Jason wakes to an alarm. Not a the world is ending alarm, but a maybe you should double check alarm. The kind of unpleasant alarm that doesn't demand his attention so much as waves in his general direction.
If he were anyone else, he'd ignore it, but he is the son of Bruce Wayne, and that kind of paranoia runs deep.
He supposes he's happy Joey isn't there to get woken up, but he's not sure the trade off is worth the rest he lost rolling around trying to get to sleep.
He lets out a groan, rolling over to grab his tablet, and very nearly drops it on his face as he turns it on, squinting at the too-bright screen.
It's 3:11 AM according to the tablet, and the alert is that Slade's just left the cave to head into the house.
It's such a non-thing that Jason very nearly rolls over and goes back to bed, but something about the whole thing nags at him, and he stares at the screen a moment longer.
Then it hits him.
There's no Joey and no Damian.
He flicks the tablet screen to pull up the security logs, and the results are clear as day.
Night security mode activated.
3:11 AM: Slade Wilson enters the house via the batcave.
But there's nothing in between.
There's no alert for Slade having actually come home.
Jason sits bolt upright in bed, fingers dancing across the screen as he sends out an urgent alert: be ready, wait for further instructions, no one move. He hesitates, and then skips sending it to anyone in the house, wary of the alarms waking anyone and causing a situation. It's a risky decision, but Bruce is already hurt, and Jason's not sure how much use he'll be anyway.
But he's not going to be stupid about it, either. He drops the tablet onto his bed, reaching over to pull open the drawer to his nightstand. His hand slips inside and presses up against the top, releasing the latch and dropping the secret panel down.
He's got a gun there, but a gun isn't going to do shit against any possible Slade, so he grabs a tranquilizer gun instead. Already loaded. Already ready to go.
He wouldn't be Bruce's son if he wasn't a bit paranoid, and he certainly wouldn't be his son if he wasn't prepared for things like this.
He double checks the tablet for Slade's location—he's in the front entranceway—and then pulls his phone up to his ear, speed dialing Clark as he enters the hallway.
"Clark," Jason says quietly the moment he hears the line pick up. "Emergency, stand by outside and observe. Out of sight."
He hangs up before he gets a response. That's the nice thing about Clark: he doesn't have to worry about things like that. He knows Clark will be nearby, because Clark's never let him down before and he's sure as hell not going to let him down right then.
The house is dead silent as Jason pads down the hallway. He's still in pajamas, which is probably not the gear he should be in to go face any possible version of his father, but even if it isn't his father, he has a hard time imagining that Slade would hurt him. He doesn't want to believe it, even if he knows it's stupid. This Slade doesn't care about him. This Slade is almost a stranger.
But sentimentality wins out over sense, and Jason keeps the tranquilizer gun pointed at the floor.
He catches up to him at the entrance to the guest wing, although it might be more accurate to say Slade catches him. He turns the corner and narrowly misses a blow to the head, jerking backwards as the gun comes up. Slade darts out from around the corner, advancing on him, and Jason falls back as fast as his legs will take him.
"Slade," he says, and Slade does slow, his eye narrowing in the dim light. Jason can only half see him in the darkness, but it's enough. "You don't want to do this."
"I want my son back," Slade says. He's still advancing, closing the distance, but Jason isn't letting him get too close. He needs to keep his distance or Clark's going to knock a wall out to get to them.
"We both know we didn't take him, Slade. He came here of his own free will, and the only thing dragging him back is going to do is make him hate you."
Slade falters, and Jason presses the point.
"He came here to escape. If you want him to do anything other than wish he'd never seen you again, you need to calm the hell down and stop coming at me with a knife."
He's pretty sure it's a knife, anyway. It might be a sword. This Slade doesn't have the suit of armor he did when he first arrived. His gear is standard, probably pulled out of a weapons cache at the last minute. The knife looks like something Jason would get at a military supply store, and the armor looks like something Slade would have worn two decades ago.
"Where is he?" Slade says flatly, and Jason lets out an exasperated sigh, tucking the gun into the waistband of his pants. It's a blatant way of signalling he doesn't consider Slade a threat, practically an insult, and Slade surges forward, grabbing him by the collar of his shirt and hefting him off his feet, his toes dangling.
"Where is my son?" Slade says, his voice dangerously low, and Jason can't fucking believe Clark has the self control required to not fly right in then and there.
"You realize that if you hurt me," Jason says, drawing bravery he didn't know he was capable of, "you won't have a son."
Slade snarls and drops Jason onto his feet. Jason catches himself, but not before Slade grabs the front of his shirt again, shoving him against the wall to keep Jason from going anywhere.
"Use the brain you're supposed to have," Jason spits. "You think I'd have confronted you at all without backup? We clocked Superman - he can get here in a minute." It's a lie. Clark's already there, but Slade doesn't need to know that.
"Takes less than that to kill you."
Maybe thirty feet behind Slade, Jason spots two red pinpricks of light glowing in the darkness.
"You'd be surprised how tenacious I am," Jason says. Definitely a stupid idea to goad the angry Deathstroke in front of him, but he never did have much common sense. "Plus, you've got no reason for it. Now let me go and we can talk this out like adults."
Slade releases him and turns, stalking away. He's angry, visibly seething, but he doesn't punch a wall or anything like that. Instead he paces, reminding Jason of nothing more than a caged tiger.
"Where is he?" Slade asks again, not stopping his pacing at all. He hasn't noticed Clark, invisible in the darkness now that his eyes have stopped glowing.
"Not here," Jason says. "You've got crappy timing, because he's on a trip."
"With my doppleganger," Slade says, and of course he fucking growls as he does it.
Jason rolls his eyes. He thinks he'd probably be more thrown if this was his first time dealing with this particular Slade, but it isn't. He had a few days with him sitting in a cage refusing to cooperate, so he's used to his moods.
His dad was never this temperamental. Not even at his worst.
"Yes," Jason says. "Now let's go sit down and talk this out."
He doesn't wait for Slade to confirm things as he heads for the kitchen, gesturing for him to sit as he digs into the kitchen for something to feed him. There's leftovers, and he pops them into the microwave, annoyed that Slade, of course, won't sit. That would leave him prone.
Frustrating, to say the least.
"This is pointless," Slade says, arms folded over his chest. "Tell me where he is-"
"And what, you'll run over and steal him back? Think things through," Jason says. "There's no way this plays out where you get everything you want. You can't drag him back without making him hate you. Honestly, I don't think you can drag him back at all."
"Is that a challenge?" Slade asks, his hand dropping to the handle of his knife.
"Can be if you want it to be," Jason says. "But you'll lose. I've spent years training with your counterpart. I know all his moves. I know all your moves. And I have a hell of a lot more backup then you do."
He drops a plate of lasagna on the center island and gestures again for Slade to sit.
"It's not poison," he says. "Not that it would matter. Now sit down while I go and grab my father."
Slade shows his teeth again, and Jason just rolls his eyes, heading out of the room into the hallway.
Clark's there. He's got a loose t-shirt and what look like pajama pants on, but the fact that he's floating just above the floor (probably to keep himself quiet as possible) makes it very clear he's ready to fight as needed.
Clark doesn't know ASL, so Jason settles for typing out a quick message, holding it up to show him as he walks.
Keep an eye on him, going to get Bruce.
He's pretty sure Bruce is going to kill him for not having already woken him up, but better late than never.
Bruce wakes with a hand on his shoulder, and his brain goes from nicely sleeping to full awareness in the blink of an eye. Jason's there, still in his pajamas, his face pinched with concern, and Bruce knows immediately that whatever his son has to tell him, he's not going to like it.
He genuinely cannot even imagine a scenario where Jason waking him up this late (or early, he supposes) would be for a positive reason.
"You aren't going to like it."
"I already don't like it," Bruce says, checking the time. Just after three in the morning. His anxiety only gets worse.
"Slade's here," Jason says, and Bruce misunderstands the first time around. He thinks that something happened on the trip, forcing Slade to drive all the way home overnight.
Then he sees the look on Jason's face and understands.
"Fuck," Bruce says as he climbs out of bed, and Jason flinches back like he's been hit at the sound of Bruce actually swearing. Jason's got a tranquilizer gun stuck in the waistband of his pants, which tells him a lot about what's already happened. "Situation?"
"He's in the kitchen," Jason says. "Clark's here to keep an eye on him, but he doesn't know that yet. Thought it would be better if we kept Clark a secret."
"Still asleep," Jason confirms. "I wasn't sure if I should wake him."
"Don't," Bruce says. "But leave a note on his door so he sees it when he gets up. I don't want to scare him, but I also don't want him finding the house empty and getting confused."
"For the record I got him to sit down and maybe eat some food," Jason says. "Got him to understand that if he murdered us—or tried, anyway—Joey wasn't going to ever forgive him."
"Did you call them yet?"
"Not yet," Jason admits. "Wanted to find out what the situation was first."
"I'll call," Bruce says. "But after I've talked to him."
He doesn't think he has time to change, and armor isn't going to make a difference anyway. Instead, he takes his cue from Jason, pulling on a housecoat and leaving himself just in his pajamas as he heads out of the master bedroom towards the kitchen.
He's never seen the other world's Slade before. He's only seen the trail of destruction he leaves behind, the messes he's made of his family and the people he's supposed to care about. But he's seen him. When they got back he sat down and watched through all the security footage. The other Slade had spent most of his time sitting in lockup down in the cave, and they had hours of security footage of him pacing or sleeping or doing anything other than something productive.
He watched it all. He wanted to know the kind of man he was.
But it doesn't prepare him for actually seeing the real thing. He's settled in at the kitchen island, eating lasagna that's still steaming. His eye flicks up when Bruce enters the room, but he doesn't make any sort of aggressive move. He just sits there, taking another bite like he's supposed to be there.
"Slade," Bruce says, already deciding that he's going to have to have a different name. They can't just call him Slade. Slade is his husband, and he's not going to sully his name like that.
"Bruce," he says right back. "You're looking worse for the wear."
Bruce reaches up, rubbing at the fresh pink scar on his cheek. He supposes that he's right. This Slade probably hasn't seen the videos they sent back. He doesn't know that they went public, or what happened at New Arkham. He's terribly, terribly out of the loop.
"I've been better," Bruce says flatly. "You shouldn't have come."
"You have my son. You couldn't have thought I'd just let you keep him."
Bruce wants to say it's a good sign that he still describes Joey as his son, since it means this isn't a revenge thing, but the rest of it...
"We're not keeping him here," he points out. "He chose to come, and he chose to stay."
Slade does not look convinced. He looks just as sour as Bruce expected him to, pushing his plate to the side as he leans towards him.
"He's coming home with me," Slade says.
Bruce has dealt with people like Slade before. He keeps his expression flat, refusing to show anything that Slade might mistake for fear. He's not afraid of him. Not with Clark nearby.
"That would be up to him," Bruce says.
He can't say that he's not. It's not his choice to make. That's Joey's choice to make, even if he doesn't want to believe he'd actually leave.
It would destroy Jason if he did, and Bruce doesn't want to think about it. It's clear to him how attached they've gotten to each other.
"He's coming with-"
"No," Bruce interrupts. "He's not. You seem to be of the opinion that you get some say in this, but you don't. You're here as our guest, and we'll work with you as much as we can to minimize the impact of your arrival here, but if you attempt to kidnap Joey back to your home dimension I will put you down, drag you across the dimensional border, and make sure you never come back."
He has no idea how he'd do almost any of those things (he has the put you down part handled), but he's hoping it won't come to that anyway.
Slade growls, and Bruce rolls his eyes.
"I need to call my husband," Bruce says. "Don't wander off."
He ducks out of the room to find Clark waiting for him, floating just off the ground. Bruce catches himself wishing, not for the first time, that Clark would just learn ASL. It would certainly make things like this easier, so Bruce is forced to text him quickly, only to have Clark shrug at him, apparently having left his phone at home.
"Sorry," he says as he gets clear of the kitchen and hopefully out of earshot. "Thanks for keeping an eye out."
"I'm here until you don't need me," Clark says. "When things are handled here I'll catch up on my beauty sleep." He cracks a smile in a clear attempt to convey that he's joking even while whispering, but Bruce doesn't have the energy to smile back.
"Thank you," Bruce says again. "I need to call Slade. Hopefully he shouldn't take too long to get back here."
Clark nods and floats back towards the kitchen, and Bruce lets himself into his office, closing the door behind him as he dials his husband.
This is going to be one hell of an explanation.
Slade's stopped at a light when his phone goes off, and he reaches out, knocking Damian's hand aside as he hits accept call.
"Put it on speaker," he instructs, turning his attention back to the road as the light goes green. Damian leans forward, doing just that, and when Bruce's voice comes through loud and clear he lets out a small sigh of relief. That's one thing he can officially mark down as not in danger.
"We're here," Slade says. "We're already on our way back, but we're still hours away."
The instruction from Jason was stay in place, but there was no way they were staying in the backwoods motel they'd holed up in. Not when something was happening that implied danger. They'd been in the truck and on the road by 3:15 AM, and the thirty minutes it took to hear from Bruce is absolutely on Slade's list of the most stressful situations he's ever been in.
Bruce grunts on the other end.
"Everyone is fine," Bruce says. "No injuries. Things went better than we thought, but it's good you're already on your way back."
Slade presses the accelerator down just a little bit harder. The road's empty, and the odds of them getting stopped are slim.
Plus, he's pretty sure he could outrun any cop that dared come after them.
"Tell us what's happening," Damian says, and Slade glances up to spot Joey's look of concern in the rear view mirror. The boys have been just as stressed as he is.
He supposes the only real upside to the situation is that they made the choice to pick up Joseph's headstone the night before, rather than waiting for the morning like they'd originally planned. So there's that.
Bruce's lack of answer—it's far from immediate, anyway—sets him even further on edge.
"Slade's here," Bruce finally says, and Slade's grip on the steering wheel titans.
Slade. The other Slade.
"How the hell did that bastard make it over? Is it just him?"
"Just him," Bruce confirms. "He's in the kitchen right now, Jason talked him down from... whatever his original plan was. I think it kind of sputtered when he realized Joey wasn't here."
He's there for Joey. Slade clenches his jaw so hard his teeth are in danger of cracking, and he doesn't trust himself to speak.
Joey's furiously signing, and Slade's eye flicks up to the mirror to watch. He only catches half of it, but the intent is clear enough: he'll fly home. He has the suit.
"Absolutely not," Slade says. "You're not getting within thirty feet of that bastard without me with you."
"What?" Bruce says. "He's already-"
"He was talking with Joey," Damian interjects. "Everything is fine?"
"No one's in any immediate danger. Clark's here keeping an eye on things, but he hasn't attacked anyone yet or anything of the sort."
"Good," Slade says, forcing his jaw to unclench. "Keep Clark there until I get back."
He wants to be there right then. He wants to be with Bruce and Jason and Alfred, not spending another ten hours in the truck.
"Maybe Clark could come pick us up?" Damian suggests.
"That would be fairly noticeable," Bruce points out. "Flying a whole truck."
"I'll abandon the truck if it means getting home faster." Slade says. He hates the idea of Bruce being in the same house as his counterpart. The very idea of it makes his skin crawl.
What about Joseph? Joey signs behind him, and Slade grumbles to himself. Joey's right. They can't just leave the headstone.
"When we hit Pennsylvania, we'll call back," Slade says. "There's too many people around here, but there's a good patch of forest we could use for cover if he wanted to speed this along."
Getting Clark to pick up the truck is a blatant misuse of their friendship, but it's a far less offensive state of affairs then leaving the other Slade to operate at his leisure.
"Alright," Bruce says. "I'm going to go check on him. I love you."
"Be safe," Slade says. "If there's any trouble, I want all of you in the safehouse. Things can be replaced. People can't."
"We'll be careful," Bruce says. "I'll see you soon, alright?"
"Love you too."
Damian reaches over, ending the call for him, and they fall into an uneasy silence.
They don't really talk at all until Slade is forced to stop for gas an hour later, and Slade leans up against the pump, watching the boys as they sit and wait.
"...You doing okay, Joey?"
Fine, Joey signs, which is one of the biggest lies that Slade's ever heard. There's no way he's fine. There's no way anyone could be fine after all that. His fuckbag of a father's apparently found a way to cross dimensions just to chase him down.
"We won't let him take you," Slade says. He wants that to be clear. "If he tries, I'll stop him myself."
"Joey knows that," Damian announces. "Things will be just fine. We'll put the other Slade back into his cell, and we'll contact the other dimension to figure out how to send him back.
Slade has no idea how they're going to do that, but then he also has no idea how the hell his counterpart got there in the first place. The gas seems to be pumping at a glacial place, and he takes the time to watch Joey. He's... clearly distressed, even if he's trying to hide it. Slade can't blame him. He went to a whole different dimension to escape his pop, and now it turned out to be for nothing.
He's not going to let him take Joey. He's not going to let him go back to that.
The gas finishes pumping, and Slade pulls the nozzle out as he finishes up, circling aorund back to the driver's seat.
"Next stop, home," he says. "Or the Superman express if we're lucky."
He hopes they're lucky.
Jason double checks the note across from Alfred's door before returning to the kitchen. Clark is still there, watching from just out of sight, but Bruce isn't there. It's just him and not-Slade, effectively alone again.
"Good food, right?" He says, attempting to make conversation with a man who hasn't even acknowledged him.
A man who, if he's being honest with himself, he hates.
Not-Slade's done too much to Joey for him not to.
Not-Slade grunts at him, which Jason supposes is a yes, and Jason ends up grabbing a seat, pulling it over so he can sit on the other side of the kitchen island from him.
It's weird, in a way. As far as he can tell, Slade and Not-Slade should be around the same age, but there are clear differences in their appearances. Slade's in his sixties and looks like someone who looks really good for being in his sixties, but Not-Slade is... something else. Jason's struggling just to place it, but eventually he decides that Not-Slade has the same sort of timelessness that Ivy seems to. He could pass for forty or fifty most likely, but that's mostly the eyepatch. With a glass eye in, he could pass for thirty easily. He doesn't really look like he's aged, and he's missing the old, well-worn scars that Jason is used to seeing on his dad's face.
"So," Jason says. "Long time no see."
It's been, by Jason's count, more than forty days since Not-Slade was last there. He wishes it had been more.
"I want to see where you've been keeping my son."
"Where we've been keeping him?" Jason asks, trying not to let it show how annoyed he is by the wording. "He's not a prisoner. He has a bedroom."
"I want to see it."
"No. That's his private space, and I'm not letting you dig through it like you own the place."
Not-Slade fixes him with an intense look, but Jason's gotten that sort of look plenty of times, and it takes a lot more than that to scare him.
"No," he repeats.
"I don't see how you can stop me."
"That's because you're monumentally short sighted," Jason says. "You burst in here planning to... what, grab Joey and go home in the span of an hour? It's not going to work like that. Even if it had played out exactly like that, Joey would still have tried to come back. You'd have to have kept doing it."
Joey wouldn't have just left with him. Jason's sure of that.
Not-Slade doesn't respond, and Jason's relieved when Bruce joins them in the kitchen.
"On their way," Bruce says, slipping over to rest a hand on Jason's shoulder. A clear I'm here, do what you need to that Jason can't possibly miss. Brucei s giving him an out if he wants it, but Jason knows there's no way he could possibly get back to sleep with Not-Slade in his house.
"And where is he, exactly?" Not-Slade asks.
"Driving," Bruce says, which is clearly not the answer he was looking for. "He'll be here in a few hours, so you might as well get comfortable."
There's something about Not-Slade's reaction that sets off warning bells in Jason's head. It's so slight, so minute that he couldn't even put it into words, but all his instincts scream at once that there is danger coming.
He reels backwards just as Not-Slade moves. Sitting down is the worst possible position, but even with the kitchen island between them, the danger is too real.
Bruce doesn't even flinch. Bruce is ready for this. He's prepared.
Not-Slade doesn't even make it over the kitchen island. Clark intercepts, still in his pajamas, catching Not-Slade's fist out of the air.
Which seems wrong to Jason. It seems wrong because it's so... so pointless. Attacking Bruce isn't going to do anything. Even if he had a weapon, and even if he didn't know about Clark, it's still a monumentally stupid move. It's still two against one in their own house. They still know all his tricks. They have access to safe rooms and weapons and backup that he doesn't.
"Wrong move," Clark says, scowling down at Not-Slade.
"You would think," Not-Slade says, and then he spins around, faster than Jason can blink, and stabs Clark in the chest.
It should be nothing. It should be nothing, because Clark is invulnerable. He's never once been hurt in his life.
But when Clark looks down, blinking in confusion at the blood welling from the knife—or not even a knife, but something else, some kind of green rock—Jason's brain goes into full panic mode.
He's not the only one.
Clark stumbles backwards and Jason dives for him, keeping him from toppling entirely. It's completely unknown ground, and Jason has absolutely no fucking idea what he's doing. He can only guess, going on instinct, and his instinct says green rock bad, so he reaches down, pulling it out of Clark's chest.
It isn't very big—a few inches long and fairly narrow—but seeing Clark bleed at all feels terrifying. It's wrong. It shouldn't be happening.
"Get it away," Clark croaks, and Jason doesn't have time to worry about the fight happening behind him as he bolts out of the room, the rock in hand.
His first instinct is to toss it outside, but anything that can actually hurt Clark is too dangerous to be left anywhere else, so instead he bolts down into the cave, tossing it as far as it will go before heading right back up the stairs. His mind is running a mile a minute, reacting before he even has time to think about things, and when he bursts back into the kitchen he slams to a halt.
Clark's still on the floor, but it's not Clark that Jason's worried about. It's Bruce.
Bruce who's bleeding from a split lip, clearly panting in pain as Not-Slade presses a gun to his temple, his other hand pressed over Bruce's mouth to keep him from calling out.
"Think things through," Not-Slade says, turning Jason's words against him.
Bruce could die. He could die right then and there and nobody would be able to help him. Clark's still on the floor. There's no way any of his boys could get there fast enough (and Jason's terrified that he'd even have to make a decision about whether they could risk it). Bruce looks like he just took several blows more than he should have been taking, and with no armor and no gear...
"What do you want?" Jason asks, and the words feel like ash in his mouth.
He made a mistake. He shouldn't have trusted that this Slade would be anything like his own. He should have known how dangerous he could be, and how wily. He wouldn't have come not prepared to fight for Joey.
"You're going to take the tranquilizer gun and shoot your father," Not-Slade says. "Then you're going to shoot yourself."
Which leaves them both helpless and entirely at his mercy.
"You'll just kill both of us."
"You said it yourself," Not-Slade says. "If I hurt you, I'll never get him back. You'll both be just fine, but it makes things a lot easier if I don't have to worry about you for a little bit. Now get to it."
Jason knows Bruce is telling him not to. Even with a hand over his mouth, his eyes are screaming run, you idiot!
But there's no way Jason can leave him there. There's no way he can just let Not-Slade hurt him.
He just has to trust that everyone else will figure out a way to fix things. He just has to count on the fact that murdering the pair of them isn't going to get Not-Slade any closer to getting what he wants.
"Sorry," Jason says as he shoots Bruce in the thigh. Not-Slade doesn't let go even when Bruce goes completely limp, watching as Jason loads a second dart.
He can't even risk trying to shoot Not-Slade with it. The dart isn't fast acting enough, and it would only take a half a second for Not-Slade to pull the trigger.
He wants to say something else. He wants to remind Slade of the possible consequences of what he's doing. But it's already too late for that, and he can't drag it out any longer.
He just has to hope as he shoots himself in the thigh, leaning against the wall so he won't just fall over and hurt himself.
He's not even convinced it'll matter.
Lois is going to kill him. It's not the first time Clark has left his phone unlocked before going to bed, but it's absolutely going to be the last. Lois is too light a sleeper to tolerate the ridiculously bright phone that Clark picked out, and the fact that he can never remember to just leave it facing down is killing her.
She groans, rolling across the bed to grope at his nightside table for the phone, but she doesn't even manage to grab it before she's awake enough to register that something's wrong.
Clark isn't in bed.
"...Clark?" She calls, sitting upright, but there isn't any response.
Fantastic. Just what she needs: a crisis at four in the morning.
She grabs his phone, punching in Clark's passcode, and her stomach drops when she sees the most recent message. It's quick and simple, almost painfully direct.
- Wilson-Wayne: Be ready. Wait for instructions. Hold in place.
Which means something's gone wrong. Something's gone wrong almost an hour ago, and she's slept through the whole thing.
"Boys!" She yells, and there are a series of barely audible thumps that mean everyone's up. She hops out of bed, taking just long enough to step into her slippers before Jon pulls open the door, popping his head in.
"Mom?" He asks, just as three identically faces lean in over him.
"Something happened at Wayne Manor," she says. "Your father went over almost an hour ago and doesn't have his phone."
"Got it-" Jon says, already pulling away, but she isn't going to let them handle things like that. They can't rush into it. She's not a batman class vigilante or anything like that, but she can manage some organization.
"Stay in groups of three," she instructs. "No one goes anywhere alone. Take your phones with you, call if you find anything. I'm going to call and see if I can figure out what's going on."
She's already dialing the house line for Wayne manor, but isn't surprised when no one picks up. She watches out the window as the boys fly off, chewing at her lip.
Who does she call? Bruce and his family are the people she's supposed to call in case of an emergency, and she carefully cycles through numbers trying to get someone to pick up. Jason doesn't pick up. Bruce doesn't pick up. She gets to Slade before anyone does, and when he picks up she lets out a sigh of relief.
"Oh thank god," she says. "I was starting to worry."
If Slade's picking up, then everything's fine.
"What happened?" Slade asks, and there's an edge to his voice that catches her off guard.
"Is Clark with you?"
There's a noise of distress that seems so unlike Slade that it practically makes her head spin, but things only become clear when he hears Slade say something so softly the phone barely registers it that sounds a lot like It'll be fine.
Someone's with him.
"No," Slade says. "I'm with Damian and Joey. Clark was with Bruce when he called me around thirty minutes ago. Are they not picking up?"
Lois does not have room to panic. She doesn't have time to think about the worst case scenarios. In a crisis situation, the only option she has is to put all those fears in a box and refuse to look at them until it's safe.
"No," she confirms. "I already called the manor, Bruce, and Jason. None of them picked up. Clark isn't here, and-"
Clark's phone rings and Lois nearly drops it in her frantic scramble to answer. But when she looks at the screen, her heard sinks, and she declines the call.
"I have his phone," she clarifies, and she hears Damian say something particularly violent in Arabic. "I sent the boys to look."
"It's the other Slade," he says, and she hesitates, confused. He's not supposed to be there.
"Didn't he go home?"
"He came back," Slade says, his voice hardly more than a growl. "We need to get there as soon as possible, but we're still hours away-"
Slade cuts off, saying something to the side, and Lois catches enough of the conversation to get the idea that Slade's stopping someone from doing something stupid.
"Sorry," he says when his attention turns back to the phone. "Call people. I need to focus on driving. Tell me what you find out."
He hangs up, and Lois stares out the window as she flips through Clark's contacts. She selects B. Allen, pulling the phone up to her ears as she leads herself through a nice, calming breathing exercise.
"Hullo?" Barry answers, sounding half asleep.
"Barry, it's Lois," she says, trying to sound as formal as she can. "We have a situation up here. Bruce and Jason aren't answering, and Clark went to help them but hasn't come back. Slade and the boys are on the road. Can you pick them up?"
"Got it," Barry says, sounding a whole lot more awake. "I'll rendezvous with them. You know where they are?"
"Not the slightest," she admits. "Just look for the fastest moving car on the northeast, because I'm pretty sure Slade's going to hit one-fifty."
If not more. She's pretty sure Slade's car is in serious danger of shaking itself apart as he speeds back home.
"Got it," he says. "See you soon."
She hangs up, unable to tear her eyes off the pinpricks of light in the distance that she's sure must be Wayne Manor.
It isn't more than a few minutes before Blue returns, clearly breaking her no one goes anywhere alone rule.
"What happened?" She asks, pulling open the window so he doesn't have to go around.
"Uhm-" Blue blurts, clearly struggling for words. He's distressed. He's not once been in a crisis situation in his admittedly short life, and he's clearly out of his element. "We found dad - he's hurt, but I think he's getting better?"
Hurt. Clark can't be hurt. Lois is pretty sure it's literally impossible to hurt him, so the fact that he's hurt...
"What about the others?"
"We found Mr. Wayne tied up," he says. "He's asleep. Alfred was there too, but he was still in his room and he seemed fine? Jon said I should come back and tell you."
That's almost all of them.
But almost isn't enough.
"What about Jason? Was there anyone else in the house?"
"No, it's just the two of them," Blue says, although he doesn't look certain.
"Go tell them to search the house. Make sure they look everywhere, and wake up Alfred!"
Lois can feel her stomach sinking as Blue turns away, flying back towards the manor. She still has calls to make. She needs to call Steve and Diana and... who even knows who else. Is Hal in the vicinity? Is there a point in calling Roy when he's so far away?
There's too many things to do, and she feels like she's doing them all late.
The absolute last thing Alfred expects to ever wake up to is Jon Kent floating in the air above him. Having him directly above him does make it a bit less terrifying (he has certainly seen Jon enough to not be overly startled by him flying around), but doesn't make it any less disorienting.
Because Jon's in his room, for one thing.
"...Mr. Kent?" He asks, feeling slightly silly for making an effort to be polite even when the normal rules of decency have so clearly been tossed out the window.
"I'm supposed to wake you up," Jon says. He sounds... solemn, which is not an emotion that Alfred is used to hearing from him. "Something bad happened, but we don't really know what, but you really need to get up."
It's not what Alfred wants to hear, but he has weathered more crises than any one person ever should, and he rises from bed with as much dignity as he can manage, fetching his housecoat and slippers.
"You had better explain what happened while we walk," Alfred says, "and quickly."
"Dad got a call from Jason asking for help, so he came over, but that was almost an hour ago and no one had heard from him, so mom sent us over," Jon explains, floating beside them as he exits his bedroom. "Bruce is unconscious on the floor, and I left Ore and Yen with him. Ren took the others and they're searching the house."
Alfred can't hide his shock.
"And your father?"
"He's-" Jon hesitates, and Alfred is having a hard time determining if the pause is from confusion or anxiety. "He got hurt, but I think he's getting better."
The idea of Clark Kent somehow managing to get hurt is a distressing one.
"You should go wake Master Jason," he says. "He'll need to-"
"We can't find him!" Jon blurts out, immediately covering his mouth with his hands. "Sorry, we - we looked, but I think he's gone."
Alfred feels an almost overpowering need to just sit down. To just sit down and not deal with things at all. But he doesn't have that option. Things need doing. He needs to check on Master Bruce. He needs to make sure that Jon's father isn't dying on the floor. And most of all he needs to find Jason.
"Jon!" Gar yells, flying down the hallway towards them. He sounds absolutely panicked. "Something's happening and I don't know what we're supposed to do!"
There's no real time for an explanation. Gar grabs Jon's sleeve and hauls him down the hall. The cave door's open, and he stops at the top as Alfred runs to catch up, hearing only part of the conversation.
"-Ren fell down," Gar finishes. He's clearly panicking, and even though Jon is visibly younger than him, it's obvious he's looking to Jon for advice. He's the one who's dealt with things like this before. He certainly hasn't.
"I'll grab him-" Jon says, starting down the stairs, but he wavers, bobbing in a way that Alfred doesn't like.
Alfred reaches out, grabbing the back of Jon's shirt, and pulls him back up.
"Oh no," he says. The curve of the staircase hides what's happening in the cave from him, but he's not letting Jon go down there when something bad is happening. "You stay here. I'm going down."
Whatever is happening feels deeply time-sensitive, and while his instinct is to check on Bruce, he already has people with him. The boys, on the other hand, don't.
He descends the stairs as Jon and Gar stay at the top, waiting for the impact to hit him. He's expecting some kind of poison, and he pulls his shirt up to cover his mouth in a poor attempt at a filter.
To his surprise, he feels just fine as he reaches the bottom of the staircase. Ren is there, and there's no question that he's in pain. He's twisting in place, retching, and he looks absolutely soaked with sweat. There's nothing obvious about the situation that explains the symptoms, but Alfred's willing to take a bet on them being caused by something in the cave, so he hooks his arms under Ren's armpits, pulling him upright.
He's not as strong as he used to be, and Ren feels more like a sack of potatoes than a fully aware human.
"Here you go," Alfred says quietly as he starts to haul him up the stairs. "Let's get you upstairs..."
To his continued surprise he makes it up to the hallway without collapsing or feeling any more winded then he should considering he's lifting a particularly bulky teenager, and he hands Ren off to Jon, watching him carefully for a reaction. He doesn't see one, which tells him that whatever's happening is down in the cave.
He makes a snap decision, sealing the cave door, and shakes his head. He'll have time for that later.
"Take me to Master Bruce," he says, and Gar leads the way as Jon carries his sick brother along with him.
The kitchen is a disaster.
Clark's lying on the floor showing symptoms that look suspiciously like those Ren are displaying, and there's blood all over his chest. Even so, he's clearly breathing and at least partially conscious, and the same can't be said of Bruce. The ropes binding him have been removed, but he's clearly still unconscious, and Alfred bends down, pressing a finger to his throat to take his pulse.
"We found this," Ore says, holding up a tranquilizer dart that Alfred recognizes as one of the ones the family uses. Alfred breathes a sigh of relief when he sees it. If he was knocked out by a dart, that means there won't be any lasting side effects, and the same can't be said of what would have happened if he'd taken a blow to the head.
Alfred doesn't get to do much more than a cursory check for injuries when the front door slams open so loudly that he's fairly sure it's just been taken off its hinges.
"WHERE IS HE?" Yells Slade, and Alfred winces at how loud he's being.
"Kitchen!" Jon yells, and Slade makes it in record time.
Alfred has absolutely no idea how Slade managed to get back too quickly, and while initially he's happy that he's home, that joy turns to frustration. Slade is beside himself. He's practically frothing with anger as he falls down to his knees, scooping up Bruce and hugging him to his chest.
"I'm going to kill him," Slade mutters, his anger palpable. "I don't care what Bruce says, I'm going to-"
"Slade," Alfred says with all the dignity he can muster. "You were a professional for years, and now I ask you to be professional again. I know you are concerned, but Master Jason is still missing, and you must put aside your anger until he's safely back with us."
It has the desired effect. Slade's obviously still seething, but he's seething with purpose.
"Joey and Damian will be here in a minute," he says. "I'm going to pull the security tape. Take care of Clark and Bruce."
"There's something bad in the cave!" Jon yells. "It - I think it made Ren sick."
Slade double takes, and Alfred realizes he hadn't even noticed Ren in his focus on his unconscious husband.
"I'll check it out," Slade says quickly. "Make sure everyone's been called and know what's happening."
He charges out of the room, a man on a mission, and Alfred turns his attention to the injured. Right then, there's nothing he can do for Jason, and he needs to focus on the people he can help.
He just hopes that Jason is alright.
They expect Slade's rage. Slade's rage is clear and understandable. His home was invaded, his husband intact, his son stolen. His rage is expected.
They do not expect Joey's rage. He doesn't show it in the same way Slade does, doesn't growl and pace. He simply is, perfectly still and perfectly quiet.
But the rage is there. The rage is right there, right below the surface, waiting to boil over.
Joey thinks Damian sees it. He can tell because Damian seems to inch away from him, looking almost nervous while they wait. Barry's already taken Slade, and it won't be more than a few minutes before he comes back for them.
Damian doesn't try and talk. There's nothing to talk about. Nothing they could possibly say that would make the situation any better.
Barry screeches to a halt beside them, and Damian lets out an audible sigh of relief.
"Alright," Barry says, talking so quickly Joey can barely understand him. "I think I can take both of you, but it'll be a bit wobbly, so hold on tight. When I drop you off I'm going to run back and get this truck off the road, alright? I'll... I don't know, drive it to the nearest police station and get them to hold it."
"Let's go," Damian says impatiently. "We needed to have been home an hour ago."
Getting picked up by Barry is just as awkward as it sounds, but anything that will let them get there faster is good. Joey's already peeled off his clothes to give him full access to the ikon suit, but there's no way he can fly as fast as Barry can run. In the end, they're forced to improvise, and Barry carries Damian as he tows Joey along, the suit making him effectively weightless and protecting him from the inevitable drag that comes with running as fast as Barry does.
He uses that to slingshot him into the house when Barry stops in front of the manor. He doesn't wait for Damian, just sails on in, the anger boiling in his gut.
Jason's not there.
What happened? He signs to one of the clones—he can't even tell which one through his anger—and feels nothing but frustration when it's clear they don't understand.
"He's asking what happened!" Damian says as he runs in the front door. "What's going on?"
"Bruce and dad and Ren are in the kitchen, and they're all hurt or sick," the boy says. "And, uh, everyone's running around figuring it out."
"Jason?" Damian asks, and the boy's awkward squirm tells Joey everything he needs to hear. He brushes past him on the way to his kitchen, his heart hammering in his chest.
Slade isn't there, but Alfred and the injured are. Bruce looks like he's taken a brief beating, the damage clear but not excessive. He's unconscious but otherwise seems fine, while Clark looks like he's healing slowly. He looks feverish, the blood on his chest a sure sign of how bad things are. The other clone beside him—Ren, apparently—looks similarly feverish.
Jason? He signs, because he can't make himself not ask. He has to know for sure.
"Missing," Alfred says. "Slade is checking the security footage, but I need you to find out what's happening down in the cave. Something down there is making Clark and his boys ill."
Kryptonite? He signs, and Alfred looks absolutely baffled, so he fingers spells it and gets a second look of confusion. I'll look, he signs instead, because it's clear he's getting nowhere.
He doesn't want to look. He wants to take to the sky and fly until he gets to wherever Jason is, but he knows it's a stupid idea. He doesn't know where he is. He can't just fly at random. He needs to know where he went.
He goes down to the cave anyway. He feels like he's sleepwalking, doing things without really processing them. Jason could be hurt. Jason could be dying.
Slade's down in the cave, working through footage, and Joey doesn't let him look as he searches the cave. He finds it near the back, picking it up off the floor and finding himself at a loss for what to do with it as he doubles back towards Slade, tapping him on the shoulder.
Slade spins and growls from pent up agitation, but he softens when he spots Joey.
"Sorry," he mutters hastily. "On edge. What's up?"
Need a lead box, Joey signs. This is poisoning the Kryptonians.
"Poisoning?" Slade asks, inspecting the shard in Joey's hand.
Kryptonite, Joey signs, making sure to sign it both ways. It stops their powers and makes them sick. It will kill them if they're exposed long enough.
Slade's face pinches with concern, and he gets up, heading to a storage room.
It's not like they just have a lead box handy, but Slade retrieves an old ammo box and some lead sheeting out of storage, fixing up a makeshift box as Joey drops the Kryptonite inside.
Joey doesn't feel any better. He knows he should, because they've made the situation a little bit better, but he doesn't. The anger's still there. The frustration.
This happened because of him. It's his pop that's doing it.
He doesn't even see the hug coming until it's already happening, Slade pulling him tight against his chest.
"We'll figure this out," Slade says. "We'll get him back."
Joey's pretty sure he's trying to reassure himself as much as he's trying to reassure Joey.
Jason wakes to a nightmare.
There's no other way to describe it, no other term that could possibly summarize the situation as it stands. His arms are bound behind his back to the chair he's sitting on. His ankles are tied down too. He isn't gagged, but that isn't a mercy because he knows it means he wants to hear the screams.
He dreamed it. That's what his brain says: that he dreamed it, that it was all a dream, that he's still down below Arkham. He knows it's wrong (the room is different, there aren't any pictures of Tim and Bruce on the walls, he's older and wiser), but it doesn't feel wrong.
It feels right.
He can't breathe right. Each breath comes in short and fast even as he fights down the urge to vomit. He can't think. Can't speak. It's too real, and as he strains against his bonds all he can think is not again.
The panic isn't a wave washing over him. The panic is a riptide, dragging him out to sea. There's no way he sees to get back, and no way to get himself under control. He knows that someone's there—they're standing right in front of him, cursing and saying something—but he can't focus on anything. He can't think.
He's crying and hyperventilating and a fucking mess. It's happening again or maybe it's still happening and he can't even process what's happening as he squeezes his eyes shut. He doesn't want to see. He can't see. If he looks at the room he's going to vomit or pass out or something terrible, and he still can't breathe.
"I need you to breathe."
He can't. He can't breathe. He can't make himself stop, can't slow down. Every breathing exercise Hudson's ever taught him (that was real he tells himself, over and over again) seems to fail utterly in the face of this.
It can't happen again. He can't do this again. He's not strong enough to do it all over again.
"Kid," someone says, and then a pair of arms wrap around him, pulling him close. "You need to calm down."
The voice is right. The voice is right and familiar and good, and he buries his face in the shoulder in front of him in a desperate effort to see less of the room.
There's no calming down. There's only putting it off. Not while he's in the room under Arkham. Not while he's still tied up.
He loses focus for a while. He's not getting enough air, and he's reluctant to focus on what's going on around him. It's easier to just slip away and stop processing anything at all. He doesn't quite fall asleep—although he might have lost consciousness a few times—but instead simply stops responding.
When he comes to, it's to someone pinching at his arm, the sharp pain drawing him out of his own head as he flinches, pulling back. To his immense confusion, whatever he's sitting on is soft, and his hands are free.
"Wha-?" He mumbles, trying to get his bearings. He still feels fuzzy around the edges, but the worst of it has ebbed.
Slade's there, or at least Jason thinks he is until his brain catches up and he realizes that it's not Slade. It's his counterpart, the double from the other dimension, the similarities barely there.
"You back with me?" Not-Slade asks, his arms crossed over his chest. He looks agitated, and when Jason looks around he realizes he's in... a motel. A really shitty motel, if he was going to guess.
"I... what?" Jason asks, looking back at him again.
The kidnapping, right. Bruce. The gun to his head.
"Taking that as a not really," Not-Slade says, pushing a water bottle into his hands. Jason feels beyond dehydrated, tipping his head back as he chugs it. He gets through half before he coughs, having to stop as he catches his breath.
Slade - Not -Slade is still standing over him, watching his every move. Hovering. But more than that, simply observing, like he's expecting Jason to do something.
Jason doesn't have the energy to do anything except keep living right then.
"I think you had a panic attack," Not-Slade says like the world's biggest idiot.
"To be a panic attack, it can't have a reason," Jason says, drinking from the bottle again. He doesn't care if it's drugged. If anything, he'd prefer if it was. He feels like absolute trash.
"Listen," Not-Slade says as if he's the one in the shitty situation, "this isn't going the way I expected. Why don't we just talk this out."
"Slade, you kidnapped me and made me relieve my absolute worst nightmare. You can go fuck yourself."
It's not bravery. It's just full up exhaustion. He's tired. He doesn't have the emotional energy required to put up with Not-Slade's bullshit.
"That wasn't the point of this-"
"I really do not give a shit," Jason snaps, finishing off the water bottle and shoving the empty bottle in Not-Slade's direction. He takes it, tossing it effortlessly into the trash with barely more than a glance.
"I realize that," Not-Slade says. "All I want is my son back."
"And you're never going to get him back," Jason says. It's stupid to goad him. There isn't a damn thing he can do against Slade like this. He has no idea where he is, he has no equipment, and he feels about as athletic as a limp noodle.
But fuck him if he thinks for a second that he's leaving with Joey.
"He'll see reason," Not-Slade says.
"After everything that you've done to him, why the everloving fuck do you think that kidnapping his boyfriend and sending every hero in the country into a frenzy would help him see reason, you colossal jackass?"
Not-Slade squints at him, and Jason realizes he probably didn't even know.
"Are you telling me that you're also dating my son?" Not-Slade asks, looking incredulous. "Why is everyone dating Joey?!"
"I'm going to bed," Jason announces. "I feel like fucking shit, I don't want to sleep through Slade tearing you apart."
He ignores Not-Slade, crawling under the covers and slumping down into the bed. He feels like death warmed over, and all he wants to do is sleep. He can't imagine it'll be long before everyone kicks the door in, and he'd rather sleep until then.
Dick is not taking second chances. You don't take second chances when lives are on the line, and you sure as hell don't take them when someone in your family might be getting killed right that moment. The moment he gets the call, he kicks the whole damned team awake, they pile into the car, and he makes it to Gotham in record time.
It's just before five in the morning when he pulls into the manor. Every light in the place is on, and there's more cars parked out front than Dick's seen in years.
His team has gear on, but he sure doesn't, which would probably be a terrible idea if he had enough energy in him to care.
"What's going on?" Dick asks as he heads in the front door, which has been left wide open. He even thinks it might be off the hinges a bit, but he doesn't have the time to stop and look.
He nearly runs into Diana in full battle gear, and she turns to look over his team as they enter.
"Bruce is recovering in the living room," Diana says with the tone Dick's used to associating with Batman. "Flash should be here with Arsenal shortly. Superman and his people are searching the city."
"Damian is with his father. Slade is down in the cave, I believe."
"What do we need to be doing?" Dick asks. "Just point. Do we have any leads on Jason?"
"Could you get some of your people to man the gates? We're expecting more people to arrive shortly, and we can't keep stopping to handle the gates."
Dick doesn't ask who's coming. Instead, he asks a better question.
"Who should we not expect?"
"J'onn, Steve and Arthur are occupied," Diana says. "Everyone else should be arriving soon."
That leaves a lot of people.
"Z, Shug, handle the gate," Dick says. "You've got the communicators I gave you, right?"
Z flashes him a thumbs up before turning, heading back towards the gate to handle things as Dick turns back to Diana.
"Has anyone told Gordon?" He asks. "He's still chief of police."
"He's been briefed," Diana says. "Obviously he's limited in what he can do. The last thing we want is to have to explain who the other Slade is."
"Dick," Slade says as he rounds the corner. He doesn't even stop, just pulls Dick into a crushing hug as he keeps right on walking. "I need someone to watch through the footage again in case I missed anything."
"They can handle it," Dick says automatically. "Dre knows how to use the computer already."
"It's already pulled up," Slade says with a quick glance. "You can just hit spacebar and start watching. Yell if you have any idea where he's going."
"Did he take the suit?" Dick asks as he's towed along towards the living room.
"He didn't. Missed it and the sword. He was in a hurry to leave."
"That could be good or bad," Dick says. "What are we doing to find him?"
"Barbara's staying at home and using her resources to try and find any leads," Slade says as they enter the living room, and Dick finally lays eyes on his father.
Bruce looks worse for the wear.
He's got a split lip and the start of some bruises, but worst of all is how broken down he looks. He's taking it hard, and Damian's glued to his side, his arms wrapped tight around him to make sure Bruce has someone with him.
"Dick," Bruce says, his voice cracking. "Any news?"
"We're going to find him," Slade says. "When Barry gets here we can add another to the search team. He'll be able to cover ground the fastest."
"If we don't find him by sun-up we're going to have to get the police involved. There's no way we'll be able to cover this up," Dick points out. He's already not sure how well they'll be able to cover it up. Batman just went missing. Hell, Batman just got kidnapped by the evil counterpart of a member of the Justice League.
"If we had the public searching-" Dick starts, but Bruce cuts him off.
"What if he's already dead?" Bruce asks, and everyone goes dead silent.
"He's not," Damian says simply. "We're going to get him back."
Dick can't tell if it's confidence or stubbornness, and decides it doesn't even matter.
"He's coming back to us in one piece," Dick announces. "We've got the best and brightest in the whole world. We're-"
"I'm here!" Tim announces, bursting through the living room entranceway. "Diana said you were in here."
"I was just saying that we're going to find him," Dick says, already frustrated with having to constantly try and keep people coordinated. "We need Barbara to start tracing his movements."
"She was," Tim says. "She called on the way over. Wherever he went, it wasn't into downtown Gotham, and it's not like everywhere else has cameras."
Fuck. Dick wracks his brain for options. He's never been one to sit down and wait it out.
"Ivy," he blurts. "We could go to Ivy. If he's hiding in the woods-"
Ivy's going to demand a payment. She always does.
Right then, he doesn't care.
"Who's going?" Slade asks. "Who's coordinating?"
"I haven't spoken to Ivy since she set up shop there," Dick says. "Jason's the one who always met with her, so I'll stay here and coordinate." He's confident he can at least do that. He's on good terms with basically everyone, and with his team his main job is coordinating. It feels like familiar ground.
"Joey met her," Slade says. "Where's he?"
They exchange glances, and it quickly becomes obvious that no one has any idea where he is, so Dick pulls out his communicator, popping it into his ear and tapping it with a finger.
There's a moment of silence on the line.
"Jericho, please respond."
"Does he not have a communicator?" Slade mumbles right as the line clicks to life.
"Currently searching," Jericho says, and Dick winces.
"We have a job for you, if you're up for it."
"Just tell me what to do."
He sounds... robotic. Almost mechanical.
The whole thing is a fucking disaster.
"Ivy might be able to help us locate them if they're hiding in a more rural area. You're the only one who's talked with her at all, so-"
"On my way," Joey says.
Dick winces, releasing the communicator as he glances back to Bruce.
"...I'm going to go grab a spot in the cave," he says. "I'll keep you guys in the loop if we hear anything."
He nearly runs into Roy on his way to the cave, with Barry close behind. Roy's in full gear, his bow strapped to his back, and he looks read to crack heads.
"What do I need to do?" He asks automatically, and Dick appreciates that they're not dragging it out.
"Flash, can you just start patrolling the city? Look for anything unusual, radio in if you find it. Arsenal-"
Barry's gone before he can even finish speaking. "-could I get you to be listening on the police scanners for anything suspicious? I'm sure you know the terminology."
"Got it," Roy says. "You have a scanner?"
"Down in the cave," Dick confirms. "This way."
Dick nearly stops at the kitchen—the smell of Alfred furiously cooking up a storm is mouthwatering—but carries on.
He has too much to do, and not nearly enough time to do it.
From the air, it's painfully easy to find Ivy's home. Old Gotham is a slowly degrading reck, but one part of it has been almost completely reclaimed by nature, the old buildings all but hidden. He remembers visiting back when he first arrived, remembered how strange it seemed (even for someone who had seen so much).
It doesn't feel strange then as he turns, flying towards it at top speed. He aims for the center, logic holding that it's the most likely place to find her, but he doesn't get a chance to settle down. Instead, the forest rises to meet him, seeming to lift to meet him.
Thinking of it is a forest is wrong, he realizes. Ivy's home has precious little in common with the kind of forest that dots the surrounding states. No, this is a jungle, the canopy thick and lush and dotted with vines that seem to want to wrap Joey in their tender embrace.
His instinct is to avoid them. With the suit, he's agile enough to dodge around them and stay just out of their grasp.
But the one and only time he met this world's Poison Ivy, Jason gave in to her attack. He let himself be lured in so that he could speak with her.
He's not sure he has another choice. He doesn't have the time he would need to search through her area, especially not while dodging her plants. Instead, he lets himself be grabbed, thick vines binding around him and dragging him down.
The suit won't let them crush him, but it's still a claustrophobic experience being dragged down beneath the canopy. It isn't helping his anger, and mentally he just tells himself over and over again that this is needed. He is needed. This is something only he can do to find Jason, asking someone that almost no one else has met. He just has to hold it together. He just has to talk it out with her and move on.
Getting dragged down is deeply, deeply unpleasant just the same, and when the vines start to pull his mask down he starts to struggle, straining against them and getting almost nowhere.
"If it isn't babybat's little blond friend," Ivy's voice calls from nowhere, and it takes a few seconds before she appears to accompany it, the plants around her seeming to simply spit her forth. "How unexpected."
It's then that the flaw of his plan becomes apparent, because Ivy cocks her head, waiting for a response he can't give her. He tilts his head back, trying to get the mask low enough to show his throat, but he can't get it low enough. His hands are pinned by the vines, and he doesn't have time to sit around and hope Ivy realizes he's not ignoring her.
So he improvises.
He stares at Ivy and then, in a blink, he is Ivy. He watches his own body go limp and reaches out, gesturing for the plants to gently set himself down. Even as he does, he feels Ivy's arm twitch as she fights for control, clearly aware unlike so many of the people he's hijacked before.
"Calm down," he says in her voice, with her mouth. He isn't sure if she can hear. "Jason's in trouble, and I don't have time to figure out how to talk with you."
In someone else's body, he has access to all the skills they do. He has access to their powers, even if it's in a strange way. Inside Ivy's body he reaches out, spreading himself across the plant life that rings Gotham, and finds the experience strange and confusing.
It's like hopping bodies. It's like hopping bodies from plant to plant, and it's not going to work. He can't just individually check with each plant, which means he must be doing it wrong.
"I need your help," he says, fairly sure she can hear him. "I need to find Jason."
He looks up, making eye contact with his limp body, and makes the quick hop back.
The vines tighten again almost immediately, and to his horror one of the vines wraps around his head, blocking his line of sight.
Ivy's mad, no question about it, but then so is he.
He uses his one free arm to reach up, furiously finger-spelling at her in the hopes that she knows ASL.
We don't have time for this, he spells, and feels the vines slack.
"You should have started with that," Ivy says, and there's a moment's pause. "Although I suppose that would have been difficult with your arms pinned... Perhaps a phone might be handy?"
The vines around him loosen, letting him dig for his phone, and he hears Ivy move closer, his eyes still blinded. He's forced to sync to his phone completely blind, listening to the audio cues and relying purely on muscle memory. He's half convinced he's screwed it up when it finally syncs, and he's relieved to hear the voice he's come to think of as his through the speaker.
"This would have been easier if you hadn't tried to crush me," he says, but pushes away that anger. He doesn't have time for that kind of sourness.
He only has time for the sort of anger that gets things done.
That's the only thing that matters right then.
"So what's this about the babybat being in trouble?" Ivy asks. "And why should this concern me?"
"You said you wanted to stay on good terms with Bruce," Joey argues. They don't have time for this. They don't have time for this but he has no choice other than to try and force her cooperation. "If something happens to Jason and you didn't help when you could have, he'll never forgive you."
There's a hmm of contemplation, and the vines around him loosen. For the first time in a while, he's standing on his own two feet rather than being held in place by the crushing force presented there.
"What am I looking for, then?" Ivy asks. "I expect you to tell him I helped."
"I'll tell him," Joey says. "Jason was taken from the manor two hours ago. We don't know where he went from there, but we don't think it was in Gotham. We know they left on foot."
"Hmmm," Ivy says again, and Joey hears the creak of what sounds like a tree. He has no idea what she's doing or how she's doing it, but as the seconds tick by his jaw clenches tighter and tighter.
He doesn't have time.
Jason doesn't have time. He's alone and probably scared and Joey needs to have been there hours ago.
He doesn't know what he's going to do if pop has hurt him.
But he knows exactly what he'll do if pop has killed him.
"Someone cleared the brush back from an old factory on the west side of Gotham," Ivy muses. "That would fit with your timeline."
"Then I'm going to investigate," Joey says immediately. "Let me go-"
"You aren't going anywhere until I'm well away," she says. "You'll simply have to stay where you are."
She forces him to stay still as she withdraws, and sitting there waiting is absolute torture. He doesn't have any other option, but the moment she releases him he tucks his phone back in its pouch, jerks his mask up, and takes off.
"Possible lead from Ivy," he says into the communicator. "I'm going to investigate."
He's not sure he's ever flown so fast. He blows through the sky, his eyes searching for the factory Ivy mentioned, and looking for it, it isn't hard to spot. It's backed up against the woods, partially overgrown, and Joey drops towards it with his fists already clenched.
He's going to kill him.
No, he's going to get Jason away from him and then he's going to kill him.
There are tire tracks in the dirt leading to the road, making it clear that someone came and went recently. One of the factory doors—nearest to where the vehicle stopped—is hanging open.
Joey feels like he's sleepwalking as he enters.
He doesn't want to find Jason there. If he finds Jason there that means his worst fears have come true.
His heart's in his throat as he heads down the rickety stairs. It's clear to him where they've been, because there are clear marks in the dust. It's so, so easy to follow them down to the tiny little room.
There's a chair there, old and abandoned, and ropes on the floor. Someone was tied there, and Joey knows that someone was Jason.
But there's no one there, and all Joey can do is let out a noise of pure frustration.
He's missed him. He wasn't fast enough.
There are differences between searching for someone who does not wish to be found and searching for someone who is being intentionally hidden, but those differences are largely immaterial. Both involve searching in similar places. Both involve similar tactics.
Damian has been trained in all of them, and yet when the time comes to actually use those tactics, he doesn't.
He isn't needed. Not for that. Whatever he could possibly add to the search effort pales in comparison to what he can do there at home.
So he doesn't join in. He doesn't canvass the neighbourhoods or explore old buildings. Instead, he sits in his father's lap, his arms around Bruce's shoulders, and is there. He reminds Bruce that things are not lost. That things will be alright. That any minute now, someone will find Jason and he will be brought back, safe and happy and healthy.
That's the only option Damian will let himself consider. There simply is no other option, even if his father won't see that.
After some thought, Damian changes his mind. He will accept one other option: the one where Jason, as competent as he is, escapes and finds his way home on his own. That's a good option, a nice thought, and he leans more heavily against Bruce, letting himself think about it.
Bruce's grip on him tightens as if worried Damian will go missing too if he doesn't.
"Don't worry, father," Damian says quietly. "They'll find him soon."
He knows they will. He just has to wait.
Everyone else has a clear job to do, and they bustle in and out of the house. It's a madhouse, hosting more than two dozen people who are constantly going in and out. Damian can smell Alfred furiously cooking to try and accommodate them all, and Michael comes to deliver them food when Damian's stomach starts growling at the mouth-watering smells.
He's silent, lost in his own head despite Damian's attempts to coax him out, reliving his worst nightmares made real. Even Slade's attempts to lure him out do nothing, and Damian knows Bruce won't be better until both of his son's are safely in his arms.
The conversation shifts around him as the minutes pass. Joey reports that he's found the first place Jason was taken, and Clark heads to meet him with Jon in order to investigate. Slade and Diana get into a heated discussion about next steps, with Slade insisting they should be coordinating with more people while Diana points out the possibility of getting the public to watch for Jason.
"They will find him," Damian tells Bruce. "Don't worry."
Lois comes over (a serious risk, considering Clark hasn't revealed himself to many of the people there) and sits with them for a while, making sure the two of them are alright. Roy checks in with them when he starts ferrying food around, making sure everyone gets fed.
Damian feels useless, and has to remind himself that he's not. He's helping. Bruce needs him.
"I'm going to see what's happened," Damian tells his father when it's been too long without an update, but when he goes to slide off Bruce's lap, Bruce's arms reach out, wrapping around him and pulling him back.
He doesn't say anything, but the intent is clear, and Damian leans against him, letting Bruce take comfort in his presence.
"I won't go anywhere," he says quietly. "He'll be back soon."
Jason's not sure how long he's been trying to sleep when he gets nudged awake. He's still in the motel (at least he hasn't been moved), and Not-Slade's still there, brooding in a way that Jason would more readily associate with Bruce than Slade.
He nudges Jason's leg, and Jason rolls over, burying his face in the pillow. He doesn't want to look at him, and he still feels like shit. He wants to tell himself it's the lingering effects of the dart he was shot with, but he knows better.
"We still need to talk," Not-Slade says, and Jason grumbles into the pillow before finally rolling onto his side.
He's not getting up. The bastard can fucking make him if he wants him to sit up.
"You're dating Joey," Not-Slade says, his face stuck in a perpetual scowl.
"No shit," Jason mumbles. "We went over that."
Glancing up at Not-Slade, it occurs to him what's happening. The man—the Terminator, one of the most feared people on the planet—doesn't seem to know what to do. He obviously entered the scenario with specific plans in mind and a clear order of events, and that's gone flying out the window at record speed. He's used to dealing with people who are intimidated by him, and Jason's clear lack of fear is throwing him for a loop.
Jason just doesn't have the energy to be scared.
Especially not when he knows it's only a matter of time.
"The point of this was to get him to come back," Not-Slade points out. "I take you, and use you as a hostage to negotiate a chance to talk with him."
Jason can't help himself: he laughs.
"Are you serious? You're not kidding me right now?" He asks, his exhaustion giving way to amusement at how absolutely ridiculous the whole thing is. "You seriously thought that was the right thing to do? To kidnap me and use me as a hostage? You could have just asked. If you'd stayed right where you were in the kitchen, you'd have gotten a chance to talk to Joey in a few hours, and instead you kidnapped me, and now you've got a fucking nightmare coming straight for you."
"I can handle them," Not-Slade says flatly.
"You really can't," Jason points out, rolling onto his back to stare at the ceiling. He should probably be watching Not-Slade's face, but he doesn't have that kind of emotional energy, so he settles for staring at the ceiling. It's increasingly clear to him that on top of being a monumental idiot, Not-Slade has no idea who's going after him. He's probably expecting Bruce and Slade and Clark.
Jason has no doubt that he's going to get a hell of a lot more than that.
When he glances up, he catches Not-Slade pinching at the bridge of his nose, grinding his teeth in clear frustration.
"If you had communicated more clearly," Not-Slade says, "we wouldn't be in this situation."
"Oh no," Jason says, sitting up a bit more. "You don't get to put this on me. You don't get to blame me for daring to get kidnapped rather than figuring out the exact combination of words required to make you not do something so monumentally stupid. You didn't think this through at all. You didn't think!"
Without meaning too, Jason has started shouting, every bit of anger he has suddenly boiling to the surface. He's angry. He deserves to be angry. Everything about the last few hours has been a fucking nightmare, and the fact that his boyfriend's shitty father is involved is the least of his worries.
"They're going to kill you!" He yells. "Bruce barely got Slade to play nice and now you beat up his husband and kidnapped his son and he's going to murder you!"
He buries his face in his hands. He doesn't want to think about it. He's so fucking angry at the man in front of him, but he doesn't want that. He doesn't want Slade to kill him and to start that all over again. He doesn't want the anger and the hurt and the bullshit that comes with it.
It's not about the man in front of him. It's about his family.
"Oh hell," Not-Slade says. "Listen, I think you're focusing on the wrong things here."
Jason isn't. Jason knows how it's going to play out. He knows that Slade is going to take his counterpart apart for what he did. He knows, even if Bruce doesn't stop him, that it'll hurt him to see. He knows it'll damage things.
"I don't want this," Jason mumbles, pressing his palms hard to his eyes. "I don't want any of this."
He's so tired. All he wants is to sleep.
"Kid? I need you to stay with me, because if you start to have a breakdown again I don't know how I'm supposed to get you out of it."
"Fuck off," Jason mumbles into his hands. "This is your own fault. All Joey wanted was to be away from you and your response was to chase him down and steal someone he cares about."
"What was I supposed to do?" Not-Slade barks, throwing his hands out at his sides. "He's my son. I had to come get him."
"When you showed up I had a tiny, tiny fucking shred of hope that this might turn out okay. That you and Joey could talk and work out your differences and everything would be fine. Instead, you fucking kidnapped me and hurt my father and you've fucked up everything!"
Somewhere along the line they started shouting, and Jason knows that if there's anyone in the rooms on either side of them, they're probably being woken up. He doesn't care. All the better, one more clue for everyone to follow to him.
"So tell me what the hell I'm supposed to do!" Not-Slade yells. "Tell me how the hell I'm supposed to get my son back!"
"If you cared one tiny fucking bit about your son, you wouldn't have done this in the first place!" Jason yells right back. He's on his feet. He doesn't remember being on his feet, but he is anyway, getting right up in Not-Slade's face. It's probably a bad sign that he's missing things like that, but he doesn't have the energy to care. "If you actually worried about him at all, you'd be doing everything in your power to make sure he was happy! So that he didn't have to worry that his dad was fucking murdering someone he loved! Instead you're just proving that he'd be better off without you!"
Jason's gone too far. Not-Slade isn't even angry, he's furious. His expression is twisted with rage as he lunges, and Jason reels backwards too slowly. Not-Slade is fast, even faster than Slade himself, and Jason's not ready for the struggle that ensues. It's brief and angry, and doesn't last more than a few minutes before he feels something sharp press into his thigh.
He feels himself slipping away and wonders if the last thing he's ever going to see is Not-Slade's face twisted with rage.
The sun isn't even up and Jon's already tired. In a few hours, he's supposed to be in class, and that is the epitome of absolutely not happening. He's not going to go sit in class after everything that happened. He's not going to go and pretend to be a normal kid. Not when things are happening and people are around, and who even knows if they'll be done by then.
The answer's increasingly looking like it's going to be a no.
His dad's got him flying loops around Gotham, watching for any sign of trouble. It's weird, because he knows what to do, but he's also in charge of his brothers, who most definitely do not know what to do.
They don't have any training. They barely even have any suits, basically having pulled on what they have and an accompanying mask. Jon knows, even if he hasn't said it, that dad wants them all to go back home before then. The odds of people seeing them flying at night are slim. If they start flying around in daylight, someone's going to wonder why there are so many of them.
He knows there's a good reason, but the idea of having to go back to the manor and not be helping isn't one he wants to think about. Not when Damian's back at home, probably crying his eyes out.
Or maybe not crying. Damian doesn't seem like the crying type, but Jon knows that if one of his brothers was taken, he'd be crying, and he's only known his brothers for less than two months.
It has to be a lot worse for Damian.
The communicator he was given comes to life, and he hears one of his brothers speak. That's the one downside of them all being physically the same: they all have the same voice, and there's no telling who is talking.
"I think I-" They start, and Jon interrupts. He's supposed to be in charge. He's supposed to be keeping an eye on them and making sure everything is going alright.
"Name first," Jon reminds them. "Then report."
"Oh, right," they reply back. "Gar, and I think I found something."
Barry's searching Gotham itself, while Clark goes farther out. He's got the six of them circling the city in ever larger circles, checking every vehicle or out of the way building. They've had more false positives than Jon wants to think about, but part of that is just from how vague their criteria is.
They're really just looking for people. Any people. It might be one person or two people. Three or more seems unlikely. In the daylight it'd be impossible, but so early in the morning...
They don't have long before traffic starts and their search efforts become pointless.
"What do you think you have?" Jon asks.
"Ren here," he says. "Shouldn't you start with your name too?"
Which is silly, because his voice is distinct, but Jon huffs and corrects himself.
"Jon here. What do you think you have, Gar?"
"Gar here. I've got a car driving with... two passengers. One appears to be asleep in the back seat?"
"Where?" Jon asks. He's already rising higher, scanning around to try and spot Gar.
"I'm back - It's Gar. I'm back by the house. Just a bit, uh... which side is old Gotham on?"
"I'm south of the house."
Jon gives up on trying to get them to follow protocol. It's just him and his brothers on the specific channel, so it's not like dad or anyone is going to hear they're breaking it, and he can always ask if it's an issue.
"I'm coming," he says. "Stay there. Everyone else, keep looking."
The sky is clear, which makes it easy to find Gar. It's also just as easy to spot the car he's talking about. Even from a hundred feet up, there's only one car clearly in sight, the headlights making it stick out like a sore thumb.
"Stay here," he says out loud, dropping down from the sky. Dad told him not to get even that close, but there's no way he can call in every car that might be connected to Jason. He's just going to have to get closer to figure out if it's real. He goes just ahead of the car, hiding in the forest and ducking down as he waits, letting it go right by as he stares in the side window.
It's Slade, and Jon has to clap his hand over his mouth to keep from yelling as he lifts up, rising into the sky as fast as he can.
"Follow the car!" He yelps to Gar, fiddling with his communicator to get it back on the main channel. The channel he's only supposed to use if it's really important.
He's pretty sure this qualifies as really important.
"Dad!" He yells into the communicator, and there's a chorus of yelps from people on the other end.
"Volume," Clark says. "Did you find something?"
"I found Slade!" He says, fighting to keep his excitement down as he glances down. "And Jason, but I think he's asleep. I'm pretty sure it's him."
"What?" Clark blurts. "Where are you?"
Jon stares down at the road below him.
"Uuhhhh," he mumbles. "You know that big long street we go on when we're going to the mall, but not the one we take if we're going to the movies?"
Someone—maybe dad—makes a pained noise.
"Which side of Gotham are you on? I'm already on my way."
"Which side is old Gotham on again?" Jon asks. He knows Metropolis's layout, but he hasn't been in Gotham long enough to have memorized it.
"South," Slade says. "Are you near old Gotham?"
"We're soooooooouthwest? He's on the big long road."
"That's Woods Avenue," Tim says. "I'm pulling a map, but there's no cameras."
Jon's keeping pace with the car, flying directly overhead to minimize the chance of being spotted.
"How the hell did we miss him if he was there? Did he double back to lose us after going to the factory?" Slade asks.
"I'm on my way," Joey adds, and Jon turns his attention to Gar.
"Watch for dad and Joey!" He calls, turning his attention back to the car.
"He has to have," someone else says. Jon thinks it might be Barry, but he's not really sure. "Why get so close?"
"Hold on," Roy says. "Jon, which way is he heading? Is he going the way you'd go to go into Gotham, or is he going the way you'd go to get home?"
"Home," Jon answers automatically. "He's driving back towards home."
Well, not his home, but Jon supposes they know what he means.
The line is silent.
"...Hello?" Jon says carefully.
"Sorry," Tim says. "You're sure? He's passed the turnoff you'd take if you were heading west—farther from Gotham—and he's going north, alongside Gotham? Towards the manor?"
"Yeah!" Jon confirms. "Should I stop him?"
"Absolutely not," Slade says. "Everyone keep your distance, no one engage."
Jon swaps channels quickly, letting the rest of the people on the channel to converge, but he knows he'll be sitting this one out. His dad was hurt. Ren was hurt. There's no way anyone's going to let any of them go near someone who's already proven themselves capable of causing them pain, which means all he can do is stay up above, observing from a distance as the car winds up the country road.
Gar spots their dad before he shows up, waving him over, and Joey arrives not long after. He looks agitated and clearly frustrated, but Clark isn't letting him go down.
"Jon," his dad says, glancing towards him. "Take your brothers and go to the house. Make sure everyone knows what's happening."
He's being sent away. He's being kicked out because his dad won't let him be in danger, and he hates it.
"Alright," he mumbles. "I'll take them."
But he's only doing so under protest, and he wants to be absolutely sure his dad knows it.
The word that the other Slade's been spotted is like a fire that burns through the house. It doesn't take more than a few minutes before everyone's dropping what they're doing, ready to respond, and Bruce is no different.
He can't not respond. He can't not be ready to go. He's let others do the searching, but the rescuing?
He has to be there.
He feels almost like himself again as he heads into the entranceway. It's been set up as a temporary command center, dispatching people to other parts of the house and the city. Now, they're all being recalled. With the other Slade located, the search efforts can stop, the plans changing suddenly.
Damian sticks close to his side as if expecting something to go wrong, and Bruce rests his hand on his youngest's shoulder, reminding him that he's there.
He doesn't tell him things will be alright.
He can't risk it being a lie.
"What's happening?" He asks, and Dick looks up from the tablet, flipping through effortlessly without even looking.
"Slade-B's heading up Woods Avenue. We've got make, model, license plate. Not even reported stolen yet, but it's registered to a nearby address."
He's not sure where the B came from, but guesses it isn't as bad as some of the other things he's heard people call him.
"Towards the house," Dick confirms. "We think we're looking at a hostage situation."
He can't even be five minutes out, and they start to spill out the front door to the front of the house without making any conscious choice.
A hostage situation.
Slade's at his side, reaching out to touch his arm, and his voice is quiet but insistent.
"I need you to stay here while I handle this," Slade says. "You're hurt, and I can't risk you getting more hurt."
Slade fixes him with a hard look.
"Promise me," he says. Bruce wishes he hadn't. He wishes he hadn't asked, because now he has no choice. He has to say yes. He has to stay on the porch while Slade handles it.
He knows what's going to happen, and he'll make himself look the other way because he can't do it again. He can't lose Jason again.
"Are we doing this overwhelming show of force, or subtle?" Barry asks as he joins them on the porch.
"Half and half," Diana says. "Immediate family and Kents nearby. League and extended associates out of sight."
She withdraws inside herself as the order ripples through the group.
Dick's team are already inside the house, taking up defensible positions. Stephanie and Michael take up a spot around the corner of the house. Barry simply vanishes, and Diana and Roy fall back inside the doors to watch. He hears, through the communicator, Clark order the boys back to their own house, and Bruce knows that he's afraid of them seeing something they shouldn't.
Joey floats almost directly above him, watching the road. He's silent, and Bruce doesn't think he's seen him sign once since everything started. He's kept his communications short, brief, and purely over the communicator.
Bruce almost calls him down. Almost. But what matters right then is Jason's safety, and everything else can come after.
"Someone get the gate-" He starts to say, but the gate's already sliding open. He sees Clark flying just above the car, the first cracks of sunlight starting to show over the hills.
It's been maybe three and a half hours since the other Slade arrived and they're the longest hours Bruce has ever experienced.
The only thing he cares about right then is that Jason's okay, but Clark's reassurances that Jason's heart is beating doesn't calm him the way it should. He's still apparently unconscious. He's still at the mercy of a man who would kill him without hesitation.
He just wants him back. He just wants him safe.
The car pulls through the front gate. It's normal. Standard. There's nothing distinct about it, but Bruce's finger's dig in so hard to Damian's shoulder that he's sure he'll leave bruises.
He doesn't care. He doesn't think he could stop if he wanted to as the other Slade's car comes to a stop.
The gate behind him starts to roll closed. He can see the other Slade taking stock of the situation. Bruce and Damian in front of the door. Dick, Tim, and Slade just down the steps, waiting and at the ready. Clark above him, and Joey hanging perfectly still in the air, watching what's happening.
They have a single, unified purpose. There's no need to discuss it. They're all there for one thing.
The other Slade reaches out, popping the door open as he climbs out. There's a decision to be made there. How fast could Clark or Barry intercept? Could they get Jason away in time? But no one moves. No one dares move, because they have no idea what Slade's up to, his expression impossible to read.
Bruce doesn't even think he's breathing anymore.
The other Slade is looking at Slade, and then his head tips back, looking up at Joey where he hangs in the sky.
And then he drops down to one knee and then the other, his hands raising. His fingers weave together, pressing against the back of his skull, and he goes still.
He's surrendering. That's what the position means, and the absolute stillness breaks as Slade— his Slade—bolts forward. He goes straight for his counterpart but doesn't even pause, blowing right past him as he skids to a stop, hauling the car's back door open so hard that the metal lets out a scream of protest. He's probably ruined the car permanently, and he clearly doesn't care.
Bruce only starts breathing when Slade pulls back from the car with Jason in his arms, looking up towards Bruce and nodding.
He's alright. He's okay.
That breaks the spell.
The other Slade is dogpiled immediately from every side. Clark drops. Barry zips in. Dick and Tim join the fray, and Bruce can't even look, his eyes fixed on his own Slade as he crosses the front drive to join them.
"He's fine," Slade says. "He's alright."
Bruce pulls the both of them into a hug, and Damian joins them, wrapping his brother into a hug.
He's okay. He's fine.
And that's the only thing that matters to Bruce right then.
There is something impossibly unnerving about Joey right then. It's not what he's doing, it's what he's not doing.
He hasn't come down. He hasn't descended from the sky. Not even as his father—because Clark can't let himself forget that the man they're talking about is Joey's father —was dragged inside.
He's just hanging there in the sky, perfectly still.
It is not a good sign, and Clark lifts off the ground, rising to join him.
It's probably a stupid idea since he still doesn't know ASL (he's got a book on his desk at work, but he hasn't got past page two), but there are a very limited number of people who can reach Joey as he floats thirty feet in the air, and he's not putting any of his kids near him the way he is.
Because, like it or not, Clark's instincts are telling him that Joey is dangerous.
"Jason's fine," he explains, watching for a reaction he doesn't get. "No worse for the wear. Barely even a bruise on him. We have - we have your father contained."
"Where?" Joey asks, his head snapping up. There's something unnerving about the way he says it, his voice coming loud and clear through the comms without any sort of overriding emotion while his body language and expression, even through the mask, are so agitated.
"I don't think it's good for you to see him right now," Clark says. It's not really a think. He knows. If Joey sees his father, someone's going to get hurt, and Clark's pretty sure he knows who.
"Come down," he says, reaching out to take Joey's hand. Joey doesn't fight Clark as he tows him back down to ground level, resting a hand on his shoulder and steering him into the house.
"You need to see Jason," he says, and Joey slams to a stop so fast Clark bumps into his back. "Joey, he's fine-"
"This is my fault," Joey says, and Clark fights the urge to cringe. He's on the comms. Everyone on the comms can probably hear him. "If I had stayed where I was supposed to be, pop wouldn't have come after me. Bruce wouldn't be hurt, and Jason wouldn't have almost died. Everything that just happened is because of me."
Clark is at a loss for what to say, and mercifully he doesn't have to figure it out. Slade—the one that isn't evil— bursts from the living room. In one bizarrely fluid motion he reaches down, scooping Joey up like he weighs nothing at all.
Joey splutters, clearly trying to get free, but Slade won't release him.
"Sorry, you're coming with me. Alfred's going to be waking Jason up soon, and you need to be there."
Slade isn't giving him an option, and Joey stops fighting as Slade carries him off towards the living room.
Clark breathes a sigh of relief, and turns when he hears the telltale sound of Lois behind him.
"Clark?" She says, and he turns towards her. Even if he cleared the blood away before he changed into his suit, her eyes still linger where he was stabbed earlier, and he reaches out, pulling her against his chest as he tries to ease her through it.
"Everyone's fine," he says, reminding himself as much as her. "Everyone is home. He's confined."
"I know," she says. "Are you alright?"
He makes himself stop and think it out before answering.
"I'm... shaken," he admits. "Bruce isn't taking it very well. I mean, I can't expect him to, but-"
"I get it," Lois says. "You're worried."
"I have a lot to do. We have work and..."
"I already called Perry. Told him Jon was sick. Called Jon's school, too."
Clark isn't sure he could say what day of the week was if pressed, and he's relieved that he's not going to have to go through the motions of work.
"You're an angel," he says, leaning down to kiss his wife. "What would I do without you?"
"Lie down in a puddle on the floor until someone picked you up," Lois says with a small laugh. "I know I'm not a vigilante like all of you, but I'm going to go see if Alfred needs any help feeling the small army we managed to assemble."
"I'll go get the boys," Clark says. "They were all worried, and I know they'll want to hear that Jason's alright."
Which is the understatement of the century. Jon was practically beside himself with worry, and getting them all to stay at the house rather than being in the blast radius of whatever Slade's counterpart was going to do was nearly impossible.
Lois kisses his cheek and shoos him away, and Clark lets out a sigh.
There's still more to do, after all.
"Mister Kent?" Alfred calls, and he stops short just before the back door.
"What do you need, Alfred?" He has no idea what Alfred's about to ask him, but he knows he'll do it anyway.
"When you are not otherwise occupied with the boys, I was hoping you could go retrieve Slade's car. It's a few hours away by vehicle, and I thought it might be easier if you simply... flew it home. I has everyone's things, as well as Joseph's headstone. They were retrieving it when all this occurred."
"Of course," Slade says. "Do you know exactly where it is?"
Alfred, always prepared, produces a neatly handwritten note for Clark to take.
"I'll take the boys," Clark says. "I think I'd risk damaging the car flying it by myself, but I think we could manage with all of us."
Right then, he doesn't particularly care if anyone sees his sons. Let them gawk.
"Thank you," Alfred says. "Breakfast should be prepared when you get back."
"You have enough...?"
"Just enough," Alfred amits. "Although I think I'll have to go shopping before too long after this."
"Alright. I'll see you soon," Clark says, heading out the door.
He guesses it's as good a time as any to teach the boys about flying while lifting something heavy.
Jason doesn't wake on a bed. Whatever he's on, it's definitely not a bed. It's too uneven, and it takes him an embarrassingly long time to realize that someone's too-bony hip is jabbing into his side.
"He's waking up," Slade says above him, and Jason would know that voice anywhere.
"Is that the right Slade?" Jason mumbles under his breath. He still feels groggy and out of it, but the fingers combing nicely through his hair gives him the answer before anyone actually speaks.
"That's your dad," Bruce says, and Jason cracks his eye open to find himself in the most ridiculous position he's ever been in.
Slade and Bruce have settled in on the couch and simply sprawled Jason across their laps so that Bruce can hug him, and Damian, not to be outdone, has also sprawled across their laps just beside Damian, trapping him in a tangle of people.
Dick and Tim are leaning over the back of the couch, and Jason lets out a groan.
"How many people are here?!" He asks, wondering just how many people have seen him in such an embarrassing position.
"Basically everyone," Dick says. "I counted twenty-five."
"Does that include Barbara? Because she decided to stay with Jackson for now, but I have to pack some of Alfred's food for her."
Twenty-five people who came out of the woodwork to save him. To help his family.
"Love you," Jason mumbles, letting Bruce brush his hair. "Where's Al? Where's Joey?"
Dick darts off towards the kitchen, and Jason watches Slade's face turn towards the corner of the room. Jason follows his gaze, finding Joey standing in the corner, mask still up.
He doesn't like that. He doesn't like that at all.
"C'mere," Jason mumbles, trying to sit up a bit more.
This is my fault, Joey signs. You got hurt because he came after me.
"I got hurt because your pop's an idiot," Jason grunts. "Come over here. I'm not going to ask again."
He puts that edge into his voice that Bruce always called the Batman edge, and Joey responds automatically, stepping over. The tangle of limbs from his family part, and Jason reaches up, pulling Joey down as the couch creaks ominously. It probably wasn't meant to hold so many people. He doesn't care right then. If it breaks, it breaks: they can get a new one.
"It's no one's fault but his," Jason reminds him, pulling Joey against him, and Joey buries his face against Jason's shoulder, his mask slipping down, as Slade and Bruce encircle them in their arms, wrapping the three of them into a hug.
"I'd join in," Tim says, "but I really do not trust the couch to hold all of us."
"You can get your hug after," Slade says right as Dick returns, Alfred in tow.
"Master Jason," he says, sounding relieved. "I cannot express how good it is to see you safely back with us."
There are tears in Alfred's eyes, and Jason forces himself up and off the couch even though his legs feel wobbly to accept Alfred's hug.
Once he's up, there's no stopping it. Tim and Dick pin him in between them, and then Roy practically kicks the door in. It's a constant parade of people who all want to double check that he's intact, rotating in and out as they please. Alfred heads back to the kitchen and Dick goes to help him, which leads to even more people coming in to give him a hug. There's Barry and Michael and Steph, and then Damian comes in for another hug before anyone can stop him.
"You're probably crowding him," Bruce chides, but does absolutely nothing to stop Barry and Roy from tag teaming him.
Jason's okay with it. He probably is being crowded, but it's a good sort of crowding. The sort of crowding with a full house and the hair heavy with the smell of an Alfred breakfast.
"What happened to Clark?" He asks, craning his neck. Of everyone he expected to show up, he'd assumed Clark and his family would be there too.
"Pretty sure Alfred sent him to pick up the truck," Tim says. "You know, since everyone's things are in it."
"Probably not a bad idea," Slade says, and when Jason glances over he realizes that Slade's effectively trapped Joey on the couch, keeping him from running off.
He needs to talk with him. He really needs to talk with him.
But he doesn't get the chance, because an alarm suddenly goes off.
"You have got to be fucking kidding me!" Slade yells as he jogs to the security panel, and Jason can't help but notice the fact that everyone in the room seems to very suddenly arrange themselves around him like a shield.
"Issue in the cave-"
There's a blur of red and Barry screeches to a stop in front of them, already talking a mile a minute.
Barry stops talking, gawking at them.
But it's not Barry. Or at least it's not there Barry. This one's older, maybe an inch taller, his costume a bit more sleek, and he gawks at them in apparent confusion right as a second red blur zips into the room, screeching to a halt beside his counterpart.
"Oh cool!" Their-Barry says, and then Jason watches in abject horror as the two high five.
Bruce lets out a groan and buries his face in his hand.
"Did this just get worse?" He asks, and Jason's pretty sure the answer is yes.
"Hold on," Other-Barry says, and then he starts to... to do something. Jason's pretty sure he's missing something because he can't operate at superspeed, but both Barry's seem to be vibrating, sparks literally shooting off them, and there's a high pitched whine that Jason thinks might be them talking.
It doesn't last more than thirty seconds and then they both abruptly stop, and the other-Barry throws his hands in the air.
"Okay, we're late," he says. "Your guy caught me up to speed, and yeah, we're late."
Which is the exact moment that a half dozen figures emerge from the entrance to the cave, spilling into the hallway.
He recognizes Clark—he's hard not to recognize—and J'onn. A man who's probably Oliver comes up just behind him, followed by two people he definitely doesn't know, because they're not Hal but they are Green Lanterns.
They all slam to a halt right at the top of the stairs, very nearly running into Michael, who blinks at them in confusion before looking down at their costumes.
Bruce lets out another groan.
"You can't be serious," he mutters under his breath.
"Uhhhh," the one lantern says. "Are we late? It feels like we're late."
The Barry that came with them zips right on over, tapping his foot impatiently.
"Oh yeah we're late," he says. "They already solved the whole thing and they have him in lockup."
"Oh," Other-Clark says. "So everything's fine?"
Everyone's basically stopped what they're doing to gawk—Jason's certainly not alone in that—but when Alfred leans out into the hallway his reaction is significantly different from the rest.
He sighs loudly, shakes his head, and then glances between the two Barrys.
"Mister Allen, I would appreciate if you could go fetch some more eggs and orange juice. We were already stretched to our limits with the current group, but feeding six more is unfeasible with our current supplies."
"Oh no," Other-Clark says. "We're not staying."
"I mean, if this Alfred cooks like our Alfred, I'm staying," Other-Oliver says.
"You're staying," Slade announces, bringing the debate to an end. "We need to have a serious talk about what just happened, and I haven't eaten anything since three in the morning, so we're having that serious talk after breakfast. Unless you have a crisis at home you need to get back to, you can just stick around."
"I can get the eggs!" The other Barry announces, and it's Tim who calls things to order.
"Everyone, your name's now Name-A or Name-B. This universe is A, that universe is B, and I don't want any complaints!"
"This is unusual," Clark-B mutters to himself. "This is definitely not the fight I thought I was going to get into."
"Clark!" Lois calls as she rounds the corner. "Did you just-" She slams to a halt at the sight of an entire Justice League, and then scowls at her husband's counterpart. "That is not my husband."
"I'm going to make an announcement on comms before we have to explain this to literally everyone," Slade says. "Barry-A, go... get eggs or whatever Alfred needs. Someone go set up the dining room, because we're going to need that second table."
The house just got a whole hell of a lot busier, and Jason's just happy because it takes the focus off him.
There is something deeply, deeply surreal about having another Justice League running around.
There's something even weirder about knowing that he's not on the team, and that Ollie is.
"This is all kinds of wrong," Roy complains as he watches Ollie stand around, doing a whole lot of nothing while the rest of the team helps.
Or he guesses it's not Ollie, it's Ollie-B, which sounds like a hip hop artist in his very humble opinion.
"Speak for yourself," Ollie-B says. "What I want to know is how you got on the League without me."
"You didn't want to be on it when they offered, so I took the position instead. Worked out great for me, but you're still kind of sulky."
"I don't sulk," Ollie-B counters, which is the most blatant lie in the history of blatant lies.
"Hold on," Roy says, holding a finger up to silence him. He pulls out his phone, speed dials, and holds the phone up to his ear.
"Roy, it's four in the morning," Ollie-A groans. "This had better be an emergency."
"I am standing in Wayne Manor with your evil doppelganger."
There's a confused noise on the other end.
"Hold on," Ollie-B protests. "Why am I the evil one? I'm the one who's on the Justice League, shouldn't he be the evil one?"
"You have a goatee," Roy points out. "That means you're the evil one."
"Roy, we both have goatees," Ollie-A answers with a groan. "Call me back when someone's dying."
Then he hangs up, because he's an asshole like that.
The house is a madhouse in the nicest possible way. He hears someone—probably Lois—yell that they're going to get them, whoever that is. Barry zips by, and Roy has a deep existential crisis over it. Is he allowed to check out Barry-B's ass if he's just using it as a preview for Barry-A's potential future? It's the sort of question he'd probably ask Jason, only Jason's in the midst of being buried alive by his family, and the odds he gets enough privacy to ask seem slim.
"Dick!" He calls, having absolutely no idea where he went. Ollie-B's still stroking at his goatee like Roy's given him a crisis over it, and doesn't even look up when, from somewhere else in the house, Dick yells back.
He's helping set up a second long table in the ballroom with the help of the two lanterns when Roy pops in, which pretty much kills his chances of asking. Even so, he's not going to just ignore him.
"Please," Dick says. "I need dishes and a table cloth and I think you're the only one who isn't involved in the Jasonpile who might know where it is."
Roy does. He stayed there long enough to know roughly what's going on in the kitchen, and when he gets there he's amused to find that it's the only place in the house not packed with people. It's literally just Alfred, Michael, and Stephanie.
"Setting the table," he announces. "Everything still where I left it?"
"Cutlery has moved one drawer to the left," Alfred says without even looking. "We haven't had any new guests arrive since I last was made aware, correct?"
"No one new," Roy confirms as he loads a table cloth full of cutlery. "You need more help in the kitchen?"
"I believe I have it handled with the assistance I have," Alfred says. "Although it would be appreciated if everyone would stay out of the kitchen and begin gathering in the dining area."
Roy drops the cutlery off with Dick and the lanterns before starting to circle the house, telling people to head to the ballroom. Oliver's started swapping stories with Dick's team, and they burst into laughter just before Roy tells them to get ready for food.
The family—and there's only one family, what with everyone else coming in bits and pieces—are still in the living room. Bruce looks like he's going to have to be pried away from Jason with a crowbar.
"Al says food's almost ready," Roy says as he pops his head into the room. "You guys coming to eat?"
"I'm going to eat Damian if he gets within biting distance of my mouth," Jason grumbles. He's been locked into a hug by Slade, unable to even sit up properly, but when Roy calls him the group shuffles off the couch in unison.
Roy sneaks another hug with Jason, ruffling his hair when he's finally free of his looming parents.
"Good to have you back," he says, before heading off to the dining room himself.
Lois is just arriving with two older people he doesn't recognize, but it isn't like he has to wonder for long when Clark-B enters the room, his head snaps up, and he looks like he's seen a ghost.
"Ma?" He says, and his voice sounds choked. "Pa?"
One minute he's a foot to Roy's left, and the next he's in the process of picking up his parents like they weigh nothing at all.
"Oh dear," Lois says at their side.
The hug lasts about thirty seconds before it's interrupted by a second Clark arriving, with Jon and five identical teenagers coming in just behind him.
"What?!" Clark-A blurts out when he spots the two Barry's chatting just in front of the door. "Was anyone going to tell me we had guests?"
And then he spots his parents—still being hugged by his counterpart—and lets out a groan.
"Ma, pa, that's not me," he says as he cuts his way across the dining room towards them, his gaggle of children in tow.
"Oh please, Clark," the woman who is apparently Superman's mother says. "You think we wouldn't notice? I just don't see any reason to deny any version of my son a hug if he wants one."
Clark-B releases them, looking embarrassed, but when he glances back (probably to apologize) he just looks confused.
"What? Why are - why are there five Conners?" He asks, looking more confused by the second.
Bruce throws his hands in the air.
"We are going to have this conversation after breakfast," Bruce announces in his most intimidating Batman-voice. "Everyone sit down, eat, and then we can talk shop after."
It is absolutely ridiculous. There's no method to the madness, so everyone just grabs seats where they can. Roy ends up sandwiched between Barry-B and one of Dick's team whose name he doesn't even know, and he has a hard time not noticing that all the Kryptonians have ended up on one end of the second table.
So much for no talking shop.
Of all the years he's worked for the Waynes, and all the meals he's hosted, this is the absolute worst.
Not because of any one person, no. Everyone's been nothing but polite, popping in to offer help or assistance as needed. He's already the Flash on two different trips to pick up more supplies (he thinks he sent the same one twice, but isn't exactly sure), and the help he's received was impressive.
No, it's the worst because no one can give him a straight answer as to how many people he's supposed to be serving.
"Uh, thirty? Ish?" Stephanie guesses, while Michael counts through them.
"We've got the five who live here-"
"At present, we have six people living in the manor," Alfred points out, which puts the accuracy of his count in question. "We'll simply have to handle things in a more communal style than I am used to."
He starts stacking food onto serving plates and into bowls, and sends Stephanie out to make sure everyone has enough plates. She returns to report that they're three chairs short, and Alfred has to send Michael to fetch the mismatched chairs from the previous dining set out of storage.
"Please, I would ask you all start eating immediately," Alfred announces as they start delivering the food. "I am unsure if we have enough for everyone, and the only way to know for sure will be to eat it."
"You should be joining us," Slade points out, and Alfred shakes his head.
"I will be most satisfied by eating my meal when the worst of the chaos is over, so please, enjoy the meal."
"Hold on, what about Diana?" Barry-A asks. "Shouldn't she eat with us?"
"I will be handling Miss Prince personally," Alfred says. He already has the plate ready in the kitchen.
"Do you guys not... ah, do the secret identity thing?" One of the Lantern's asks, glancing around the table.
"Not really," Roy-A says. "I mean, technically the wider world doesn't know about half the League, but they know all about Bruce and everyone. They went public."
"You went public?" Oliver-B says. "Batman went public?"
"Again, we're going to talk shop after," Master Bruce says. "We'll catch you up on everything then."
Alfred leaves them to their conversation, returning to the kitchen to collect the plate from beside the stove. He's fed the Justice League enough times to know what they all want, and Diana is no different.
He descends to the cave alone. It shows clear signs of recent use (someone's left a soda can on the desk by the computer), but no signs of the fact that it's been twice used by people from another dimension to invade their own.
Well, perhaps invade is too harsh a term.
He passes through the majority of the cave without a word, ascending one of the staircases into the back. The cave is far larger than it first appears, expanding into a series of largely natural rooms, and Alfred is familiar with all of them, save one.
There's one room in the cave system beneath the house he's never stepped foot in, one room that Master Bruce took direct control in creating all by himself. His burden, the one he'd share with no one else.
He spots Diana standing at the ready just outside it, the picture perfect soldier. She barely moves as he approaches beyond a casual check to confirm his identity, and then her eyes are back on the monitor in front of her.
"I would hope someone informed you about our guests?" Alfred asks, clearing a space on the small table beside the security console and setting her plate down.
"Michael came down to inform me," she says, her eyes unmoving.
"I would hope you would eat," Alfred points out. "Even if just for a few minutes. Hunger can be quite distracting."
She won't, of course. Not until he insists he'll take up her post and watch the captive while she eats. Only then does she allow herself some time away, letting Alfred watch the monitor.
There isn't much to see. The cell—because there's no other word for it—is largely bare. There's a small bunk, a bathroom facility, and precious little else. Nothing that might possibly entertain the cell's lone occupant... or allow them to escape.
There's precious little to watch. Slade Wilson is reclined on his bunk, his hands folded over his chest as he stares up the ceiling. He doesn't move while Alfred watches him, save for the slow rise and fall of his chest.
Even so, he's awake, his eyes open. Lost in his own head, Alfred guesses.
"Did you bring any for him?" Diana asks, and Alfred's lip curls.
"I think he can manage hunger for a few hours," he says simply. "Perhaps dinner."
He waits with her as she eats, catching her glancing up at the screen between bites. It's clear how seriously she's taking the whole thing, and while he appreciates it, he worries for her just the same.
"Perhaps I should send someone down to relieve you? I thought you might be interested in meeting other members of the League. We may not get a chance to meet them again."
"No," she says without giving it even a second's thought. "I will remain here until things are fully handled."
"I don't believe an escape is likely," he says flatly. "Master Bruce and Slade alternated locking each other until no escape was possible, and I cannot imagine he could free himself quickly enough that the small army upstairs would not be able to respond in time."
Diana's expression doesn't change, her eyes locked on the screen.
"I am not concerned about escape."
He knows what she's talking about, but doesn't know what to say. The possibility that someone could kill the man who hurt Master Jason was ever-present before his return.
Afterwords, he would have liked to have thought it was passed, but he doesn't doubt Diana when she says she's worried about the possibility either.
He knows plenty would hurt him for what he's done, but he also hopes that no one would actually go so far as to break into his cell while he's defenseless.
"I'll leave you to it, then," he says simply, collecting up the finished plate. "I'll make sure you're kept in the loop with any happenings upstairs."
"Thank you Alfred," she says, already back at her post, ready to act if something happens.
He doubts she moved from it even when the alarm went off earlier. He doubts she'd move from it for anything less than the end of the world. Her duty clearly means a lot to her, although he's wary of what sort of self-destructive things she might do in order to keep to it.
There's really only one room in the house large enough to fit all of them, and that's the room their in, so as breakfast wraps up there's a concerted effort to clear away the mess.
Clark's parents, to the obvious disappointment of Clark-B, opt to help Alfred handle the dishes in the kitchen.
"It's the least we can do," Martha points out, "since you fed us and all. Plus, everyone else is going to be busy talking all this out, and I think you should be focused on that."
Slade keeps his focus on his family... and on Joey. Jason has the support of everyone, but Joey stands alone, his mood obviously dark.
He knows what he's thinking. He knows what he's thinking and he doesn't like it, making a point of making contact as much as possible. Most of the time, it's just a hand on his shoulder, steering him around. When it comes time to sit down, he makes sure to sit beside him, making as much contact as possible.
They need to talk, but it's not as if they can sit down and talk with more than two dozen people in the house. Things need to get done, and the aftermath has to come after.
Bruce, of course, takes the lead. With his split lip he looks deeply worse for the wear, weary after everything that's happened, but he's still a commanding presence as he heads center stage, everyone else making a loose U shape around him.
"Before we start," he says, "I'd like everyone to do introductions. Obviously not everyone knows everyone else, but for the sake of simplicity... If you're from the other dimension, just append a B to your name."
Slade's pretty sure Roy had a hand in making sure everyone was calling it universe-B.
"Codenames, or real names?" Oliver-B asks. "Because-"
"Whichever you prefer," Slade says, interrupting him. "But no one here is a concern when it comes to identities. Many of ours are already public, and everyone here is here because they dropped everything to come help my family in their time of need. I'm not going to tell them they need to sit outside to avoid finding out what Green Arrow's real name is."
"Just wanted to be sure," Oliver-B says.
"I'll start then," Bruce says. "Bruce Wayne-Wilson." He gestures to where Duke sits at the edge of the circle, and from there the names go by rapid-fire.
"Duke Thomas." "Daxton." Slade isn't surprised he doesn't include his last name, and most of Dick's team follow his example. "Andre." "Riko." "Isabella." "Shug."
Stephanie, on the other hand, does, looking deeply pleased she's being included in such a large group.
"Oliver Queen," he says, looking uncertain. "From Universe B."
"Also Barry, but he's B and I'm from here."
"Sorry!" Barry-B chimes in, and there's some laughter in response.
"Dick Grayson-Wayne." "Damian Wayne-Wilson."
"Slade Wilson-Wayne," he says himself. "From this universe."
It feels like it needs clarification, but he regrets it almost immediately.
"Joseph Wilson," Joey says. "Universe B."
Slade catches Jason wincing as he jumps in, clearly trying to clear the awkwardness. "Jason Wilson-Wayne."
The Lanterns are the only people Slade has no idea about, so he pays plenty of attention when it gets to them.
"John Stewart, Universe B." "Hal Jo-"
John elbows the other Lantern in the side.
"What? It was a joke!" The other Lantern protests, rubbing at his side. "Guy Gardner, Universe B," he finally finishes.
"Clark Kent from universe B." "Clark Kent from universe... A?" "Lois Lane." "Jonathan Kent." "Ren Kent." "Ore Kent." "Yen Kent." "Gar Kent. Blue Kent."
Slade wonders if they lined themselves up in order on purpose, and he's pretty sure he's not the only one wondering.
"I am J'onn J'onzz," he says from his place on the far left. "Of Earth B, originally from Mars B."
"And the dog is Titus," Damian announces, causing Titus, lying near Bruce's feet, to wag his tail.
"Alfred Pennyworth is in the kitchen, along with Martha and Jonathan Kent... senior, I guess," Bruce adds. "Diana Prince is down in the cave, and that's everyone."
"I have about two five questions, give or take," Clark-B says. "Where are we starting, exactly?"
"I'm going to just explain our side, and we can go from there. At three AM this morning, the Slade Wilson from universe B used means unknown to us to arrive in our version of the Batcave. He was attempting to retrieve his son, who moved here after our trip to your dimension almost two months ago."
"Sorry for interrupting," John says, "but did you not take two people back with you?"
"You're talking about Thomas Wayne," Bruce says. "He's fine and healthy, but not currently here. I can get into that after if necessary, but for the time being at least he's not important to the story in question."
John nods, and Bruce gets back to it.
"The majority of us were not currently home at the time. Slade-A had gone on a trip, taking both Joey and Damian with him, and was staying away overnight. When he realized that his plan to take Joey and leave immediately failed, he disabled me and kidnapped Jason."
Bruce's jaw clenches, and it takes a moment for him to continue speaking.
"In the process, he also disabled Clark in our universes first encounter with Kryptonite. We believe he brought it with him, and we'd prefer if you took it with you when you went. Thankfully, Lois responded quickly, and we were able to send out a proper emergency alert. We alerted both our own associates as well as the Justice League, and they arrived in droves to help our search efforts."
Bruce's eyes move across the group of those gathered, and it's clear just from his expression how thankful he is for that.
"Our search efforts ended early when Slade-B himself returned, handing Jason over and surr-"
"What!" Jason yelps. "He surrendered?"
It's clear to absolutely everyone that this is new information for Jason, and Slade racks his brain, trying to remember when they told Jason. Did they tell him when he was still groggy, or... Or did they just not tell him?
"Yeah," Slade says. "That's why he's in lockup and not mysteriously dead."
He's not going to pretend like he wouldn't have killed him if things played out any other way.
"I'd like to hear what happened on your side," Bruce says, glancing between the various members of the other universe. To Slade's complete lack of surprise, it's Clark-B who stands up, taking Bruce's place to speak.
"We we alerted by our universe's Alfred and Tim that a break in had occurred at the manor. Considering the security it's packing, I flew out to check, and the security cameras confirmed that Deathstroke had broken into the manor, did... something, and then vanished. I called for backup, and we confirmed what you already know: that he used a device to hop dimensions."
"We have it in storage," Slade confirms, and Clark-B nods.
"While we have more experience with dimension hopping, it tends to be a very... ah, tricky experience. We don't have an easy and reliable way to do it, but we obviously didn't want to leave him at liberty, so we reached out to some of our sources-"
There's something about how awkward he is that makes the answer clear to Slade, and he calls him on it without hesitation.
"You asked your world's Bruce," he says, "and he was able to find a way in a few hours."
Clark is absolutely squirming.
"Yes," he admits. "While he hasn't been officially removed from the League, he's still someone we've worked closely with, and seemed like one of the best options. We also discussed the matter with Tim, who offered to come along, but we declined. Considering who we were after, we thought it would be more prudent to bring... heavy hitters. People who could take him down even if we got split up."
"You have a way to go back?" Slade asks, and he sure as hell hopes the answer is yes, because it's going to be really awkward otherwise.
"Of course," John says, producing a small palm-sized divide. To Slade, it looks like some kind of fancy cigarette lighter, but he presumes that it's something a great deal more complex. "We all have our own ways of returning, in case we were split up. Bruce couldn't—our Bruce—couldn't confirm we'd all end up in the same place. We did, which was lucky, but the chance was there."
"So he's downstairs?" Barry-B asks.
"He's confined," Bruce confirms. "Diana is guarding him."
"Can we address the elephant in the room?" Clark-B asks, and Slade braces himself. "Why are there five Conners?!"
Bruce buries his face in his palm, and Slade has to fight the urge to not do the same thing.
"Thanks to your tip, actually," Clark says. "Bruce and Slade warned me that Luthor might be attempting to clone me. We investigated, and when we discovered his lab he was in the midst of transporting them. Five clones were viable, and... here they are."
He turns, grinning at his kids, and they lean out, grinning back.
"Legally there are some growing pains," Lois admits. "We did end up using the name Conner as a cover when it came to putting Luthor behind bars. So... one clone we named Conner, rather than our five."
"I think I'm going to need a picture before we go back," Clark says. "Jon-"
There's the beep of an alarm, and Slade cocks his head.
"Flier coming in vertically," he says. "Probably Hal, I'm not sure he'd have gotten our all good."
The answer is that no, he didn't get the all-good, because he lands in the backyard looking ready to start kicking some ass, and when he bursts in the side door he just looks... confused.
"What?" Hal asks, gawking at the two unfamiliar Green Lanterns.
John looks amused.
Guy, on the other hand, does not. He's not even looking at Hal, instead staring out the window to where Hal landed. Slade tilts his head to see, spotting a familiar flash of red.
"Just Sinestro," Slade explains as Guy reaches up, shaking John's shoulder. "He's Hal-"
"We know who Sinestro is!" Guy says, seeming panicked. "Hold on, Lantern meeting."
Lantern meeting means Guy and John (who seems just as panicked now) dragging a very confused Hal out of the room while everyone else gawks.
"That's bad," Slade mutters under his breath. "What do they know that we don't?"
When he looks, he realizes that everyone from universe B is grimacing, which doesn't bode well.
"Sinestro is... not a good guy, in our world," Barry-B explains in hushed tones. "I don't know the details. Lantern stuff."
The group huddle doesn't last long, and when John returns, he gives the group a sympathetic wince.
"Sorry," he says. "Important Lantern business. We're going to take off with Hal, and we'll return from Oa directly. If anything comes up, we'll return here and let them pass a message for us."
"Good to see you're safe," Hal says. "Sorry I wasn't here to help."
"You're just fine," Barry says. "You've got space cop stuff."
Hal rolls his eyes, but doesn't linger, and the whole group watches as the Lanterns descend onto the back lawn. Slade's waiting for a fight to break out, but it doesn't happen. Instead, they simply lift off, leaving the manor by air and seemingly heading off.
"...That was weird," Oliver-B says. "Does that always happen here?"
"Most of the time," Bruce says with a sigh, and the tension breaks all at once with a round of laughter.
In such a large group, it's almost easy not to be watched. Not for Jason, because everyone is constantly looking at him, but for Joey. He can see it in the way he sits, in the way he moves. He's trying to vanish, and Jason doesn't want him to.
He wants to talk, but they don't have the time or space for it. They can't just say excuse me for a moment and go have a private conversation, because half the people in the house have some kind of enhanced senses.
Or maybe they can. Their rooms are sound proofed, it would just be rude.
Even so, he wants to be there. He wants to hear what's happening. What's being discussed.
"Lantern business notwithstanding," Michael says, "should we not talk about what's happening now?"
It's a good point, and the mood in the room shifts once again, becoming more serious.
"I think it's pretty obvious, right?" Barry-B says. "We just take him back now that we're done, problem solved."
"No," Jason interrupts. "I want to talk to him first."
There's no way he's just sending him back without talking to him first. Not after what he's just learned. He has things to say.
"Jason," Bruce says, "I don't think that's a good idea-"
"It's my choice," Jason counters. "I want to talk to him."
"I just think you need time," Bruce continues, and everyone else suddenly seems to find something else to look at.
"You didn't tell me he handed me over," Jason counters. "I want to talk with him, and that's final."
He's not going to back down on the issue, and apparently Bruce realizes that, because he backs down.
"We'll try and figure something out," he says, clearly unwilling to commit.
"I mean, this is pretty cool, but I would like to get back home," Barry says. "Especially if John and Guy are going to be gone, having so many of our heavy hitters out of contact for hours can't be a good thing."
"He is correct," J'onn-B says. "It would be best if we returned home as soon as we are able."
"Okay, but this is a problem, right?" Roy says. "Because Jason wants to talk with him, but Jason absolutely should not talk with him right now, but we don't want to hold you guys up, either."
Jason suspects Roy is angling for the well, that's too bad, time to send him home angle, but it's Clark-B who offers a solution.
"I wouldn't mind staying a few days, if that's what it takes," he says. "As long as you tell my Lois what's happening, I'm sure she'll understand."
He pauses, then glances awkwardly to the other Clark.
"...Assuming that's alright."
"You might have to crash on the couch," Clark says with a laugh. "We're full up."
"I don't know how you're fitting everyone in the apartment-"
"We moved," Lois says. "Up here, actually. We're right in the Wayne's backyard. It wasn't plausible to stay in Metropolis while also housing the boys."
"The first night we had sleeping bags and we were packed like sardines," Yen explains.
"Alright," Barry says. "I mean, we're done, right? Clark stays here a few days and comes back with Slade—sorry, Slade-B—when you're done with him. Everyone else goes home now."
"Which I think also includes us," Stephanie announces. "Because... you know, I already missed my first class and there's no way I can miss my second one."
"I did want to thank everyone for coming," Bruce says. "It means a lot to us to see such an outpouring of support."
"Of course," Michael says. "We know you'd do the same for us."
There's a whole lot of patting each other on the back as everyone breaks off for quick goodbyes, and Jason stays put, reaching down to take Joey's hand.
Almost. It's almost time. He just has to wait a bit longer, but the fact that Joey doesn't squeeze his hand back isn't comforting.
He catches sight of Roy vanishing around the corner with Ollie-B, but doesn't get to see what's happening. The Barry's appear to be giving each other spoilers, while J'onn-B is in a conversation with his Clark, hopefully finding out what he needs to tell his family.
Jason squeezes Joey's hand again.
"Well, this was equal parts fun and a nightmare, but I'm taking off," Steph says. "Mandatory hug, though."
Jason doesn't get a choice, and she pulls him into a hug anyway. Michael's right behind her, giving him a sympathetic grin.
"Work calls," he says. "Literally, in this case. I declined three calls in the last hour."
Michael, despite his sympathetic look, gives him a hug too. Dick's right after him, and of course he gets a hug from Dick, but mercifully Dick's entire procession of junior vigilantes do not insist on a hug.
He thanks them for coming out anyway.
"Kind of want to stick around," Tim admits. "But I need to catch Barb up. Keep me in the loop, alright?"
Of course there's a hug there, and then the hug parade falters in time for universe B's J'onn, Barry, and Oliver to come together, a conspicuous ammo box jammed under Oliver's arm. They wave, hold each other's arms, and then Barry does something with the silver device in his hand and the three of them pop out of the dimension entirely.
The Kents are the next to go. Clark's parents seem delighted that they're getting a second temporary son added to the madhouse that is the Kent house, and while Jason isn't surprised when Clark, Lois, and their boys all give him one great big hug, he is surprised when Martha and Johnathan do.
"You're practically family," Martha says. "We'll be around to check in, so stay out of trouble."
"Before you go," Bruce says. "Lets just simplify things. Clark is Clark, Clark-B can just be... Kent."
"Kent's fine," he says with a shrug. "If it'll make things easier..."
"It will," Bruce says. "Everyone here's on a first name basis otherwise."
"Not a bad idea,"
Both Clarks looks beside himself with happiness as the entire pack descends down the back steps, heading for the path home.
Which really just leaves their half of the Justice League.
"Someone has to go tell Diana we have things handled," Slade says with a sigh. "I suppose it might as well be me."
He gives the two of them a concerned look as he gets up, heading towards the cave.
Roy and Barry return to the ballroom, dragging Jason into a hug whether he wants it or not. Of course he does, but it's not like he can just say that.
"Good to see you back," Barry says. "Be happy you missed that thing with Roy, though."
"Hold on," Jason says, "what happened with Roy?" He turns, raising an eyebrow, and Roy cringes.
"It wasn't that bad, just Ollie got a bit choked up, and he never gets choked up. Took a picture with me and it was - I mean, we all know what happened to their Roy."
Ouch. Horrifically awkward at best.
"We're going to take off," Barry says. "I've got work like... now. Going to have to come up with an excuse, since I still have to drop Roy off."
"Thanks for coming."
"Any time," Barry says. "But at the same time... hopefully never again, you know?"
Boy does he know, and with a blur of red, the two of them are gone.
"Well, that was quite enough houseguests for one day," Alfred says, peeking into the room. "While Slade handles Miss Prince, might I recommend everyone else take a well earned nap, and we can handle putting everything away in the afternoon?"
Jason doesn't want to nap. He wants to talk with Joey, but when he turns back to the seats, Joey's slipped away.
Slade's pretty sure it would be a lot easier to convince Diana that no one was going to kill the other Slade if it were actually true. At a bare minimum, there's him. Most likely, the number of people who are (or were) strongly considering accidentally killing Jason's kidnapper during the rescue attempt pushes into the double digits. Things happen in combat. None of them know the exact strength of the man they were dealing with.
And by god, it would be so easy to put a bullet through his neck and claim you missed.
But he's not going to. The time's passed. There's miles of difference between letting himself slip in combat and breaking his doppelganger's spine and cold blooded murder, and that's what it would be if he let himself into the cell where they're keeping him.
He just has to convince Diana of that.
"We talked," Slade says as he approaches. "Most of the people from the other dimension hopped back. The Lanterns took off for Lantern business. Jason... Jason wants to talk to him when he's ready."
He gestures to the cell, refusing to even say the other Slade's name. He doesn't even deserve that.
"That sounds like a monumentally bad idea," Diana says, eyes not leaving the screen.
"I agree," Slade says. "But Jason's got the worst of Bruce and I's stubbornness, and once he's got a stupid idea in his head, he's not going to back down. If he wants to talk with him, he wants to talk with him, so Clark-B's going to stay here for a few days while we get things in order. Wants to get to know his counterparts."
He suspects it has as much (or even more) to do with Clark's parents as it does with Clark and his kids. The way Clark-B looked at them...
Well, it leads him to conclusions he prefers not to voice.
"He can take the prisoner back with him when it's time," he adds.
"You want me to leave my post," Diana says flatly. "The answer is no."
"No one's going to kill him," Slade counters. "Heat of battle is one thing. This would be cold blooded murder. None of us-"
Slade pauses, tilting his head, and listens to the sound of footsteps walking through the cave.
"...Fuck," he mutters under his breath, turning away from the cell and heading towards the cave.
So much for none of us is going to try and kill him.
He isn't surprised when he rounds the corner to find Joey. Not really. Even if he didn't want to think about it, the fact is that Joey's the most likely culprit. Of all of them, he's the one with the most cause. He's the one with the most reason to sneak down to the cave and off his old man.
So Slade doesn't even try and pretend like that's not what's happening.
"You're not doing this," he says simply, planting himself at the entrance of the hallway that leads to the cell. Diana shouldn't be able to see them, but that's not going to stop her from hearing them.
Not like it matters. She knows what this is.
You can't stop me, Joey signs, and Slade shakes his head.
"Even if you snatch my body, you can't get in alone. System isn't built for that, and Diana certainly isn't going to help you with this."
I'll figure it out, Joey signs, his face twisted into a grimace.
He looks so... so angry. Frustrated. Like he's run out of rope and still has thirty feet to go, and his only option is just to fall.
Like he's out of options.
"Joey, please," he says. Even to himself, he sounds like he's pleading. He guesses that he kind of is. "You know this will destroy Jason. This isn't what he wants. Do you think he wants this? Because he doesn't."
He doesn't think Jason would have held it against anyone if his kidnapper was killed in the rescue attempt, but this? Cold blooded murder? Jason would hold that against them.
This isn't about what Jason wants, Joey signs. It's about keeping him safe.
Low blow there. Ouch.
"He's already safe," Slade says. "He's safe upstairs and probably wondering where his boyfriend went. You should be there for him and he should be there for you, not this."
You know he's not safe, Joey signs. You know it isn't going to work like that. He goes home to my old dimension. They throw him in lockup. Two weeks later he's out. Maybe he ruins Rose's life a bit before he decides to take another shot at ruining mine. Maybe he pit stops at Grant along the way. This isn't the first time, and it won't be the last.
Double ouch. He's not wrong, which makes arguing against it... difficult. It's the same logic he heard from Damian. The criminal justice system is a revolving door. It's not improving people, just putting them in time out. Things are better in their world, but back in Joey's home? Not so much.
"We'll figure it out," he says, trying to sound confident. "But this—what you're about to do—isn't going to solve anything. Jason won't ever be able to forget you did this. It'll break his heart."
He suspects Joey knows that. He suspects he's also past that point. He's willing to throw away everything he has to make sure his father doesn't hurt anyone again.
I need to finish what I started, Joey signs. If I had killed him all those months ago, things would be better. People who shouldn't have died would be alive. People who were hurt would be healthy. Bruce wouldn't have had to relive his worst nightmare, and Jason wouldn't have almost died. I chose to let him live. I thought it was the right choice then, and I know now that I was wrong.
"You weren't wrong," Slade says. He feels like he's failing, losing ground against Joey's anger. Every gesture seems to make Joey that much angrier, and he's already in the ikon suit.
But the security should hold. The worst case scenario is that he's trapped between - Oh no. Slade realizes how he can do it. How he can manage to bypass the cell's security. He doesn't let it show on his face, and hopes to high hell it's not going to come to that.
"This is a choice you can't take back, Joey. It's a permanent choice. If you do this, there's no coming back from it. You won't be able to undo it."
Burning down Arkham was a permanent choice too, Joey signs, and Slade winces. It was. It was, but he can't figure out how the hell Joey found that out, and he does not want to have that discussion with him.
"Go upstairs, Joey," he says. "Talk this out with Jason. Talk-"
This isn't a time for talk, Joey signs. This is a time for finishing what I started and making sure this never happens again. This only happened because I was here, and if I want to make up for it-
"Oh no," Slade says, interrupting. "You don't have to make up for coming here. You're here because you want to be, and because we wanted you to be. I don't regret letting you come at all, and I know no one else does either."
There's a crack in Joey's anger, there. The tiniest, slightest flinch. He's still angry, but there's a point Slade can focus on. A point he can narrow in on as he steps forward, away from the entrance.
"We're happy you're here, Jason. What happened here isn't anyone's fault but his, and it'd be monstrous of us to try and put the blame on his kids. We're not going to blame the other Bruce's family for not stopping him, and we're sure as hell not going to blame this guy's kids for not having found a way to stop their out of control father. The only thing that matters are your choices. You chose to help us try and find Jason, even though it meant you'd have to fight your pop. You chose to be there for him, even though you were unhappy. So please," he's close enough to reach out and touch Joey, and he does exactly that, reaching out to take Joey's hands in his own, giving them a squeeze. "Please don't choose this."
Joey breaks like a damn that's been cleaved in half. He slumps forward and Slade slips in effortlessly, wrapping his arms around him and holding his weight. For a moment, Slade doesn't think he's crying, and then he realizes that the noises he's hearing are Joey's version of crying, his body shuddering against Slade's side as Slade holds him up. He shifts his hand, rubbing circles in Joey's back the way he always had to with Jason, and simply keeps him from falling over, giving him a moment to come together before he starts talking.
"I figure I made a mistake when I let you come over. I told myself when you said you didn't want me replacing your pop that I should back off. But that was the wrong choice. Dick had good parents, and Bruce didn't want to replace them, but one good parent doesn't replace a bad one. They're... a new addition. So your pop, no matter how much of a piece of shit he is, is still a pop, but unfortunately for you, you've been adopted by me now and there's no helping it. You're dating Jason, which sort of makes you my son in law, so there's no escape at this point."
Joey's body shudders, and Slade's pretty sure he laughed at that. That's good. It means he's not all misery as Slade scoops him up, leaving Diana behind as he heads for the stairs.
"Sorry," he says. "Making an executive decision. You need affection and Jason needs affection, and you're both getting affection, one way or another."
Joey signs at him, but it takes him a few tries before Slade can understand it with the position as awkward for signing as it is.
Just us, Joey signs, and Slade sighs.
"Fine. Just the two of you. But if either of you want, Bruce and I will burst right on in. It's not a good time to be alone."
If Alfred or Damian think the sight of Slade carrying a red-faced Joey through the house is unusual, neither of them comments. Alfred helpfully points towards the bedrooms, but it was where Slade was heading anyway. If Jason was going to be anywhere, it'd be there, and Slade knocks with his elbow before cracking open the door.
"Dad?" Jason asks. He's pulling on a pajama shirt, and he hastily jerks it down before realizing that slade has Joey literally held in his arms.
"Brought you someone," Slade says. "Figured you two could talk it out."
Jason—Jason, who's been through so much in the last few hours—looks distressed at the sight of Joey.
"He's alright? He's-"
"He's fine," Slade interrupts, carefully setting Joey down. He looks absolutely miserable, but the sight of Jason reaching out to pull Joey into a hug convinces him that things will work out.
"We'll be next door," Slade says. "If you need anything. Anything at all."
He makes a point of leaving them behind as fast as he can, eager to give them space.
He should have known. Should have known but didn't. He didn't think past his own nose, didn't consider what it would mean to other people.
Of course being kidnapped was scary. Of course being at Slade's mercy was terrifying.
But what about Bruce, having to relive his worst nightmare all over again?
What about Joey, knowing who was responsible?
It breaks his heart when Slade pushes open his door with Joey in his arms. It breaks him because he knows what it means. He knows it means that Joey's broken down, and he steps forward, desperate to ease that pain.
He knows there's guilt there, even if Jason wishes there wasn't.
He drags Joey back to the bed, watching as Joey automatically kicks off his shoes before crawling under the covers. Jason doesn't try to talk as he pulls Joey in, wrapping his arms around him and dragging him down onto the bed.
He should talk. He should talk, but he still doesn't, even as Joey cries, because he doesn't know what to say.
"I love you," Jason says, because it seems like the only thing he can say. That he loves him. That he cares. He needs to make sure he knows.
Joey curls against him, and Jason pulls him closer.
In the end, they don't even talk at all. After a while, Joey's breathing evens out, and Jason lets himself relax. It isn't long before he's asleep too, his arms wrapped around Joey.
When he wakes, it's because Joey's shaking softly, his sobs as silent as ever. Even so, it's clear he's making an effort to hide it. To minimize it.
"Joey," he says quietly, tightening his grip around him. "It's okay."
Joey buries his face in Jason's chest, and Jason reaches out to pull his earpiece off the nightstand, pressing it into his ear.
"Talk to me," he says. "Please."
"I don't deserve to be here," Joey says, and even if his voice sounds clear and even, his expression looks broken. "Not after what I've done."
"No one's past saving," Jason says quietly. "Slade wasn't. You certainly aren't."
He doesn't know what happened, but he can guess. He can imagine.
It's so easy to do, with Joey's father downstairs.
"I tried to kill him."
Jason wants to say it's a surprise. Wants to say he didn't see it coming.
But it would be a lie.
"I know," he says quietly, and pulls Joey tighter.
"I shouldn't be here," he says again.
"You're wrong," Jason says, leaning down to kiss Joey's forehead. "I know you hate yourself. I know you keep looking at the things you did and thinking you're not worth it. But you're wrong."
Nope. He's not letting him go down that path.
"You tried to kill him. You've never killed anyone in your life. I - I killed a lot of people, Joey. I'm not even sure how many people I killed. I killed - I killed Catman or Blockbuster, I'm not even sure which - and I killed Killer Croc, and I killed Zsasz, and-"
"That's different. Ish didn't deserve to die. No one's going to shed a tear that you killed someone like Victor Zsasz."
"No," Jason says, and the wound feels raw and fresh just saying it. "I killed other people too. People who helped the Joker keep me. They helped, and I hunted them down and killed them like animals."
He doesn't talk about it much because he doesn't want to. He feels sick thinking about it. Bruce has never brought it up. None of them have ever brought it up. But they must all know. They all must have connected the dots.
"I'm not going to fault you for hurting the people who hurt you," Joey says. His arms are still tangled around Jason, but he's stiff, unwilling to show affection. "If they worked with him to help torture a child, they deserved what they got."
"Do you think they really had a choice?" Jason asks. He can't look at Joey. Not knowing what kind of reaction he might have had. "Do you think he really gave them an honest option to not help? He forced them. They were victims too, and I killed them for it. Not being brave enough to fight back against the clown isn't something you should be killed for."
Joey curls against him, and Jason fights back tears. He doesn't want to think about it. It hurts. It's a mistake he can't take back. Not Zsasz, too dangerous to live, or Killer Crocodile, already losing his humanity, but the staff. The guards and the doctors and the staff who he hated for joining in without realizing that they didn't have a choice.
They were probably scared when the Joker threatened them.
And he killed them for it.
"Did you ever do anything for them?" Joey asks quietly.
The answer is no, because that would mean acknowledging it happened. It would mean thinking about it, and that's the last thing he wants. He's already regretting bringing it up at all, the taste of bile on the back of his tongue.
"No," is all he says.
Joey reaches out, taking Jason's hand in his own, and Jason wonders when this stopped being about making Joey feel better.
"I don't know how you're still together," Joey says. "Everything that happened today was - it was bad enough for us, and for you."
"Slept through most of it," Jason says, mouth quirking into a smile at his little joke. He's happy to talk about a subject that isn't about what he's done. Happy to talk about anything other than that. "And I've had worse."
"That seems like your answer to everything."
"That's because it's always true."
Joey reaches forward, his fingers trailing across Jason's arm, but he withdraws, looking wary.
"It still shouldn't have happened," he says. "None of this. You went through - you almost went through the worst thing to ever happen to you again."
"But I didn't," Jason counters. "I didn't because I had people who cared about me. I went through - yeah, I went through a shitty thing and it was awful and terrible, but then I woke up and everyone was here."
Joey doesn't need his hands, so Jason presses in again, wrapping his arms around Joey's middle and pulling him in close.
"Jason," Joey says. "The most important thing is that you forgive yourself."
Jason can't resist the snort. Not because he's wrong—he's probably right, considering it sounds like something Hudson would say—but because he's being a tad hypocritical.
"You're in a glass house throwing a stone, Joey. You won't even forgive yourself for things that aren't your fault."
"What happened to Ish was my fault," he says. "What I just - what I almost did was my fault too."
"I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the fact that you insist on taking the blame for everything your father does."
Joey looks away, and Jason reaches up, cupping Joey's face in his hands.
"The only things you should regret are the things you chose," Jason says. "Just like the only things I should regret are the things I chose."
Joey breaks down again, and Jason pulls him closer, holding Joey against him as he sobs.
"I love you," Jason says quietly. "Don't - don't ever do something so stupid again, alright? If you left..."
He doesn't want to think about it. He doesn't want to think about what would have happened.
Joey cries until he can't anymore, and eventually falls asleep again, and it isn't long before Jason joins him.
Bruce wakes half-wedged under Slade. He's pretty sure the only reason he's even woken up is because he's halfway to suffocating, and he has to elbow Slade in the side to get him to roll off with a huff.
"You almost crushed me," Bruce mumbles into his pillow.
"You normally like that," Slade mumbles back, rolling onto his side to give Bruce his space. "How are you feeling?"
"Like I had the worst anxiety attack of my entire life and I'm still shaking it off," Bruce says, checking the clock. He's been asleep for hours. They've slept through lunch and if they're in bed much longer they're probably going to sleep through dinner. He forces himself to sit up, stretching up and cringing at the ache in his side.
"Should probably tell you something before it comes out otherwise," Slade says, and Bruce winces. Great. This is definitely not going to be something he wants to hear.
"Alright," Bruce says. "Ready as I'm ever going to be." His brain's already imagine a thousand terrible things it could be, and the face that Slade's cringing before he's even said it does not inspire confidence.
"I have no idea how Joey found out—now that I think of it, he probably guessed and I was so caught off guard by it that I confirmed it—but either way he knows, and if he knows, someone else might know-"
"Just say it."
Even after being told to say it, Slade still hums and haws, dragging it out unnecessarily and making Bruce more and more nervous.
"You remember Arkham Asylum?"
"Of all the stupid questions you've asked me, that is by far the stupidest."
Slade huffs and rolls his eyes.
"Remember when Arkham Asylum burned down?"
Bruce feels himself relax immediately. Oh. It's this.
"Well, it was before we were together, but-"
"I meant I know," Bruce clarifies. "So you don't have to make a whole production of it."
That catches Slade off guard, and he pauses for a moment, squinting at Bruce in confusion.
"Hold on, you knew?"
"The remains of Arkham Asylum mysteriously burnt to the ground in a clear case of arson, and you didn't think I'd look into it?"
"Well when you put it that way-"
"But I knew before that," Bruce cuts in. "I was aware that Jason was planning to... get rid of the remains. I thought the best thing I could do was sit back and let him do it without intervening. You, on the other hand, chose to... to help out. To be his partner in crime. It was one of the things that convinced me that you were a good part of the family as a whole, not just as Jason's father."
Slade looks genuinely taken aback, and then seems to relax, letting out a huffing little laugh.
"Should have known," he says. "Of course you'd know." He leans forward, pressing a kiss to Bruce's forehead, and then gets out of bed completely. "Let's get going, I'm starving."
Damian's already up, helping Alfred prepare a rather modest looking dinner.
"It's good to see you awake, Master Bruce," Alfred says. "I wasn't sure if you'd be joining us."
"Any sign of Jason?" Slade asks as he lifts the lid on the pot, peeking inside and ignoring the disapproving stare from Alfred.
"He is still in his room," Damian says. "As is Joey."
Not terribly surprising by any metric, and Bruce lets it go without comment.
Joey and Jason don't show up until midway through dinner. They both look exhausted, even if it's clear they just woke up, and no one comments on the fact that Jason's still in his pajamas. If there was ever a day to wander around in pajamas, this is it.
"All your favorites," Alfred says, which means all your favorite comfort foods. The food's far more homestyle than Alfred usually makes, and Bruce feels strangely comforted by the sight of Jason devouring two full bowls of chili before going to town on the cornbread.
"Wait," Jason says, his head snapping up. "Is Diana still here?!"
"Downstairs," Slade says. "Checked on her just before dinner. Told her I'd bring her some food after dinner."
"Isn't she bored?" Jason asks.
"If she is, she won't show it," Bruce says. "I assume you're thinking about giving her some books, but she won't read them."
"I was thinking of taking Titus over to the Kent's after dinner," Damian says, changing the subject none-too-subtly.
It's weird realizing my Superman's over there, Joey signs.
"Did you know him before all this?" Bruce asks.
I mean, everyone knows about him, Joey signs. But we'd worked together once before.
"How'd that happen? With the Titans?" Jason asks.
"I can guess," Slade mutters darkly, and Bruce winces.
Taking down pop, Joey confirms. I could shut down his Ikon suit, which made bringing him in a lot easier. It didn't work out that nicely, though.
"Never does," Slade says. "Guess I wouldn't call you friends?"
I was more of a fan than anything else, Joey answers. I'm surprised he even remembered me.
"Clarks are good like that," Bruce points out. "Great memories, good with faces."
"One of Mr. Kent's greatest traits is how genuine he is," Alfred says. "I can't say I'm disappointed to learn there will be two for the time being."
Bruce is pretty sure either Clark would drop dead if he heard the kind of praise he was getting, and he's happy he isn't there.
"I'll check with Diana after dinner," he says. "Did you two want to go with Damian?" He turns his head, glancing between Jason and Joey. A part of him feels like he's an idiot for letting Jason get out of his sight, but he also figures that being in the same house as two Clark Kents and six Kryptonian kids has to be the safest place on the face of the earth.
"Might as well," Jason says with a shrug. "Figured I should thank them for helping."
Bruce manages to hold himself back until Jason is grabbing his shoes, and he's impressed he managed to hold out that far. Without meaning to he reaches forward, pulling Jason into a hug and catching him off guard.
"Bruce," Jason mumbles, muffled by Bruce's chest.
"Sorry," Bruce says quietly. He can feel it coming. He knows he's not far from breaking down. But he can't put it off. He just needs to... to know that he's there. To be sure Jason's not going far. "Just indulge your father a bit."
"Just try not to suffocate me," Jason mumbles, and Bruce cracks a smile, finally letting him go.
"I should go deal with Diana," he says quickly. "Say hi to the Kents for me."
"Of course," he says. "All fifty of them now."
"Give or take," Bruce says with a grin.
It feels egotistical just to think it, but Clark's pretty sure that Kent's the best houseguest that he and Lois have ever had. He's polite, helpful, and most importantly of all he has a pretty good feel for how their family works. Even though it's a new and unfamiliar house for him, and he's unfamiliar with most of the boys, he still slots easily into their dynamic without a word of complaint.
Even if he didn't stay with them last time, he's still familiar enough to Clark that it's easy to spot the differences. When he last visited, much of his attention was on Jon. He'd warned them of the possibility of other Kryptonians, and in particular warned them against ever letting Jon go on a trip with his Kryptonian grandparent.
Now, though, his attention is split between the new additions to Clark and Lois's family and Clark's own parents.
Clark can't bring himself to ask, but it's clear that something happened to them. The closest he gets is when he pulls Clark aside not too long after they've gotten home, dropping his voice down so quiet that he doesn't think Jon would possibly be able to hear.
"Is there anything I should be watching for?" He asks. "Heart problems, early checks...?"
"No," Kent replies automatically. "It wasn't anything like that. It was - it would have already passed for you."
Clark reaches out, giving Kent's arm a squeeze he hopes comes across as comforting, and watches the other man nod.
"Treasure them," Kent says quietly. "All of them."
"Would have either way."
They end up talking the boys through what happened, making sure none of them are too shaken. Jon's worried about Damian, but Clark convinces him to stay in the house and give Damian some space.
"He'll come when he's ready," Clark points out. "No need to rush."
He ends up retiring to the room he shares with Lois as a temporary office, and works through some of both of their workload while she naps. When he comes back downstairs he finds Kent in quiet conversation with his—with Clark's parents—and opts to leave him be.
He is not surprised to find the Wayne boys out in the yard with their absolutely massive dog in tow. He's thought about getting a dog, but he's still in the process of figuring out how to explain to his coworkers that he had to, on less than a week's notice, move to Gotham.
How's he going to explain the commute, anyway?
"Everything alright out here?" He calls, watching Jon zip off to catch a disc Damian's throwing, with Titus darting back and forth between them. As he watches, Joey steps in to play, and Jason splits off to approach him.
"Figured we'd check in," Jason says. He looks... alright. Good, even. Not half as traumatized by the experience as Clark keeps expecting him to be, but the worry's still there just the same. "Didn't really thank your family for being such good neighbours."
"Well, if Kent's right and we do end up getting Kryptonian visitors at some point, I'm sure you'll be returning the favor in spades," Clark says. It doesn't feel like a particularly significant risk right then. The timeline's all wrong, for one. He and his counterpart seem around the same age, but plenty of things had happened to him that haven't happened to Kent and vice versa.
"If anything like that happens, we'll just penpal the other dimension for some of that Kryptonite stuff," Jason adds with a grin, and Clark winces, instinctively reaching up to where he got stabbed. After so long unable to be harmed, seeing his own blood felt like a wakeup call.
"I should probably investigate that more," he admits. "See if any of that exists here."
"Everything alright out here?" Kent calls from behind them, and the two of them glance over their shoulders as Jason lets out a snort. "...What?" Kent adds, looking confused.
"Same greeting," Clark clarifies. "We have a lot in common."
"One or two things," Kent adds, stepping down off the porch as he turns his attention to JAson. "How's your father doing?"
"He's alright. He was going to talk to Diana when we left."
Kent frowns at that.
"I should relieve her," he says. "It was our-"
"None of that," Clark interrupts. "You're here enjoying something you can't get elsewhere. You won't be here for more than a few days, so you might as well enjoy them. I'll check in with her if she'd like to swap out with me."
The conversation gets interrupted by ma delivering iced tea to the whole lot of them, and then the conversation turns to something more mellow when his parents and Lois join them on the porch. There are so many things to talk about, things he'd probably never spend the time on, but having Kent there is giving him a whole new appreciation for making smalltalk with his parents.'
"I'm going to see if Diana needs anything," Clark tells Lois when it's clear the boys are getting ready to head back home long after dark. "I might be gone tonight."
Lois reaches out, taking his hand, and he gives it a little squeeze in return.
"I won't be far," he reassures her. "I just want to be sure that he's not... out and about."
"If he is, I'll shoot him myself," Lois grumbles. "Take care, alright?"
Clark isn't particularly surprised when Diana turns him down, though.
"It isn't necessary," she says. "I can last through the night."
"What about tomorrow night?"
He can't stop himself from checking the screen instinctively. The other Slade— Deathstroke —doesn't even appear to have moved since they put him in there. He's still lounging on his back, hands folded across his chest as he stares up at the ceiling.
"Has he said anything?" He adds.
"No," Diana says, confirming his suspicions. "I can last until tomorrow. Steve is coming to relieve me. Go home to your family, Clark."
There's no way Steve could stop either Slade, which confirms Clark's suspicion. Diana isn't worried about him escaping; she has total faith in Bruce's work. No, she's afraid of someone else getting in, and for that, Steve will do.
All he has to do is let her know if anyone else shows up.
"You know where I am if you start nodding off," he says. "Or if you need anything at all."
She gives him a tight smile and then turns her full attention back to her duty, letting him leave on his own.
He makes a point of saying goodnight to Bruce and Slade before he goes, and winces when Bruce thanks him again.
"You'd have done the same for my family," Clark points out. "One thank you is more than enough."
"Still deserves to be said," Bruce says. "Thank you. I assume we'll see you sometime tomorrow? Maybe brunch, if we can pry Diana away...?"
"Steve's apparently coming to take over for her," he says. "Brunch sounds nice, though. I'm still not used to just... having such a large group to entertain. Or such a large space."
"Brunch it is," Slade confirms. "We'll see you then."
To Clark, it feels almost like normal and he couldn't be happier for that fact.
Steve's pretty sure he's never going to get used to Wayne Manor. He's gotten used to Bruce and Slade—both pretty personable once you get past the intimidating exteriors they project—but the house itself is still intimidating. It screams of old money, and riches he can't even imagine. It feels like the kind of place that probably has secret passages (and on second thought, it definitely does) and hidden treasures (he guesses the batcave counts).
He knows what happened because Diana filled him in, but she's been painfully cagey on the actual details of what he's going to be doing there. The fact that it's Alfred, rather than Diana herself, who lets him into the house is not comforting, although the smell of food cooking lets him relax at least a bit.
"So, everything alright?" He asks. It's just after breakfast, and there's obvious noises from the kitchen, but other than that the house seems fairly quiet.
"It's been peaceful enough," Alfred answers. "It is good to see you again."
"Wish I'd been here yesterday," he says. "We were-"
"We were informed," Alfred says with a small smile. "We did not expect to receive as much help as we did, so having a few members of the League out of touch due to a mission is hardly a reason for complaint."
"Hal showed up, right?"
"Yes, but he left quite hastily with the two Lanterns from the other dimension. From what I gathered, there was some issue with his partner."
"Hopefully he gets it sort out."
Steve's not counting on it getting sorted out in a timely manner. Hal's a great guy, but he's not exactly reliable when it comes to League business. He's got more than Earth to deal with, after all.
He isn't surprised when they descend into the cave, but he is surprised when Alfred leads him right past the parts of the cave he's familiar with, back into the tunnels Steve's come to think of as storage.
He must be making more of a look than he means to, because when Alfred glances back towards him, he stops and looks him over.
"...Should I make the assumption that you were not fully briefed on the situation?"
"You caught him," Steve says, "and now he's locked up?"
"Correct," Alfred confirms. "He is being held in a special containment unit designed by Master Bruce with the assistance of Slade himself. The unit was designed and built after we first became aware of other dimensions. The possibility existed that they would be forced to contain someone on the level of a member of the Justice League in absolute secrecy, including one of their own doppelgangers, and they created the unit specifically for that purpose."
"A secret prison," Steve confirms.
"At the time it was created, they had not yet revealed themselves to the public. Having a second Slade Wilson wreaking havoc on the wider world would have made that an issue."
"I get it," Steve says, waving it off. "I just want to be sure we're on the same page. Tell me about the security we're looking at here."
"The unit is modified from an old safe room. Someone inside it could live without outside assistance for months without the addition of further supplies. The entrance uses an airlock style structure. Additional supplies or other goods are placed inside the airlock while the outside door is opened, and the inner door will not—and cannot— be opened without the outer door being fully sealed."
"So why's Diana guarding it with her life if it's so secure?"
Alfred's face tells him everything he needs to know, but he appreciates that the man doesn't mince words.
"I believe Miss Prince is concerned not that the cell's occupant would escape, but instead that someone might bypass security externally to... pay them a visit."
Pretty much what he expected.
"Alright," Steve says. "Lead the way."
As grim as the situation is, seeing Diana brings him some peace just the same. She still looks like herself, even if she's standing at attention, and she seems to relax only when she spots Steve approaching.
"Sorry I'm late," he says. "Have you just been here all night?"
"I can manage," she says, sounding a shade defensive, and Steve lets out a huff.
"Doesn't mean you should have to," he counters. "Go get food, it smells delicious up there."
"I'll make sure to bring you some down," Alfred says to him as Diana turns to gather her things.
"Anything I need to know?"
"He doesn't do anything," Diana points out. "So not really. Intercom's over there, call button for us is up there, and there's nothing else you need to know. He shouldn't even notice that I'm no longer here, if he ever knew at all."
The only way to see into the room is the screen, and Steve settles into the offered chair to watch.
It's painfully boring. There's nothing to do but watch, and he can't just not watch, as tempting as it is. There's no cellphone signal so far beneath the ground, which rules out setting up a video, so he settles on playing some music he has saved to his phone, propping it up against the monitor so his eyes are never far.
It isn't the first time he's seen Slade's doppelganger. He saw him once before, back when the whole thing first was an issue, and he's not exactly excited to see him again. Not after what he did. Attacking any member of the League would be bad enough, but going after Jason? He's not the youngest member of the team, but Steve's pretty sure he's the one they're all the most protective of.
For good reason, too.
Steve's not murderous about it like Diana apparently thinks others are, but he's not exactly thinking charitable thoughts as he watches Slade's counterpart either. He's just lying there, not doing anything, staring up at the ceiling.
Or at least he is until maybe ten minutes after Diana's gone.
"Hey," the other Slade says, and Steve startles so hard he almost falls out of his chair. He can't figure out how the hell he knows, but apparently he does. "Have to say it's pretty boring in here."
Steve takes a quick look around the rest of the room and admit that he's right. There's basically nothing to do. In an ideal situation he'd be provided with books or games or something to keep his mind occupied, but as it is he's basically in the worst kind of solitary confinement, and Steve winces at the thought.
It's temporary, he reminds himself. He's supposed to be going back in a few days at the most.
But Steve can't quite bring himself to just leave it at that, reaching over to tap the intercom button, letting him speak into the cell.
"You've got a few more days to ride out," he says, leaving it vague. "You'll simply have to make do."
The other Slade moves, rolling onto his side, and lets out a yawn.
"Made do with my eyelids already, but there's only so many hours someone can sleep before it starts to wear on them. Like being stuck in basecamp waiting for orders, nothing to do but sit on your hands."
Except alone. The alone part is key. Waiting for orders isn't so bad when you have people to talk with, cards to play. Waiting alone is what's slowly killing him.
He's going to have to make them give him something, isn't he?
"I'll see what I can do," Steve says simply.
"You'll have to fight them for it, Trevor," the other Slade says, which confirms Steve's suspicions about whether or not he remembers him. "Try not to fight too hard, or else they're going to think you're on my side."
"This isn't about sides."
"Everything's about sides. You versus me. Us versus them. All conflict comes down to sides."
"The only sides in this are you versus a sane course of action," Steve counters. "No one stood by you for a damned good reason, Slade."
He falters for a moment there, frowning down at the figure still lying on its side.
"I figure he's Slade, so I can be Wilson. Quicker and easier. Less confusing. No one calls him Wilson, right?"
Steve hasn't called him Wilson in years. Especially not since he's Wilson-Wayne now, and that's far too long for a quick nickname.
"You're avoiding my point," Steve says.
"Didn't think it needed answering. You're only talking to me because you pity me. You think it's not fair to anyone to be left alone for days at a time without interaction."
"Because it isn't."
"Does it bring you any comfort to know that I don't really care?" Wilson asks him, and Steve knows the answer even before he's said it.
"It does not."
"'Course not. Nice guy like you wants to believe you're better than this. Better than keeping someone locked up like an animal, no trial or anything like that."
He knows exactly what Wilson's doing, but that doesn't stop it from working. Wilson's trying to humanize himself, digging into Steve's empathy for... for what? He can't imagine that Steve's going to let him out or really change his situation in the next few days.
But mostly it's the admission that he doesn't care about his situation that throws Steve off. It's the exact wrong thing to say.
So either he's wrong, and Wilson's not trying to get Steve to empathize with him, or he's playing a game at a level past the one Steve can see.
"Steve," Diana calls, and he lifts his finger from the intercom automatically with a wince. Why does he have a feeling like Diana's going to disapprove?
"Thought he seemed bored," he says, turning his attention away from the screen. "Figured talking wouldn't hurt."
Diana most definitely does not approve. It's written all over her face. Even so, she doesn't actually lecture him about it or anything like that. Instead, she checks to make sure Slade hasn't moved and that everything is back in order, and then nudges for Steve to stand.
"I left brunch early," she says. "You can go eat with them so it's fresh."
"You didn't have to-"
"I was wary that if I was gone too long, something would happen," she says. "I only need to hold out for a few days, and we can put this behind us."
Holding out for a few days seems a hell of a lot harder than it sounds, but he nods anyway.
"Alright," he says. "You need me to take over or anything, for any reason, just call. I'm just over in Metropolis anyway."
"Of course. Enjoy your breakfast, Steve."
He gives the screen one last nervous look before he finally turns away, heading upstairs. Even if he doesn't want to admit it, he can't help but feel unsettled by the whole conversation, and a part of him wishes he'd never even tried to talk with Wilson at all.
Jason's not quite sure what to expect when Joey approaches him after they've finished brunch. Slade and Bruce are seeing Trevor off at the door, and Damian's gone to help Alfred in the back garden.
I thought you might want to come with me this afternoon, Joey signs, and Jason quirks an eyebrow, seeking clarification. The church I found does Wednesday services. When things feel particularly tense, I like going to confession. It feels normal to me.
"Thought confession was just for Catholics."
He hasn't stepped foot in a church in years. The only time he can remember having ever visited was when it was a requirement for a soup kitchen in his really early years, but those memories are little more than a hazy fog.
We do it too, Joey clarifies. Thought you might want to tag along.
He sort of does, sort of doesn't. He can't deny he's vaguely curious about the whole thing, even if he's fairly sure it's not for him. He's more curious about it for Joey's sake. How invested in it is Joey?
"Sure," he says. "I'll tag along."
Guess this means we should probably drive, Joey says with a grin. Flying's a lot more conspicuous with two.
To Jason's complete lack of surprise, Bruce has something to say on the matter of him leaving the house.
"Absolutely not," Bruce says. "It's barely been a day. Can't you wait?"
He knows Bruce is worried about him, but for Jason, he knows that sticking around isn't going to help. He's in tune enough with his coping mechanisms to know that hanging around recovering is just going to lead to him building it up more in his head. The best thing he can do for himself is to try and carry on like it's business as usual, but that doesn't mean it's the best thing for Bruce.
"Would it help if I brought a tracker with me?" He offers. "So you can check where I am. We're not even going far into town, and then we'll come straight back."
Bruce's face pinches with concern, and Jason's pretty sure it's a losing battle until Slade rounds the corner.
"Where are they going?"
"Nowhere," Bruce says automatically. "They're going to stay right here."
"They obviously want to go somewhere."
I was going to show Jason the church I went to, Joey signs, and there's a flicker of surprise across Slade's face that tells Jason he didn't know what Joey was doing on Sundays.
"A church? On... what day is it, Wednesday?"
"Wednesday services are a thing," Jason points out. "Thursday not so much."
Slade grunts, obviously thinking it over.
The obvious solution is to invite Bruce alone, but Jason doesn't want that. Going with Joey feels like a them thing, and even more importantly he doesn't want Bruce thinking about it. He doesn't want Bruce to think about anything that happened before Jason came back to the family, because as far as Jason's concerned it's basically all bad.
"Alright," Bruce says. "But you're taking the tracker. And I want you to check in-"
"I'll check in," Jason says. "I promise."
It's easier to make the concession watching how nervous Bruce is. He's so clearly agitated, but he does seem to relax when Jason takes the tracking dot. He weighs his options, and then opts to simply slip it into his shirt pocket. If he loses his dress shirt in church, then Bruce will know something's gone wrong.
"Be safe," Bruce says. "Check in."
"I know," Jason reminds him. "We'll be back right after."
Jason doesn't have much in the way of expectations, but they're more or less met when they arrive. Joey finds them a seat near the back, and Jason spends much of the early service people watching.
Everyone seems normal. They are normal people with normal problems and the more Jason looks, the more out of place he feels. The things they confess and pray for are things like coveting Susan's house and flipping someone off who cut them off in traffic.
He isn't one of them. Joey is (he can't exactly join in, but he clearly knows all the words), but he's not. He's a stranger in a strange place and less than ten minutes in he wants nothing more than to leave.
He makes it thirty minutes before he slips away while Joey's distracted and goes back to the car. He sits in the driver's seat, curling forward as he tries to get his breathing steady, but the feelings keep bubbling up no matter how he tries to push it down. He's not one of them. Joey might be able to find peace from it, but he can't. His sins are different.
Joey catches up to him after only a few minutes, looking alarmed as he pulls open the car door.
"Are you alright?" Joey asks through the earpiece. "I looked over and you were gone."
"Didn't want to disturb you," Jason mumbles. "You should finish-"
"I'm not finishing it with you out here," Joey says. He bends down, wrapping his arms around Jason's torso, and pulls him in close.
He doesn't say anything else, just holds Jason there. The positioning is awkward and almost painful, but the sentiment isn't. The sentiment is good.
"It wasn't for you," Joey says. "That's alright. We'll find something else."
Something else to make him feel better for the awful things he's done. The awful things he pushed away and didn't want to think about, and now he desperately wishes he could do that again.
Joey won't go back inside, so in the end Jason texts Bruce to know they're on their way home and ends up sliding over to let Joey drive. Bruce doesn't comment on how short a period they were gone beyond giving him some concerned looks, but gives them space when Joey pulls Jason down onto the couch and sets up a movie.
They go almost the whole movie without a word between them, but of course it can't actually last.
It's okay to admit you're upset, Joey signs. You don't have to pretend like everything's okay.
"Easier if I do," Jason mumbles. "Then I don't have to admit anything's wrong."
Joey leans down, pressing a kiss to his forehead, and pulls him tighter.
He tries not to think about the fact that the other Slade's in the house. It's not so much that his presence bothers him, but instead what he represents: Joey's one and only chance for closure. The only chance he's ever going to get to tell his father what he feels.
And he doesn't want him going back to their home dimension without Joey getting a chance to do just that.
"Have you thought about talking with him?" Jason says a few minutes later.
"Your dad," Jason says, feeling like his question was pretty self explanatory.
Joey's face pinches with agitation, and he seems to think about it for a long moment before he nods.
Thought about it, he signs. But I don't think it would make a difference. He came to get me and I think I should probably applaud that, but I can't. I know he only came to get me because me being here means I'm out of his control. He can't stand the thought of losing me as a tool, not the thought of losing me as his son.
It hurts just seeing it, but seeing Joey look so devastated the admission makes it hurt even more.
"You should tell him."
Diana isn't going to let me near him.
"She would if you told her the truth. That you need to tell him that before he goes back."
It won't make a difference. Pop doesn't change. He's been the same way since I was a kid.
"It's not about-" Jason starts, faltering for a moment before shaking his head. "It's not about fixing him. It's about... getting it off your chest. Making sure there's no possible confusion, so that he knows. Because he seems to... he seems to delude himself, I guess? When he took me-"
Joey winces at that, and Jason cringes in response. Maybe he should have left it off, but it's too late to not say it.
"When he took me, he acted like we'd taken you. Like you'd been forced to come here. But there's no way he could really believe that, right? It's just... it's so obviously false that it doesn't stand up to even a quick glance. But he acted like he believed it. I think he just... tells himself lies because the truth isn't good enough for him."
Joey watches him for a moment before he finally replies.
Do you think I should tell him how I feel? You think it will help?
"I don't think it'll help him," Jason says. If everything that already happened wasn't enough, nothing in the world would change his mind. "I think it'll help you."
Help me how?
Jason feels like he's stretching into territory he's unfamiliar with, but there are still things he's been told that can help. Lessons that can be repurposed. Morals shared with him.
"You set a line," Jason says. "A line in the sand. You don't tell him about the line, but you tell yourself about the line. You write it down somewhere. The line is... a thing he has to do for you to still be in his life. Not something he has to say, because saying I'll do better isn't enough, it has to be... it has to be something substantial."
And what about when he doesn't do it?
"Then you know you tried. The line is to... to remind you that you gave him a reasonable chance and he blew it. That you did give him a chance, and that you can't keep giving him a chance. So if he fails... you leave. You walk away. You never interact with him again."
Easier said than done.
He'll come back.
Jason leans against Joey, pulling him closer, and Joey ends up pressing his forehead against Jason's shoulder, his body trembling.
"He always comes back," Joey adds. "No matter where I go."
"We'll figure it out," Jason says. "We'll all figure it out. Together. As a team."
Joey's tears are silent, but Jason can see the way his body shakes anyway, and he pulls him closer, wrapping his arms around him as he cries for everything he hasn't been allowed to have.
Chapter contains sexual content.
It feels like a gift when Jason comes to him later that evening for help. Maybe it shouldn't, but it feels undeniably satisfying knowing that Jason's coming to him. That he's trusting him with his secrets.
"I want to look them up," he says, his voice almost whisper quiet. "I want to... to know who they were. Maybe they've got family, or something, and I could-"
Jason doesn't finish the thought, turning away. Joey knows what he means though: if they had struggling family, he could step in anonymously and ease his own guilt.
Maybe it's a cynical way to look at it, but to Joey it's simply the truth. Owning up to it isn't an option. The trial would rip the family in half, and he's under no illusions about how Jason would do in prison. There's no option other than for him to make peace with it however he can.
They settle into the office, and Joey watches in fascination as Jason hides what he's doing from his father. He bypasses Bruce's security, pulls up his own, and hides everything he does with truly impressive skill. Joey hadn't given much thought to what kind of abilities Jason might have had, but watching him do it all without breaking a sweat reminds him just how much there is about Jason he doesn't know.
"Do you know their names?" Joey asks through the earpiece, Jason's eyes fixed firmly on the computer. Jason doesn't nod, but Joey can watch him start typing in the names.
For the most part, Joey is silent. He's not actually needed for this part, just the part after. Jason's the one who was Batman, who knows how to do all the detective work. He knows how to look them up, knows where to find all the information. Joey can only watch in fascination as he unravels the lives of the people who hurt him, and who he killed in response.
What he finds is good stuff.
Or maybe bad stuff. Joey can't quite tell if he should be happy or not with what Jason's finding.
Not one of them was a good person by any metric. One of them has multiple assault charges pressed against him by his ex-wife. One used the money to fund a gambling addiction that would have—if he hadn't died—caused his parents to lose their house. It's issue after issue. Broken relationships, awful uses of the Joker's money, further signs of corruption...
And worst of all, Jason seems to be getting more frustrated by the minute.
"Isn't this good?" Joey asks carefully, wary of what answer he's about to get.
"No, it's-" Jason makes a noise of frustration, leaning forward until his forehead is pressed against the desk. "It's frustrating."
"You've lost me," Joey admits. "These people are... they're the worst kind of people."
He'd assumed—apparently incorrectly—that Jason would be happy with that. That he'd be relieved that the people he killed weren't good people who were down on their luck, but instead something far more morally gray.
Now he's wondering if it's screwed up that he's thinking like that at all.
"It's too - it's too easy," Jason says. "I don't want to - I can't just say they're bad and be done with it. That's wrong, and I just-"
He makes another noise of frustration, and Joey reaches over, wrapping his arms around Jason. This is the part he's there for: the emotional support after he's done.
Jason closes everything out and turns off the computer before turning to Joey and returning the hug. He makes another small noise of frustration, but relaxes a bit when Joey kisses his forehead.
"Have you - did you ever think about talking about this with Slade?"
Not Bruce. Absolutely not Bruce. Joey knows better, and he knows Jason would be horrified by the very suggestion. But Slade seems like a nice, perfectly valid option. He's killed people before, and in theory, he's made his peace with it. Even better, he already knows. He was there for it, and that means Jason can skip over the messy part where he has to explain things.
"What if he doesn't have an answer?"
"Then you'll still have tried," Joey says. "He might not be able to solve my problem is not a reason to not try."
Jason grunts in a way that Joey knows means you're right but I don't want to admit it, and Joey leans over, pressing a kiss to his temple.
"You can tomorrow," Joey says. "Tonight is a quiet night. No more... thinking. No more of this."
He isn't going to let Jason spend the rest of the night thinking about it. Absolutely not. Instead he drags him away from the office off to the bedroom.
It's probably too early for anything intensive, so he settles for grabbing a book of Jason's shelf, dropping it into his hands, and then crawling into bed himself and curling against Jason's side.
Read your book, he signs.
"With you latched onto me like that?" Jason asks, eyes wandering down to where Joey lays against his side.
I'll keep my hands to myself.
Jason gets a look in his eye, and Joey decides to change his plans, leaning up to catch Jason's lips with his own.
Unless you don't want me too, he signs, unsure if Jason's even paying attention. Joey's pretty sure he's not, because his eyes have that uniquely glazed look of someone who just developed a very sudden erection, and Joey grins, leaning up to kiss him again.
But he can't just go right ahead with Jason's brain running at half focus, and he reaches up, tapping his cheek to get Jason to open his eyes and actually focus.
Are you alright with this? Joey signs, and while he's pretty sure Jason didn't actually think before that ridiculously enthusiastic nod, he's not going to turn it down.
Joey trails kisses down Jason's neck to where the last remains of the hickey still lay. He gives it a little kiss, but opts not to leave the mark again in favor of letting it fade. Instead, he slips his hands under Jason's shirt just above his hips, running his hands up Jason's sides. Jason's breath hitches and he goes stiff in a way that's clearly not pleasant, and not for the first time Joey's happy for the communicator in Jason's ear. It lets him keep his hands on Jason while also easing his worries.
"Let me," he says as he dips down, pressing kisses across the patch of skin his hands have revealed. There's scar there, but not that much scar, and since it's clear that Jason's expecting him to be bothered he makes sure to be absolutely clear that he isn't. He doesn't avoid the scars or focus on them, treating them the same way he would any other bit of skin.
"Joey..." Jason groans, and even though they've only just started, he sounds wrung out already.
"Just lay back," Joey instructs, hiking Jason's shirt up further.
There are a lot of scars, and there's no point pretending like there aren't. But it's not as if it's some unworkable impossibility there by any metric, and there's something enticing about the way Jason reacts to skin contact. Some of the skin seems to have no sensation at all, drawing no reaction from him. The rest of the skin seems to be almost hyper-sensitive by comparison, and Joey watches with amusement at the way Jason reacts to every little touch. He jumps and bucks and twitches, and his clothed erection ruts against Joey's stomach as he leans against him.
He isn't surprised to learn that Jason's nipples are sensitive, and watching Jason's entire body buck under him at the slightest touch of his lips is undeniably satisfying. He's pretty sure he could spend the whole rest of the evening just watching Jason squirm, but he has other plans in mind as he lets himself sit back, looking Jason over.
Jason looks deliciously fucked out and they've barely even started. His expression looks glazed, his erection looks downright painfully tight in his pants, and if Joey wasn't already hard, the way Jason's looking up at him certainly would have finished the job.
"Want you," Jason mumbles, and Joey doesn't think he's ever had blood run south so fast in his life.
You look good like this, Joey signs, and now all I can think about is how much I want you in my mouth.
"No," Jason mumbles, and when he tries to sit up Joey plants a hand on his chest, pushing him back down. "I want - it's always about me. You should be enjoying this too."
Joey wants to fuck him. He wants to just - to just bend Jason over and finally fuck him. He's wanted it since he first had a chance to touch Jason and holding back as long as he has feels like torture.
But it's not the right time. For one thing, he's pretty sure Jason's never had so much as a finger in him, and Joey is not going to have Jason's first time be him trying to pretend like-
Okay, maybe he wouldn't actually feel the pain, but Jason would know he'd be in pain otherwise, and that's bad enough for him.
So instead he reaches down, running his hands down the fabric of Jason's jeans, right along his inner thigh. He knows what he wants, and he can't have it, but there are still other things. Other options.
Let me fuck your thighs? Joey signs, and Jason goes red as a tomato, burrowing back down into his pillow.
But he doesn't say no. He even, after a bit of hesitation, nods. It's clear he's hesitant—considering Joey's sure as hell not going to have an enjoyable time rubbing against jeans, there's no wonder why—but Joey's ready for this. He's prepared. He knows what it entails.
Because the fact is that no matter what he can't show any sort of reaction to the scars he's going to see. He can't flinch or ignore them or anything. He has to make it absolutely, painfully clear to Jason that the scars aren't an issue.
So he does. Jason's attention is obviously on him as Joey gets to work. He guesses Jason might be more comfortable if he's not the only one naked, and at worst Joey figures seeing him naked will distract Jason from his own insecurities. It does, because the moment Joey's got his shirt off Jason can't take his eyes off him, and he makes a point to lean over, dragging Jason into another kiss.
He gives Jason a good view of his ass when he ducks into the bathroom (thank god Jason has lotion, even if it's not actual proper lube like he'd like), but he waits until he's pretty much ready before he starts to peel Jason's clothes off. He doesn't need his shirt off, but Joey thinks it's better if it's off, and he does his best not to make a big deal of it. He treats Jason the way he's treated anyone he's slept with, trailing kisses up his skin as he pulls the shirt off. It's clear from the tension in Jason's body how strung out he is, the tension tight across his entire body, but Joey doesn't call attention to it as he moves down to Jason's pants.
Seeing Jason actually naked is an experience. The scarring is bad, no denying it, but Joey's having a really hard time focusing on the scars when there's so much muscle he could be looking at. He really can't bring himself to care about the fact that Jason's got some burn scars dotted across abs you could cut yourself on. Joey's always thought of himself as fit, but he's got nothing on Jason.
His thighs, though. Looking at his thighs is an experience. They're so thick and muscular that Joey can't tear his eyes away. They are the best thighs he's ever seen in his life, no questions asked, and he makes a point of telling Jason as much as he drags his fingers down the muscle there.
"Going to fuck you from behind," Joey says because he is not taking his hands off Jason if he can help it. Part of him wants to see Jason's face, but he's never been one for any other position when it comes to intercrural. "Show you just how nice it can be."
The biggest risk, as far as Joey is concerned, is that when he slides right in between Jason's thighs he's going to cum then and there. He's already painfully wound up, and the feel of Jason's back against his chest as he applies lube is only making it worse.
The tensions still clear in Jason's back, but some of it eases when Joey starts showering kisses across his shoulders and up his neck.
"Going to hold those legs tight together for me?" Joey asks, and he waits for Jason to squeeze his legs together before he presses forward.
And god is it good. Jason's back and Jason's thighs and just Jason. The way he tastes, the way he smells, the way he tastes... The noises he makes, even before Joey wraps his arm around and wraps his fingers around Jason's cock are delicious.
Jason is, in sharp contrast to him, very vocal. He makes noises for every move Joey makes, and Joey wants to hear every single one of them.
He should probably go slow. He should probably be careful. But Joey's having a hard time thinking past how it all feels as he fucks between Jason's thighs, jerking Jason off as he does.
Of all the things, it's the way Jason tips his head back that sets Joey off. It's so vulnerable, and Joey lets out a deep exhale as he snaps his hips forward, eyes squeezing shut as he cums. It's only years of experience that keeps his hand going, his other hand dropping down to play with Jason's balls as Joey presses tight to Jason's body.
Jason doesn't last long. In fact, it's timed so well that Joey's pretty sure he was explicitly holding off until Joey was done, and he finishes in Joey's hand shortly after.
Joey trails kisses across Jason's neck, and Jason makes a happy little content noise that makes Joey's stomach flip.
"Love you," Jason mumbles, and it's clear how exhausted he is already. Joey kisses a bit more down his back before letting go, rolling free.
"Let me just clean up."
He doesn't even make Jason get out of bed. He's not entirely sure Jason will get out of bed otherwise, so he simply brings a cloth, making sure he's good and clean before pulling the blankets up around him and sliding back in against him.
It's nice feeling his skin against Jason's own, and it's even nicer being able to fall asleep against him like that, his arms wrapped around Jason's waist as he pulls Jason against him.
Love you, Joey signs, and he knows Jason saw just from the way his ears go red.
As far as Slade's concerned, his doppelganger's already overstayed his welcome. Even if Jason wants to talk with him (and he can't imagine why he would want to do so), having him in the house making everyone edgy for two fucking days is a step too far.
"He has to go," Slade tells Bruce while they're getting ready. "I'm going to talk to Jason today and tell him he needs to shit or get off the pot."
"Try and be more delicate than that," Bruce says as he grabs his toothbrush. The fact that he doesn't disagree tells Slade they obviously have the same opinion on things.
"I'll be nice about it," Slade says as he furiously scrubs at his teeth. "But he needs to deal with it. Or not. If he never speaks to him again I'll be perfectly happy with it."
He's not sure why Jason insists on talking with him, and the whole thing is making him far grumpier than it should.
Bruce leans up to kiss Slade on the cheek, and Slade grumbles some more just for the sake of it before heading out into the house.
He doesn't drag it out. Jason is - well, he's definitely affected by what happened, but he sure as hell doesn't look it. He looks perfectly normal when Slade finds him in the hallway. The bandage on his hand is gone, he's stopped mysteriously wearing high collared shirts, and he looks like he's in perfect health despite what happened. Hell, he even looks like he got a good night's sleep. He looks... relaxed.
Good. Perfect time for an overly serious talk about the fact that he needs to talk with the guy who kidnapped him or else let Kent take him home.
"Jason," he calls, and Jason glances over his shoulder towards him. "Got time for a talk?"
"Sure," Jason responds. He looks... weird. He's acting weird, and Slade knows there's something else going on. He squints at Jason, scrutinizing him for a moment as he tries to puzzle it out. He's happy. He's... almost giddy. He-
Oh goddamnit. Slade lets out a sigh, burying his face in his hand. Sometimes he wishes he paid a little less attention to things, and apparently Jason's thinking the same thing, because he's gone red in the seconds Slade's looked away.
"We're not talking about that," Slade says. "Come on."
They end up in the library. It seems like a nice space for a talk because it's one of Jason's favorite places, and it's empty, which is even better.
"I actually wanted to talk to you too," Jason says, and Slade cringes. Great. Just what he didn't want to hear.
"You might as well go first," he says. He's pretty sure they have the exact same thing to talk about, after all.
"It's about - It's about the Arkham Knight stuff."
Slade hasn't really given much thought to the Arkham Knight stuff as Jason calls it. He doesn't really think it deserves much thought, but it's clearly bothering Jason, so he settles down in a chair and looks Jason over.
"What about it?"
Jason doesn't answer right away. Instead he does that thing he does sometimes where he wrings his hands together and fidgets as he works out exactly how he's going to say whatever it is he's going to say.
"It's about -" He falters, looking around the library, and Slade takes a guess.
"I'll wipe the security footage after, and your dad's busy on work calls with Lucius. You can say what you want."
"It's about the people we killed."
Maybe it was stupid of him, but Slade had been hoping Jason had just sort of forgotten about that whole thing. It's the sort of situation that Bruce would undeniably be better at dealing with, but it's also the sort of situation that he knows Jason would never bring up with him.
Which means he's going to have to deal with it himself.
"What about, exactly?" He says, trying to sound as neutral as possible.
"I-" Jason falters and looks away, refusing to meet Slade's eyes. "I was... thinking about them. About - everything we did. They were - we killed-"
"Jason," Slade says. He's not letting him do this. He's not letting him tear himself up inside over scum like that. "I stopped killing people when I committed to spending a life with your father. That doesn't mean I changed my mind about how things work. Jason, the people you're getting upset over were scum."
"They were victims," Jason counters. "The Joker - he would have threatened them -"
"No," Slade interrupts. "Don't go down that line of logic. Don't make them into victims. Everyone always looks at bad situations and say they'd do better, and most of the time they're wrong. But in a case like this?"
He exhales, pulling his thoughts together, before laying it out for him.
"If you went up to a random person in the street and offered them a hundred dollars to punch a child in the face, how many people do you think would take you up on that? Pretty much no one, right? Hurting kids is one of the worst things you can do. It's one of those things that's almost universal."
He's not going to say he's never hurt someone under eighteen, because he has. Hell, he even knocked Jason around once when he was running around in the Robin gear. But he knows what kind of person he is. He's aware of his limits, and his rules. Most people aren't. Most people don't exist in grey areas the way he does.
"No," he interrupts. "They had a choice. He might have threatened them, but they still had a choice. When I asked you about them, you told me that one of them was kind to you. That he tried to help even though he was afraid. So they had a choice. They could have been like him. Or you know what they could have done?"
He leans forward slightly in his seat. He hates talking about what happened to Jason with him, but there's no way around it.
"They could have gone to Batman. He was there all the time. He knew them well enough to know all their names, their schedules... everything. Any of them at any point could have gone to him and told him what was happening, and he'd have protected them with his life in thanks. Instead, they let a kid get tortured. It's cowardice to stay silent when you know something bad is happening. The very idea of getting paid to let someone torture a kid is repulsive, and this is coming from someone who used to kill people for cash."
Slade thinks it says a lot about the situation that he of all people has the moral high ground.
He watches Jason's reaction, gauging it carefully. He watches his shoulders relax, the muscles in his neck unclenching, and his face goes from intensely distressed to just kind of mildly distressed.
"The fact that you're worried about them at all means you're a good person. A moral person... who's spent a lot of time around your father's no-killing-ever rule. But I think if you had an honest talk with anyone else, you'd struggle to find someone who'd put any blame on your shoulders for it. Back then you were still hurting. You were still suffering. If someone breaks their arm and lashes out in pain, no one blames them, and you were the same way."
He feels like he's got the lesson across pretty well, but he figures it helps when he stands up, stepping over to drop himself down onto the seat beside Jason, and wraps an arm around him.
"You're a good person, Jason. But you've already given them more thought then people like that deserve."
Jason's silent for a moment, clearly stewing over the information, and then finally nods and leans back.
"What did you want to talk about?"
The original reason he'd pulled Jason aside had almost entirely slipped his mind, and now he's going to have to deal with it.
"I wanted to talk to you about... the other Slade."
Jason's wince says a lot, but it's not what he expected. It's not the wince of this is an uncomfortable topic, it's more like the crap I just got caught kind of wince, and Slade narrows his eyes.
"What are you up to," Slade says. There is no way he's letting Jason get away with whatever it is that he's clearly trying to get away with. He knows him too well for that.
"It wasn't about me," Jason admits. "I thought - I wanted Joey to talk to him. This is... this should be the last time he'll ever get a chance to talk to him."
Slade sighs. Of course. He should have seen this coming from a half mile away.
"Did you at least talk to him about it?"
"I have now," Jason says, which means no.
Slade drags his hand down his face.
"Alright, this doesn't change my point. Can we... do that? So we can send him back home?"
He wants things to go back to normal. He wants to worry about going to the grand opening of an escape room, not about the fact that he's got a doppelganger locked up in his basement.
"I'll talk to Joey," Jason says. "And then... yeah. Probably, if he's-"
"We're not holding off for weeks until he's ready," Slade points out. "Sorry Jason, but I'm drawing a line here. If he can't do it today, we'll figure out how to set up a video call to prison or something."
Which sounds ridiculous the moment he says it, but it's better than just letting him live in their house.
"Alright," Jason finally says. "I'll talk to him right after breakfast, and then I'll... let you know."
Slade leans over, kissing the top of Jason's head, and then pats him on the back.
"Love you," he says, waiting until Jason says it back before he lets him get up to go and talk to Joey.
It's a good morning as far as Joey is concerned. A good night, a good sleep, and a great wakeup (because who wouldn't want to see Jason's happily sleeping form first thing upon opening their eyes?).
He spends the morning with Damian. It's supposed to be him checking in to make sure he's doing alright, but instead he gets roped into helping Damian with the sketches he's working on.
He's increasingly coming to realize that Damian, not Bruce, is the real power in the house. Damian could ask for damn near anything and he'd get it. The kid's going to be a force to be reckoned with when he's older, and that has nothing to do with his combat training.
They eat a late brunch (Steve isn't available, so Bruce relieves Diana despite her protests), and Joey's pretty sure it's going to be a good day right up until the point where Jason asks him to talk after they eat.
That's never a good sign. If it's not an issue, then he'll just talk, and the fact that he got warning at all means that whatever it is, Jason thinks he needs warning.
Alright, he signs anyway, doing what he can to not let his nerves show. The timing is... bad. Suspect, even. Should he have checked in on how he was feeling last night? Did he take that happy fucked-out look on Jason's face the wrong way?
He chews on his lip as he mulls it over, but mercifully Jason doesn't make him wait long. The moment they're done eating they head back to Jason's room, and Joey gets to settle down on the bed and watch Jason pace around nervously.
Just say it, Joey signs after waving to get his attention. You're making me nervous.
Which is a lie, because he's already nervous, but he doesn't need to tell Jason that.
"I talked with dad. He said... he wanted me to talk with your dad already. That I couldn't just... put it off."
Oh. This. It's not what he was dreading, but it's still unpleasant anyway.
And you're talking to me because you had to tell him you don't care about talking with him, you just want me to do it.
"Yeah," Jason admits. "Pretty much. I don't - I mean, he did a bad thing to me but he..." Jason pauses, taking a deep breath, and Joey can see the way he's struggling to vocalize it. "He put me in a really awful position, but it didn't seem intentional. He mostly just seemed... confused when I started panicking. He even - I guess he was trying to comfort me, even if it didn't help much. When I woke up next he'd moved me to someplace else and seemed more eager to know if it was going to happen again then angry or upset."
Alright. He's not really sure how to take that, but it doesn't change things. Really, it just adds to the ever increasing pile of evidence that his pop can manage affection just fine... as long as it's not towards his own kids.
As long as it's not towards him, really. He isn't great with Rose, but he did fine with Grant... at least after Grant died.
Is that the difference? Is that why Slade's different from his own dad - because Slade's son is dead and it's easier for him to care when he's already gone?
It's a grim line of thinking, and he pushes it away. He knows Slade isn't like that. Not anymore. Now he cares. Hell, Joey's pretty sure Slade cares more about him than his own pop does.
What do I do? Joey signs. He's not sure what Jason wants. He's not sure what the steps are for visiting your sort-of-estranged father in his makeshift prison.
"Write it down," Jason says, and it takes him a moment to catch on and realize what he means.
Write it down. Write the thing down that will make the difference.The thing he needs from pop before they can have a relationship. He feels like it should be hard, but instead it's easy.
Do I have to show you?
"No," Jason says, but it's clear from his face that he wants to know. Maybe after.
Let me go do that then.
He goes back to his room—mostly used for art and storage now—and finds the only sketchbook with a sketch of his father. He'd started it before everything happened, and then hastily scribbled over it when things had. Even before the scribbles, the frustration was obvious, the art subpar. Bits of Slade kept sneaking in without him meaning to. Scars that his pop never had. An expression that doesn't fit his father.
He writes the thing he needs underneath the portrait and drops the sketchbook on the bed. He's not worried about hiding it, because it doesn't really matter. He knows he's not getting it anyway.
It's clear to him that Jason's expecting him to take a lot longer with it, because when Joey comes out of his room he looks equal parts surprised and confused.
Already done, Joey confirms. What now?
It turns out that what now means we go talk to my parents about how things are going to work.
Joey suspects the answer is they aren't. Bruce does not look pleased by the subject at all, and Slade hardly looks any better.
"You're not going in," Slade says flatly. "You can talk to him through the intercom-"
"It should be face to face," Jason counters. "It's his dad, he should be able to talk to him."
"It's a security risk," Bruce fires right back. "I'm not taking unnecessary risks."
He's my father, Joey signs. He won't hurt me.
"You can go into the airlock," Slade concedes. "You can't go inside."
"He's not going to hurt him," Jason counters, and Joey feels like he's watching Jason wear them down. It's like he can physically see Jason taking a pickaxe to their resolve.
"No," Bruce says.
"Are you seriously concerned that... what, his own dad's going to kill him?"
"I am seriously concerned that he's going to take him hostage. Or that he has some way of getting back that we don't know about."
"No one's that good," Jason counters. "We also have two Clarks and Diana nearby. You're making something out of nothing."
"And you're betting on the fact that no version of me would hurt Joey, something we don't know," Slade says.
He doesn't want to believe that his father would. He just doesn't. He's not sure he could handle the reality of that, the possibility that his father might just... might just what, hold him hostage? Threaten to kill him, and then do it if they don't let him go?
Wouldn't that be something: to be killed by his own father because everyone else who actually cares about him is convinced there's no way his father could be that bad.
Isn't it my choice? Joey signs, and the conversation falters. Slade and Bruce exchange a look, and Jason's face pinches with obvious concern. Probably the concern that he didn't think to ask before he went ahead and started arguing for it.
"...Yes," Bruce finally says. "It is. You should... have the final say."
Then I want to go in.
"We'll be watching. I'm sorry, but we can't give you real privacy when it's something as risky as this," Slade says, folding his arms across his chest.
That's fine, Joey signs. I wasn't expecting privacy anyway.
He wishes he could have it though. The best he can do now is pretend like he's not being watched by everyone. Pretend like his family drama isn't going to have an audience.
"Do we need to get Clark? ...Clarks? The Clarks?" Jason asks.
"We have Diana here already," Bruce says. "I'll call them and let them know what we're doing, but I don't think we need them in the house. They can get here quickly in an emergency anyway."
So it's a family affair, or close enough to one. Bruce leaves to call, and Jason reaches out, taking Joey's hand in his own and giving it a squeeze.
"Do you want me there?"
Joey's caught off guard by the question, and he's sure it shows on his face, even as he tries to hide it. He doesn't answer right away, giving the question some thought, but finally does nod.
If Slade and Bruce are already going to be there, having Jason there isn't going to make a difference. He might as well see the death of Joey's hopes in full so he knows what he's dealing with afterwords.
"Alright," Jason says, leaning in to give him a soft, tender little kiss. Joey won't leave it at that though: he hooks an arm around Joey's back, pulling him up against him and deepening the kiss. He feels like a soldier going off to war. He knows it's going to hurt, but he's going anyway because there's no other way.
He has to face his father.
The room feels almost unbelievably tense as Bruce walks Joey through the security features he needs to know about. Even if Jason hadn't been down to the prison before that point, he doesn't feel like he needs to really pay attention. The security features are fairly standard. Airlock style door that only has one end opened at a time. More cameras than any one room should possibly have. A microphone setup that would make an audio technician blush.
It's not like he's going in anyway. He's settled in at one of the chairs by the computer terminal, joined by Diana and Slade. Damian tried to come, and as far as Jason's concerned it's one of the few times he's ever seen Slade give his little brother a flat no.
No, he wasn't allowed to come. No, he wasn't allowed to watch. Jason's pretty sure he'd be banished from the cave too if he wasn't dating Joey.
Slade and Bruce know he's going to be dealing with the emotional fallout regardless of what happens.
"I want it on the record," Bruce says as the outer door slides open, "that I think this is a terrible idea."
Noted, Joey signs, stepping back into the airlock.
It's not a true airlock. Not really. But it serves the same purpose. Both doors are opaque and highly durable, and the small space between the cell and the outer hallway is cramped even for a single person. There's no way to get both doors open at once, meaning even if the other Slade did force his way in, he'd just end up trapped between them.
"He'll be safe," Jason says quietly. "The other Slade-"
"Wilson," Diana corrects from her seat. "It might be helpful for you to think of him as a completely different person, and he asked to be called Wilson."
Jason doesn't know how he feels about that, but he can adjust.
"Wilson won't hurt him."
"If he does..." Slade mutters darkly. The threat is clear enough. Even more alarming is the fact that Bruce doesn't admonish him for making it. He just lets it hang in the air, with no one objecting. Even Diana, who's been guarding the oth- Wilson for days doesn't protest.
Jason turns his attention to the screens and settles in to watch.
Wilson's gear has been taken from him, and he's been placed in an outfit that wouldn't look out of place in a prison. The only truly unique thing he's been left with is his eyepatch, one that looks so similar to the one Slade sometimes wears. When the inner door slides open he sits up, his interest caught, but his expression is almost unreadable when he sees who it is.
Joey's expression is not. He doesn't look upset, or even happy to see his father. Instead his face is hard, his expression unchanging. He's braced himself, Jason realizes. He's prepared himself for this. For what he knows is going to happen.
Pop, he signs. No implant?
Wilson's sitting upright on the edge of the bed, his hands resting on his thighs. He doesn't make any sort of move to embrace Joey (Jason's not sure he'd have believed in anyway), but he doesn't make any sort of threatening move either. He just sort of exists in the same place as his last surviving son, and out of the corner of his eye Jason can see Slade growing more tense beside him, more angry.
Wilson's come all this way for his son and now that he has a chance to speak to him, he doesn't seem to have much to say.
"Had it removed," Wilson says. "If you could track me with it, and they had you, there was no telling if they wouldn't find a way to trace it back."
So you cut it out.
"Had someone else cut it out, but yeah."
It hurts to watch. It hurts to watch how awkward they are around each other, only Jason's not even sure if he can count Wilson as being awkward. That's just how he is. That's how he always is.
I'm here, Joey signs. You came all this way for me, and now I'm here.
"Then we can go home-"
I'm not going back with you, Joey signs before Wilson can even finish, and the fury and speed of his signs cause Wilson to go silent. Joey's gone from stoic to furious in a heartbeat. I'm never going back with you. All I wanted was to be left alone here. I just wanted to be free of all this, and you came anyway.
"I wasn't going to just let you leave," Wilson says. "You're my kid, not his."
Is that what this is about?! Joey signs, and every sign seems to come out more frantically than the last. You don't even care about me, you care about the fact that another version of you has me. You can't stand the idea that another version of you is a better father than you'll ever be.
Jason can't stop himself from leaning forward. There's... something. He's so good at reading Slade's expressions, but Wilson's are a whole new game, and all he knows is that Wilson had some kind of a reaction to the accusation.
He doesn't think it was anger.
"He's not your father," Wilson says. "You can't just replace me."
I don't want to replace you, Joey signs. Why would I want to replace someone who only ever hurt me? Someone who ignored me when I asked for help. Someone who went out of their way to destroy my life. Someone who has never, in my entire life, showed any sign that he cares.
Beside Jason, Slade growls under his breath, and Jason wonders how long they have before Slade calls the whole thing to an end. Bruce reaches out, resting a hand on his shoulder, and Slade seems to settle down.
It's not that Wilson looks any particular way, it's the fact that he doesn't. This is a more familiar habit for Jason, one he's seen less and less with Slade. When Slade couldn't handle something (especially something emotional), he'd pull back and show nothing at all instead. It's blank. It's professional.
It's totally inappropriate for a serious conversation with his son, to say the least.
Even just coming here, Joey signs. Even coming here you abandoned Rose.
"I didn't abandon her," Wilson says like he actually believes it. "We're going back."
I am never going back, Joey signs. I'm never going back to that life. I'm never going back to the world where I'm a murderer and an addict and the child of my parents. I'm staying here where people care about me. I'm staying where where caring about someone means telling them you care and being kind to them and not putting a hit on them and sleeping with their fiance.
There's silence in the room. For one, Wilson doesn't seem to have an actual response, and he's staring at Joey like he doesn't even know who he's looking at. Like he's completely caught off guard.
"...It was an accident."
Good god that can't actually be Wilson's defense, can it? Jason lets out an audible groan, and everyone else watching seems to share his sentiment.
You don't accidentally sleep with someone's fiance! Joey signs, his gestures so intense they're barely readable.
"Not that," Wilson says. "Ish. You didn't mean to do it, and he's fine anyway-"
Jason's still trying to process what the hell Wilson just said, but Joey's already started replying.
I tried to kill him because he was going to go tell Etienne that I was gay and ruin everything. And the whole reason I even had to hide that I'd dated him was because he was afraid that you would have killed him for the fact that we dated. That's what my entire life is. My entire life is something terrible happening, and every single time you can trace it right back to either you or mom or both.
Jason's pretty sure that most of the time the answer is both. Joey's mother isn't forgiven. But that feels like less certain territory for him. He doesn't know enough about her. And she isn't the one who jumped across realities to interrupt Joey's attempt to flee.
"He should have known I wouldn't-"
Well he didn't, Joey signs, and Jason realizes that every time Joey starts to sign, Wilson stops talking. It's a small thing, but it shows that he is paying attention. It feels like such a small thing, but it's at least a sign. It's at least an indication of... something.
Jason just wants it to be okay. He just wants Joey to get it all out and then come out of the room and then everything will be alright.
Why don't you understand this? Joey signs, and some of the anger seems to have faded, replaced with desperation. Why don't you understand that you're destroying our lives?
"I'm trying to do what's best for you."
You don't know what's best for us! You can't even figure out what's best for yourself, pop! Wintergreen and Rose and all of us just keep telling you what you need to do and you can never fucking do it!
Joey starts pacing. The room's too small for real pacing, but he does it anyway, obviously agitated and needing a way to let off the excess energy.
My expectations were so low and yet every time we interact I have to lower them further. All I wanted was for you to stay away. That's all I wanted. When I heard you were talking with Rose I was genuinely, really hopeful that the fact that I'd literally run to another dimension to get away from you had finally hammered the point home enough to get through your thick skull. But then here you are anyway, kidnapping my boyfriend-
"I didn't know he was your boyfriend."
You'd have found out if you stopped and asked, pop! Joey signs. Don't interrupt!
Wilson doesn't, and Joey goes right back to signing, pacing back and forth.
"I can't keep up," Diana mutters, leaning back in her seat. "I'll... watch security."
Jason can't blame her. Even he's having a hard time following along with Joey as he gets more and more agitated.
My expectations were so, so low. My expectations were underground. People kept telling me that I'd be better off if I cut off my entire family and I kept telling them they were wrong, but they were right. Nothing's worth what you put us all through. Nothing's worth what ma puts us through. At least I know Rose cares, but that doesn't stop ma from using me as a weapon against her. So when the option came up, I left. I left because maybe it would make you realize that you can't keep doing this and expect us still to care. I left because maybe it would mean ma would leave Rose alone. And none of that's happened! None of that's real! I was just deluding myself thinking anything was going to change. I was deluding myself thinking you actually cared!
Joey seems to deflate. He stops pacing, his shoulders sagging, and even though the angle's wrong Jason's sure he's starting to cry. He knows the tears are welling. He knows Joey too well to not see it happening, and Jason bites his lip, fighting the urge to demand they stop it. It feels... it feels like it's almost done.
The room is absolutely, perfectly silent.
What? Joey signs. He looks angry and hurt and sad, but he also looks confused. He doesn't understand.
"He was right," Wilson says. He doesn't say who he is. "You'd be better off if I wasn't in your life."
He isn't looking at Joey anymore. It's not like he's ignoring him, more like he can't, his eyes cast off to the side.
The room's silent for a moment longer, and then Wilson speaks again.
"It's better this way."
I hate you, Joey signs as the tears start to flow. All this time you've done all this stupid stuff trying to do who knows what and now here you are and you're going to just leave? You're going to just leave after you blow my life up again!?
Jason't not even sure if Wilson's actually processing what he's saying. He's not sure if he's really watching, but he responds again anyway.
"I was trying to help," he says. He does not sound certain. "I was trying to make sure you were alright, because you being safe was the most important thing. But he - you being happy is the most important thing, and you're not happy with me here. So I need to - I'll go back with him. I won't come back."
Jason is not expecting Joey to punch Wilson in the face, but he does anyway. One second Joey's furiously crying in the center of the room, and the next he's jumped forward, clocking Wilson across the face.
Slade's hand shoots forward, but Jason's hand darts forward just as fast, blocking the buttons.
"No," he says. "Please."
"He's going to kill him," Diana says. Her tone does not leave room for argument. She is sure.
But so is Jason.
"He won't. Please, dad."
Slade clenches his teeth and turns his eyes to the monitor.
Joey has, in no uncertain terms, beat the everliving shit out of Wilson. There's blood all over the place. Wilson's face is a mess of blood and impact wounds. Considering Wilson has none of Slade's scars, it's jarring to see him look so hurt.
But it's more jarring to see Joey like that. There's blood on his fists and rage on his face as he towers over his father. Slade's still sitting down, but it's more of a backwards lean. He's taken some blows to the head, and Jason's not sure he'd be able to stand up right then. Maybe in a bit when his healing's kicked in a bit more, but right then? Probably not.
Wilson's also made no attempt to defend himself. He hasn't even tried, and Jason thinks that might be the only reason Joey's stopped.
How can you leave me? Joey signs, and just reading the signs on Joey's bloody hands feels like a knife to Jason's heart.
"I don't want to," Wilson says. His voice sounds hoarse, and Jason's pretty sure the fact that Joey punched him in the throat has a lot to do with it
You do! Joey signs. If you cared you'd have fixed this already!
Wilson surges forwards with a speed Jason didn't know he had and Jason nearly slams the emergency button himself. He only catches himself right before impact, staring in confusion at the screen.
Wilson's hugging him. He's wrapped his arms around Joey and pulled him up against him, but he's hugging him.
Joey breaks down. It's like watching a dam crack open in slow motion, the water coming forth in a dizzying rush. Before there was rage. Now, as Jason watches, there is only sorrow and misery.
When Wilson speaks it's so quiet that Bruce has to lean forward, cranking up the volume to let it be heard. It feels like they're spying on a deeply private moment, but there's also no question that they need to hear.
"I'm sorry I've been such a crappy father," Wilson says. "I just wanted you to be safe."
Joey only sobs harder. The angle makes it hard to see, but Jason thinks he's tangled his hands into the fabric of Wilson's shirt, pulling him closer. He can't communicate, can't talk. All he can do is curl against his father and sob.
Jason wonders how long Joey's wanted to do exactly that. How long he's wanted for his father to show any kind of affection.
It hurts Jason just to watch.
"I'll go back," Wilson says. "Stay here. Be happy with them."
It hurts because it's not what Joey wants. Not really. Joey doesn't want his dad to leave him alone, it's just the better of two terrible options. There's no question in Jason's mind what it is Joey wants: he wants a normal life. He wants a father who loves him. He wants to know, rather than having to guess, that Wilson gives a damn about him.
It hurts Jason to think that this might be the closest he'll ever get. It hurts Jason to realize that Wilson might just go home, and then Joey won't ever see him again.
He wants to scream at him. He's sure he's not the only one.
Jason watches Joey tug on his father's shirt. He watches his tears start to falter. He's still covered in blood—both of them are—but the worst of Wilson's injuries have already healed.
It feels like the worst possible scenario.
"Go back to your new family," Wilson says. "Be happy with them."
They aren't my new family, Joey signs as he pulls back. He looks broken, and Jason just wants to hug him right then.
"They should be," Wilson says. "You deserve better than this. Better than me."
He lets Joey go, reaching up to ruffle Joey's hair with one hand as Joey stares down at him in despair.
"I know I didn't tell you this enough, but I love you, alright? So go be happy."
Joey breaks down all over again, and all Jason can do is watch.
Joey wants to say that they leave him alone, but the truth of it is that they give him space. They let Jason swoop in and usher him upstairs.
Jason is an angel.
Joey expects revulsion after everything Jason's just seen, but if he's bothered, he shows no sign of it. There's blood on his hands and blood in his hair and on his face, and Jason doesn't even mind as he strips Joey down and slips him into the shower, letting the hot water run over him.
Joey just lets himself stand there under the spray, watching the red swirl down the drain.
They don't talk as Jason cleans him up. He makes sure he's clear of blood before he pulls him out of the shower, toweling him down. There's something relaxing about Jason's fingers combing through his hair, and Joey catches himself leaning against Jason a bit too heavily.
He's tired. He feels like someone just took a tire iron to his emotions and he's not ready for any of the stuff that has to come after. They still have to send him back. He doesn't want to say goodbye. He can't. Because no matter what his pop said, it was too little, too late.
Nothing he could say will change what's happening. Nothing he could do will undo what he's already done.
He ends up crying again, curled up in bed beside Jason, and Jason rubs at his back, showering kisses across his face. Joey knows he's trying to comfort him, but he feels beyond that. He can't be comforted. Not right then.
He stays curled beside Jason anyway until they're interrupted by a knock on the door. Jason stirs but doesn't get up, and Joey doesn't even so that much, leaning against him.
"If you're doing something you don't want me to see," Slade calls, "you'd better say something."
"You can come in," Jason calls, and Slade pops the door in, leaning in to squint at them.
"You've got mail," he says, holding up a thumbdrive. It takes Joey a second to understand what he's looking at.
"Anything from Rose?" he asks, hating how his voice sounds. He just sounds so hoarse.
"Video," Slade confirms. "One for you too, Jason. But there's also a letter on top from their Justice League, politely requesting we send Clark home sometime today. Apparently they had a-" Slade does not look impressed as he speaks. "-an alien invasion. They handled it, but they want Clark back for after-action reports."
It's all moving too fast. He's not ready to say goodbye. Joey buries his face in Jason, and behind him he can hear Slade moving.
"I'll leave this here," he says, "and we'll see you whenever you're ready."
Joey hears the door click shut.
"We should watch them," Jason says. "We can do mine first, if you want."
They don't have any other option. They have to watch them. They have to go deal with things.
If they don't, his pop's going to leave. They'll take him back and Joey isn't even going to get to say goodbye.
Joey buries his face against Jason's chest and nods.
He isn't entirely sure how Jason manages to reach over, grab the thumbdrive, reach back the other way and grab a tablet, swear about compatibility, and then reach back again to get a second tablet without moving him at all, but he does.
Joey rolls a bit to look up at the tablet as Jason holds it up, fiddling with things until he's got the video ready.
The timestamp is five days ago, meaning the video was recorded before Slade made the jump.
"So, first of all," the other Jason says. "Fuck you for giving me this whole long speech and then at the very very end casually mentioning that you're dating Joseph Wilson. Way to just drop that on me."
Joey can't stop himself from smiling, and he leans against Jason's side to continue watching.
"How am I even supposed to talk about anything else? He's been there for... what, month and a half? And you're dating?"
The other Jason lets out a groan and someone walks on-screen. Joey's first impression is Lobo, but it doesn't last more than a second before he recognizes them. Crush. Lobo's... daughter, probably. The same ghostly white skin, the same angry look, the same markings around the eyes... the similarities are definitely there.
"What are you doing?" Crush asks, and the other Jason looks scandalized by her question.
"Recording a video for the me in the other dimension."
"Same dimension the Batman who wasn't Batman and his friend?"
Crush plops right down on the couch beside Jason. She's got a bowl of what looks like breakfast cereal, and she keeps right on working her way through it.
"What, you're just joining in on this very private video to my counterpart?"
"If it was private," she points out, "you'd be in your room."
"At least introduce yourself."
"Crush," she says.
Joey glances up and spots the earpiece in his Jason's ear, so he clarifies quickly.
"That's her name," he says, and beside him, Jason nods.
"Well anyway," the other Jason says, ignoring Crush. So yeah, dating. That's really wild. Did you know I used to date his sister? Because we did. Briefly. She was a little bit crazy, but the whole family kind of is, isn't it?"
His Jason gives him a concerned look, but Joey's not going to argue that. It's true. His whole family's crazy.
"Who are we talking about?" Crush asks.
"Remember the flying guy who was here?"
"That's the one. Apparently my counterpart—other Jason—is dating him."
Crush's eyebrows shoot up.
"Didn't know you were gay," she says, looking oddly introspective about the whole thing.
"I'm not," Jason says. "Just sometimes."
Crush rolls her eyes at that.
"So anyway," the other Jason continues. "Yeah. Way to drop that on me you giant dick. What else... uh, team's still here. Still doing pretty well." He jerks a thumb towards Crush. "Getting these kids all trained up. You know how it is. Or you don't, actually, since I think someone said you didn't do the Teen Titans thing over there? Either way."
Joey rolls his eyes. The other Jason is a character for sure, but between the two of them, Joey knows which he prefers.
"Mmmm. Things have been pretty quiet here. Definitely one of those lull before the storm things. I figure we're overdue for a disaster any day now, so I'll kind of wrap up here. Send me a video back through the usual route and all that."
He flashes a thumbs up, Crush waves, and then the video stops.
"Overdue for a disaster," his Jason mutters under his breath. "He didn't know the half of it."
"Are we talking about my dad or the alien invasion they supposedly had?"
Jason gets to work setting up the second video. The timestamp is the first thing that jumps out to Joey, because it isn't from days ago. It's from that morning, maybe four hours before.
"Fresh," Jason observes as he opens it up. He wraps an arm around Joey's shoulders, and Joey sits up a little bit straighter as Jason starts it.
Rose looks tired. Exhausted, even. She's sitting in a room that Joey recognizes as her apartment, but there are boxes almost off screen like she's been packing.
"I told them to delete the last video, so if you see it and you're watching this one first, delete that one. If you saw it... sorry. Didn't know what was going to happen when I sent that one."
Rose groans and sags back onto her seat. She looks exhausted.
"So I - I recorded a whole video a few days ago. Had it ready to go, sent it off to the bats. You know, how you're supposed to. Then I was minding my own business when dad dropped by, and just..."
Rose reaches up, rubbing at her face.
"We had a fight. I honestly - I don't even remember what it was about. It was about something stupid, anyway. The same sort of thing we always argue about. He was being too controlling, and I just - Joey, you know how he is. You know how he gets. And I just - I looked right at his face and I told him I was going to leave too."
Joey feels his heart sink.
"I told him that... that I was done. That I couldn't do this anymore. Maybe things would have been different if you were still here, but you're gone. And I'm not... I'm not blaming you. If anything, I'm... jealous, I guess. Or I was. I was jealous you got away from it and I was going to spend the rest of my life dealing with his and Adeline's shit. I was just so tired and I told him that and he got one of his looks and just left. I think he - god, I can't believe I'm saying this Joey, but I think he thought he was going to go get you back for me. So I'd stay."
Jason holds him a little bit tighter.
"I didn't think he could actually do it, but then Tim called and - well, you know what he did after that. You know where he went and how badly things went. And I just... I don't know if I can do it, Joey. I don't know if I can deal with him. So I-"
A part of Joey doesn't want to know. He doesn't want to hear about how pop managed to ruin everything again.
"I realized that if you could leave, I could leave too. Even if it's not to another dimension. I... I talked to Wintergreen. I don't think I could just leave him. Hosun-" She pauses for a moment, and then seems to change her mind. "Hosun got a job, but I shouldn't tell you where in case he hijacks this video. We used our contacts and we're just going to... to vanish. To go underground. I'm keeping contact with Tim so we can keep sending videos, but... you aren't coming back, Joey, and I can't keep doing this."
She's leaving him too. He's sending his pop back to a dimension that doesn't want him. Who's even left?
Joey wipes furiously at his eyes as the video continues.
"I'm leaving with Hosun, Joey. I'm going to just... vanish. If you ever come back—and god, please don't come back just for me—send me a message through Wintergreen. I'm sorry that dad came after you, and I hope that everything's alright. Just... do what you need to. Be happy. And... I hope everything works out for you."
She reaches forward and the video ends. Jason sets down the tablet, wrapping both his arms around Joey, and pulls him closer.
"Sorry," he mumbles. "I know this is - I know it's hard. Maybe we should have waited."
Joey shakes his head. There's no stopping it. There's no - there's no other way, and that's what's killing him. His life is an out of control train already well on its way, and he doesn't have any way to stop it.
Jason pulls back to watch his hands and Joey signs to him slowly and carefully.
I'm not ready to let go.
Jason pulls him closer and presses a kiss to Joey's forehead.
"I'll fix this," he says. "I'll figure it out."
For just a moment, Joey lets himself believe it.
It's probably a bit stupid, but Slade can't help but feel like things are going back to normal as everyone assembles in the living room. Clark's there, as is Kent. Clark's boys have been left back with Lois and Clark's parents, but Bruce has managed to lure Diana up out of the basement.
Slade's not really sure how he managed to convince her, but he's happy that he did.
Damian's there, as is Alfred, and at that point they're really just waiting on Jason and Joey to arrive. Alfred serves snacks as they wait.
They just have to send Kent home and then things can be normal.
"Aliens," Kent mutters. "I wasn't even gone for a week!"
"Does that happen often?" Damian asks. "I'm not sure I'd like to visit if it does."
"You aren't visiting anyway," Slade points out. There's absolutely no way he's letting Damian visit a universe where his Grandfather is still alive (or undead, Slade guesses). Absolutely no chance. "Everyone's staying right here."
He pauses, leaning back to be able to hear better, and then nods to Bruce to let him know that Joey and Jason are on their way.
Joey does not look good. He looks... exhausted. Jason, on the other hand, looks focused. He's got the same expression he used to get before going on missions.
Slade knows it means trouble. Hell, everyone knows it means trouble. It means Jason's got something on his mind and he's not going to stop until he gets it.
Sometimes, Slade feels like Jason might actually be more stubborn than Bruce.
"Now that we're all here," Bruce starts, "anything important in the videos?"
"We saw Crush on mine," Jason says. "We also heard from Rose. Her video was only from this morning, after S- Wilson came over. She told Joey she's leaving. She'll be in the wind by now I think."
Slade's first instinct is good for her, but he keeps his mouth shut. It feels like adding salt to the wound when Joey's obviously still so distressed, and it's impossible to miss the way he leans against Jason when they settle in on the couch.
It's not easy for him. But at least it's almost over.
"Alright," Kent says. "As long as I'm touching him, I can bring him over safely without any sort of issue. The biggest issue is going to be making sure he doesn't bolt mid-jump."
"We have some ways to secure him. I don't think anything is going to hold him in the long term, but it can last the few minutes you'll need," Bruce says. "We prepared for this after the first time he was here."
Jason clears his throat.
Slade turns his head to stare at him, taking a deep breath.
"Jason," he says, his tone as pleading as he can manage. "Please tell me you're not about to ask what I think you're about to ask."
Most people look confused, even Bruce. Diana, strangely enough, doesn't. She looks... well, she's kind of hard to read when she's doing her perfect warrior thing, but the word his brain keeps jumping to is understanding. She knows.
"That'd be a lie," Jason says once he recovers from the surprise that Slade's apparently guessed. "I think he should stay."
Joey's silent at Jason's side, but he doesn't protest, either.
Kent, on the other hand, splutters.
"You want him to stay? Jason, he kidnapped you. He... I can't even list all the things he's done, and you want him to stay?"
"I think it's pretty obvious that your world doesn't have a legitimate way to contain someone like Deathstroke. How many times has he broken out of secure facilities, exactly?"
Kent doesn't answer, so Joey does, holding up two fingers so there won't be any confusion.
At least, he adds after some thought.
"I understand that our facilities might not be as secure as your own, but we also deal with a lot more high powered threads," Kent points out. "You don't have people like Deathstroke routinely in prison, so of course they couldn't escape."
"That doesn't change my point," Jason says. "He could get out if he wanted to. But that's not the real reason he should stay."
"You want to rehabilitate him," Slade says with a sigh. He reaches up, pinching the bridge of his nose. Jason's going to kill him with this, isn't he? "You rehabilitated me, and now you think you can do the same thing for him."
"Not to - I mean, I'm not sure it's possible to phrase this in a way that isn't insulting - but could he even be rehabilitated? He seems... much more extreme then our Slade ever was," Clark asks, glancing awkwardly to his counterpart.
Most people look to Slade, and he grunts at them.
"Don't look at me," he says. "I know we are literally the same person in a lot of ways, but we're different in others. I... I lost Joseph. It changed my perspectives. It left me... open to things that he never was. After that point, we were effectively different people, even if we acted similarly."
Everyone's looking at him. He hates talking about Joseph in front of them, and he feels an intense desire to go see the grave where he's set it up out back. To find some calm in the chaos of the fact that Jason has just proposed they keep his counterpart around.
"I think he can," Jason says. "He already has. He came here for stupid reasons because he's an idiot, but when he saw - when I freaked out, he comforted me. He saw things had gone wrong and he... he hugged me."
"Forgive me for saying," Alfred says, "but I fear you might be attributing a great deal of belief in his ability to change as a person based on a single hug."
"It wasn't just a hug though," Jason says. "He saw I was upset and realized he'd made a mistake and he... he comforted me and took me away from the situation that was upsetting me. He's capable of caring. He's just awful at showing it."
The remind you of anyone? is unspoken but obvious.
It's clear that Jason has the floor. No one else is really saying anything, just watching Jason, and he stands, ready to make his case.
"I know you guys all probably think that it's crazy. He's done... so many awful things I couldn't even list them all. He's hurt so many people, including people here. He's pretty much undeniably an awful person. But I don't think he's unsalvageable. I don't think he's so awful that he can't possibly get better. I want him to get better. I want to see him... I want to see him learn how to deal with things in a healthy manner. I'm not saying I know much about his past or anything, but even from what little we know... I think he could be made better."
Jason shifts, looking uncomfortable for a moment.
"I know it's a bad idea," he adds. "But I just - I thought it needed to be said. As an option."
He sits right back down, and the room is silent as everyone mulls it over.
Slade... has mixed feelings. A part of him desperately wants to just toss Wilson through the closest portal and call it a day. He wants him out of his life.
But another part of him can't help but say that thinking that way is awfully selfish of him. He's done awful things. Really, really awful things. He got more chances than he deserved to figure things out.
And he's not sure how many chances Wilson's got.
He wants to lock him up and throw away the key. It would be so much easier.
To Slade's distinct lack of surprise, Diana's the first one to speak. To his immense surprise, she has the exact opposite opinion he's expecting.
"I agree with Jason," she says, and Jason gives her an appreciative look before she continues. "From what I witnessed, he isn't an unrepentant monster. It would be a lie to say he doesn't have issues, but I think he would be capable of improving in the proper environment. Returning to his own world would... not be that."
"I'm not going to argue that," Kent says.
"Do I get a vote?" Damian asks, glancing between Bruce and Slade.
"Everyone gets a vote," Slade says. "But it has to be unanimous. If someone says no, then it's a no for everyone. This isn't like adopting a pet kitten Damian brings home. This is committing to rehabilitating a man with a kill count in the quadruple digits. This is going to be a long term.... task."
A part of him is hoping that someone will say no.
"I vote yes," Damian says. "Do I have to say why?"
"You can if you want," Slade says. He doesn't think it'll matter. He's becoming more convinced by the second that no one is going to say no.
Because how can they? It's going to be hard—maybe even impossible—but how can they deny him the chance?
"I vote yes too," Bruce says, folding his hands together in his lap. He doesn't elaborate.
"If I get a vote," Clark says, even though Slade just said everyone got a vote, "I want it on the record that I don't think it's going to work. But... I think that it needs to be tried before we can write him off. If it fails, he goes back."
"I also approve," Alfred says, "although I have some... concerns about his containment."
"We'll have to lay out some rules when we... present this to him as an option. He needs to know this is something we're volunteering to do, but if he screws it up, we're going to pass him right back to Kent's team."
"I want to say that isn't fair," Kent says with a sigh, "but he is ours to start with."
It's Bruce who points out the obvious.
"Joey," Bruce says quietly. "You haven't voted."
There are tears in Joey's eyes when he looks up, his eyes dropping back down almost immediately.
Thank you, he signs, for being willing to try.
Jason sits back down, wrapping his arms around Joey and pulling him in close.
Slade doesn't have the self control required to not grumble as he reaches up, rubbing at his temples a bit more. He can't actually get headaches, but he feels like he probably should be able to right then.
"I can't believe you just talked me into letting him stay."
"I think we established several years ago that you are incapable of denying your children anything," Alfred says with a barely contained smile. It's almost a smirk. You know, if Alfred was the kind of person who smirked.
"Guilty," Slade mutters. "Alright, let's make a list, because Kent's still on a time crunch."
"I really cannot wait to explain when I get back why it is that I'm coming back by myself..." Kent says with a laugh.
"Not sure they'll believe you," Clark says. "But we'll see how it plays out."
In retrospect, Bruce can't help but feel like he should have known. Slade obviously did—the look on his face made it clear enough—but he was caught off guard right to the point where he didn't expect what was coming until Jason said it.
It's not something he'd ever have suggested. He still doesn't like him. Not after what he did.
But it feels undeniable that the outlook is better with him staying. Wilson might end up something other than an unrepentant murderer who regularly ruins his children's lives. Joey might end up with a father.
At an absolute bare minimum, at least with Wilson there they can be sure he's not killing anyone.
Bruce heads back to the bedroom to grab a new shirt. They haven't talked about it, but he knows he's going to be the one making the offer. There's too many reasons for it to be him rather than anyone else, and the cell's still a bloody mess. He's not wearing anything good inside, so he makes a point of digging through his closet for a shirt he doesn't mind losing to excessive bloodstains. Something nice and dark that he wasn't planning to wear out of the house anyway.
He's already on his way back to the living room when he spots the room to Joey's door hanging open. He doesn't think anything of it, knocking once before glancing inside (it's not like he can call out and expect a response from Joey), but the room itself is quiet and there's no sign of movement.
Which means he probably just left the door open, and didn't head to his room for some reason. It was probably sitting open the whole time, and he's right about to turn away when he spots a sketchbook on the ground. At a glance, he can be pretty sure it's just fallen off the bed, so he stoops down to collect it, dropping it on the nightstand before turning to go.
Bruce can't stop himself from second guessing his actions, and he turns back around, picking it up and resettling it. But it strikes him as out of place. Everything else in the room is neat and orderly, so having a sketchbook just dropped on the floor seems... weird. Even assuming it was placed on the bed and slipped off, it's just so strange.
He tells himself his suspicion is justified as he flips through the sketchbook. It's an invasion of privacy—he's not going to pretend it's not—but considering everything that's happened, he tells himself that it's justified.
The place it fell open to is easy to find, the pages creased even as Bruce attempts to press them flat again. There's no question this is why it was on the bed, because there's a messy sketch of Joey's father there, hastily scribbled over in pen.
Written just below it is a message that Bruce is sure he was never supposed to see.
I just want him to tell me he loves me.
Bruce quickly snaps the notebook closed, carefully placing it on the bed. He doesn't want Joey to know he saw. He doesn't want anyone to know that he saw. The message feels like a knife through his heart, and he's not sure how he's going to look at Joey without thinking it.
All he wants is for his father to care about him. That's all he wants.
Bruce was already going into it hoping to make it work, but now he feels that much more focused. He has to make it work. He has to.
Everyone's gathered down in the cave when he joins them. Slade has a notecard with their talking points on it, and as Bruce watches, Jason reaches out, snatching it from Slade's grasp.
"I'm doing this," Jason says. He has that look on his face that says he's not going to take no for an answer, but he absolutely is going to take no for an answer. Bruce isn't backing down on this one.
"No," Bruce says, "I am."
"This is my thing. It was my idea and-"
"No," Bruce says. "You're not going in."
"Neither of you is going in," Slade says. "While I appreciate your obvious focus on this, he's still dangerous. He's not tied up or restrained in any way, and none of you is going in there. It has to be me. If he jumps me, I'll be able to defend myself in time to get help. You won't."
"That's why it has to be me," Bruce says. He's not letting anyone else go into the room. "I'm the only fair sample. It's possible he would want to take you hostage but wouldn't risk it if it were you, Slade. The same holds true for Clark or Diana. It has to be someone he could reasonably subdue so that we know if he would have done it."
"Then it should be me," Jason says. "This is my plan, and if anyone is taking the risk, it's going to be me."
Bruce reaches out, resting a hand on Jason's shoulder, and shakes his head.
"If you believe the risk is so great that I could be in serious danger... then this plan isn't worth trying."
He can see the warring emotions playing out on Jason's face. He wants to say no. He wants to make absolutely sure no one will get hurt. But he wants the plan to work, too. Bruce can see the way his eyes slide towards Joey, can see the anxiety there... and then Jason deflates, his shoulders sagging.
"Please be careful," he says quietly. "Even if I don't think-"
"I'll be careful," Bruce says, pulling Jason into a hug. "You don't have to worry about me."
"I always worry about you," Jason mumbles, returning the hug before pulling back.
"Pretty sure it's the parent's job to worry about their children, Jason," Bruce says. "But you don't have to worry. If I thought he was going to come after me, I wouldn't be going in at all."
That's not to say he's going in unprepared. He's come equipped just in case the worst happens.
The Clarks are standing side by side, looking equally concerned as they watch Bruce get ready to go in. There's no point in warning him (and warning him would be a bad idea either way), so Bruce is just going in unannounced. He's surprised when Diana stops him, approaching and stopping just short of him.
"I don't know if I tell you this enough, Bruce," Diana says, "but I am proud to have both you and Slade as members of the League."
Bruce manages a grunt in a desperate attempt to hide his embarrassment at receiving such high praise in front of everyone.
"I should get this over with," he says quickly. "I'm sure Kent wants to get back."
Slade gives him a quick peck on the temple before settling down in front of the security monitor and popping open the outer door.
There's little streaks of blood there when Bruce steps inside which gives the whole thing a claustrophobic feeling. He takes a second to steel himself before the door behind him clicks shut, and then counts the seconds before the one in front of him opens.
Even if it's only been a few hours, Wilson's clearly made an effort to clean himself up. There's a little shower in the morning that offers the bare minimum of privacy, and he's clearly made use of it. There's still blood staining his shirt, but at least his face is clean.
Really, he looks like someone else was beaten into the dirt, and then Wilson stole his clothes to wear. He doesn't have any cuts or bruises, bearing no sign at all of the injuries inflicted upon him. Joey, his hands neatly bandaged and wrapped outside, looks more like he got in a fight than Wilson does.
He doesn't look surprised to see Bruce, but then Bruce didn't expect him to. There are big chunks of information he's missing, but what he does know... Well, he's not dead, and that rules out a lot of possibilities for him.
"I'm here to talk," Bruce says, "and make a proposal."
Does Wilson even know that they can send him back? He probably suspects it, even if he doesn't know.
"You're here to lay out my options," Wilson says.
"Yes." He doesn't see a point in pretending that's not what's happening. Instead, he starts with the obvious one.
"The first option is that you go back with Superman. You go back to your world, you get committed to Belle Reve, you do time for the crimes you've committed."
Wilson doesn't even deign that with a response. They both know that isn't what'll happen. They both know that the first three points will happen, and that Wilson will be out of prison in a month tops.
"The second option is that you stay here." He watches Wilson for a reaction, but he doesn't get one, so he simply carries on. "We have resources to help... rehabilitate you." Maybe it's insulting to say they're rehabilitating him, but he's hopeful Wilson realizes that he is in need of rehabilitation. "Think of it like prison, but with a much heavier focus on helping you get your life back together rather than punishing you for the things you've done. We're not saying this is going to be a quick thing, or even an easy thing. But it provides an option. A path for... bettering yourself."
All he needs to do is take it. The option is right there. He just has to say yes.
Bruce suddenly understands why Joey was so willing to try and knock Wilson's teeth in. The man is absolutely mind-bogglingly infuriating.
"This is your one chance," Bruce says desperately. "We have put it all together for you. We're handing it to you on a plate. If you want to get your life back, this is it."
Maybe it's not even getting it back. Maybe Wilson never had it in the first place. But the principle of it is the same: this is his one chance.
"I understand that," Wilson says flatly. "It doesn't change my answer."
Bruce can't stand the idea of Wilson's son standing outside the room watching his father abandon him. Even without being able to see it, he can imagine how Joey must be breaking down.
"Then tell me why," Bruce snaps. He doesn't mean to lose his temper, but he does anyway. "You owe me that much after everything you've put my family through."
He isn't expecting Wilson to answer. Not really. So it's a surprise when he does, quickly and succinctly.
"I don't like your Slade, but that doesn't really matter. I know he'll protect Joey. I know he has Joey's best interests at heart. He'll keep him safe, and he'll keep him happy. But Rose is waiting for me back in my world, and she needs me to be there. With Joey and I both gone, nothing would stop Adeline from offing her, and I can't let that happen."
He keeps the pain off his face, but only barely. Only years of experience keeps the sorrow from showing on his face. He doesn't even have time to compose a sufficient response before there's an electronic click as the intercom activates.
"Wilson," Slade's voice says. "There's something you should know about that."
The room's got more than a dozen cameras, but there's only one that's obvious, and Wilson turns to look at it, his eyes narrowing.
"Rose is gone."
"Define gone," Wilson says.
"She's left," Slade says flatly. "She felt it would be better if she started over, so she left. She had the same thought that Adeline would be after her without Joey, and didn't have any reason to stay, so she left."
It's not how Bruce would have delivered the news, but there's something to say about Slade's bluntness. It leaves no room for illusions. No room for pretending that it's anything other than what it is: Wilson's been abandoned.
But of course it can't possibly be that easy.
"Adeline will still go after her. She can't hide from her. She needs-"
"She doesn't need you forcing your way into her life," Slade snaps. "Are you not capable of taking the hint?"
Wilson stares up at the camera, and there's a moment of silence before Jason's voice comes through the intercom.
"Pretend it's Joey talking," he says. "We don't have him hooked up yet so I'm going to just - you know how this works. So he says-" Jason pauses a moment, and Bruce tries to picture the scene outside. "She left, pop. She couldn't handle the trouble you bring into her life. I think she was afraid Hosun was going to get killed if he was around you any longer. Right now she probably feels like he's the only thing in her life who's been honest with her, and I don't blame her for taking him and running. She's good at what she does. I think she'll be able to hide from ma, so you don't have to worry about her. But-" There's another pause, and Bruce guesses Jason's second guessing what he's interpreting. A lot of it is probably adlibbed, but as long as the idea gets across, that's all they need. "She doesn't want you chasing her down. If you decide that's what's best for her and do it anyway, all you'll be doing is doing exactly what you always do, ignoring what we want, and deciding you know best. Don't go hunt down Rose, pop. It's not what she wants."
The room goes silent, and Bruce realizes that Joey's finished. He flicks his eyes back to Wilson, trying to take in his reaction.
There's not much of one. A lot like Slade—and Bruce himself—he tends to hide his reactions first and foremost. His instinctive response to something he doesn't understand or know how to deal with is to shut it out, only where Bruce and Slade have slowly learned to carefully work through those feelings, Wilson's learned to flat out deny them.
Looking at Wilson right then is like seeing a storm cloud on the horizon. It indicates awful things, but it doesn't mean there's danger right then. It's just coming.
"Your son is here," Bruce says. "He's here and he wants to see you be better. He wants to see you learn to deal with issues rather than killing them. Male a choice right now to be there for the son who wants you in his life, not the daughter who's very firmly closed the door on you."
Maybe one day Rose will be open to talking to her father again, but she isn't right then.
Wilson's staring right at him, but he's staring through him. His eyes aren't quite focused as his brain no doubt swirls through everything he's just learned. As he processes the simple fact that he isn't wanted. That his daughter has said no.
"...What are the terms?" He finally says, and Bruce breathes a sigh of relief.
He has them written down, but he doesn't even need to look.
"First condition is from your world's Superman. If you make any attempt to hop back without it being something that was explicitly discussed and planned out with them, it'll be assumed you escaped and hopped over. You'll be captured, taken to Belle Reve, and put under the highest security they can manage."
It's not something Wilson should have any real objection to. It's just a statement of fact, so that he can't say he didn't know.
"Second condition should also be obvious: you aren't supposed to escape. Whenever you're supposed to be, you stay there. Right now that means here. Later, we might have a better place for you."
Wilson stirs where he's sitting. He's not happy with that, but he doesn't protest either. It's not exactly great for the long term, which means they're going to have to figure out what they need and build something new.
Well, he supposes they have time.
"Third condition is that you have to participate in this in good faith. We're spending a lot of time and effort on this, and we're not going to if all you want to do is waste your time. We're going to try and help, but that requires you to try and accept that help."
"And what exactly are you going to do, exactly?" Wilson says, folding his arms over his chest.
"Therapy, for one. It's helped a lot of us. It should be able to help you. Beyond that? I honestly don't know. Long term rehabilitation isn't something I've looked into. I'm going to. But the point is that you be willing to try."
Wilson shifts position, leaning forward and propping his chin up on his curled fist as he studies Bruce.
"We don't want to have to lay out exact rules for you. I think you can imagine most of them. No killing people, no hurting people, no threats... The obvious. If at any point we feel you're not following them, we'll send you back to your own world."
And then he'll lose Joey. Bruce isn't deluding himself into thinking Wilson's even considering participating for his own sake. He's there because his son is. He's there because—even if it's deep down—he cares about his son.
"Alright," Wilson says simply. "But I have my own condition."
Bruce grunts, but it's not unexpected. Most likely it's I want to see Joey regularly. Bruce already checked with Joey to make sure that was alright, and even if he doesn't like enforcing it as a condition, it's a compromise he's willing to make.
"I want to know why you're doing this," Wilson says, catching Bruce off guard.
"Because you didn't hit him," Bruce says before his brain can catch up to his mouth. Wilson scowls at him, and he hastily clarifies. "When Joey was angry with you a few hours ago, he started beating you into the ground. I'm doubtful about whether or not he could have killed you, but it's certainly within the realm of possibility. And in that time—the whole time he was turning your face into paste—you never once raised a hand to protect yourself. I don't know if it was because you thought you deserved it, or if it was because you were afraid you'd hurt him, but either way it still stands. You care about Joey, even if you struggle to show it. So I want to see you be able to show it."
It feels like a deeply personal thing to say, but he says it anyway. He hopes it helps. He hopes Wilson understands.
"So you're willing to give me a chance."
"It's a win-win situation for me," Bruce says. "If we succeed, the two of you reconcile. Everyone's happy. If you fail—if you give up, or you sabotage it, or you run away—then all you've done is make things clear to everyone: you have no one to blame but yourself. That whatever happened, it was your choice, made with your own hands."
Wilson's too quick to blame other people, so setting things up so that there's no one else to blame might be the only way to get through to him.
Wilson closes his eyes, and Bruce imagines he can hear the gears whirring away in his head as he processes what he's just heard. As he tries to puzzle his way out of it. As he tries to find a solution to a problem that can't be solved.
The problem is him.
The only solution is to fix himself.
"Alright," Wilson finally says, his eyes flicking open. "I accept your terms."
Bruce lets himself breathe properly for the first time since he entered the room.
Joey feels exhausted. His hands ache, his mouth's dry, and he's pretty sure he'd have fallen over if not for the fact that Jason had already slid a chair up behind him and pushed him down into it.
But it's over.
Pop's said yes. He's said he's willing to try. It should be a victory, only Joey's too wrung out to actually feel celebratory, so all he can do is lean against Jason where he stands, his hand still resting on Joey's shoulder keeping him upright.
"Alright," Jason says as Bruce emerges from the cell. "What - what's our next step?"
"We see Kent off," Slade says. "He needs to get back."
"Still not sure they're going to believe me," Kent admits.
"Not much they can do about it if they don't," Clark says. "Ask the bats in your world to back you up. I think they'll be willing to testify towards Bruce and Slade's amazing powers of convincing people to do things that are in their own best interests."
Clark shoots the two of them a grin and Slade rolls his eyes.
"We need to tell the others," Damian points out. Despite Bruce's original objections, there was no keeping him out of the hallway where they've all gathered.
"And then we need to build a better place for him. This was never intended for... long term storage," Slade grumbles.
There's a lot they need to do. There's so much it feels daunting, but right then there's only one thing Joey wants to do and he can't do it. He isn't capable, and the frustration boils up in him until he reaches up, tugging at Jason's hand to draw his attention.
Can I borrow your body? He signs while everyone else is distracted talking details that Joey couldn't care less about.
Jason hesitates for a second and then nods. That's all Joey needs, and his body slumps into the seat as he takes over Jason's body again.
He's done it enough that it doesn't bother him, but he knows it bothers other people, so he doesn't draw attention to himself as he leans forward, pressing the intercom button.
On the screen, his father looks up, turning towards the camera, his attention already gained. Around him, people are turning, their attention taken. He doubts they'll approve. He doubts they'll like it. He knows people tend to be wary of him borrowing other people's bodies, but for him it's as simple as breathing.
For him, there's no other choice right then.
"I'm here," Wilson says, staring straight into the camera. Even if it's Jason's voice, his dad knows who it is.
"I know-" His voice cracks, and Joey feels a stab of guilt not for crying, but for making Jason cry. They're not even his emotions, but he's going to be feeling it anyway. "I know this was hard for you. But thank you for... for trying. I love you, pop."
"I love you too, son," he says back. It's almost automatic. There's no pause, and that feels like such a kick in the chest that he finds himself breaking down again. It's cruel. He shouldn't be breaking down in his own body, and he's forced to furiously rub at his eyes just to make them clear enough to make the jump back to his own body where he gets to start crying all over again.
It's not Slade who pulls him into a hug, it's Damian. He wraps his arms around him, pulling Joey into a hug.
"Jason's a bit busy," he says, "so you'll have to make do with me."
As hollow as he feels, Joey can't stop himself from smiling at that, wrapping his arms around Damian. He's grown fond of him, and of everyone there. He feels... accepted.
"I really do need to go," Kent says. "As much as I'd like to stay-"
"No," Slade says, letting Bruce comfort Jason as he puts himself back together after the weirdest bout of crying he's ever experienced. "We understand. You have your own things waiting for you."
Joey makes himself stand, walking with the group to see Kent off.
"Let us know when your Lanterns get back safely," Bruce asks, a hand resting on Jason's shoulder. "I think they'll be fine, but I'd rather know for sure."
"I'll make sure to let them know. You should pass the package back later tonight, even if it's early. I can't imagine they'd be gone a whole two weeks."
"We'll do that," Slade confirms.
Kent's already pulling out the device that'll take him home, but he hesitates, glancing to Clark.
"Give them all my best," he says, and Clark nods. Only then does he glance back to the rest of them, taking a deep breath. "Last chance for me to take him off your hands."
"He's staying," Bruce confirms. "But we appreciate the offer."
Kent nods, clicks the button, and vanishes in the time it takes for Joey to blink.
"I should be getting back too," Clark says with a sigh. "I can't wait to have to explain to everyone what's going on. Lois is going to have a field day..."
"I should take my leave," Diana says. "I think it goes without saying that guarding him is necessary at this point. I will handle alerting the rest of the League as to what's happened here."
"We still need to tell Tim, Barbara and Dick," Bruce says, sounding exasperated. "I was thinking we could do it as a group so they know we all agreed and don't just think this is a me thing."
Why would they think it's a you thing? Joey signs. This is clearly a Jason thing.
Jason elbows him lightly in the side and scowls.
You befriended Bane, Joey points out. I'm just calling them how I see them.
"He has you there," Damian says with a grin. "I can't wait to see what they're going to say to this..."
They have a lot to do. They have to call the rest of the family. They have to let other people who've worked with them know. There's Gordon and Michael and half a dozen other people who should probably be warned about what's going on.
Perhaps more important than anything else right then, Joey needs to make a return video. He needs to tell Rose what happened, and what's going to happen.
He doesn't think she'll believe it. Not really. She'll believe it's a plan, a scheme, and Joey can't blame her.
She didn't see the look in Wilson's eyes when he finally said the words Joey's waited his whole life to hear. She didn't see how he looked when they told him that she'd left him behind.
She didn't see how he said I love you too, son. How he didn't have to pause.
It's the only thing he's ever wanted, and even if he's deluding himself, Joey wants to believe his father can change.
Maybe that's all he ever needed.
Aaaaand yes there's going to be a next part. You can expect it to pop up either late tonight or the day after, because I have to knock out some exchange fics.
One day I'll stop writing things in this universe... but that day is not today. Hopefully everyone enjoyed this (much shorter and more actiony than normal) part!