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 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.
He doesn't go back to his safehouse. Instead he drives to the apartment Wintergreen is currently calling home. His brain is operating a mile a minute. He's not sure he's going to be able to sleep.
It's just after 9PM when he lets himself in. Wintergreen doesn't even startle—he's too used to Slade dropping in at all hours—just looks up at him over the top of his book with a grunt.
"Slade," he says.
"Did I fuck up Grant?" Slade says.
Wintergreen gives him a look, and then carefully places his bookmark, setting the book aside.
"Yes," he says.
Slade feels like he's going to be sick.
"Is this why I couldn't bring him back when I had the speedforce?"
"Yes," Wintergreen says. He's pulling no punches, making no attempts to soften each blow. And they are blows, doing more damage to Slade than any punch ever actual could.
Slade balls his hands into fists, pressing them up against his face so hard it hurts.
"I must admit I am taken aback that you even managed this revelation at all," Wintergreen says. "I honestly thought we were long past the point where it was even possible."
"You-" Slade spits, head snapping up. "You let me-"
"Don't you dare," Wintergreen says. "If you'll remember, I pointed out that your behavior was unacceptable plenty of times, and you never once changed your behavior. I did what I could for your children, and put everything I had into-"
"My children?" Slade says, his face twisting. His children. Not Grant?
"I should not have expected too much of you. Yes, your children."
"I only hit Grant," Slade says. He doesn't understand how Wintergreen could think otherwise. God knows he was there enough.
"There are ways to abuse-"
Slade snarls and surges forward, catching Wintergreen by the collar. Wintergreen's used to his rages. He's used to the anger. He doesn't even flinch, his eyes hard.
"You abused them," Wintergreen says flatly. "You cannot deny it, even if you want to."
"I loved them," Slade says. "I still do."
"Those two things are not mutually exclusive," Wintergreen says. "You abused them then, and you loved them. But you are still abusing them. You are still destroying their lives."
Slade drops Wintergreen, because he knows if he stays in such close proximity he's going to do something to the old man he'll regret.
"I haven't touched them," he snarls. "I have never laid a hand-"
"You set up an insane scheme so that someone would try and kill your daughter so you could have an excuse to be around her," Wintergreen says. "You slept with your son's fiance. You hired a family to lie to Rose and pretend to be her family. Should I go on?"
"I never hit-"
"Do you really think that punching someone in the shoulder is going to do more damage than sleeping with Joey's fiance did to him? You've already seen the consequences of that. He nearly killed Rose, and that blame-"
"I didn't kill his fiance," Slade says. "You know that."
"You pushed him," Wintergreen says. "You have always been pushing him. Pushing both of them. You hurt the people around you, even if you aren't doing it physically. It still hurts them Slade, you just aren't leaving any bruises."
Slade recoils. He doesn't want to think about it, but that isn't how brains work. His brain won't stop thinking about it. Won't stop rifling back through every interaction he's ever had with Rose and Joey. Won't stop picking through, second guessing his decisions.
"There were good reasons for all that," he protests. "Rose needed to know about her herita-"
"Something she could have just as easily done by being honest with her."
"Joey's fiance was a spy. She didn't love him-"
"Again, something you could have spoken to him about, rather than going out of your way to hurt him in one of the worst ways I can imagine. He loved her, Slade, even if he shouldn't have."
Slade grinds his teeth until they're in danger of cracking.
"You should have stopped me."
Wintergreen laughs at that.
"Slade, I honestly thought you knew yourself better than that. Once you've set your mind on something, nothing's going to stop you."
He wants to argue. He wants to fight. But there's nothing to fight, no one to hurt. He can't hurt Wintergreen, even if he'd rather Wintergreen stop talking entirely. He doesn't want to destroy his house.
In the end, Slade breaks his own arm.
It feels like the right thing to do. Jason. Batman. Now him. Three people, three broken arms, but he knows his won't last.
"That was childish," Wintergreen says pointedly as he watches Slade stand there in his living room, fingers digging into the flesh of his arm as he holds himself taunt, refusing to let himself regenerate. He can hold it off if he needs to. At least for now. At least until he remembers.
"I should leave," Slade says. "I need to leave. I'll cut them off. They'll never-"
"Slade," Wintergreen says. "I wondered when you'd realize that you had become what you hated. When you were a much younger man, you spoke about your father in the harshest of terms. He was a monster. He hurt you, and he hurt your mother. He destroyed your life and drove you out. Watching you walk down that same path—watching you do the same things to Grant—perhaps I spoke too quickly when I said I shared none of the blame. But even so, I kept waiting for you to realize. For the revelation to come. I thought it would come when Joey's throat was cut. I thought for sure it would come when Grant died in your arms. But it didn't. You never realized."
"I realize now," Slade says. "I'll go-"
"Slade," Wintergreen says. "Do you think that would make things better? Do you think your children want that?"
"I don't know what they want," Slade says. He feels like he's losing control of himself, and he digs his fingers in harder, cracking the bone further.
"Stop that right now," Wintergreen snaps. "I won't have you maiming yourself."
Slade releases his grip, letting his arm heal itself. The sound that his bones make when they snap back into place feels satisfying in a way that nothing else is right then.
"I don't know what they want," Slade repeats. "I don't know them at all."
"I told you that you had to make things right in your life," Wintergreen says. "This is one of those things. Maybe even the only thing. You must tell them."
"Tell them... what? They already know, Billy."
They already know. They've known their whole lives, where as Slade has stood there, face down in a bog and unaware that there's water in his mouth. He's been drowning his whole life and no one told him.
"That you love them," Wintergreen says. "Have you ever told them? Even once?"
"Are you an idiot? Of course they know," Slade says.
"Do they?" Wintergreen says, his eyebrows shooting up. "Do they really know? Because I'm not sure that they do. Tell them."
"That isn't going to make it better. Telling them isn't going to bring Grant back. It's not going to undo the damage."
"Telling them is a step," Wintergreen says. "The first step. Tell them."
"What about Adeline?" Slade says. "She-"
"She is hardly any better than you are," Wintergreen says. "She is also entirely outside the scope of our conversation about you and your children. Tell them."
"I can't," Slade says, because it seems like the only thing he can say. Wintergreen does not look impressed.
"You are a fully grown man," Wintergreen says, "who is fully capable of communication. You can absolutely tell them."
Wintergreen stands up, ushering Slade out of the house.
"Get out," he says. "You're not welcome back in this house until you've told both of your children that you love him."
And then Wintergreen kicks him out, just like that.
Slade does not go to see Joey or Rose. Instead he forgets all about Jason—probably just fine, being taken care of by his friend—and all about the awful revelations he's just had and goes out to kill someone.
He takes five jobs back to back. He sleeps very little. He avoids the states entirely until a job takes him to Central City. He shoots the Flash in the leg, kills his target, and then vanishes into the night before he can heal through the damage.
He catches a flight to Los Angeles, breaks into Joey's apartment, and waits.
Both Joey and Rose are very aware of Slade's tendency to let himself in. Joey's current boyfriend is not, and when he wakes to find Slade standing over him, he screams, nearly falling out of bed.
Joey just rolls back over, pulling the blankets tighter around him.
Go away pop, Joey says in his head. It's too early for this, and I haven't given Terrence the talk yet.
"The talk," Slade says.
The sometimes my pop likes to come in through the window and loom over me talk.
Terrence isn't actively fleeing, but he is sitting up against the wall, his legs pulled up against his chest defensively. He's looking at Slade like he's deranged, which he probably is.
Maybe just a bit.
"You know I love you, right?" Slade says, because Wintergreen has to be wrong. Joey has to know.
Joey says what . He says it just by saying it, so stunned he forgets to activate his subvocal microphone. Like he's ten years old and his vocal cords are still intact and he can still say what out loud without having to deal with the consequences of his father's mistakes.
Slade leaves the way he came, unable to stand the idea of being in the same room as Joey right then. He makes it six blocks before he simply sits down at the edge of the roof. He's sure people see him—it's the middle of the day and he's in his armor—but he goes undisturbed. Anyone who's seen him has abruptly decided that he isn't their business.
Pop? Joey says, and Slade's pretty sure he's never going to get entirely used to the fact that Joey can just talk directly into his brain like the world's weirdest version of telepathy.
"Yeah," he says. "I'm here." He's not sure how Joey can hear him, but Joey always can, so he just talks like Joey's right there.
It takes him a second to realize that he is, because Joey's flying down towards him in that stupid, stupid suit of his, landing just beside him.
Pop, are you dying?
Slade's head jerks around to squint at Joey.
"What?" He says. "No. I'm not dying."
Oh, Joey says. You're alright?
"Fine," he says. "Just had a kick to the head."
Is that a literal kick to the head? Joey asks, and Slade gives him a blank look before catching himself.
"No," he says. "Metaphorical kick to the head. You know Red Hood?"
Jason? Joey asks. I know him.
"Yeah, well he got the shit beat out of him by Batman a few weeks ago," Slade says. "So I broke Batman's arm because I thought it was a shitty thing to do."
Joey looks deeply confused, but nods anyway.
"And then he said I didn't have any ground to stand on because everyone knew what I'd been like with Grant," Slade says. "And then I realized—get this—that I'm a shitty person."
Pop, Joey says. I'm not really sure what to say.
"Wintergreen said you and Rose probably didn't even know I gave a shit," Slade says. "I told him he was an idiot."
When he glances over, Joey's chewing on his lip.
Well, he says, I know now?
God. God, he's fucked it all up.
"I need to tell Rose," he says. "She doesn't know either, does she?"
Probably not, Joey says. Just kind of hopes.
"I'd do anything for you," Slade says. "I just wanted you to be safe."
He wants Joey to understand that he means it, but it's hard. It's hard because now that he knows—now that he's thinking about it—there's miles of issues.
I know that, Joey says. You were looking out for me in your own really weird way.
"Weird is the wrong word," Slade says. "We both know that."
You were trying, Joey says. I guess I shouldn't talk to Rose?
"I'll go see her," Slade says, well aware that he's less likely to put it off if he has Joey as a self-imposed time limit.
He does. He takes a private jet direct to New York, and then breaks into Rose's apartment.
It occurs to him, midway through the window, that maybe he should not break in. That maybe he should knock.
Slade leaves the way he entered, closes the door, and then heads around to the front door and knocks.
When Rose opens the door and finds him outside, she's so startled she drops the water bottle in her hand.
"Slade?" She says.
Then she stabs him in the side with a knife she pulls from her belt. Slade's not entirely sure it's an over-reaction, so he just lets it happen, and the blade simply bounces off the ikon suit harmlessly.
"It's me," he says, brushing past her and then pulling off the mask. "Did you think I'd been replaced?"
"The idea occurred to me," she says. "I don't think you've ever used my door before."
Slade adds it to the pile of list of things he has done wrong without realizing it.
"I wanted to talk to you," he says, and Rose squints at him.
"Are you dying?" She says.
Slade buries his face in his hand. Is he really so bad that the moment he does anything, everyone just assumes he's dying?
"No," he says. "I'm not dying. I had an epiphany."
"Oh great," Rose says, turning away and wandering into the kitchen. "Last epiphany you managed to drag Joey into your plans, and this time you want me I guess? I have things to do, Slade."
"No," he says. "I'm not recruiting you." He trails her into the kitchen, and she gives him a long, hard look over the table. It's all laid out for two, and it occurs to Slade that he hasn't seen Hosun.
He's going to have to deal with that later, isn't he?
"I don't know if I should be upset or not," she says. "I guess I should just be happy you're not dragging me into your mess again."
His mouth feels dry. He'd rather do anything than this, but he doesn't exactly have any other options. If he doesn't, Joey's going to call.
"I love you," he says, and Rose stares at him.
"...You are dying," she finally says.
"No," Slade says. "I'm not dying."
"You're dying," she says. "That's what this is." She seems almost panicked. "You're dying. How bad is it?"
"Rose," he says desperately. "I'm not dying. I'm fine."
"Slade," she says, "you just knocked on my door, politely came inside, and told me you loved me. A few months ago I begged you to say it and you still wouldn't."
"I had a change of heart."
"It'd be more believable if you told me you had a heart transplant and had become infected by an alien parasite."
Slade grinds his teeth. This was so much easier with Joey.
"I realized I have been... a poor father," Slade says. "I am going to make an effort."
Rose stares at him, the realization slowly dawning on her.
"Oh my god," she says. "You're serious? This isn't some... big... I don't know, plot?"
"No," he says. "I already told Joey."
"Wow," Rose says. "Hold on."
Then she sits down, and it takes Slade a solid minute to realize that her hold on was just that she needed to sit down.
"Did Wintergreen put you up to this?" She finally says.
"He helped," Slade says. "Nudged me into the realization."
"Remind me to get him a bigger Christmas gift this year."
"As I was saying," Slade says, attempting to get the conversation back on track, "I am aware now. So I am... trying."
"Hold on," Rose says, and gets up again, going to fetch a bottle of vodka from a cabinet.
"Please tell me you're not about to get drunk."
"I am going to make an attempt," she says. "I can't really manage most of the time."
Slade takes the bottle away from her and sets it on the counter.
"I realize I have made mistakes," he says. "Trying."
"This is like... the least believable thing I've ever heard. I haven't figured out if this is a dream, or a hallucination, or some kind of scheme, but I figure I can just kind of coast through it and we'll see how things go."
"...That's probably all I can ask," Slade says. "I'll go now."
He's halfway to the door when Rose catches his arm, and he turns back, wondering to himself if the whole thing is doomed before he even really starts.
"Thanks," she says. "I know it was... hard for you to do this. And I do appreciate that you're... trying."
She pulls him into a hug, and Slade swears he can hear Wintergreen in his ear telling him to hug her back, so he does.
It's not much, but he guesses it's a start.
At the very least, it's better than what came before.