent lethal force allowed.”

“And that ten percent makes me perfectly qualified,” Slade says. “I’m going to need to get a new suit for it though. Need something with a full face mask.”

“Hiding the eye?”

“Hiding the eye,” Slade confirms. “If you put an eye piece over it, everyone just assumes you’ve got an eye there. Covering it completely became a trademark more than anything else. Not many people are willing to ruin their depth perception to try and pretend to be me.”

“You got imposters...?”

“A few times,” Slade confirms. “Not often. I’m very strict about them, so they tend to die terribly very quickly, which scares off anyone thinking of trying the same thing.”

“How long before someone notices you’re missing and thinks you and Batman are the same person?”

Slade laughs at the idea.

“Hopefully never,” Slade says. “They’d have to be a complete idiot to think that.”

“Someone’s going to make the connection eventually,” Jason says. “That you were working with the Knight. That someone with your skill set started patrolling Gotham.”

“Let them,” Slade says. “Even if they did make a connection, so what? What are they going to do, try and kidnap you to use against me as leverage? Because I’d love to see them try.”

It’s a funny mental image, imagining some poor bastard sneaking into the Wayne manor thinking he’d found an easy target to use against Slade, only to be confronted by a small army of bats.

“Are you going to leave?” Jason asks, and Slade is quiet for a moment before finally offering a shrug.

“Right now? No,” he says. “One day? Maybe. But I’ll come back. You can’t get rid of me that easy, alright?”

It no longer feels plausible that they’ll go off together. Slade’s job isn’t Jason's. He’s not sure Jason has the heart for it, let alone the interest. Patrolling Gotham fits him so much better, even if it’s not a job Slade can ever see himself really doing. Not in the long term, anyway.

Jason leans against his side, and Slade hooks an arm around his shoulders.

“You’ll be a good bat,” he says. “Looking out for the little guy.”

There’s tears in the corners of Jason’s eyes as he buries his face in Slade’s shoulder.

“I don’t want you to go.”

Slade leans his head down to rest atop Jason’s own, rubbing his shoulder gently.

“And I’m not going to,” he says. “So you can stop worrying, alright? If you want Gotham to be my new base of operations, then so be it. I’ll buy a nice little house and be around all the time to irritate you.”

Jason buries his face in Slade’s shoulder, and Slade lets him.

It feels good to be wanted.

Chapter Text

Slade isn’t surprised when Bruce asks him to come into his office the next day. There are a lot of details to work out, and Jason’s helping Alfred cook lunch, which is keeping him busy. It’s the perfect time to talk.

“First,” Bruce says, leaning forward to slide a small envelope across the table. “Are you still using the same Swiss?”

“I moved,” Slade says, plucking the envelope off the table and flipping it open. There’s a dollar value in the envelope and nothing else, but it’s very generous.

“For your work,” he says. “Dick thinks it’s strange to be paying you considering the circumstances, but I’d rather pay you and know exactly where things stand than have to guess.”

“I don’t think there’s much guessing involved,” Slade says. “My loyalties are pretty clear.”

Bruce scrutinizes him from across the desk, and then sinks back in his seat. He still looks pale, but he seems to have made an effort to get a bit of sun.

“Your loyalty is with Jason,” Bruce says. “And everyone else is a distant second.”

“See?” Slade asks. “Perfectly clear.”

Bruce cracks a small smile at that.

“All the same,” he says. “It’s a job. You’ll have hours, shifts, and responsibilities. You’ll report back to me.”

“My-”

“Your first loyalty is to Jason,” Bruce says. “He’ll be the new Batman, so there’s no conflict. I’m not going to ask you to report to me on him or anything like that. I just want you to make sure he’s alright. He’s... more willing to talk to you than me.”

Slade bites back a I wonder why. Bruce doesn’t need to hear it. He’s making an effort.

“I shouldn’t need to, but in the interest of clarity, all the rules Jason has with the cowl extend to you. I’m not hiring you to murder your way through Gotham’s underground.”

Slade can’t help but think of course not, that would make the job too easy, wouldn’t it?

“No,” Slade says. “Just keep them behind bars. I can handle non-lethal.”

Bruce doesn’t look terribly convinced.

“What about Jason’s legal status?” Slade asks.

“I talked to Gordon, and we came to a solution.”

“Which is?” Slade’s eager to know what the hell they’re going to do about the fact that Jason’s legally dead.

“Jason’s paperwork was always shoddy,” Bruce says. “As a result of needing to hide the fact that he was Robin, he went from missing to marked dead without any sort of explanation. Gordon’s going to revert it. He’ll be a missing person again, rather than dead.”

“He has a grave,” Slade says with a raised eyebrow.

“Let me clarify,” Bruce says. “He’ll have been marked missing. It isn’t uncommon for people missing that long to be given funerals by family. The grave will be... removed. Jason will be marked found later this week, and Gordon’s going to do what he can to keep the news quiet.”

“And if he can’t?”

“Then I’ll give them something like the truth,” Bruce says. “We managed to locate him with the help of the Joker’s memories. The family asks for their privacy to be respected.”

“And you think that’s going to work?”

He knows the answer is absolutely not. There’s still a swarm of reporters waiting for any shred of information like a pack of hungry lions. Bruce grunts.

“I’ll handle it,” he says. “Jason and I already spoke about it. He asked about...” Bruce pauses, then taps his cheek where Jason’s brand sits.

“And?” Slade asks.

“He wants it removed. He has some... very upsetting thoughts about it. I told him I’d find a surgeon who’d be able to minimize the damage. The one I would have recommended is currently sitting in jail.”

The thought of Jason going under Thomas Elliot’s knife is enough to turn Slade’s stomach.

“With that gone, the story we’ll give the press is perfectly plausible. They don’t need to know the details. As long as I give them enough, they should give Jason his space.”

Slade barely remembers a Jason without the brand. He only met him once, and he was so young that Slade’s not even sure Jason remembers the encounter.

Then he catches something he missed. He pauses, eye narrowing.

“When did you talk, exactly?”

He has a pretty good timeline of what Jason’s been up to, and nowhere in that timeline is sat down to talk about his brand with Bruce.

“This morning,” Bruce says. “He woke me up at four AM for a serious talk. From what I understand, he couldn’t sleep.”

Slade’s dying at the revelation that they had a whole conversation that he not only didn’t supervise, but didn’t even know was happening. He was sleeping right through it, and he suspects that was intentional on Jason’s part.

“Jason made his plans very clear,” Bruce says. “And while I already went over my terms yesterday, Jason had terms of his own.”

“Terms?” Slade asks.

“Terms,” Bruce confirms. “He was... very intent on establishing that this was a two-way street. He has things he wants from me the same way I have things I want from him.”

Slade ponders figuring out a way to rewind time. Or maybe checking the manor’s security system to see if the camera in the corner of Bruce’s office was on.

“Jason wants me to offer you a room,” Bruce says, and Slade’s silent in response, squinting at him. When Bruce doesn’t continue, Slade’s forced to acknowledge what he said.

“A room?”

“In the manor,” Bruce says. “On a semi-permanent basis. From what I understand, you were planning to buy a place in Gotham to stay. Jason would prefer if you stayed here, since it would be considerably easier for him to live above the cave.”

“And your thoughts on this?” He hasn’t missed Bruce’s wording. Not I’m offering you a room. It’s Jason wants me to.

“I have my reservations,” Bruce says. “I haven’t forgotten that you threw me face first into a counter the last time you came for a visit.”

“When I said I was asking you those questions for your own good, I was being serious.”

“I realize that,” Bruce says, looking almost amused. “Now, anyway. I certainly didn’t then. I thought you were going out of your way to torment me.”

“I was, just a little bit,” Slade admits. “I wanted to see what you were really like. You wear a lot of masks.”

Bruce doesn’t argue the point.

“I’m willing to let you stay here,” Bruce says, tapping his fingers on the desk, “with some conditions.”

“Let me guess,” Slade says. “No murder?”

“No working in Gotham, period,” Bruce says. “Consider exclusivity part of our contract.”

It’s an easy give. Slade wasn’t planning to work in Gotham either way. Gotham is messy, and there are a hundred other places where people are eager to throw cash his way. Places that are far less complicated, more clear cut.

“And?”

Bruce shifts in his seat, and Slade knows he’s leading up to something big.

“...Watch out for all the kids,” Bruce says. “Not just Jason. I couldn’t keep up with them all when they were younger, and I can’t keep up with them now. Having another set of eyes on them would be... helpful.”

It’s a genuine request, not an easy sure, no problem like the last one. It’s something he has to think about, but the more he thinks about it, the easier it gets. Jason likes the kids. He’s ambivalent towards them at worst. Drake’s nice. Grayson’s nice. Barbara’s nice. They seem to like him pretty well.

“Sure,” Slade says. “I’ll throw Alfred in as a bonus, even.” If someone tries to take him out, they’re going to have to deal with Slade. Jason’s too attached to risk letting someone hurt the old man.

Not that he can’t take care of himself, apparently.

“Anything else?” Slade asks.

Bruce doesn’t reply right away. Instead he turns his head, staring out the window into the garden.

“No,” he finally says. “I already know you’ll take care of Jason even without me asking. You’re a good father to him.”

Slade feels a glow of pride, and nods once.

“I’ll keep him safe,” he says, and he knows that Bruce knows it’s true.

Chapter Text

It takes only twenty-four hours before Jason’s legally alive again, but it takes another four days before someone in Gotham’s media spots the change. By that time, Jason’s already gone under the knife, returning to the manor with a bandaged up face and an even bigger chip in his shoulder than before.

Slade doesn’t give him the option of not taking his painkillers.

They move out of the guest wing. Slade expects Jason to move back into his old room, but he doesn’t. Instead, he dumps all the furniture out, turning it into a reading room to take advantage of the shelves. When Slade takes a room on the far end of the hall from Bruce, Jason takes the one beside him. It isn’t as large as his old room, but Jason doesn’t seem bothered by that.

Mostly they stay in the house. There’s only so far they can go without getting swarmed by the paparazzi. Slade’s the only one who can reasonably leave without issue.

Well, him and maybe Jason, only Jason’s not supposed to.

“You need physiotherapy,” Bruce says, and Jason brushes him off.

“Master Jason,” Alfred says, several hours later. “You really do need to see a professional.”

He brushes Alfred off too, but a bit less forcefully.

“You need physiotherapy,” Slade says after a hasty group meeting. “And you’re going.”

It’s not quite dragging Jason kicking and screaming to the appointment, but it’s near enough. Slade has to remind him--over and over--that if he doesn’t go to the appointment, he’s going to end up permanently impacted by the break.

“Fix it,” Slade says, “while you’re still able to.”

Jason doesn’t want to, but he lets Slade load him into the car and take him to an appointment.

He fights the first physiotherapist they try. The second expresses concern at the suspiciously large number of injuries Jason’s sporting, and Jason refuses to go back. The third--which is of course the farthest side of town from the manor--is the one they end up sticking with. His therapist is an older lady who won’t take any of Jason’s shit, putting him through his paces until he limps his way back to the car when the appointment’s over.

Slade wasn’t aware of how bad Jason had it. He’s too good at hiding his injuries.

When they get back, Jason drops himself onto the couch and refuses to move until dinner.

When the bandage comes off Jason’s face, Bruce takes him into the city to get a proper ID made. His old one is completely useless, and when Jason gets back he’s wheezing with laughter.

“They made me take a driving test!” He says, finding the whole idea hysterical. “They tried to tell me no when they saw my leg.”

“Apparently,” Bruce says, “Jason drives very aggressively.”

“Of course he drives aggressively,” Slade says. “He got used to driving tanks.”

“They won’t let me test for a motorcycle until the cast's off,” Jason says, sounding offended. “As if I wasn’t better than most drivers are with it on.”

It’s well into October by the time Tim declares that it’s fine to take the cast off. Jason’s still unwilling to go to a hospital, and Bruce is unwilling to force the issue and risk someone noticing all the scars. Even if Jason is legally back and everyone has a pretty good idea that he went through something awful, no one has yet managed to come even close to understanding the scale of it.

Jason celebrates by sneaking out at eight in the morning and driving a motorcycle to get his motorcycle license. Slade’s not sure how the hell he managed to pull it off, but he returns with a shiny new license anyway.

Bruce introduces him properly to Lucius Fox, and Slade gets to work on a new suit. He lets Lucius handle the majority of it, wary of the new one coming across as too Deathstroke-esque. He’s already working on a new version of the Batsuit for Jason, but Jason shows absolutely no hesitation in insisting on plenty of tweaks of his own.

The first time Jason makes an appearance in public, it’s at Bruce’s side. The scar on his face has healed well enough that it’s just a thin white line, barely noticeable unless you know what you’re looking for. The rest of his scars are hidden under long sleeves, and when one of Gotham’s gossip rags talks about the return of Bruce Wayne’s long lost ward and refers to him as a handsome young man, Dick drops a framed copy off at the house for Jason.

Jason is not amused.

Bruce, whether intentionally or not, picks the anniversary of Jason’s abduction to start his training. When Slade intervenes, Bruce explains his logic: better to have a good memory in its place. Better not to treat it like a solemn occasion.

Slade doesn’t entirely disagree, so he lets it happen.

Slade joins in on the training when he can, and Tim stops by several times as well. Bruce looks impressed the first time Jason lays Tim out, and Jason looks impossibly smug.

Jason looks considerably less smug when Tim takes advantage of his ego to lay him out.

New Year, New Bat becomes Jason’s mantra. Gotham hasn’t failed to notice the disappearance of their caped protector, and even the increased presence of Robin doesn’t stem the tides much. When someone asks Bruce at a charity gala why he thinks the Bat’s gone silent, Bruce gives them a small smile.

“He’s spent a lot of time fighting the Joker,” he says. “I think now that the Joker’s gone, he probably deserved a rest.”

Bruce’s status as the maybe-not-Joker isn’t lost on the grander scheme of things. It’s obvious he’s agitated when the gossip rags start printing speculation pieces about whether or not the infection is active again, and everyone makes a point of not bringing it up.

Slade knows the answer anyway: he has Tim test Bruce once a month, just to be sure.

It’s mid-November, after a particularly bad nightmare, that Slade breaches the subject of therapy with Jason.

“I think it would help,” Slade says.

“I already went to therapy,” Jason says, baring his teeth. “We saw how that worked out.”

“Getting waterboarded by Harley Quinn is not therapy,” Slade says. “No matter what she called it.”

“Why should I be the one going to therapy?” Jason asks with a pointed glance around the table. “I’m hardly the only one with issues.”

Bruce clears his throat.

“Will you think about going if I go?”

Jason seems caught off guard, squinting across the table as if expecting a trap.

Dick drops his fork.

“What?” He asks, looking taken aback. “Hold on, what? You’re going to go to therapy?”

Dick looks at Bruce like he’s just grown a second head.

“I was thinking about it,” Bruce says. “It’s been strongly recommended to me by a particularly large number of people. Alfred has a friend who he says can make some referrals.”

“Confidentiality is very important,” Alfred says. “I believe the people he’d recommend would be trustworthy. If they were to leak it, they’d never be able to work in the industry again. It’s something they take very seriously.”

Jason does not look convinced. Dick looks like Bruce has just announced the end of the world.

“Why don’t we all go?” Bruce asks. “We have more than enough issues-”

“Oh no,” Slade says. “You are not grouping me in with you guys.”

Jason elbows him in the side.

“I am not doing therapy,” Slade says, putting his foot down on the matter. “Period.”

Jason starts making his very best pleading look. Slade’s not even convinced Jason wants him in therapy. He’s pretty sure he just wants to be contrary.

“No,” he says. “Not happening.”

“How about,” Jason says, making it extremely clear that he’s too smart for his own goddamn good. “I’ll only go if you go?”

“Jason,” Slade says, well aware that Jason’s got him in a metaphorical headlock. The rest of the bats aren’t going to be happy if the only thing standing between Jason and getting some goddamn therapy is the fact that Slade isn’t willing to go himself. “This isn’t a revenge thing for me. It’s not a crusade. It’s a job. I don’t need therapy.”

“Don’t make me say it.”

“Say what?”

“You’re not going to therapy because of your work,” Jason says, jabbing a spoon at Slade. “You’re going because of what happened with him.”

There’s a lot of squinting going on. Bruce seems like the only one who knows what Jason’s referring to, while Tim and Dick both look baffled.

“What?” Tim asks. “Who?”

“That’s low,” Slade says. “Real low.”

“So’s conspiring with Bruce to get me into therapy.”

Slade rolls his eye.

“Like it would have worked any other way.”

“You’re ganging up on me!” Jason protests.

“And now we’re ganging up on him,” Bruce says. “So I think it’s only fair.”

Slade glares daggers at Bruce.

“Don’t get me started on you,” he says while Bruce tries to hide a smile.

But in the end, Slade can’t turn Jason down, so he throws his hands into the air.

“Fine. I’ll go. But you have to go too, and you have to try. Really try.”

They have better luck with a therapist than a physiotherapist, and Slade can see, session by session, Jason’s anxieties lessening.

He never really gets the hang of it himself. He doesn’t want to talk about Joseph. Mostly he spends his time talking about Jason, which seems like a much more productive use of his time.

Chapter Text

It’s January first, and New Year, New Bat is finally a reality.

Jason’s been perched on top of GCPD headquarters for the better part of an hour, and his shoulders are aching. It’s freezing, and even the suit's insulation isn’t quite enough to keep him warm.

“It’s freezing,” he mutters into his comms.

“You big baby,” Barbara says. “Your first night out and you’re already ready to go home?”

“I’m not planning on going home,” Jason says. There’s no way. He’d die of embarrassment if he slinked home because it was too cold. “Just vocalizing that the suit's not doing a very good job at keeping me warm.”

“Should have gone for a full-faced helmet,” Tim says through the comms. “Way warmer.”

“Bruce insisted,” Jason says. “Open-face is important.”

He catches a flash of white and red in his peripheral vision, and he tilts his head back to spot Azrael watching him.

He’s not the only one. He knows Tim is nearby, even if he can’t see him. He knows Dick’s made a point of coming to Gotham, just for the one night. But there’s only one person he’s really looking for, and they haven’t showed up yet.

A door opens behind him, and Jason glances over his shoulder to find James Gordon, accompanied by a familiar face. Aaron Cash. Jason’s seen his files. He’s a good officer, and Jason straightens up, standing properly.

He’s pretty sure he spots the red of Tim’s costume on a nearby roof, but he keeps his attention on Gordon.

“Gordon,” he says, giving a small nod. His voice is barely changed, much to Bruce’s intense disapproval, but it doesn’t actually matter. Jason Todd is a recluse, his voice hard to recognize compared to Bruce’s own.

That, and Gordon already knows exactly who’s wearing the new batsuit.

After all, one of Jason’s conditions was that they not try and pretend like it was the same Batman. He knows he’ll have it bad enough being compared to Bruce’s legacy, and he doesn’t want people mixing them up. Batman, new and improved, he’d insisted.

“...You’re still going by Batman, right?” Gordon asks with a glance towards Cash. With Jason’s jaw exposed, there’s no question if he’s the same person or not. His face is slimmer. He doesn’t have Bruce’s scowl either.

“Still Batman,” Jason confirms.

“So, you knew about this, boss?” Cash asks, stepping up to stand at Gordon’s side.

“I was given a tip that I might want to be up here to turn on the signal.”

“For...?” Cash asks.

“To remind people that no matter what they do, the Bat’s going to know,” Jason says.

“Oh great,” Cash says. “This a-”

He cuts himself off, his eyes widening as he jabs his finger towards the next roof.

There’s a figure coming at them at full speed, and as Jason watches they reach the edge of the next roof over and leap.

It’s a thirty-foot leap, but the figure makes it flawlessly, hitting the roof and going into an effortless role before popping up.

They have the same silhouette, the same ears, but that’s where the similarities end. The man standing on the roof beside him is bigger, and his suit is far less sleek. It looks military grade, in mottled grey and black camo, and the full-face helmet hides his features entirely, except for two glowing red eyes from behind the face-plate. If not for the red bat-symbol across his chest, he’d be all too easy to mistake for a villain.

“What’d I miss?” The figure asks, his voice garbled to hide his identity.

“Who the hell is that?” Cash asks. “You can’t tell me that’s the new Robin.”

That was another condition: no Robins.

“New partner,” Gordon says, but even he’s caught off guard, unsure of who the new arrival is. Jason’s pretty sure he’s guessing Azrael, having not yet noticed the flash of white lurking nearby.

“Does the new partner have a name?” Cash asks, sizing the new arrival up.

“Gotham Knight,” Jason says. “It seemed appropriate.”

Gordon lets out a small laugh, sizing up the Knight himself.

“...Fair,” he says, and Jason’s pretty sure he knows exactly who’s wearing the suit that’s so reminiscent of Jason’s old one.

“So,” Cash says. “We turning it on, or are we going to stand around reminiscing?”

Gordon isn’t one for ceremony, so he steps over, plugging in the massive light. It clicks on, and for the first time in months, the bat appears in the clouds over Gotham.

“I think that’s our cue,” the Knight says, reaching out to slap Jason on the shoulder. “Places to go, people to beat up.”

Jason doesn’t need to be told twice. He takes off at a run, leaping from the roof and letting his cape snap open, his makeshift wings bearing him through the air.

Whether the criminals of Gotham know it or not, they’re in for a rough night.