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Madness Started the Moment We Met

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Ric can feel the man watching him, always at the edge of his awareness, always just past the corner of his eye.

It's too precise to not be purposeful, and it sets Ric's teeth on edge.

At first he thinks it's one of them, those heroes who can't seem to leave him alone, but this is...sharper. The feeling of the man's eyes on him doesn't feel the same as his so-called family. This is like a perpetual shiver running down his spine, his muscles tensing over and over again like they know he should be ready for something even if he doesn't know it himself, his body restless in the way that he knows means he wants a fight or a fuck but he has no clue which one.

The man doesn't feel like them. He's pinging Ric's senses in all the wrong ways, and it's making him desperately curious.

However, he doesn't do anything about it. He doesn't even glance at the man, paying it no attention. The bar's crowded anyway, it's not like Ric doesn't have anything to distract himself with, and so he plays pool (he wins, of course; every game) and he drinks and he flirts with everyone (smirk far sharper than Dick Grayson ever used to pick someone up) and he gets into a fight, only manages to keep himself from being thrown out because they like him.

He makes this establishment a lot of money, after all. He's here drinking every night.

(Dick Grayson was a lightweight. Ric got rid of that character flaw really quickly.)

He hooks up with someone in the alley behind the bar. He feels the man's eyes on him the whole time, and comes harder than he has in a long time.

(Dick Grayson was a performer at heart. Ric can't seem to get rid of the desire he feels having someone watch him, especially someone who watches him like this man is.)

The girl gives him her number, and he tosses it into a dumpster without a second thought on his walk back to his apartment. It's not a long walk   there's a reason he's such a regular at that particular establishment.

The man follows him home, he can feel it the whole way. He knows he should be feeling far more anxious about this whole situation, but really, he just feels a strong surge of...anticipation.

His apartment is exactly as he left it this morning, but still he sweeps in for bugs, a habit borne from the constant surveillance he discovered his family has on him.

He finds a small camera and microphone wedged into the upper corner of his livingroom, giving the owner a perfect view of the room, the small kitchen area, and the hallway down to his bedroom. It's a completely different kind to the things he's found before, and he frowns down at it for a moment, wondering if the bats are trying to mix things up.

The part of him that's been on edge all night knows that this wasn't put here by the heroes.

He crushes it beneath his foot all the same.

He showers, heats up some leftover takeout, and settles on the couch in a pair of sweats and a t-shirt to watch some mindless TV. It's just past one in the morning on a Wednesday, so there's really nothing on except for infomercials, but Dick Grayson often hadn't gone to bed until three, so Ric's body is still in tune with that schedule. He doesn't need much sleep.

An add plays for a "special" cream to help get rid of scars, and it makes the one on Ric's head itch. He reaches up, brushing his fingers along the long, jagged scar, easy to see and feel with his just-past-a-buzzcut-hair. It's almost startling, even after all this time, to run his fingers over something that's a physical reminder of how close he'd been to death, a permanent reminder of all the things he'd lost, all the things he'd chosen to give up.

There's a shift in the air, and it's pure instinct that has Ric diving off the couch in a tight roll, a blade swiping through the air where his neck was mere seconds ago.

Ric whirls around, crouched on the ground, and gets a first look at the man who's been following him all night.

First off, the guy's huge. Well over six foot, that's for sure, and covered in thick muscles. He's wearing a complicated orange and black outfit that's decked out in armor, with a gun strapped to one thigh, a knife to the other, and the handle of a sword peaking over one shoulder. There's a katana held confidently in his hand, currently pointed downward, and with his free hand he reaches up to pull off his mask.

"Well," the man says, scanning him with a singular sharp blue eye, "at least your reflexes haven't gone to shit."

Ric rises slowly, body tense. "I'm assuming that means you used to know me."

The man smiles wolfishly. "Kid, you have no goddamn idea."

Ric ignores the way that smile and those words send a shiver down his spine in a not wholly unpleasant way. He eyes the two swords, the knife, the gun. "You don't strike me as a hero."

The man barks out a laugh. "No, I don't think I've ever been called a hero in my life, unless it was sarcastically. Name's Slade Wilson."

It's just as unfamiliar as Bruce Wayne, as Barbara Gordon, as Nightwing. It doesn't mean a single goddamn thing to Ric. "Look man," he says, sighing. "I've said this a million times to all those sorry saps who keep tracking me down   I don't care about whatever you have to say. Good to see you, or whatever, now get out."

For a long moment, the man   Slade Wilson   just watches him. Then he says, "No, I don't think I will."

That's when he strikes.

For a man that big, Wilson is surprisingly fast. Ric dodges back, but the man keeps coming, swinging with his sword and kicking out. Ric tries to regain some space between them, but Wilson just keeps coming, and it takes every ounce of Ric's concentration to hold his own and fight back.

It's too fast for Ric to think about anything. It taps into muscle memory, and at one point   when Wilson swipes at his legs with the katana   Ric jumps up, using his opponent's shoulders as a springboard, and flips to the other side of him, aiming a kick to the back of Wilson's knees that has the older man stumbling forward a step.

Where they're facing each other again, Wilson smiles, viciously pleased. "There you are, kid. Always a pleasure to see you move."

"What do you want?" Ric demands, because this is very different from the other times the people came to him.

"I can't believe they left you like this," Wilson scoffs, not answering his question. "Three months and not a single one of them has come up with a solution? Ridiculous."

"I don't want my old life back," Ric snarls. "There doesn't need to be a solution. I'm happy the way I am! Why can't you people just leave me alone?"

"Kid, if you think I give a single shit about what you want, you're sorely mistaken," Wilson tells him, shaking his head. "Looking at's disgusting, Grayson. A few months ago you were the best of the best, one of the very few people I actually respect, and now you're just a pale imitation."

Ric sneers. "Yeah, yeah, I get it, Dick Grayson was perfect, the Golden Boy, the could-do-no-wrong kind of guy. Heard it all already, thanks."

Wilson laughs. "Christ, who have you been talking to? Dick Grayson was very far from perfect, despite what the other bat brats seem determined to believe. Sometimes I think I must be the only one to really see all of you, gigantic flaws included." He smirks, hungry and sharp. "Pretty sure that's why you kept coming back to me, even when you knew Daddy certainly wouldn't approve."

"That's not me," Ric yells. "Not anymore."

The older man just nods, completely unbothered by his arguing. "Yeah, and, you see, that doesn't endear you to me. Because you're just a poor copy of a great man. And Dick Grayson   my Grayson? He'd really fucking hate you. So I think it's just about time we fix this little mess."

Ric bares his teeth. "Sorry, jackass, you can't just wish my memories back into existence, so sucks for you! This is the only Grayson left."

Wilson smirks. "We'll see about that."

The fight starts again.

Ric fights well, of course he does, but he hasn't fought someone of this caliber in a long time (doesn't actually remember ever fighting someone like this, just knows Dick Grayson must've). Wilson gains the upper-hand, slams Ric down to the floor, knocking the breath straight out of him. Then there's a needle in his neck, a rush of cold, and everything starts getting very fuzzy.

"You'll thank me for this one day, kid," he hears Wilson say, and the last thought he has before slipping into unconsciousness is That day really isn't fucking today.

The first thing Ric becomes aware of when he wakes up is how effectively tied up he is.

The second is the nausea.

He groans, face twisting up in a grimace, eyes squeezing shut. He shifts, trying to get his body into a more comfortable position, but it's simply not possible. His arms are bound up behind his back, wrists to elbows. He ankles are also tied, and his knees, and he's blindfolded, all of which makes Ric give a small huff at how excessive it all feels.

"You with me, kid?" someone drawls, and Ric's face scrunches up into a scowl as he places that as Slade Wilson, the asshole with the sword who broke into his house and drugged him in some stupid attempt to bring back his memories.

"Really fucking wish I wasn't," Ric grumbles back, making Wilson chuckle softly. "Where the fuck are we, anyway?"

There's a gentle rumble close by, and the feeling of being in motion. He's lying mostly flat on something leathery, Wilson's voice coming from a little bit in front of him. A car, Ric figures. The problem that presents, then, is how far from Bludhaven are they, and where are they headed?

"We'll be there soon, kid, don't get your panties in a twist."

Ric scowls. "And where might 'there' be, exactly?" 

The man doesn't say anything. 

Ric sighs in exasperation. 

"Man,” he says, “I am literally tied up in the back of your car, you really don't think you can tell me where the fuck we're headed? Tell me a direction, at least   we headed up the Eastern Seaboard? Down? Makin' our way west?"

Wilson snorts. "Grayson, we're not in the States anymore." Ric freezes. "You were out for just over eight hours. We've been driving for about half an hour of that, and I was actually starting to believe that we'd arrive without you waking up and sassing me   a guy can dream, I suppose."

Not in the country. What the ever-living fuck.

"To answer your question, we're on Infinity Island."

Ric wishes this was all a dream. He really does. Because what the ever-living fuck  

"And why, pray tell, are we on an eerily named island?"

There's a long moment of silence, the kind that makes Ric picture someone rolling their eyes skyward, and then Wilson says, "Let's be honest, kid   with how screwed up your brain is right now, nothing I tell you about this place is going to make sense. You don't remember any of it, and there's too much fucking information to get through for you to understand, and that's even if I wanted to explain, which frankly I don't care enough to do. All you need to know is that we're here to do something that'll get your memories back."

Ric takes a moment to digest that, swallowing down his desire to hit the man squarely across the jaw, considering he's not currently in a position to be able to do that.

"Is this thing simple?" he asks. "Or are you about to make me do a bunch of stupid shit for memories I don't even want?"

Wilson snorts. "You don't have to do a goddamn thing, Grayson. And yeah, it's simple." Ric can practically hear the air-quotes around the word.

"Well if it's so simple," Ric snarks right back, "how come none of those million mopey superheroes didn't try to drag me off to this place?"

"Good question," Wilson growls, sounding actually angry.

And since Ric doesn't quite know what to say back to that, the car falls silent.

After a few minutes, Wilson actually continues. "Knowing the bats," he says, perfectly calm and easygoing, "they probably didn't bring you here because they think it's unnatural, or whatever. But hey, it works. Your dear little brother is a testament to that."

Ric honestly doesn't care enough about his so-called family to push for more information about that brother comment. Instead, he asks, "Wait   if they all would be against this, would your precious Dick Grayson be ok with you doing this?"

"Fuck no!" Wilson replies immediately, actually laughing. "Hell, if you were actually you, you'd know exactly where we're headed, and you'd be ripping me a new one. In fact, after we get your memories back, I suspect you'll have quite a lot of rage to direct at me."

“Then why-”

“Didn’t we already establish that I don’t give a shit about what you want in this situation? Besides, real-you would hate you, so maybe once you get past the incandescent rage, you’ll actually be a little bit grateful, considering I’m getting your life back for you.”

“I don’t want-”

“You’re talking yourself in circles, kid,” Wilson tells him, chuckling. “Now shut up before I gag you; you don’t have a single thing to say that I actually care to hear.”

Ric’s tempted to call his bluff, but so far the man hasn’t bullshitted anything, and he wouldn’t be surprised if he stopped the car just to gag Ric if he thought the younger man was getting too annoying. So instead, Ric settles for simmering in his anger, preparing himself to make an escape attempt when given the chance.

They drive for another fifteen or so minutes, the only sound the gentle rumble of the engine. Ric wiggles around in his bindings just in case, but he’s tied up experty; part of him wonders if Dick Grayson could’ve escaped from something like this, if the superhero would already be free and kicking Wilson’s ass.

Or maybe he would’ve be just as stuck and looked just as stupid, bound and blindfolded on some random island with a guy who’s clearly out of his mind.

They roll to a stop and Wilson turns the key, the car quieting. The man gets out, slamming the door shut behind him, and then a few seconds later opens the door by Ric’s head. Ric tilts his face upward, trying to communicate a hateful glare even with his eyes covered.

“Alright, kid,” Wilson says, “I’m gonna pull you out of the car now, and free your legs so that you can walk with a bit of dignity. If you attempt to run or attack, I will shoot you in the leg and sling you over my shoulder instead. So, are you going to play nice, or should we skip to me carrying you like a sack of potatoes?”

Ric bares his teeth angrily, and doesn’t say anything. Try me, old man.

Wilson sighs. “Alright, you want to behave like a child, I can treat you like one.”

He yanks Ric across the seats and out of the car, not even grunting as he bodily lifts the younger man, throwing him over his shoulder. Ric hears the car door shut, and then Wilson is walking, holding Ric in place with one giant hand on his hip.

“Put me down!” Ric demands, thrashing.

“You keep moving like that, Grayson, and you’re only going to succeed in crashing to the ground. Do you really want to look even stupider than you already do?”

Ric takes a few deep breaths, hating Dick Grayson a little bit more for associating with someone who is such a gigantic dickwad.

“I would like to walk,” Ric grits out, trying his damndest to be polite. “I won’t try to run.” Not yet, at least.

Wilson snorts, clearly disbelieving, but after a moment he does stop walking and lower Ric to the ground. Ric sways for a second, finding it hard to balance with his legs so tightly tied together, but soon enough Wilson is crouching and cutting the ropes around his ankles and knees.

Ric lets out a small sigh of relief, bending his legs and shaking them out, a little sore from how long they must’ve been in that position.

“I’m not freeing your arms or taking off the blindfold,” Wilson tells him, then grabs ahold of one of his biceps and begins pulling him along.

Thankfully, whatever path they’re walking on is pretty even, so Ric isn’t stumbling over things he can’t see every few seconds.

They only walk for another minute or so before he hears someone   a woman   call out, “You’re late, Deathstroke.”

Ric goes tense, not having known there was anyone else there, but Wilson doesn’t even hesitate before replying, “What can I say? He’s a handful.”

The woman scoffs. “He’s barely up to his own standards, let alone the Bat’s   how much trouble could he really be?”

“Oh great,” Ric mutters, “another person here to wax poetic about the man I used to be.”

Wilson chuckles quietly. “Trust me, kid,” he says, “this isn’t someone who actually likes you. Respects you? Probably. But she’d just as soon kill you if it benefitted her.”

Ric takes a moment to digest that. “Oh, that’s fine then,” he says sarcastically. “Sounds like a fantastic person to have as an ally.”

Wilson doesn’t reply to that, just pulls him along, and soon Ric can feel another person fall into step beside them. The woman doesn’t say anything, but Ric can feel her watching him, and it sets him on edge.

“I don’t like the haircut,” she muses.

Wilson snorts. “Yeah, looks stupid, doesn’t it?”

“Oh my god,” Ric says is disbelief. “Oh my god.”

“He’ll grow it out again when he knows who he is,” Wilson continues confidently, like he hadn't spoken at all. “Good thing, too. The skinhead, scarred-up look isn’t a good one for him.”

“You both are aware I can hear you, right?” Ric asks incredulously.

“You still seem to be under the impression that I give a shit about what you think,” Wilson scoffs. Then he says, “Everything ready for us?”

“We have another few hours before anyone comes peeking,” the woman confirms. “This wasn’t easy to set up, Deathstroke.” Her voice holds a note of warning in it.

“I’m aware,” Wilson drawls. “And after this we’ll be even, al Ghul.”

The woman makes a displeased noise and her steps speed up slightly, walking ahead of them.

“Did she owe you, or somethin?” Ric asks curiously.

“Gotta love a life-debt,” Wilson tells him vaguely, and then, “there’s a staircase coming up; five steps, then a break, then five more steps.”

Ric follows the instruction, only stumbling a little bit on the plateau between the steps, and then they’re inside somewhere, the light beyond the blindfold dimming.

Wilson drags him along for a bit longer down a few hallways before saying, “Okay, another staircase, this one going down. Twenty-five steps.”

“Can’t we take the fucking blindfold off?” Ric complains. “There’s no way you still need it.”

“Need it? No. But by this point it’s just fucking funny, and you annoy me.”

Ric opens his mouth to retort, but they hit the staircase at just that moment, making him thud down a step in surprise.

He ignores the amused snort Wilson gives to that.

As they descend, the air gets thicker, notably getting warmer around them. About halfway down, he starts to hear the sounds of water; not running, but gently lapping at a bank, and Wilson hums deep in his chest, like approval.

When they hit the bottom of the staircase, the ground they land on isn’t the same smooth marble from the building they’d walked through, but gravelly, shifting beneath Ric’s feet.

After another few steps, until they’re right at the edge of whatever the water is, Wilson pulls him to a stop, and then grabs ahold of his bound arms, tugging them up a little uncomfortably. Ric feels metal against his skin but doesn’t have time to panic before the ropes fall away, releasing his arms.

He lets out a little groan, pins and needles dancing up and down his arms, and rubs them to help get his circulation going. As he does that, Wilson reaches up and undoes the blindfold, yanking it away.

Ric blinks rapidly as his vision clears, taking a look around. They're in what look like a large cavern, the rocky walls going up and curving around them. The whole place is lit up in an eerie green glow, emanating from the water directly in front of them.

"Wow," he breathes, looking at the toxic green lake in front of him. There's something almost mesmerizing about it, but he doesn't have to have Dick Grayson's memories to know that that is definitely not a place he wants to take a dip into.

"Right," Ric says, drawing out the word. "Well, this field trip was a blast, but I think I'm gonna head home."

He's expecting Slade to say something, or make some attempt to block his path as he turns back towards the staircase. He's even expecting the woman to do something, considering she's clearly attempting to pay off a debt. But none of that happens.

No, what happens happens faster than Ric can even see it coming.

He finishes speaking, and not even a split second later there's a point of pressure against his back   a hand   a solid push, and then he's propelling forward, diving right into the water, submerging in an instant.

Slade watches, and waits.

He's seen someone enter and come out of a Lazarus Pit before; he expects the brief increase in glow from the water, expects the few moments of perfect silence, and then he waits for the moment, the beautiful moment  

"He's going to be angry," Nyssa comments.

Slade rolls his eye, but doesn't take his gaze off the water. "Aren't they always?"

The daughter of the demon snorts. "Do you think you're going to be able to control him?"

Dick still hasn't surfaced. Slade thinks that's probably concerning, but he supposes he's seen people stay under for longer before. Given, that was whenever someone was at death's door, but Dick's mind is pretty messed up.

(If Ric wasn't actually Dick, Slade would've killed him ages ago, the whiny, annoying little pest.)

Nyssa's words register, and Slade finally turns his gaze away from the Pit, giving her a look. "Is that a serious question?"

Despite the threat in his voice, Nyssa doesn't even bat an eye, unimpressed. Not that he really expects her to, of course; Nyssa's no weak flower, and has faced her fair share of threatening men in her long career as an assassin.

"People fresh out of the Pit are never easy to deal with, let alone if they come from that cult parading as the vigilantes of Gotham," she says, and Slade gives a snort of amusement at the comment. "I am simply making sure you have a game plan from here, Deathstroke."

Slade hums, considering how he wants to reply, and looks back to the water. He frowns   still no sign of Dick. Shouldn't it be done by now? Shouldn't he have a wrathful hero on his hands by now?

"All of the Bats have their triggers," Slade tells her, "and Grayson especially has always been an open book to me. As soon as I've calmed him down a bit, it won't be hard to keep him with me. All I have to do is tell him that he's a danger to his beloved little siblings like this, a danger to all those innocent civilians, and he'll want to stay away until he can control himself." He shoots Nyssa a wry look. "Besides, the kid's always had a monumental temper; how much worse could this be?"

As if the world was just waiting to prove him wrong, Dick chooses that moment to surge up out of the water, gasping for air.

The young man sits there for a moment, staring at nothing and sucking in deep breaths, before he registers there are people there with him. His head snaps to the side and his wide eyes (no longer sky blue but a toxic, glowing green) land on Slade.

Slade smirks. "'Bout time, kid."

Immediately, Grayson's face crumples in anger, in rage, and he throws himself out of the water, on the attack. Now, Dick's always been fast for a non-meta, but the speed he's using now is certainly inhuman, and so is the strength behind each strike. Slade can handle it   the kid's moving a little wildly in his rage   but he's not used to this from Grayson, and it's odd. He could get used to it though. Could even have some fun with it.

Too bad it's all temporary.

Ah, well. There's always the option of giving him the serum, after all.

Dick's yelling, mostly profanities in various languages, and Slade pays it no mind. Right now, the kid's simply wrathful, probably has no clue why he's specifically angry at Slade at the moment. Not that there's not a well of shit to choose from, of course.

"This is you controlling him, then?" Nyssa asks sarcastically, which probably wasn't a great decision on her part as it grabs Dick's attention, making the hero whirl around to face her with angry, bared teeth.

Slade considers grabbing him while he's distracted, but he doesn't really feel like pulling Dick's anger back towards him just yet. His bruises and cuts are already healing quickly, but still.

"You helped him," Dick snarls, and Slade wonders if the kid knows he's slipped into Romani and Nyssa has no clue what he's saying. "This is wrong, I didn't want this!"

Nyssa blinks at him for a moment, before turning and raising an elegant eyebrow at Slade. The mercenary sighs internally; great, that'll definitely send Dick's attention back to him.

Sure enough, Grayson turns back to face him. He's panting heavily, far more due to his emotional state than exertion, and his hands are balled into tight fists. His eyes are still glowing, violent and bright.

"I didn't want this!" Grayson shouts again. "You selfish asshole, how could you do this?"

He jerks like he's going to attack again, and Slade holds up his hands in front of himself in a peaceful gesture. "I know, kid. But did you really want that life you were living, either? C'mon, this is the lesser of two evils."

Slade knows it's probably completely pointless to attempt to use logic against Dick's current mindset, but it's better than goading him on.

Grayson bares his teeth at him. His eyes flash. "This wasn't your choice to make."

There's the kid he knows. Values his autonomy like nothing else, something that lead to countless fights with Wayne and just about every other authority figure he came into contact with.

"No, it was yours," Slade agrees. "But tell me, kid   when you were parading around as Ric-" Grayson falters slightly at the name, "-do you think you were in a position to make any kind of decision regarding this? You didn't give a rat's ass about your family, let alone about that green hot tub behind you."

Dick falters further at the mention of his family, the unnatural glow of his eyes dimming ever-so-slightly. Well, Slade muses with satisfaction, seems the kid's pressure points haven't changed an inch.

"They've missed you," Slade pushes further, pitching his voice low and comforting, like handling a spooked animal. "The last few months have been so hard on them; not only did you forget them, but you told them to fuck off and leave you alone. They've been grieving for someone still alive, but now they can have their brother and son back." He pauses, adds, "Not to mention that your city needs Nightwing."

Grayson squeezes his eyes shut, shuddering, and then slumps to his knees, curving in on himself.

Slade sends Nyssa a smirk.

Still on guard just in case, Slade walks closer to Dick and crouches down beside him. The kid's shaking, murmuring something under his breath in Romani, and has his arms wrapped so tightly around himself that Slade wouldn't be surprised if he left some bruises.

When Slade puts a hand on Grayson's shoulder, the hero jerks, his head snapping up. Slade holds still warily, but the green glow has faded (for now), leaving behind familiar blue eyes.

"I didn't want to be this," Dick says brokenly, and Slade pulls him into his arms, cooing soft, comforting things. The kid immediately collapses against him, grabbing ahold of his shirt like it's his last lifeline, still shaking but desperately pushing into the physical contact.

Slade's known Grayson a long time, knows him extremely well, definitely far better than the kid would like him to. And this has always been the most obvious thing about him, his need for touch, to be close to people, to   for a single second   be taken care of. Grayson spends day-in and day-out looking after every single goddamn person he interacts with, and though he puts on a brave face, he has always been desperate to just be held.

It's something that, over the years, Slade has enjoyed and/or manipulated, depending on the status of their relationship at the time. It's especially easy to get him coming back when he's pissed at Wayne, a man so emotionally constipated he couldn't give Dick what he needed even if he tried.

It's also easy in times like this, where Dick is extremely unsure of himself and the world around him.

Slade has no problem offering a helping hand.

"I want to go home," Grayson says. His shaking has died down somewhat, more like shivering now, probably because of the fact that he's still sopping wet, his clothes clinging tightly to his skin.

Now this is the tricky part.

"I know," Slade says carefully, stroking a hand up and down Dick's back. "But you can't, not yet."

Immediately, Grayson's head snaps up, the blue eyes quickly glowing with that acidic green. Yeah; if Dick had a temper before, his fuse will have definitely been shortened a monumental amount.

"Why not?" the kid snarls, tensing up in his arms.

Slade keeps his expression calm, his voice matching it when he speaks. "You know how dangerous the Lazarus Pit can be," he says. "If you go back to Gotham right now, like this, there's a huge chance you'll hurt someone   your family, innocent people." Dick cringes, squeezing his eyes shut. Slade continues, "You saw what the Pit Madness did to your brother, what it fueled him into doing; do you want to be like that, little bird?"

It's an obviously rhetorical question; they both know the answer.

Dick answers anyway. "No, of course not, I just-" He cuts himself off and tucks his head back down, his breath puffing warmly against Slade's collarbone. "I don't want to hurt them," he says weakly. "Jay told me about it, how he'd lose control sometimes, do things he hadn't meant to. I don't...I never wanted this."

"It's alright," Slade coos. He pets a hand over Grayson's shaved head, his fingers brushing the long scar left by KGBeast. It's different than before he went into the Pit, far fainter, definitely not as violent-looking. Idly, he wonders if the hair that grows back over the scar will be the same shocking white that Jason Todd has over what used to be his own head wound.

"You just need to learn to control it," Slade continues. "You already know what it's like to have a temper-" Dick tenses slightly, but Slade just keeps talking, "-and this is just like that, just far more heightened. It'll get easier as time goes on, but in the beginning, you can't go to any heavily populated areas; there are too many potential triggers when you throw in real people."

"Then what the hell am I supposed to do?" Grayson mutters. His tone is snappish, but he isn't yelling or attempting to attack, so Slade figures it could be far worse.

"I'll help you," the mercenary says easily. "We can figure this out together."

If he's being honest, Dick doesn't remember a lot from the first few weeks.

He knows he agreed to go with Slade. He knows they flew somewhere and ended up in a large house with a gigantic gym in the basement and his own room on the top floor. He knows he broke quite a few things in a rage, and that Slade had no problem drugging his food for his trouble.

He knows Slade said, "We need to give you a goal; it'll help you control yourself." He knows he agreed, and that the "goal" they settled on is training.

But other than that, those first few weeks are just a whole lot of green.

He throws himself into the training. He's certainly not out of shape by any stretch of the imagination, but he hasn't been doing much of anything the last three months, and a majority of the fights he starts he has with Slade end quickly, the man knocking him on his ass. The guy seems to take some pleasure from it, really. Not that Dick could blame him.

(He still does, though. When that green in his head gets to be a little too much and he screams at the mercenary, blaming this rage on him, spewing curses and hateful words because he never wanted to be this. And Slade sits through it a bit until either Dick attacks or Slade gets tired of it and punches him in the face. Either way, violence is always where they end up. Which, really, isn't surprising in the slightest. Not when he's like this.)

He throws himself into training, and the days become clearer, less of one big, toxic haze. He hates to say anything nice about Slade, but the man was right about giving him something to focus on.

It makes Dick think about Jason quite a bit, actually. About what it must've been like, coming out of the Pit so angry, so overwhelmed with rage, only to be told that your murderer lives, that your father has taken in a new child  

(Dick takes a few deep breaths, breathes past the rage of being replaced, of seeing a random boy in his colors, using the name his mother gave him, Bruce giving it away like it was his to give. He pushes past it, because it was years ago, not even close to worth getting upset over. He's moved past it. He just needs the green to understand that, too.)

  and that it seems like the world has completely moved on. Even without the Pit rage that would be a lot to handle, but with it? Dealing with all of that while already so fucking angry?

Well, Dick simply understands Jason a lot better now, is all.

Something hard whacks sharply against Dick's head and he makes a strangled sound of pain, whirling around to face the mercenary. How fucking dare he-?

Get a grip, Grayson, Dick tells himself, taking a few deep breaths, uncurling his hands from the fists they've balled into.

"Your head's in the clouds, kid," Slade tells him, twirling a bo staff in his hand. "Completely unaware of your surroundings. Pathetic."

Dick grits his teeth. See, now, this is his least favorite part of training (and living) with Slade. Because while Slade's actually not a bad teacher (not that he'd ever tell him that; the guy doesn't need an ego boost), he does delight in taking every goddamn opportunity to attempt to push Dick's buttons. It's part of the "learning control" or whatever but Dick knows the older man also just has a lot of fun needling him until he either cracks and the rage takes over, or he gains control of himself.

It's a trying process.

"I thought you'd gone out," Dick says, voice decidedly measured. Slade sends him a smirk for his trouble, and lazily strikes out with the bo staff again. Dick swerves to avoid getting hit by it, and internally mourns the lazy Sunday morning he'd been enjoying.

"That's my point, Grayson," Slade drawls. He strikes, Dick dodges and scowls.

"So do I get a weapon in this little impromptu training session, or are you just going to try to hit me while we turn around in circles?"

Slade offers him a smirk. "Try? Kid-" He turns quickly, the staff whipping towards Dick's head. Dick's arms go up on instinct, the tough wood of the bo slamming against his forearm, making him bare his teeth in pain; that is going to leave a bruise. "-There is no try when it comes to me."

This isn't the first time Slade's attacked out of nowhere (one memorable occasion while Dick was in the shower, which is an event he will share with precisely no one) in some "always be on your guard" type shit. It's annoying as fuck, and   like in everything these days   Dick struggles to identify how much of that irritation is simply because Slade's a jackass, and how much of it is the Pit madness he's still learning to control.

They go until Dick is breathing heavily, his body covered in aches from being struck with no protection over his body other than sweats and a tank top. Slade makes some snarky remarks, Dick knows he does, but he pays it no mind, dragging himself up to the third floor to take a shower and change out of his now sweaty clothes.

He's tired and in pain, but he's calm, and that green at the back of his mind is staying there.

It's been two months, five days, and seventeen hours, and Dick is slowly but surely becoming himself again.

It's been two months, five days, and seventeen hours since dunking Grayson in the Pit, and the kid is slowly but surely becoming something gorgeous.

Grayson's always had fire, always been passionate in just about every aspect of his life. Always had that temper of his, the temper that made him far crueler than people (namely, his family) liked to believe the Golden Boy could be. He's always been spectacular, always been someone that Slade wanted by his side.

But everything the kid was before   every amazing, sharp, spectacular thing   is absolutely nothing compared to what he is now.

He's learning to control the rage, which is good, considering how much destruction the kid would wrought without control, and certainly not the fun kind. But it's still there, still makes him different than before, no matter how much Grayson likes to pretend that it's the same old him.

It's not. And Slade finds it delightful.

Grayson likes to believe that it only affects him when it comes to the forefront of his mind, when he starts to see green and those blue eyes of his start to shift shades. But it's not; Slade sees it in every aspect of the kid.

His humor is sharper than it ever has been before, more biting. Not rude, but not innocent, either. He's also far more still than Dick is known for; hell, that kid could never sit still if his life depended on it! Now, though. Now there's a quietness to his body, a stillness that makes Slade think far more predator than prey.

Now, don't get him wrong, Dick's still Dick, still bad puns and caring far too much about everyone except himself, but the water didn't leave him unchanged. It never leaves people unchanged. And Slade is utterly fascinated by it all, by the way Dick moves when they fight, just a bit more forceful than a son of the Bat is supposed to be.

He's nowhere close to a killer (a shame, really) but he is far harsher than the simple take-down-and-incapacitate that he was before.

And the best part is Grayson doesn't even seem to see it, which makes it far easier to mold. If the kid doesn't even recognize he's going farther than Daddy would approve (helps that Slade heals pretty damn fast) then Slade can keep pushing that boundary, inching Dick further and further along.

He won't get Grayson to be a killer, he knows that. But there's quite a lot of room between killer and pure hero.

The boy's starting to go stir crazy though, Slade can see it. Just because he's better at being quiet and still now doesn't mean he's content to just remain in the house and on the property, despite the miles and miles of land to roam. It's different than actual freedom, something Dick has always coveted, so it's really just a countdown before Dick doesn't want to accept his reasoning anymore about remaining there and decides to fuck off on his own instead.

Which means that Slade has to plan an outing for them, which he really doesn't want to do. Too many potential variables to mess with the kid. Frankly, Slade would rather keep Dick solely in the house and on the property until he's sure of the kid's mental state (and, really, Slade's place in it). But that would only serve to alienate Grayson, which is completely counterproductive.

So one night at dinner, about two and a half months after his kidnapping of Ric Grayson (and yes, the Gotham vigilantes are obviously still freaking out about their missing bird, not that Slade's going to tell Dick that, with his gigantic guilt complex), Slade decides to broach the subject.

The kid's practically slumped over his plate when Slade walks into the dining room, his head just barely held above the surf and turf Wintergreen made when he stopped by earlier. The man checks in every few weeks, making sure Slade hasn't completely screwed up the kid, or whatever it is he's checking for when he comes over and spends some time talking with Grayson.

Billy at least stays away from topics of Gotham when they speak, for which Slade is grateful.

As Slade walks towards him, Dick's head dips slightly before jerking back up, the kid blinking rapidly. Slade smirks to himself; he'd pushed the kid quite hard in training today, and it's obvious that he's exhausted from it all. Slade, meanwhile, feels absolutely fine.

He sees Dick's head tilt slightly towards him, a quiet acknowledgment of knowing he's there, but doesn't actually say anything. As he walks past the kid, heading around the table towards his own seat, his runs his fingers through Dick's hair, the strands just now long enough to pull on, and if that doesn't just give Slade so many ideas...

Grayson leans slightly into the contact, fleeting as it is, and Slade hides another smirk. That's another thing that hasn't changed about Dick   he's still extremely touch-starved, and with Slade as his only constant human interaction the past ten weeks, casual touches like that are allowed and even welcome.

(And there have been some not-so-casual touches. Slade certainly did enjoy the shade of red Dick's face turned when their bodies pressed flush together during training one day, and the way the kid resolutely ignored the fact that neither of them were averse to the closeness.)

"I have a mission for you," Slade declares as he slides into his seat across from Grayson.

Dick sends him a look, unimpressed, and runs a hand through his own hair, fingers lingering slightly over that scar of his. The hair that's grown over it is a pure, shocking white, mixing with some of the black to give off an almost silver impression. When it grows out a bit more, to Dick's normal length, Slade's sure it'll look purposeful and hip. Right now it's far more eye-catching than stereotypically pretty.

"A mission," Dick says dubiously, and takes a bite of his food.

"Yes," Slade confirms, nodding. "You've come pretty far in controlling yourself, but this is a safe, neutral environment. You need to go out into the world   for a brief, controlled outing   in order to really test yourself. You job as Nightwing is filled with stressors; so, I have a mission for you, something that will imitate your nightlife."

Grayson narrows his eyes suspiciously, but they're a pure, clear blue, not a hint of green in sight. "You planned something heroic?" he asks, his tone clearly conveying his disbelief.

Slade snorts and removes the lid on his own plate that had been keeping the food warm, and begins to eat; as ever, Billy's food is wonderful. "I wouldn't quite call it heroic, but it incorporates all the things you're likely to encounter on a regular night as a vigilante   innocents in danger, taking down people attempting to kill you, sneaking around in the dark, et cetera..."

The kid might still be looking at him skeptically, but there's a spark in his eyes now, a twitching of his fingers against the table, that shows how the idea's caught him. He hasn't seen any action other than his fights with Slade in over two months, and the kid isn't going to say no to an outing where he gets to actually do something.

And just because Slade is getting paid for this little mission of theirs doesn't change the fact that Dick will get to rescue some innocent people and beat up some bad guys.

"So what is this mission?" Grayson asks. He's kept his tone doubtful, almost uninterested, but Slade knows him too well to actually buy into that.

"A small human trafficking ring has just popped up in New York, new enough that it hasn't drawn all that much attention to itself yet, especially not from the superhero community. They're smart, too. Good at staying under the radar and moving quickly. Probably have a very powerful future ahead of themselves, if we don't intervene."

And there it is. The slight tensing of his muscles, the twitch in his eyes, the shimmer of green in them before fading back to their regular blue. You can take the boy out of the costume, but you can't take the hero out of the boy. Now that Grayson knows about this, he won't be able to just let it slide, especially not when Slade's framed it like they're the only ones who know about it so far.

Which isn't a lie, exactly. It's why he's been hired, after all; no heroes have made any moves on it yet, and one terrified (and rich) father just wants his daughter back. An easy mission, and a good one for Dick   take out some human traffickers, rescue a bunch of people, call it a day.

"So how did you get involved in this?" Grayson   predictably   asks next.

"A father of one of the victims asked for help bringing his daughter home," Slade tells him.

"And let me guess," Grayson says, tone derisive, but there's an almost fond smile tugging at his lips. "He's willing to pay quite a lot of money for you to bring her home."

"That he is," Slade agrees. "I figured while we're there, we might as well break everybody else out, right?"

Dick laughs, shaking his head like he knows what Slade's doing, but he does say, "Ok, I'm in. When do we move?"

They move two days later.

Slade's already done most (all) of the research for this job, wanting to know basically everything about the traffickers before bringing it to Dick's attention, so all there's left to do is get on a plane to New York, suit up, and attack the base.

The suiting up part ends up taking a bit longer than Slade expected, because there's something neither of them really considered at the beginning of it all   Nightwing can't just make a sudden appearance in NYC after over five months of being inactive, especially not when they're so close to Gotham. They can't afford that kind of attention, not yet.

Which means that at the moment, Dick has to wear something from Slade.

Something in Slade's colors.

Which, predictably, gives Dick a bit of a mini-crisis.

Slade leaves him to it, knowing that anything he says in this area will be unwelcome and probably just end in some Pit madness coming to the forefront in the ensuing argument. Slade lays out the facts, lets Dick know what the options are, and then leaves him to stew in it.

The kid frowns out the window the entire plane ride, hands tight fists against his knees. The idea of putting on clothing befitting the apprentice of Deathstroke is probably making the kid examine all it is that they're doing here, and all Slade can hope for is that Dick will come to view it as necessary for the job, and not as something that will make him run screaming.

Besides, Slade would be lying if he said he didn't want to see Grayson in his colors.

About an hour before they're set to land   the kid's had almost seven hours to stew   Dick looks at him, jaw set, and simply says, "Alright."

Slade keeps his satisfaction on the inside and nods to one of the duffle bags in the rack above his head. "That one, kid."

Dick squints at him suspiciously but follows the instruction, pulling the bag down and opening it.

Then, he starts to laugh.

"Let me guess," he says, still chuckling incredulously, staring down at the uniform in his hands, "this just so happens to be my size?"

"Always be prepared," Slade agrees with a smirk.

Dick snorts. "Somehow, I doubt you were a Boy Scout."

He stares down at it for a moment longer with pursed lips, his thumb running along the tough material, and then he gets fluidly to his feet and starts to strip.

Slade raises his eyebrows but isn't bothered in the slightest, perfectly content to watch the twenty-six-year-old twist this way and that in his efforts to put on the new uniform. His lean, muscled figure is littered with scars, not a single one of them subtracting from the beauty of his body. Adds to it, really. Slade's never been one for perfection.

Feeling eyes on him, Dick turns his head, looking back towards Slade. He arches a brow at the older man, a teasing smile tugging at his lips. "You mind?"

"You're the one who started stripping in the middle of the cabin," Slade reminds him, and then lets his eye drag purposefully down Dick's body. He's not ashamed to admit the fact that seeing the kid wearing orange and black does something to him, makes possessiveness surge in him, makes him want to grab Dick and do things daddy most certainly wouldn't approve of.

When Slade once again raises his gaze to meet Dick's eyes, a smirk firmly on his lips, there's a light blush across the kid's cheeks, a stark contrast to the confident way he's standing, the cocky rise of his chin.

"Besides," Slade continues, holding the eye contact, letting his smirk widen a bit, "it's nothing I haven't seen before."

That makes the blush darken a bit, makes Dick's eyes darken, too (not green, only lust, Slade's favorite), but Dick simply rolls his eyes and turn away, says, "We'll be on the ground soon   get dressed."

Slade figures fair is fair and strips right there too, slow and unbothered. He can feel Dick watching, pays it absolutely no mind, and then leaves his shirt off while he checks over his weapons.

"Playing dirty," Grayson chastises after a little while, because though he isn't a fan of lethal weapons he does have a bit of competency kink, always has, and Slade's nothing but quick, sure movements while cleaning his guns.

The mercenary simply smirks, eye flicking up to look at Dick. The kid's back in his seat, sprawled out with his legs up on the small table in front of him, his eyes watching Slade's hands move, then sliding across the merc's large chest, and finally up to meet his gaze.

Neither of them speak for a moment. Slade's smirk widens.

After a tense few seconds, Dick's the one to move.

Grayson pushes himself out of his chair in one fluid motion, taking the two long steps to reach Slade. Slade leans back in his chair, reaching out a hand to pull Grayson to him. The kid's hands slide across his shoulders and around the back of his neck, settling there just as Slade gets a firm hold of his hips and pulls him onto his lap.

The kiss is hard and fast, gasping breaths and cut off moans. Dick rolls his hips downward, keening at the friction, and Slade growls against his mouth, a hand traveling up his spine to fist in the black locks of hair, just long enough to grab.

It's been a while since they've done this, a few months before KGBeast did what he did. Whenever Grayson needs a bit of an escape, whether from the oppressiveness that is the cult of the bat or simply from his numerous, numerous responsibilities, they meet up. Because Slade never has any expectations for the kid, never expects him to be anything other than what he is, and sometimes Grayson needs that, needs to let go with someone who will simply be with him.

It's not like Slade doesn't use it to his advantage of course, but that doesn't make the kid's feelings about it any less true.

"Gorgeous," Slade murmurs against Dick's lips, and Dick whimpers, pressing closer.

It's hard and fast and desperate, a release after two and a half months of sharing a space and doing nothing. Slade knows when not to press, when to let Dick makes his own decisions, and sex is for damn sure one of those things. The kid's been pressured and taken advantage of too many times for Slade to do anything to equate himself with all those fuckers.

He'll do a lot of things, but he won't do that.

Besides, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

Afterwards, Dick rest on top of him, Slade running a hand gently up and down the kid's back. Dick's face is tucked into the curve of his neck, one hand still curled around his nape.

Eventually, the pilot Slade hired for this trip announces that they're going to start their descent. It stirs Grayson into movement, making him slide off of Slade's lap and stretch idly. He's avoiding looking directly at Slade   nothing new, the kid almost always feels a tiny bit ashamed whenever they do anything, like he knows Wayne would be extremely pissed   and Slade grabs a towel to wipe himself down.

After a contemplative moment, he reaches out to pull Dick back towards him, who startles in surprise, eyes flicking up to meet his gaze. But Slade simply cleans him up too and presses a kiss to the junction of his neck, before murmuring, "Ready, kid?"

Grayson blinks rapidly, attempting to get his brain back on track, and then nods decisively. "Let's do this."

Getting to the warehouse where the traffickers are holding their victims is a short trip, and both Dick and Slade have been in this business long enough to move silently as they make their approach.

It's strange to be out and about after so long. For two and a half months he's just been in that house and on the lands surrounding it, with only Slade   and occasionally Wintergreen   as his company. And it was good, it really was, and necessary. But he's never been one for isolation, and it had been starting to get to him.

Slade's mission came at just the right time, and Dick has to admit he missed this   a mask, even one not his own; escrima sticks on his back, even if they aren't the ones he designed; creeping along rooftops and through shadows in the dead of night; going after evil men; saving innocent people.

Three months as Ric and Dick has been longing to get back to this, to do this again, and he is so desperate to keep control of himself so that he can keep doing this, so that he can actually go home, back to Gotham, back to his family.

He wonders what they've been thinking these last two and a half months, after he just up and vanished with (see: kidnapped by) Slade. They'll understand, though. They'll have to. He never wanted to get dunked in the Pit, never wanted this anger in his head  


  but he has it all the same, and he couldn't go home, couldn't go back to being a hero, before he learned to control himself.

He flips soundlessly off a roof and to the ground below, a grin spreading across his face. Hell, he missed this so much.

They work quickly and quietly, taking out perimeter guards and being careful not to alert anyone inside to their presence. Dick just keeps breathing, keeps himself in check. He sneers at the pieces of shit he takes down, figuring no one's going to fault him for an extra kick or two to the faces of men who think it's ok to kidnap and sell people.

The real fight starts once they're inside.

After spending two and a half months fighting Slade and only Slade, going up against multiple opponents is certainly a shift. It's also laughably easy. These guys, even with their guns, are nothing more than the same two-bit criminals Dick's been fighting since he was nine years old. They might've been smart so far in avoiding getting noticed, but their skills level everywhere else is average at best, and after spending day-in day-out with the Terminator, this is like a walk in the park.

Dick laughs breathlessly as another trafficker goes down, slamming his foot down into the guy's stomach.

"I found where they're keeping the vics," Slade says in his comm. "North wing."

Dick follows the instruction, making his way through the building and taking down anyone he comes across. Soon enough he's in the north wing and steps up beside Deathstroke, going still as his eyes scan the scene in front of him.

There's at least twenty women, some of them bound to beds, others locked up in what could only be described as cages. They look haunted, tired, afraid, hurt.

And then there are the children.

It takes away his ability to breathe for a moment, looking at the group of young boys and girls who are all huddled together, trying to make themselves smaller. Dick sees the bruises on their skin, the clear signs of what they've already been through in their time here. The young faces peer up at him and Slade, some with clear terror, some with tired acceptance, just waiting for whatever pain is about to be doled out, and Dick  

Well, Dick sees green.

He's moving before he's even aware of it, heading down the hallway to check the part of the building neither he nor Slade had been down yet. He hears laughter and speeds up, comes upon what looks like a breakroom, seven men sitting around a table playing poker and drinking beer, having an all-around good time.

They're far enough away from the main branches of the warehouse that they haven't heard the screams of their compatriots.

They're sure as hell going to hear their own.

Everything's a green haze after that, his fists and feet slamming into the worthless scum in front of him, these men who think they have the right to mess with people's lives like this, who take innocent women and children and abuse them.

Dick brings his fist down again and again and again  

And someone catches his arm, halting it in place.

Dick whirls around furiously, ready to take down whatever piece of shit he missed, but it's only Slade, standing behind him with his mask off, expression perfectly calm.

"You got them," Slade tells him, not letting go of his arm. "They're all down. The kids and women are safe. Do you want to call the police?"

Dick stares at him, breathing heavily, and then looks back down to the man he's crouching over. The guy's still, his eyes bruised and swollen, his face covered in blood. His arm's broken, his breathing unsteady and short.

Serves him right, Dick thinks viciously, but as he sits there and breathes, he is unbelievably relieved that the man is breathing. This is probably farther than Bruce would like, but Dick feels viciously satisfied. He hasn't broken the rule, and this man will never harm another person ever again.

Dick sags slightly, taking a few deep breaths, and then gets to his feet. Slade releases his arm and heads towards the door. Dick follows him, swiping up one of the traffickers' phones from the table and dialing 911 to alert the police anonymously to the situation.

Fifteen minutes later and a few rooftops away, Dick watches paramedics look over the victims, wrapping them up in warm blankets and taking them away from the horrors they've endured.

"You did good, kid," Slade tells him, just a few steps behind him on the roof.

Dick considers the words. He says, "I almost beat a man to death."

Slade hums and steps up beside him, one foot raising onto the ledge, his arm bracing against it. "But you didn't."

"Why'd you stop me?" Dick asks, and he's genuinely curious. He's relieved he didn't kill anyone, he can't even begin to describe how relieved he is that he didn't beat a man to death (again, a voice in his head whispers, reminding him of Joker, of how Bruce had to revive him), but he doesn't understand why Slade kept him from doing it. Slade's always wanted him by his side, always wanted him to be his apprentice and kill people, and yet...

"Do you wish I let you finish the job?" Slade asks, and Dick's response is immediate.


"That's why," Slade tells him, simple as that. "If I'd let you keep going, you would've come down from that rage eventually, and you would've seen what you'd done and hated yourself for it. And then hated me for letting you." He looks over and meets Dick's eyes, offering the younger man a smirk. "Kid, if you ever want to cross that line, I am absolutely, 100% here for it. But doing it and then immediately hating yourself?" He tuts. "Where's the fun in that?"

Dick laughs softly, a smile tugging at his lips. "Thank you," he says after a moment. "That was...that felt good, but I don't want..."

"I know, kid," Slade says. "Don't worry   I'm not gonna let you become a killer by accident."

That pulls a snort out of Dick. "How chivalrous of you."

Whatever Slade's going to say in response gets interrupted by the quiet thud of boots behind them, someone having joined them on the roof. Dick and Slade turn simultaneously, Dick's escrima sticks in his hands, Slade's katana coming out of its sheath, but Dick immediately puts his weapons away when he sees who it is.

Dick hasn't really interacted with any of his family in over five months, not since he lost his memory. He's missed them like crazy since the Pit, wanting nothing more than to go home to them and make up for all the time they lost. And now here Jason is, right in front of him, wearing all of his Red Hood gear except for the helmet, and Dick is overjoyed.

"Hood," Dick grins, because he's not so out of practice as to use names in the field, and strides towards his brother to hug him.

Jason watches him approach in something like disbelief, not doing anything to stop him as Dick throws his arms around his little brother, squeezing tightly.

"It's really good to see you," Dick murmurs before pulling back, stepping away to give Jason some room, knowing the younger man isn't as big a fan of physical contact as Dick is.

Jason stares at him for a moment. Dick sees him take in the uniform, Deathstroke behind him, and then his little brother's breath hitches noticeably when he sees the streak of stark white in Dick's otherwise pitch black hair, right over where he was shot.

Jason looks at Slade. "What did you do?" he asks flatly. His hands ball into fists at his sides. "What did you do, Wilson?"

"I believe the phrase you're looking for is thank you, Red," Slade says lazily.

"Thank you?" Jason echoes dangerously, making Dick wince.


"Yes, thank you," Slade reiterates. "I got your brother back, Red. Dick Grayson, whole and here in the flesh. You can't tell me you all were happy with the crapfest that was Ric the Taxidriver. So you're welcome for getting Grayson back."

"You didn't get him back," Jason hisses, "you gave him rabies, is what you did." He turns to look at Dick. "Did you agree to this?" he demands. "Dammit, Dick! You know better than almost anyone that the Pit can really mess a person up   told you about it!"

Dick holds up his hands in surrender. "Don't look at me, I was kidnapped. He broke into my apartment and took me to Infinity Island, then threw me into the water."

Jason sneers at Slade, and while Dick had been hoping for a bit of a happier reunion with his sibling, he has to admit to feeling some satisfaction watching someone else get pissed off at Slade for what he did, since Dick was definitely enraged by it all for a long time.

"Oh, that's great then," Jason snarls, glaring at the mercenary. "You decided to just yeet Dick into the Lazarus Pit, that's just great."

"Never say that again," Dick protests immediately, pointing at his brother. "You are spending far too much time around Tim if you're using that slang. Never say that again."

"Again, I'm not seeing a problem here," Slade says easily. "Would you honestly prefer him the way he was, living that half-life? All of you were miserable, including him. He has his memories back, his skills are in top form   you're splitting hairs here, Red."

"I'm learning to control it, Jay," Dick says quickly, seeing that his brother was gearing up to keep arguing with Slade. "That's why I've been gone these last few months. I've been working on being myself again."

Jason stares at him for a moment, and then he laughs. "Learning control?" he repeats incredulously. "Being yourself again? Oh, Goldie, I can't tell if you really can't see it or if you're being purposefully obtuse."

Dick tenses, narrowing his eyes. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Not even touching upon what you're wearing," Jason begins, his lip curling at Slade's colors on the hero's body, "how about we discuss the state of those men you took down? I saw the guys they carted out   they're all in really bad shape, Dick; some of them might never even wake up again. Many of them are gonna have permanent injuries!"

Dick bristles. "Are you seriously judging me for that? I would've figured you'd be proud of shit like that!"

"Yeah!" Jason shouts. "And that's the goddamn problem, Goldie! You think you're being yourself? A few months ago you would've ripped me a new one for beating criminals as badly as you did tonight. Not even to mention what Bruce would say if he saw you now."

"They're just a bunch of human traffickers," Dick snarls, starting to feel angry. How dare Jason judge him for this, when Jason had done far worse to far more people? "What the hell does it matter if a few of them have a limp for the rest of their lives?"

Jason stares incredulously. "My god, you really don't see it." He takes a deep breath, straightens. "You know what, Dick? I agree with you. In fact, I think you didn't go far enough, should've kept going until those wastes of space weren't a drain on society anymore. Hell, I would've seriously fucking enjoyed ridding the world of them, and in any other circumstance I would be cheering if you said the shit you're saying right now.

"But the you I know, the you all of us know, never would've stood by and let all this happen. Never would've thought having my approval on your methods was a good thing. You would've stood firm in your belief that we don't have the right to dole out punishment like that, that it's up to the courts. Now though? Now, you're standing there and trying to justify your actions to me. This isn't being yourself, Dick. This is being what the Pit made you."

His gaze shifts to Slade and he smirks, an unpleasant little thing. "Well, what the Pit and Deathstroke made you."

Then Jason turns and heads for the edge of the roof, not giving Dick the chance to respond. Not that Dick knows what he would say anyway, his brother's words turning uncomfortably in his head.

"I'll tell the others you're not dead," Jason calls as he shoots out a grapple. "They've been burning themselves into the ground looking for you."

Dick wants to go after him, to try to explain, or even argue some more. He wants to follow him back to Gotham, hug his brothers and his sister and his father, curl up with a cup of Alfred's famous hot cocoa. He wants to go home.

A large hand settles on his shoulder, squeezing comfortingly. "It's time to leave, kid."

He can't go home yet. He's not ready, not strong enough. They won't want him the way he is now, if Jason's reaction is anything to go by. And he doesn't want to deal with more people saying things like that, telling him how messed up he is right now.

He knows he is. He knows. But is it really such a bad thing?

"Yeah," Dick agrees, turning towards Slade, taking his eyes off of Jason's retreating figure. "Let's head out."