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The Scorpio Contract

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Breaks between jobs had never been exactly a delight. Time off a mission equals time doing nothing. And all this free time inevitably leads to thinking. To automatic, unwanted retrospections.

Slade pours himself another glass of scotch, eye lazily darting outside, beyond the enormous glass of the living room window in front of him. Down below, as far as the eye can see, the tremendous, wild waves of the Pacific devour all the steep rocks of the cliffs with prolific ferocity. The sun dipped long ago, and now everything swims into the many different, cool shades of darker blue. It’s a sharp, rough, dangerous picture.

It calms him down.

The notification sound coming from the laptop over the coffee table has him grimacing. Of course it had to come around the very moment a certain serenity threatened crawling its way into his chest.

He idly walks back there and glances down at the screen. The notification of the incoming contract awaits, patiently. Just out of spite, he’s tempted to leave it lingering there, but then he notices the very first, single visible word of the preview.

 

Slade,

[…]

 

It gets him almost as agitated as if, say, Batman had just walked into the room. Not only that, but as soon as he puts the glass down, takes a seat and glances at the subject line, one single word’s looking back at him, and there comes another extremely rare feeling that he despises. And, as always, it’s accompanied by a river of ice melting down his spine.

‘Scorpio’

He takes in a breath, fingers rubbing at his jaw, chest unpleasantly vacant and mind occupied by screams and gunpowder and a ton of blood.

He opens the incoming, knowing fully well that this isn’t going to be a fun ride.

 

 

Slade,

You and I have never gotten along, but I hope that, for the first time, we might end up agreeing on something.

Three targets, all alphas, all male. Highly trained. Files attached. I require immediate extermination within 72 hours from the moment of the affirmation. If you need more details, I am open to a meeting. I expect that you’ll know how to contact me.

Evaluate the targets and name a price. Any price.

 

Silver Knight

 

 

He has his phone in hand a second after he’s done reading and waits for an annoyingly long amount of time before the growl comes from the other side of the line.

“It’s three thirty in the morning.”

“Where I am it’s eight thirty, afternoon. Get up, focus.”

Bill exhales the longest sigh ever, and Slade hears shuffling sounds, as well as a click that he guesses is the switch of the bedside lamp. “Better be good, you prick.”

“Guess who sent me a contract.”

“Oh, great, now I have to guess, too? What is that, the new fun thing we’re doing this month?”

“It’s signed ‘Silver Knight’. Ring any bells?”

“Silver Knight? Who the hell is…”? There’s a pause, which Slade supposes equals to a fair moment of clarity, before Billy lets out a surprised exclamation. “Oh my god, Adeline’s boyfriend? From the Air Force?”

Slade snorts, evidently annoyed. “He wasn’t…”

Billy chuckles. “Yeah, alright, flirt thing, whatever… you sure it’s him? Could be someone trying to get your attention.”

“He refers to me by name.”

When Billy speaks again, his tone isn’t as amused anymore. “How does he know it's you? He sent the contract…”

“To Deathstroke. And he calls me Slade, first thing. Get in, read it."

He sounds much livelier now. “Give me a second." 

There’s more shuffling, and then the tapping of footsteps. Slade waits, not as patiently as he’d like to claim. He takes the time to open the files accompanying the message. They’re zipped, each one containing at least five smaller ones. He settles for the front pages, to get a general idea on what he’d have to get his hands on, in case he accepted.

Ignacio Perez, Colombian. Light brown skin, shaved head, a thin mustache, face stained with various faint scars, and a pair of cold, dark eyes. Bulky, all muscle, not much height. 42, at the time.

Frederick Leroy, Irish-American. Blond and quite tall (6'5", his file suggests). Sharp lines and narrow eyes, a washed-out shade of the lightest blue, approaching to grey. Age 37.

Maxwell Switcher, a German. This one looked way younger than his thirty years of age, his face almost disturbingly smooth and flawless. Fair, perfect skin, without a single line. Yellow hair, thoroughly combed back. The eyes were… empty, drained of any emotion, despite the pretty shade of blue. Slade has encountered such eyes many times before, in various psychopaths.

“Scorpio,” Billy’s voice comes quietly, an uncomfortable drawl after what seems like an hour later.

Slade, eyebrows knitted, gives out a low, affirmative growl.

There’s a hesitant humming in return. “Could be a coincidence.”

“Could be,” he says sternly, even though it’s purely evident that neither of them believes so.

“Well, he clearly knows… a lot, already. But still, every single word in here raises a thousand questions. I don’t know what to tell you. This looks… far too straight-forward, yet… far too vague. Far too good, yet far too bad. All at the same time.”

Slade couldn’t have described it better.

“Why don’t you ask him?” Billy suggests. “Meet him. Clear things out. He offered it himself, after all.”

He doesn’t answer, and Billy sighs.

“Listen… I do realize that if you’ve already decided something, this will fall on deaf ears, but I’m going to say it anyway. Facts are, you dislike this person -if it’s really him- and, unfortunately… you know Scorpio. Slade; it’s important not to make any rush moves.”

 

 

 


 

 

Joseph’s sitting at the stairs of the porch, on his own, lazily playing catch with a basketball ball. When he sees the car, he immediately stands up and approaches the passage to the garage, where Slade eventually parks.

As soon as he jumps out and closes the door behind him, he notices the deep frown on his son’s face. “Well,” he says, running his fingers through golden curls “there goes the last one that was somewhat happy every time I got back.”

“Hi, pop,” the boy says, leaning towards him, still hilariously serious. “Sorry. I am very upset.”

Slade chokes back a laugh, successfully pretending that such an expression on a nine-year-old isn’t one of the funniest things ever. “I can tell,” he says, heading to the trunk to get his bag. “What’s up? Fight with your brother?”

Joey follows behind him. “This guy is here. Again.”

Slade takes the bag and closes the lid of the trunk, glancing at the unfamiliar, fancy car parked in front of the house. He’d noticed it from afar, but didn’t really dwell on it. Thought it probably belonged to a neighbor. “What guy?”

“That John Laurens guy.”

He stops moving, clenching his teeth. “John Laurens?”

Joey nods, vividly, still pouting. “He says he’s yours and mum’s friend from the army.”

Slade looks at  the house, face blank. “Your mother’s friend,” he growls. “Not mine.”

“Ha!” Joey exclaims in triumph. “I knew it! I told Grant you wouldn’t like him! And, dad? I don’t like him either!”

Slade hums. “You said ‘again’? When was he here before?”

“Just yesterday, and a few days before that. He helped mum with the garage door, it got wrecked again during the storm last week. And now this Mister Perfect guy comes for coffee,” he huffs out. “I don’t know what mom and Grant like so much about him.”

Slade feels both his nerves and his inner alpha chords boiling. “Alright, then,” he drawls, heading for the porch. “Let’s go say hello.”

Behind him, Joey groans miserably. “I've already said hello,” he protests. “Can I just stay here?”

“Yeah, whatever. In the yard, don’t go out in the street,” Slade directs, briefly glancing over his shoulder.

Once he’s in the house he dumps the bag at the end of the hall and immediately heads for the kitchen, which is exactly where those bright, vivid voices and laughs come from (along with the infuriating scent of another alpha in his own home). Grant, in particular, sounds more excited than he’s heard him in years.

“… mum, did you know that? This is awesome! How do you get your nickname, then?”

“The others stick it to you, basically, over something you do, or, if you’re really unlucky, over something you remind them of,” a fine, deep voice comes, and Slade can detect the smile in it even before he gets in and gets the visual evidence as well.

“How did you get yours?”

“Well, on my first year after training…”

He steps inside, and all voices die away.

Adeline is the only one standing. She’s leaning back against the counter by the sink, a steaming cup in her hands. Grant and Laurens are seated in two of the chairs around the table, one next to the other. Another cup, half empty, stands waiting in front of the alpha, who’s casually resting against the back of his chair.

It irks him heavily, red flags signaling in his mind, but despite that, he forces a smile on his face. “Hello there, family,” he greets. “John.”

“I… hi!” Adeline straightens her back, still in surprise, and takes two steps towards him. “I thought you said tomorrow evening!”

Slade crosses the rest of the distance between them. He puts a hand at the small of her back, a little more possessive than needed, maybe, and presses a kiss at her forehead. “Surprise, I guess.”

He glances at Grant, who hasn’t said a word. His eldest just sits there, completely still and now visibly tensed, arms folded against his chest and fingernails digging at the sleeves. He's frowning with all the teenage intensity Joey isn’t capable of perfecting just yet. “Grant?” he says, slightly lifting an eyebrow.

Grant takes a short breath. “What?” he retorts, sharply.

Slade’s only barely fighting back an angry growl. Adeline, seemingly calm, but actually on put, looks at him steadily, giving him a carnivorous don’t-you-dare-make-a-scene gaze.

Johnny-boy gets up, tall like him, but leaner, and lacking muscle. Elegant, in his casual, yet fancy outfit. Time had stood quite generous with him, turning the lines drawn upon his tanned face, mostly around the corners of his eyes, into further charm. His hair’s still rich, well-groomed and as black as coil. The warm, dark brown eyes have lost neither their glow nor their wit. He’s still baring that slightly crooked smile, too.

“How have you been, Slade?” he greets, extending his hand for a handshake.

Slade debates with himself for a second, dangerously flirting with the idea of going fully petty, but eventually, he reaches out and takes his hand. “You know. Work.”

“Oh, do I know!” he laughs. “What you’re doing out there is… wow. Every report coming in has everyone up high gasping in awe. Seriously kick-ass job, Slade.”

Slade says nothing, and Adeline hurries to break the silence. “John thinks about retiring and starting his own business.”

“How interesting,” Slade says, blatantly uninterested.

“Yeah, you know how it goes after forty, especially on Air. Even if all reflexes still work perfectly, you can’t help but start thinking ‘well, what if in the next FAA review something isn’t right?”

"I wouldn’t know about that,” Slade smirks maliciously. “I’ll take your word for it.”

“Right, of course,” John laughs, raising his hands. “Not all of us are super soldiers… anyway. Founding a private military firm is an idea I’m seriously flirting with, at the moment.”

“I see. And… if you’re not thinking about hiring my son in that thing, of course, what exactly are you doing here?”

John’s raising an eyebrow, his pleasant mood instantly degrading, and Adeline, having gone completely rigid, takes it upon herself. “We came across each other last week, when I visited the headquarters downtown, so we stood to catch up. John was kind enough to help with the garage door…”

Slade chuckles. " Sure he was.”

He doesn’t miss the brief, cold spark of spite passing through Mr. Perfect’s eyes -or the murderous one crossing Adeline’s. Grant sits up uncomfortably, in a sudden agony that almost surprises Slade, as he’s unable to comprehend the reason behind it.

“It’s… getting kind of late,” John suggests calmly, slowly dragging his jacket from the back of his chair. “I should probably take off.”

“You figure?” Slade politely agrees.

Grant stands up and approaches John. “We’re still going to the base to see the air fighters tomorrow… Right?”

He’s actually looking at Slade when he speaks the last word, and oh, yes, there’s the reason behind the distress. His son's childhood love of anything flying -Slade doesn't even recall where does this come from.  Grant doesn’t speak, but his face pleads with him. Please, don’t ruin this. Please, let me have this.

John also exchanges a look with him and takes the message. He grits his teeth momentarily, but his face is more relaxed when he turns to Grant. One hand shoots up to squeeze at his shoulder, and Slade vaguely thinks that the stand where the kitchen knives lie is right behind him. He might as well grab one and chop down that hand from its root.

“We’ll definitely do this… some time,” John tells Grant with a soft voice.

The devastation spreading over his son’s face at the statement immediately turns into pure fury when he glances at him. He doesn’t say a single word after that. He just turns his back to all three of them and walks out the kitchen door, to the backyard, and Slade has a brief glimpse of him jumping over the fence and disappearing.

John takes a breath, with a short shake of his head. “I guess I’ll… see you around, Addie.”

“Yeah,” she says calmly. “See you, John.”

The man leaves the room. Soon after comes the sound of the front door opening and closing again.

They sit there, in silence. Adeline’s intently starring at the direction where Grant had taken off to. Slade moves first, taking the cup from the table and heading beside her, to the sink. He lets the water run.

“Ruined your fun?” he blurts out, unable to help himself.

She blinks at him, once, and then outright punches him.

 

 


 

 

 

When Slade arrives, the man’s already there, waiting for him. The black Alpha Romeo he gets out of is so perfectly polished that it’s almost glowing from afar, in the middle of the night. He snorts quietly to himself, crossing the dock, but as they approach each other, the shadows slowly retreating… he can’t say this doesn’t come as a surprise.

He’s as tall and confident as Slade recalls from the last time they’d met, everything about him just oozing elegance and class. He has to reluctantly admit that he does look… oddly good for a common man at his fifty-sixth year (which is a bummer; pettily enough, Slade hoped to gaze at a relic). The age shows mostly around the eyes, and the now grey hair at the sides of his head.

However, unexpected as it is, this isn’t the source of the surprise.

There’s a massive scar carving his entire face, forehead to jaw. It’s old by now, and had clearly been thoroughly taken care of (by the best of doctors and plastic surgeons, Slade guesses), but the outcome’s still profoundly visible. There are also evidences of two or three more scars, not quite as deep or serious.

“Sixteen, years, isn’t it?” John says, a faint smile on his lips.

Slade nods, and takes off his mask. It’s professional courtesy, at this point.

“Wow,” John laughs softly. “You do look annoyingly younger than you actually are.”

“So I’ve been told.” A pause. “More scars.”

John’s smile widens, not nearly as warm and kind as years ago, in front of Adeline and his damn kids. “Less eyes.”

Slade shrugs. Fair enough. At least he’s honest. For his shake, he better keeps this up. “Need I ask?”

John’s turn to shrug. “It’s part of my job to know about the most famous assassins and sellswords around. I run my own military company now, as I’m sure you know.”

“H.I.V.E. Yes. Impressive.”

“Thank you,” he tilts his head, taking hands off the coat’s pockets and crossing arms over his chest. “What else would you like to know?”

The fact that doesn’t ask about Adeline or the kids makes it obvious that he knows about that too, which Slade finds only too annoying, since this means he can’t offer any poisonous lines. “Why me?” is the only thing he can proceed with now. “Why not one of the two thousand and forty-two highly trained, skilled mercenaries working under you all around the globe?”

John doesn’t nearly lose his nerve. “Because, for one, I don’t want my name officially or unofficially appearing anywhere near their deranged organization. And because those three guys are… really, really good… and I really, really want them gone. You’re the best. The least possible to fail.”

Slade hums. “Flattered. And what is your deal with Scorpio?”

John’s face spasms for a moment. “My deal?”

Slade smirks coldly. “You can’t be the only one knowing things, right? If I’m not mistaken -and frankly, I don’t think I am… Over the past five years, you’ve had your ‘employees’ raiding Scorpio’s headquarters, from Gotham, to Tokyo, to Qurac. They get in, they… work… then clear out every single evidence of them ever having been there. All of Scorpio’s big heads have been proclaimed mysteriously dead. Their guys have been decimated; all members crippled.”

John remains calm during all of this, but he’s clearly… not amused.

“I’ll give it to you,” Slade continues, “neat job right there. Stealthy. If someone wasn’t actually looking for it, they’d never know a thing. They’d never find out that Scorpio, over the past few years, has been declined from the Terrorism Queen to simply being a desperate shithole, barely surviving. And, as much as it personally delights me, I can’t help but notice that this is… what was the word you used in your message? Ah, yes; extermination.”

John has one single word in return. “Competition.”

Slade tuts. “Bullshit. You run a solid, trustworthy business. They are savage terrorists-for-hire. No way they ever had a chance on taking away a client from your firm. It’s not a matter of competition, or even rivalry. You’ve been hunting them down.”

John simply stares at him. “Do you always interrogate your clients like that?”

“No. Not all jobs are as suspicious. Let’s be honest here. The reason why you’ve decided to spend money on me isn’t that I’m the best -which I am, of course. It’s that you knew Scorpio would get my attention."

“You are… not mistaken,” John reluctantly admits. “I did hope you’d take this seriously.”

Slade stays silent, making it clear that he expects more. John takes a short breath.

“I was more sorry to hear about Grant than you can ever…”

“Not related to what I’m asking you,” Slade sharply interrupts.

John exhales, looking away, at the sea. “In a certain way, it is.”

When their gazes cross again, the man’s face is expressionless, eyes tired and drained.

“You’re not the only one that’s lost someone to them.”

The numbness that follows is far too familiar, far too real, and impossible to ignore. What’s so frustrating about it is that, as far as he can tell, the man's being honest, and he now must accept the fact that this feeling’s coming back to him caused by this particular individual. It’s irritating, really.

“Those three,” John says, “even though they never managed to claw themselves to the higher ranks back in the organization’s better days -far too unstable even for Scorpio’s standards, if you can believe that- have now become, through an insane amount of blood, I might add, the last remaining heads of this fallen empire.”

Slade kind of hates it how the guy makes everything sound so very appealing

“I want them gone for good,” he declares, “and I’ll have that, Slade. I’ll rip them out root and stem. I swore that, five years ago. Are you in, or am I looking for someone else?”

He internally curses himself, because he’s already made his decision, and he has the unpleasant sense he’s going to regret this. “A million. For all three of them.”

“You got it,” John instantly agrees, “but how so? You could have asked for so much more.”

“It’s fair. No need to overprice you. I’ve read their files. They shouldn’t be hard to get.”

John gives a small nod of respect. “In that case, I guess I should offer an update. In two days from now, all three of them will be in Blüdhaven. I’d suggest it’s a good opportunity to get all of them at once.”

Slade offers a humming sound, his mind already working on the details.

Blüdhaven, then. Maybe something good will come out of it after all.

“You want it painful?”

John makes a gesture of indifference. “No connection to me. That’s all I require. Arrange everything else to your satisfaction.”

Chapter Text

It’s some kind of meeting, Slade can tell.

He’s not really surprised when they’re joined by the most profound mob boss of Blüdhaven, and, eventually, the city’s deputy mayor as well. Two more people join them, and each one brings along two or three bodyguards -his redhead has three, and his Latino guy two. The blond kid is the only one that has arrived on foot and completely alone. All three of them, annoyingly enough, had reached the place separately. Had they been on the same vehicle, he could have just blown it up and get this over with already. Maybe not painful enough, but Slade would settle for efficiency. Getting all of them in one go would be preferable than taking chances. He really wouldn’t like to have to chase them around.

They’ve chosen the place quite wisely. It’s the exact opposite of anyone’s idea of a remote location; right downtown, in a side-road quite close to the main square. The high, stern building (mainly consisted of various offices, all closed at night) is squeezed between two others and surrounded by a hundred more, differing in nothing compared to them. The windows, curtained or otherwise covered in most cases, offer quite low visibility. Slade, despite having already located the exact floor and positioned himself accordingly across the street has trouble finding the targets and pointing at them, even looking through the sight.

From what he can tell, however, things are seemingly getting tensed. His Latino guy is on his feet, intensely quarrelling with the mob boss, their bodyguards getting gradually agitated, to the point that the redhead (Leroy) gets up from his chair to bring the spirits back at peace. He looks reserved and measured, and the way everyone kind of shuts up and listens to what he has to say has Slade guessing that, if they do have an informal leader, it must be this guy.

The alerting sound of an incoming call has him turning his attention elsewhere for a second. He grins, knowing exactly who it is, and answers, turning back to glance through the sight once more.

“About time you called back,” he says.

“Huh? You’ve only called once, and I’m out working my ass off tonight. You should be thankful I’m returning your call at all.”

Slade chuckles. “Always nice to know you’re keeping that ass in shape. And in case you feel like parking it somewhere nice tonight, I just so happen to be in your wretched city for a few hours.”

Dick groans from the other side of the line. “Dammit, Slade. I’ve told you to call prior!”

Slade tuts. “You know how I work, bird-boy.”

“Yeah, well, serves you right then, I can’t meet you. I’ve got Jay home; I want to get back to him after I’m done with those pricks.”

Slade looks up. “How’s he?”

Dick huffs.“He’s, uh… you know. He’s trying. He really does. I finally managed to convince him to get out of Gotham for a while. He still refuses to get on suit, or come out on patrol, but… you know. Small steps. At least he’s changing his air, for the time being.”

“Ah, and now he gets that fresh, clean, Blüdhaven air,” he scoffs.

He amuses at the thought of how Dick must be childishly pouting right now. “It’s better than nothing, okay? And just to be clear, I don’t believe you mentioned what exactly brings you here.”

“You’re right. I didn’t.”

“Slade, you’re not killing anyone in my city.”

Slade growls, watching his three targets and everyone surrounding them suddenly going utterly still, and then nervously glancing around. “We’re not doing this now, kid.”

I’m dead serious!”

“That makes two of us.”

Now it was evident that something… alarming was happening. The goons had their guns in hand, screaming things toward… the ceiling…?

At the same time, Dick tuts, heavily annoyed, and loud, furious voices burst from his side of the phone. “Yep, they know I’m here, gotta go. Got some scorpions to catch.”

Slade freezes. “What did you say?”

“Later! Don’t-kill-anyone!”

“Kid—!”

The line dies, and almost immediately, Slade sees something hitting one of the men right in the face, throwing him down. Next thing he knows, an all-too familiar figure lands on the floor, guns go blasting, and the fight begins.

“God fucking dammit, kid!” he hisses, charging the riffle.

The visibility’s still shitty, and the frantic dance taking place in the room right now really isn’t helping. It’s deeply tempting to simply blaze the place off and just take everyone down. Only, now, he can’t do that. He can’t shoot and risk catching Dick. He’d probably be as fast as to jump back up, into a safe spot on the beams, but still… he can’t be sure he’ll do it in time.

Damn himself for getting attached after all.

He cannot let his targets go, or, most probably, now that Grayson’s there, get arrested. It’ll be much harder to get them down then. Not impossible, by no means… but trickier. More expensive, and out of his deadline. This case is also a matter of dignity. He’ll be damned if he fails delivering results in time to Laurens in particular. And so, as soon as he gets eyes on one target -namely, the blond, German kid- he immediately takes the shot. Both literally and figuratively.

Everything happens incredibly fast. There’s zero time for hesitation. It’s not an occasion where one could pass on any given chance.

And apparently, tonight is not his night, because it’s not the target he gets, but merely a mirror. What he’d seen through the dirty glass of the window was a damn reflection.

With the glass now out of the way, he has clearer view of the room, but it doesn’t mean a thing. The further panic caused by the knowledge that, apart from Nightwing attacking them, there is also a sniper lurking, has them all drawing back, avoiding the windows the best they can.

All except Grayson.

He’s the only one not taking cover. The only one simply standing there, in the middle of the room, in open ground, for two seconds, looking straight at him. It’s not that far, and his mask does have recording features, so Slade is able to see everything; both confusion and anger written on his face.

Maybe he can’t fully see him, but the kid is no idiot. He knows Slade’s there.

“Don’t be a fucking idiot right now… come on…” he mutters, grinding his teeth.

Dick throws one of his sticks to one of the deputy’s bodyguards who’s charging at him. It gets the guy landing harshly down on his back, and Slade doesn’t see what happens next, since the window shades shut down -compliments of the second stick.

Slade knows what this is. He’s cutting his view, so that he can’t target. The kid knows that he won’t risk shooting him down, and he’s using it.

It… infuriates him.

Once again, he calls, this time through intercom, vowing that if he doesn’t get a response, he’ll wreck the damn place down.

“Nightwing!” he growls (you always got to play it safe through intercom, no matter how safe you think your line is). “They’re mine, back off!”

“No, screw you!” Dick shouts almost immediately, angry and determined. “Go away!”

“Don’t test my patience, and don’t act like a fool. You know I’m not leaving until I finish my job.”

“Not if I have something to s—”

The next thing that comes, following this predictable, cut-in-the-middle line, is a series of four distinctive, unsettling sounds; a distinct whistle, like a bullet or maybe an arrow swiftly splitting the air, and then piercing through flesh. One shocked, breathless gasp. And, last but not least, a bitten-off scream.

His fury is instantly put aside. “Dick?” he demands abruptly.

There’s no answer this time, only heavy, agonized breathing. And then, a terrifyingly long, high-pitched scream.

 

 


 

 

 

It’s a speargun. A goddamn speargun, Dick realizes, through a firestorm of pain.

They’ve got him like a fish.

The sharp end is hammered through his right shoulder. Fresh blood’s soaking at his suit. He’s now down on both knees and soon on his back, as the unknown assailant starts dragging his form towards him, using the cord.

The pain is out of this world. He blacks out, for what he believes is thirty seconds to maybe a few minutes. When he comes to, his shoulder’s burning and itching torturously. They have him kneeling on the floor, someone holding him up, gripping tightly at his hair. There’s a hand on his face, fingers tracing along the line of his jaw, before heading upwards.

“No…” he groans, but is profoundly ignored, and his mask is ripped away.

Someone’s crouching in front of him, holding his mask in hand. He proceeds to take his chin between his thumb and forefinger and lift his head, to cross eyes with him. The guy has curly, reddish-blond hair, a pair of very lightly colored eyes, and looks like he’s in his late thirties.

“Damn,” he croons, brushing his thumb just under Dick’s lips. “Batman certainly knows how to pick them. Look at this one.”

Dick’s head is roughly jerked backwards by the hand on his hair. A bulky Latino guy, the one that apparently shot him, is starring down at him. He looks like a gang member. Shaved head, thin mustache, various tattoos -a subtle, black scorpion at the side of his neck. His face is carved with older, faint scars. His distinctive alpha scent is distractingly heavy. Right now, this scent, mixed up with sweat, combined with the copper of his own blood and the intensity of the pain on his shoulder, has Dick dangerously close to throwing up.

The man nods, with an approving sound. “Too bad he’s no omega.”

“Oh?” the other guy offers. “I, for one, don’t mind that one bit.”

The Latino rolls his eyes, and lets go of his hair, sending his head forward and causing him to grunt in pain. “Jeez. Why can’t you just be normal?”

Ginger-guy laughs softly and opens his mouth to say something, but is cut off by the frantic shouts of one of their men.

“Boss, we need to bounce, now!”

The guy finally releases his chin and stands once again, straightening his back, taking his time. Dick just now realizes how tall he is. “And why would we do that?”

The goon that had spoken waves frantically to the window with the closed shades.

Just as Dick starts dizzily wondering whether the spear got his lung or not, ginger speaks directly at him. “Your friend,” he asks, waving with his head at the direction of the window. “Who is he?”

“Gotta be Red Hood,” Latino growls. “The one Bat using guns, isn’t he?”

“No.”

Dick just now notices a third person standing right at his left, with a gun still in hand. The voice is soft and almost melodic, with a distinctive German accent. Somewhat feminine, just like the whole frame of this young man, who’s intently, yet expressionlessly, studying him. He’s short, lean. His face pale and weirdly smooth. Blond hair still stands combed back, despite the previous confrontation.

There is something… truly unsettling about this one.

“He was speaking on his earpiece just before you got him. Had it been a Bat,” he explains, very calmly, “they would have already charged in here for him. So, no. This is someone very careful.”

“Alright, that’s it!”

Jonas Willow, the deputy mayor, stands by the door, accompanied by his last remaining bodyguard. Evidently panicked. “You idiots, you’ve led us to an ambush, don’t you see? I demand that you grant me safe exit right now, or else…”

The blond man, with an expression of perfect serenity, picks up his gun and shoots him. Right in the forehead. A second one instantly follows, getting his bodyguard in the exact same spot.

Dick would have shouted at him to stop, if he had the strength.

“Everyone,” ginger then instructs in a loud voice to the fifteen men still standing (the drug lord and his own goons had managed to escape through the front door as soon as the party had started). “Stay… calm.”

Once he’s certain the heaviest of tension has dropped, ginger turns back to him. “We can do this the easy way,” he tells him, “or the hard way.”

Dick takes a short, shaky breath. “If you want your lives,” he says, gasping in pain at even trying, “you’ll disappear right now… or you’ll all be dead before the night ends.”

Grave-like silence falls upon his words. For quite a while, nobody moves a muscle. And then, there’s a twist at the sharp metal spear, still settled through his shoulder. He can’t scream this time, because it simply leaves him out of breath. It’s just too much.

The world darkens again, but he doesn’t exactly pass out this time. Every sound falls to the lowest point for a while, and then all gradually start coming back to him, just like his blurry vision.

“… if you remove it right now, like this, he will bleed out within minutes,” he hears the blond kid saying. “I will do it later, safely. We still need him alive. At least until we know we can safely leave this place.”

Dick has a sense of another thick stream of blood gushing from the wound on his shoulder. Somebody’s moving in front of him, and he wearily looks up. It’s the blond kid. He settles his gun down on the floor -carefully away from Dick’s reach- and approaches him again. He studies Dick for another moment, and then reaches out and removes his earpiece.

“Maybe,” he says quietly, passing the device to ginger-head, “we should just ask them ourselves.”

 

 


 

 

 

“Hello.”

A voice. Calm, and almost pleasant. And not Dick’s.

He’s already about to take off and raid the place by this point. This has him hovering for a second. He doesn’t offer an answer. Just waits.

“Who are you?” the voice then asks.

Slade takes place by the window once more. “You are the one calling. I should be the one asking.”

A small pause. “Okay,” the man says. “I’m going to stand in front of a window now. You can shoot me, of course. But then, my friends here will have to shoot someone too…”

A loud, clear whine of pain erupts following the words and it has him cringing, clenching his teeth.

“… and I’m sensing you wouldn’t want that.”

Soon enough, a figure does indeed come to stand before a window, and he instantly identifies it as Leroy.

They just stare at each other for a few seconds, and Slade’s certain the man knows who he is, since the previous, pleasant note in his voice is not at all visible on his face at this point. “Laurens sent you,” comes then, voice dark and stern.

It’s not a question. Merely a statement.

“One would expect that after twelve years in this, you’d know not to ask about employers, Freddy.”

A small, sideways smirk blooms over the man’s lips. “Fair enough, Deathstroke,” he complies (and basically lets the rest of his group know whom they are dealing with). “We want a safe passage out of the building.”

Slade hums, sarcastically. “Everyone just wants something, don’t they? I myself want a lot of things I don’t always get.”

He can see the smirk widening. “I can imagine,” the man lowers his voice. “Like, say… getting somewhere in time? Before something… horrible… happens to someone you care about?”

Once the words truly register to him, every sound from everywhere around instantly degrades to nothingness. To a terrifying, suffocating void.

“Such a stubbornly brave kid you had,” he goes on, “So Nacho tells me. I wish I’d gotten to meet him too. Spend just a little time with him.”

A buzz piercing through his ears. An unliftable weight crushing over his chest. His insides squiring and twisting, and his brains boiling inside his head.

From what I hear, whatever he was asked… no matter how he was asked… he never said a thing. Very… professional,” the man goes on, his gaze shifting away and out of Slade’s field of vision, somewhere to his left on that room. “Just like this one.”

Leroy’s eyes return to him.

He doesn’t breathe at all. His fingers are so temptingly brushing against the trigger, tickling at it. It’s point-blank. A perfect shot, if he wanted to take it. And, oh… how he wants to.

“Not letting us out, I take it,” he concludes. “All right, then. Maybe, instead, you can come by. How about that? Come on, Slade. We’ve got stories to tell you. About your pretty son. Don’t you want to hear them?”

Images are getting burned and carved into his brain.

“Since you so nicely ask,” he quietly responds. “I’ll take it as your final wish.”

A dark chuckle of irony. “Good luck.”

The window shades go down.

 

 


 

 

 

The guy takes the earpiece off.

Since no one made a sound during the short call, everyone’s heard every single word he had let out. Dick already bitterly knows there’s going to be a bloodbath in here. And he can do nothing to prevent it. Not anymore. Not after… this.

Ginger approaches them again. “How on earth are you, of all people, working with Deathstroke?” he asks him, with genuine curiosity this time. “I’ll admit, I would have never seen that coming.”

Dick says nothing. He tries to concentrate on breathing through the pain. Nice, slow, deep and even.

It’s so damn hard.

The blond kid stands with his back against the wall. His arms hang limply at his sides, but his fists are tightly bunched. His jaw clenched impossibly tight.

“That,” he slowly whispers to ginger, “was the stupidest thing I’ve ever witnessed anyone doing.”

Dick, internally, absolutely agrees.

Ginger only smiles. “Let him come,” he says, dialing something on his phone, “and we’ll see."

 

 


 

 

 

It takes him five seconds to start functioning again. His hands still feel numb as he takes his phone out and dials Dick’s apartment.

Dial one. Two. Three. Four. Five.

The answering machine takes it from there. “Hey there. You know what to do,” Dick’s voice says, and then the beep comes.

“Deathstroke. Pick up, kid,” he growls, commandingly. “Now.”

Nothing happens. Just silence.

He sighs, rubbing at his forehead. “Todd,” he slightly changes his tone, “Pick up the phone, or, by the morning, you’ll have minus one brother.”