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Break Me Down, Build Me Up

Chapter Text

He's at lunch when Slade sees the news: Red Hood, wanted for murder. Slade can't blame Red Hood for wanting to pop the Penguin (even if he has no idea what the circumstances are), but he thinks it's a little bit out of character for him to do that kind of thing on live TV.

Slade sips his drink, thinks about it, and decides he's got a few days to kill.

He starts to dig. There's a lot to dig through, but it's standard Gotham City reporting: paper thin and largely useless. Some big building appeared in the sky downtown, crashed into a building, and then exploded. Or didn't, because there's no rubble, no other damage. The reports all say exploded, but the description makes it clear enough that it's imploded.

There's no other details. No one knows what the building was or where it's from. But the building is the most likely source of Jason's injuries, because Penguin certainly didn't break his arm, so Slade goes to the only person likely to know: Batman.

He already knows where the cave is. He knows where to find him. The cave's empty when he arrived (at four in the afternoon), but he has no doubt that Batman will be there to find him before too long, so he raids the little minifridge he finds under one of the desks, helps himself to a pizza pocket, and kicks his feet up on the desk to wait.

Batman gets there inside of fifteen minutes, which is genuinely impressive.

"Deathstroke," Batman says. "I thought we had an understanding."

"Get your understandings in writing next time," Slade says. "But if you must ask, I'm not here to fight."

Batman's eyes narrow under the cowl, the tension in his body obvious. It's been less than twenty-four hours since something imploded in Gotham's airspace, since someone knocked one of his proteges around, and Slade's pretty sure Batman hasn't slept a wink in all that time.

"Get on with it," Batman says. "You obviously want something."

"Wanted to know about the implosion last night," he says. "Something popped in Gotham."

"That isn't your business."

"Funnily enough," Slade says, "I'm making it my business. So you can either help and get me out of Gotham that much faster, or you can shut me out and I'll stick around until I've figured it out."

It's a half-lie. Slade's time is valuable, and he's not going to spend a ton of his time around Gotham doing nothing. On the other hand, there's an inherent value in pissing Batman off.

"It was an unstable structure," Batman says. "Some kind of cloaking technology was being used to hide it. Something went wrong, and the structure, as you said, imploded."

"Do you know who was behind it?" Slade asks. Batman's briefing is light on details, and it's hard to tell if he's keeping something from him, or if he simply doesn't know.

"I had other priorities," Batman says. "I'm looking into it. What does it matter to you?"

"Professional curiosity," Slade says. "If something's big enough to do that kind of damage to Red Hood, I want to know about it."

Batman's eyes were already narrowed, and this time they press so tightly closed they're almost entirely shut.

"Where is he, Slade?" Batman asks. There's a dangerous edge to his voice, and Slade's eye slips over, watching Batman's face more intensely.

"You can't honestly be planning to arrest him?" Slade says. The idea of it literally defies belief. There's no way that Red Hood doesn't know who Batman is. If he was arrested, he'd be able to reveal everything. And worse, he's injured: he's just fought off whatever had a ship over Gotham, and nearly lost his life to it.

"He tried to kill the Penguin," Batman says. "Where is he?"

"Are you screwing with me right now?" Slade asks. "He nearly died fighting whatever it is you weren't fighting, and you're still going to arrest him over the Penguin? He didn't even manage to kill him properly."

Which strikes Slade as deeply suspicious. Red Hood's a good shot. He's not Deathstroke good, but there's absolutely no reason he shouldn't have been able to kill the Penguin. Red Hood's good enough to know to make sure the shot is lethal. Unless Penguin is a meta and can literally come back to life, there's no explanation for how he lived.

He's still mulling it over when Batman interrupts his train of thought.

"He commited attempted murder on live TV," Batman says. "He needs to face justice for his crimes."

"For his crimes," Slade says flatly. "Like assaulting people? Flying an unregistered aircraft in Gotham City? Blackmail? Vigilantism?"

Batman growls at him.

"Don't try and pretend like you're some paragon of virtue," Slade says. "There's no heroes and no villains here."

"He needs to face justice," Batman says. "He broke his oath. He broke the law. The fact that he's getting you involved in this-"

"The kid isn't getting me involved in anything," Slade says. "I am getting myself involved."

"If he didn't get you involved, you wouldn't be here," Batman says. "But you are. Now tell me where he is."

Slade knows where he is. He knows because he slapped a tracker on Arsenal when he handed Jason over, just in case. But he has absolutely no intention of letting Batman know that, so he settles for pushing up, out of his chair as he straightens to his full height.

"You seem oddly focused on where your former protege has gone," Slade says. "And oddly uninterested in the fact that you had an invisible building flying through Gotham."

Slade is not a stupid person. He doesn't think it's bragging to describe himself as smart. His powers have always given him excellent pattern recognition, and everything's telling him that the story he has in his head doesn't add up.

So he discards his assumptions.

He doesn't like the answer he finds in their place.

Slade strikes so fast and so hard that even Batman doesn't see it coming. He just lays him out, slamming his forearm into Batman's chest and sending him flying. He lands on the ground hard, but he's already rolling to his feet, drawing batarangs as if they might actually help him against Slade.

"I want to know who it was who fucked up the kid," Slade says. "You're going to tell me."

"Our conversation is over," Batman says.

Slade doesn't want to believe it. Not really. But there's only one explanation that makes any sort of sense. Only one story that explains why Jason pulled away the moment he mentioned Batman, why he seemed so broken down. Jason's a fighter. All the bats are. They get beaten down and they drag themselves right back up, and Slade can't imagine why Jason would have that sort of response to a villain beating him down, even as badly as he got it.

"What happened to 'we're supposed to be better', Batman?" Slade says, throwing his arms out, palms in the air. "I don't have any morals. I live by my own code, no one else's. But you're supposed to be living by their code, and you just beat a man nearly to death."

"He tried to kill Penguin," Batman says, once again on his feet. "He needed to be brought in, and he wouldn't come quietly."

"Are you saying that he's that good?" Slade says. "Are you saying that Red Hood is such a good fighter that you couldn't capture him at all? That you let him get away? That you had to do so much damage?"

He knows about Batman's gadgets. He knows how much he can do. Either Jason Todd is one of the all time greatest fighters in the entire world, or Batman should have been able to bring him in with a lot less damage.

Maybe not none, but less. A fractured wrist rather than a broken arm. Bruising, rather than a side torn so badly he was at danger of bleeding out.

"This isn't your business," Batman says. They're slowly circling each other, sizing each other up. Batman seems weary, but more from lack of sleep than anything else. He doesn't seem any worse for the wear. He doesn't show any of the damage he should have from a serious, desperate fight with Red Hood.

Every detail adds to the picture in Slade's head. Every new piece of information gives a splash of color for a painting that should never be finished.

"I'm making it my business," he says. "If Grayson's not going to be around to intervene, than I guess it's my job to do it in his place."

Batman bares his teeth and lunges.

It's a sloppy, messy fight on Batman's behalf. He's running low on energy and sleep, while Slade's at the very peak of his abilities. Batman's always been a great match for him, but the battle's lopsided from the word go. He's always enjoyed fighting the Bat, but this is something entirely different. This feels more like a real fight, a fight with stakes that actually means something rather than just being the latest in a long line of fights that won't even mean anything.

"You broke his arm," Slade snaps between blows, watching the way Batman flinches away. "He might go blind in one eye."

Every time he says it, Batman flinches a little bit harder. It's wearing on him, wearing him down. Batman can't keep up, and even as the fight drags out, no one comes to save him.

They should. It's Batman's greatest advantage, the one he's always held over Slade: Slade has no allies, no people at his back. If he goes down, there's nothing that can be done. Batman isn't like that. He has a small army of allies and proteges, people at his back. People who'd do anything for him.

Batman calls none of them. Batman doesn't call for help at all.

Slade breaks his arm and even then Batman doesn't stop. He doesn't stop fighting even when Slade has him completely pinned, using his full weight to keep him down.

"You hurt him," Slade snaps. "He almost died, alone and afraid on the floor of my safehouse. If I hadn't gotten there, he might have."

Batman goes still under him, just for a moment, and then snarls, fighting again. Slade grabs the back of his neck, squeezing to try and get him under control. He's not choking him—he doesn't have the angle for it—but he's hoping the pressure will remind him of the position he's in.

"I was taking him in," Batman hisses, the hand on his neck doing nothing. "You've got no ground to stand on. Everyone knows what happened to Grant."

To Grant. He wasn't sure what Batman knew about his family, but he should have known the answer would be everything.

"That doesn't have anything to do with this," Slade says. "We're talking about what you did to Jason Todd."

"No," Batman snarls. "Let's talk about Grant Wilson, and what you did to him."

Slade almost says that doesn't have anything to do with this. It doesn't. Grant isn't Jason. His death at the hands of HIVE is miles apart from the sad, miserable death Jason almost had.

But as he sits there, pinning Batman to the floor, the light bulb in his brain finally goes on.

He's angry because Batman hurt Jason. He doesn't often get angry, but he's angry, because it's something that even he recognizes that you should not do. Because Jason trusted Batman. Because Jason looked up to him. Batman was his mentor. The closest thing to a father he probably ever had.

And Batman abused that trust. Batman destroyed it. He hurt him. Nearly killed him.

Batman had done a bad thing. An awful thing. A thing that should never have been allowed to happen.

And in the end, it all boiled down to one thing: You shouldn't hurt the people who trusted you. You shouldn't hurt the people who rely on you.

You shouldn't hit your kids.

It should not be a revelation. It's something he's known—that everyone has known—for a long time. But it feels like a revelation anyway, like someone's kicked him in the chest.

He flees.

He can't stay there and talk. He can't sit on Batman and lecture him about what happened. His head's spinning as he bolts from the cave, finding the car he's parked and taking off.

Let's talk about Grant Wilson and what you did to him.

What he'd done to him.

The image of of Grant—his arm broken, his face swollen, his side leaking blood—lying on the floor of his safe-house in Jason's place feels burned into his brain. Every time he closes his eye he sees it.

He can't stop seeing it.