Frankly it’s a stupid idea, but Jason’s apparently known for his stupid ideas, including one which everybody in his ex-family has claimed led to his own death. Victim-blaming and general classism aside, yeah well if nobody’s going to treat Jason Todd like an adult or a hero — he thinks that he doesn’t need to be a hero. And ergo — Jason’s free to make stupid choices.
Stupid choices like singlehandedly taking down the dominant drug cartel in Kazakhstan without prior preparation because preparation takes time and while Jason has the luxury of time, these kidnapped kids on a bus to a underground slave market do not. And yeah, Jason’s checked — the famed Justice League doesn’t give a fuck about the world outside of their own domiciles and Jason’s not great, but here’s here to help and frankly the only person with even half the resources to do so.
What he didn’t expect was to bump into Slade Wilson.
Jason’s got one foot on his chest and he’s bleeding from two gunshot wounds when fucking Deathstroke of all people comes in, guns blazing and yeah, apparently he’s got a contract to assassinate the boss of the cartel. Jason really should keep track of who’s operating in the underworld because he didn’t fly halfway around the world to bump into his not-brother’s ex-paramour and mortal enemy, are you fucking kidding him ?
And Slade’s eyes seem to light up when he sees Jason, lips curling into a smirk and yeah , Jason’s not here to make friends. He’s here to rescue and deliver the kids to a safe embassy along with hacking into the drug cartel’s offshore accounts to put together funds to give these kids a better life. And Slade’s here for money and murder which granted, makes him a hellalot more trustworthy than half the men Jason’s met in his life, because at least Jason knows where he stands with Slade. Slade Wilson’s a good fighter, you don’t train by fucking Batman himself and not recognize the beauty in violence and destruction and as long as Jason ignores Slade’s eyes raking over him, it should be fine.
And maybe it’s because Jason’s lonely after Roy, after Artemis and everything and there’s something kinda hot about how competent Slade Wilson is (and it’s not his fault and he’s not unique in this because every Robin has some sort of competence kink, thanks B!) And well, long story short and as cliches so often go — they struck up an alliance.
The kids are safe and the cartel’s wiped off from the face of the earth. Normally, that’s the time when Jason slinks off into the shadows to recover and regroup for the next job. His funds are woefully depleted from the RPG-195s and rocket launchers that Jason’s purchased and his arms are bandaged (no less by Slade Wilson, wonders of wonders.) Jason hates the world when it’s quiet: Where all trouble seem like nothing more than a sleepy world of streams , he thinks.
There’s a poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne that had been his favorite back at the Wayne Manor which he had marveled in wonder, eyes half-lidded from fatigue after a long mission. It’s less the poem which he had loved and more the way that Bruce had been reading it to him in a soft baritone, voice made a tad more hoarse from sleep. The gravel and gunmetal voice speaking about tears and laughter, a beatific goddess of death in her garden that he’s written a report about because the poem’s brought him to tears. And it’s one thing to know intellectually that the author uses imagery to discuss the contrast between the raucousness of life and the contrasting quiet tragedy of death but another, far softer thought, to recall the softness of the blanket that Bruce Wayne had bought for him, the scent of laundry and the wooden shelves of the Wayne libraries.
The way Bruce had smiled at him afterwards and had let him curl up next to him that night and had kissed him breathless when he had been Robin and fifteen and so in love. The way the world had seemed quiet, as if it too is tired of tears and laughter, the dawn breaking outside their windows and the chirp of a robin’s call, heralding the dawn. How safe he had felt then, shelved in his own way and adored like the books which traveled hundreds of miles, books with bent covers and missing pages, artfully restored by Bruce and Alfred’s hands. The soft voice lingering in his mind even still, luring him, haunting him with a promise of a home that’s not Jason’s anymore.
Bruce obviously doesn’t care about Jason anymore, he’s made that clear to Jason plenty of times before. Jason’s going to go get a fucking drink before he gets maudlin like a 19th century Victorian heroine over the dude who’s technically supposed to be his mentor.
Jason’s chatty and restless tonight, he’s flirting with a man who goes by Dominick who manages a portfolio of one billion in fixed asset derivatives — laughing and batting his eyelids in a way that makes him sound absolutely fascinated by the man’s latest corporate acquisition, a tech start-up meant to revolutionize trading platforms in emerging markets.
Jason knows he’s attractive, he may not be as pretty as Dick “The Golden Boy” Grayson and he’s no twink like Tim “The Replacement / The Platonic Ideal of Robin” Drake but he’s confident and just happens to fit the types of certain travelers who come here for work and who he never sees again except once or twice on the cover of Forbes’ List of Billionaires.
They’re the non-attachment types, the type who’re restless in their own way. Who doesn’t see their family more than twice a year, assholes who live fast and chase the hyper-vertigo rush of building and destroying legacies, the type who burns more money in a day than the entire annual GDP of East End, Gotham. Nice suits, built like tanks, with eyes the color of a Mombasa sky. Who doesn’t ask questions and always eager to get mouthy boys like Jason on their knees.
The man suddenly stops talking about the corporate merger that’s earned him his initial seed money for his start up. There’s a shadow that falls over the two of them and Jason lifts his head up and smirks as he sees Slade Wilson of all people standing beside him.
“Does Daddy know what you’re doing when you’re not in Gotham, pretty Robin ?” the assassin purrs with little preamble. His eyes are dark and hungry and yeah, perhaps it’s the way the man says it, with too much knowledge and it’s the Robin which tips it so nicely over the edge and Jason who’s never been one for taking things just grins at him, vicious and daring and in the way that’s brought others to their knees —
The banker that he’s been talking to looks terrified and quickly takes his leave as Slade slides into the man’s now-vacant seat and —
The first time Slade kisses him, Jason could have slapped him because he’s pretty sure that it’s assault. It’s vicious and cruel and Jason almost laughs because he’s never pegged Dick Grayson to be into this kind of shit, though heh , pegging most definitely seem like the shit that Dick’s into. Dick’s always been the wholesome one out of the three of them but now — hm, doesn’t this make the original Boy Wonder that much more interesting?
But then Jason kisses him back and bites down hard against Slade’s bottom lip, draws blood.
Slade pulls away but there’s laughter in his eyes where Jason’s leveling a murderous glare at him. There’s a certain fondness in the man’s eyes before he turns to go. And Jason who’s life thesis is daddy issues plus death equals awful decision making, follows him. And of course, Slade would have a room at the Ritz-Carlton-London while Jason’s slumming in some broken down flat north of Camden and perhaps in that moment it doesn’t matter and there’s something in Slade’s eyes that makes Jason furious enough to follow Dick Grayson’s ex forward, lets Slade push his tongue in Jason’s mouth without protest and pin him against the velvet wallpaper of the elevator lobby.
Slade tastes like expensive whiskey and cheap cigars and Jason knows that this is an awful mistake but there’s an undercurrent of bitterness and anger that makes him want to either fuck or fight and Slade’s right there offering either-or, his rumbling, warm laughter doing things to Jason’s dick that shouldn’t be legal.
The elevator dings.
And it’s about Jason relieving some stress not some fucked up retribution against anyone; he’s a grown man and he’s free to do what he wants and what he wants right now is to not have to think about Algernon Charles Swinburne or Bruce Wayne or Dick Grayson or home or really anything else. And when Slade pushes him down — oh, fuck yes — Jason drops down to his knees and he’s licking his lips, hands fumbling with Slade’s buckle and Jason’s eyes are set firmly on his cock and sets to work. Jason’s always been someone who gives one hundred and fucking ten percent in everything he does and like everything, he’s good at what he does and he’s doing Slade right now. It’s a fucking delight when he hears a groan of pleasure coming from Slade’s mouth.
When Slade slides a hand through his hair, almost like a caress, Jason stills because no — that’s a little too intimate for that until Slade’s tugging hard at his hair. It’s gotten longer from the last mission, though Jason thinks he doesn’t mind it like this. Jason groans and goes back to his task, drinks Slade down like a pro when he comes before Slade drags him back up and kisses him and fuck, it’s a little bit hot kissing him like this as Slade’s hands — hands that helped Jason dismantle a drug empire — are stroking his crotch through his hands.
And it’s Slade’s hands that gets Jason off, wringing sounds out from Jason that’s frankly embarrassing. There’s hands everywhere and solid heat and the smoky, sharp scent of blood and smoke. He lets Jason make those little whines and moans because Jason’s always been an expressive lover and when Jason closes his eyes he can almost —
Can almost imagine — blue eyes and dark hair and a hand that runs through his hair, proprietary as another hand’s pumping him until he’s breathless. The scent of Gotham when they’re high up and the air smells like air, wind rushing against his face and the ghost of a laugh that’s carried by the wind. The things that’s only ever happened in dreams. Jason’s not in Gotham and the Bat’ll never look at him like that. Jason knows that this is Slade Wilson who’s bringing him to completion in a hotel room a thousand miles away from home and yeah, that’s what Jason chose and he bites down a cry as he comes, shuddering as Slade’s pushes him to his stomach roughly and he really shouldn’t be turned on by this but nevertheless —
He lets Slade push him down on his stomach on the bed and preps him with two fingers, slick with Jason’s come and also lube that — of course, Deathstroke’ll have on hand (Jason almost feels like laughing before the breath is knocked out of him), and the intrusion is almost uncomfortable before he feels a hand on his back and tastes Slade’s whiskey on his tongue. There’s the harsh smell of latex from a condom and the sharp taste of sweat and then Slade’s inside him and fucks him until Jason can’t think anymore and okay, that’s goodgoodgoodgodyesplease — that’s exactly what he needs. Slade’s relentless and rough until he could barely think against the pressure building in his prostate. Until all Jason can do is grip the sheets of the mattress and bite out groans of “Oh yes,” and “Please,” until he’s so sensitive and comes from just a few tugs of Slade’s hands.
But when Slade comes, it’s with a name on his lips that’s not Jason’s.
And normally Jason doesn’t mind because the men that he sleeps with — someone who’s wealthy and alone in a bar in London’s got emotional baggage too and normally Jason doesn’t care because he’s got enough baggage to warrant a freight liner. But hearing Slade Wilson whisper Dick Grayson like it’s a prayer, with reverence when he’s fucking Jason — yeah that’s not cool.
It’s probably hypocrisy that Jason calls Tim Drake, his replacement. And it’s probably unwarranted at least because as far as Jason suspects, Jason’s the original replacement for Dick Grayson. Which technically makes Tim the replacement’s replacement. But back to Jason. The filler in a long and ancient legacy of Robins from good families, who would probably not kill even after being brutalized with a crowbar because they’re just that good and self sacrificing apparently, and who’s biggest problem is running out of hair gel. But Jason had been young and had thought that he meant something to Bruce, to Alfred — like how they had meant the world to him. Like how they still mean the world to him. Jason had been nothing back then, a blank piece of paper on which they had written a fairytale. Of need and bravery and heroism — like all the books that he’s loved.
Bruce and Alfred had collected him like they’ve collected books, art, bits and pieces of lives and dramatics and heroism. And yeah Bruce’s a collector and while Dick and Tim and Damian are probably first editions if there’s a metaphor to be made here, Jason’s the trade paperback, not even worth the printing costs, that you abandon in an airport lounge.
And one which he’ll take.
There’s a library in Gotham city, underneath one of the unused subway stations full of trade paperbacks. It’s not as expansive as the Wayne library obviously, but there are trade paperbacks and hardcovers copies of literature. Books that Jason’s collected in his travels, books bought at airport terminals and at book fairs and auctions. The rarer books though, he sends to Alfred occasionally; kind of like his own calling card because Jason’s pretty sure that while Bruce hates him now, Alfred’s always been kind enough and Jason’s not going to take his anger out on either his books or Alfred.
And Alfred in response sends him letters, keeps him in the loop on what the Batfamily’s been doing in his absence and asking after his health. It’s probably worrying that Alfred’s letters always manage to arrive but Jason’s grateful more than anything else. Especially that time when Jason’s first returned from the dead and his operations blew up in his face after Bruce sliced his neck —
When he’s camped out in a small apartment and there’s a package from Alfred with bandages and Jason’s old first edition copy of Pride and Prejudice, his favorite book of all time. Because Alfred knows Jason’s got a thing for used (loved) books, the way that their spines are creased and that their pages are marked up with notes and highlighting. The way that his copy of Cadmus’ L’Etranger has a note on the first page in French from a mother to her daughter, the way that there’s a bookmark still in his copy of East of Eden. The way that Salman Rushdie’s copy of The Satanic Verses smell like coffee grounds; they’ve lived lives of their own before winding up lost in used bookstores or discarded in free bins and Jason in a way adopts them. It’s was his ritual with Bruce and Alfred but they’re not here anymore —
Keeps them in his library and reads them, pores over them, hands flipping carefully over to the next page to keep the pages from coming out.
He reads when it’s dark, when the nightmares come as they do most nights and leaves Jason screaming. He’s careful with them in a way that he’s not careful with his weapons, his money, or his life. They’re little mementos of his adventures if they could be called that, books in seven different languages because Jason’s always been good at languages and he’s read Farewell on Concubine in its original Mandarin. It’s not good to have attachments in his line of business but this safe house isn’t one which he returns to after a mission, it’s not high tech and there’s not a single rocket launcher there. It’s hidden deep below Gotham city, abandoned but repurposed with bookshelves that he’s built himself. It’s his e.e. cummings’ here is the deepest secret nobody knows .
His copy of Pride and Prejudice occupies a place of honor in it and Jason tells himself that it’s because he’s always loved the 19th century feminism in Jane Austen’s works and the wit of Elizabeth Bennett. The criticisms of high society and its vapidity which still resonates with Jason. Even though Jason tells himself that he hates Mr. Darcy who’s foppish and stuck up and can probably go suck it, that emotionally constipated bastard who can’t communicate for shit and only has money for brains.
It’s one of the few reasons (besides Alfred’s pies and his own spite because Gotham’s still his home) that he comes back to the city. He catches a glimpse of Nightwing that night, leaping beautifully from a balcony and flying and feels his heart hammering too-loud in his chest.
The next time Jason meets Slade is in Hong Kong when he steals Slade Wilson’s mark.
A headshot to a North Korean scion who’s in the business of trafficking sixteen year old girls with the promise of a better future and damn , watching the man collapse is a satisfying feeling. He catches Slade’s eye from across one of the rooftops of the Hong Kong Embassy and he catches Slade watching him because of course Slade’s watching. So Jason just grins at him bright and gives him a cheery wave before packing up his guns and pulling his hoodie over his face and disappears before the sound of police sirens draws too near.
It’s noon; the sun’s high overcast in the sky when Jason enters a bookstore.
There’s cute stationary at the front, wagashi tape and notepads printed with Rilakkuma and Cinnamoroll and little money pouches and Jason debates maybe picking up a few of these to send to Talia or Barbara. There had been a period back when she was still Batgirl where Barbara had taken up origami and the control room had been full of colorful folded birds. She had taught Jason how to fold them and little stars which puffed up when you squeeze them and they nearly poked Dick’s eye out when used as ammunition for a slingshot.
He wanders into the back of the store however, past the textbooks and brightly colored backpacks, until the plastic shelves turn wooden. There’s a few books behind glass including a copy of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
He can sense that someone’s watching him.
Jason ignores it because he’s got a pretty good idea of who said person is. He turns and peruses a collection of China Melville paperbacks instead before picking out The City & the City and then Alan Moore’s V For Vendetta because Jason’s got a thing for erudite social justice heroes who talk too much. He’s reaching up for a copy of Anne Carson’s Nox as Slade Wilson grabs his wrist and forces Jason around to look at him.
The assassin’s dressed in jeans and a blazer and there’s mirth in his eye. “Is this what you do when you’re not assassinating key political figures or sleeping around with douchebags, Robin?” He asks, a roguish grin spreading across his face.
“Are you surprised?” Jason shoots back and yeah, he’s pretty sure that Slade’s got a death wish because if anything the man’s smile only grows.
Slade shrugs, eyes flickering to the titles that Jason’s holding in his arms. “Oh, just curiosity — “ he says when it sounds like anything but. “I didn’t take you for a romantic,”
“Yeah, Dick’s not,” Jason snaps and he’s disappointed that his statement irritates him more than it seems to irritate Slade who’s grinning this time like the sharks that Jason’s seen on the Discovery Channel. Jason doesn’t like this, the fact that Slade’s in a bookshop with him. Even though they’re in a public space, the fact that Slade knows his secret seems a little too intimate, the fact he’s here, in a crowded space with Jason, near pressed up against him. All of Jason’s bad habits bite him in the ass because he’s karma’s bitch. As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; They kill us for their sport , Jason thinks.
Slade pokes him in the chest. “No he isn’t — “ Slade says amicably, kindly enough. “But he’s also not in Hong Kong with a gun that’s not even on the open market yet. That takes resources. He didn’t kill a man that I’ve been tracking for the past two days. Nor is there a warrant out for his head for two hundred million dollars on the black market or a bounty of fifty million from Interpol, you’ve built up quite a reputation for yourself, little bird,”
Jason’s saved from having to ask when Slade waves his hand. Slade’s eyes are crinkling like he knows what Jason’s thinking, the split-scared vertigo combined with a desperation to live because Jason knows he probably can’t take on Deathstroke like this in close quarters but damnit he’ll come close.
“Oh don’t worry — I didn’t take that contract. I’m here to see you. You’re far too interesting to kill,” Slade says, looking gleeful. “And far too pretty to be left alone — ”
“Alright, fine — on one condition,” Jason says, downing the last of the whiskey that Slade bought for him. Jason’s more of a craft beer and regular shitty beer kind of guy, but he’s learning to enjoy the burn of whiskey, the solid aftertaste. It’s liquid courage that he needs because Slade’s smiling at him in a way that’s not charming at all but makes his heart beat a little too recklessly. They’re in Slade’s hotel room and Jason’s feeling restless.
Slade’s smirking at him, watches him. “Oh?”
“You don’t fucking get to call me by Dick Grayson’s name in bed,”
Slade’s laugh is vicious and delighted and full-throated. “Only if you don’t lie back and think of Gotham,”
Jason settles himself astride Slade’s hips and drags Slade’s boxers off before pushing two fingers into his ass and the other hand fisting around his cock and he works himself open like ohfuckyes —
Guides the head in carefully because Slade’s big — he remembers this at least and pushes himself down, steadily taking every inch and yeah it feels good and he hears Slade moaning and pushes himself down even harder. He doesn’t stop until he’s seated properly, there’s an ugly smile on his face as he looks down, stares at the man below him who’s staring up in a mix of lust and awe and yeah — he’s going to give the two of them a moment.
“What’s my name?” He demands. Jason knows it’s a bad decision, that the first time should have been a one time thing and that this is going to set him on fire but that’s always been Jason, who throws himself headlong into something vicious and know that it’s not going to break him.
Slade’s dark chuckle is more amused than anything else. “Robin,” he says, his hands reaching for Jason’s hips although Jason’s faster, hands pressed on Slade’s to stop him.
“That’s not my name,” he says and doesn’t move, even though there’s want in his stomach, even though this shouldn’t matter, even though this matters more than anything. It’s a point he’s making, that’s why he’s brought Slade upstairs, because yeah, Jason doesn’t have any delusions. In the dark, he knows he looks a little bit like Dick Grayson, all long, tan limbs and bright blue eyes and Slade in a way reminds him, at least physically, like Bruce. But he’s not going to let Slade call him by anyone else’s name, by Dick Grayson’s name — and yeah, it’s a fucking terrible idea in the universes of bad ideas but Jason’s always been prone to melodrama and he twists his hips in a way that makes Slade’s breath stutter. “Hm?” he asks and Slade gives him a strange look, like he’s charmed and there’s the sound of his laughter, punctured like a bullet.
“Jason,” Slade whispers and maybe there’s a facsimile of affection there and Jason looks down at him through half-open eyes, stares down through eyelashes. “Jason,” he whispers again, “If you’re not going to move, I swear — “
It’s glorious watching him lose control and then Jason waits. Gives him another second before lifting himself on his knees, toes curling at the burn, and then drops his weight and slams back down, presses Slade’s hands to his hips and fucks roughly himself on Slade’s cock. Jason hears Slade’s little laugh, like he’s delighted and Slade’s voice saying his name. The next morning there’ll be little crescent moons on Slade’s chest from where Jason’s fingers dug his fingers in and marks on Jason’s hipbones.
He’s sure they’ll disappear in time. Just like his memory of Slade’s voice, pressed against his ear. There’s no affection in his voice but he’s looking at Jason like he’s a puzzle to be figured out; like nobody’s ever looked at Jason in years. The low croon of his voice, quiet and amused as if Jason’s asleep, like he’s trying not to wake him, like he’s fond, like it’s a secret that nobody knows. He says it sweetly, like a melody, like a hymn. “Jason, Jason, Jason ,”
Slade’s gone the next morning.
There’s money delivered into one of his bank accounts the next morning as well as a text to his phone:
I don’t accept compensation for a job that I didn’t complete.
P.S. I left something for you at the Bookworm. - S. W.
Jason deletes the message and blocks the number. And for good measure, he throws his phone into the Hong Kong harbor. He’s got a flight to catch in six hours to Mexico. He passes by the bookstore again and Jason Todd’s honestly tempted to just leave. But he’s also intrigued, there’s a line in there somewhere about curiosity killing a Robin that he doesn’t dwell too long upon.
The Cantonese lady who checked out his books the last time gestured for him to follow her before handing him a package. “From your friend,” she says in English and gives him a toothy grin and there’s an insinuation there that Jason’s not sure he likes. But Jason’s polite and bows to her, before muttering a “ Douxeh ” before heading out.
Inside the package is the copy of V For Vendetta and The City & the City. Anne Carson’s Nox and the copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.
Later that day, the Hong Kong Art Gallery Association receives a very generous donation from an anonymous sponsor. Jason keeps the books. The plane trip’s long and having something to read will keep the nightmares at bay at least.
A week later, Slade sends him a kindle. Jason throws it up in the air and shoots it down as target practice.
It’s two months later when Jason’s in Marrakesh when he gets a call from a strange number.
In Jason’s defense, he’s just ordered delivery from a cheap place that serves delicious curry. “Yeah? I’m coming downstairs,” he says without thinking only to be greeted with a familiar, velvet laugh which sends all the blood rushing to his nether regions.
“Relax Jason, I’m in the Middle East right now. Though you are eager, aren't you?” Slade Wilson rumbles and Jason pauses, feeling himself go out with embarrassment as the voice on the other line laughs.
"Jesus fucking Christ," He orders himself to breath. “Listen, asshole —“ Jason retorts. “What do you want? I’m busy,”
“There’s a job that I’ve lined up which might work better as a two man op,” Jason could hear the smirk radiating from his face, that smug asshole.
“And what makes you think that I want to work with you?” He asks. “And don’t you work alone or with that Wintergreen dude? The one who tried to murder me?”
“It’s your type of job — the target’s someone who recruits kids to be drug mules by threatening their families,” Slade replies evenly. “And it’s a big operation, so maybe, I want someone to watch my back. Or maybe it’s because I’ve missed you,”
Reflexive, Jason wants to tell him no and to go choke on a dick or something but Slade will probably take that as an invitation. He’s not really in the mood to play second fiddle to anyone, not since his Robin days. Jason Todd operates best alone, it’s a lot easier that way — not to say that he doesn’t get lonely sometimes but that’s just the way the world works. He does what he needs to do, but Jason’s no mercenary. He doesn’t kill for money, he’s got his own ethical code even though Jason’s got no doubts that he’s probably made it onto Batman’s list of Most Wanted criminals as the big bad Hood for killing Gotham’s apparently lovable Cobblepot on live television.
But on the flip side, there are kids. And Jason’s heard rumors about Slade Wilson from the Titans and yeah, maybe he’s bedded this asshole at least twice before but he doesn’t trust the man. And perhaps it’s because there's a little bird that’s still — despite everything — nestled between his ribcage, a robin who wants to save the world.
“I’m not working with you,” Jason says closing his eyes. He feels a migraine coming on but he grabs a bag and begins stuffing two paperbacks in. “And we’re not sleeping together afterwards. But give me the coordinates, I’ll be on the next flight over — “
It’s a routine and not a habit. Jason can stop anytime he wants.
They end up in the same city, more often than not because fortune’s a bitch and Jason’s not arrogant enough to believe that Slade’s taking jobs to be near him, Jason’s not that important enough. And they do their own thing. Slade kills and Jason does his best to save and protect the world and afterwards, allows Slade to tug him down onto the bed of some hotel room or empty apartment or slams Slade against the wall of an apartment and kiss him until he’s breathless, until all the pent up anger’s gone and Jason doesn’t have to think.
Slade’s possessive with his hands and his teeth, leaving bruises and bite marks and hickeys all along Jason’s neck and thighs and stomach, marks that fade eventually but makes it hard to look at himself in a mirror. They don’t talk except briefly, Jason asking Slade about guns and contacts and Slade asking Jason want he wants for shitty takeout after they’re both languid and sprawled out upon sheets smelling like sex and Slade’s cigars. But Jason’s always gone by morning. He doesn’t stay the night and Slade never asks him to.
Jason gets a copy of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina in the mail. He gets a phone call two hours later. Jason could let it go to voicemail, he doesn’t need this. He tells himself that he’s better than this.Jason knows his limits. He's not going to be an idiot who throws himself in front of a train like Anna does at the end of the book. Fucking Tolstoy. He picks up the phone nevertheless. Damnit.
They’re sleeping together in St. Petersburg.
Jason’s chasing down a lead in Lithuania. Slade’s hired by the Russian bratja and in the downtime between, it’s Slade who seeks him out. Who fucks him in his safe house. It’s expedient, it doesn’t mean anything and that’s just how Jason likes it.
And Jason’s thankful that he does because apparently, wonder of wonders, Wayne Enterprises’ CEO just happens to be in St. Petersburg at the same time, signing a contract for clean energy. Jason’s not a masochist, but there’s something about Bruce Wayne that makes him want to attend, to see him again if only from the crowd. Jason’s pretty sure that Bruce Wayne’s a colonial bastard and Jason’s not in any mind to pick a fight with the Bat tonight. The nightmares always gets worse the closer Bruce’s around and Jason dreams of batarangs slicing his arteries and crowbars and graveyards. And Jason knows how fundamentally fucked he is in the end, it's something that all plagues all of the caped boy scouts (or ex-boy scouts in Jason's case), thank you very much but he doesn’t need pity —
Not from Slade Wilson who’s watching him struggle towards wakefulness, seated on the couch. Slade’s probably been watching him sleep, Jason thinks and oh, he does not need this.
“What were you dreaming about?” Slade asks.
Jason shakes his head. He’s on edge, eyes darting around the room. “I’m not telling you,” he hisses in return.
“I’m not going to judge you Jason,” Slade says again, giving Jason a patient look, that’s almost too paternal, sharp blue eyes holding implications that seem just a little bit too much (though granted perhaps it’s because Jason’s just not good at having things.) “In our line of work, it’s especially. And in our line of work, it’s especially dangerous to be distracted. I’m not going to ask again if you say the word, but if you need someone to talk to — let me,”
“What’s your play, Slade?” Jason asks and the man only blinks at him.
He swallows hard. “Listen, Slade — you don’t mean anything to me and I don’t mean anything to you,” he says slowly because it’s the truth and he knows better than to push below the mess of scar tissue that’s holding together his trauma and wants. There’s a clearly demarcated line that Jason’s not going to cross, Slade’s an occasional fuck buddy who’s followed him into a bookshop and bought him four books. He doesn’t get the right to unlock Jason’s tragic backstory. “I can handle them myself, I’ve been managing it — if it’s bothering you, then you can always leave. It’s like neither of us are the type to get breakfast together afterwards,” Jason says. It comes out more sullen than he’d have liked.
And Slade takes a step forward, touches his face, kindly. It’s too soft, his voice is far too gentle and Jason hates him in that moment. “What did you dream about?”
Jason shakes his head but that shake reverberates into a shudder and before he knows it, he’s crying, body quivering with the force of his sobs. He hasn’t cried like this since — since through Talia, he learned that he’s been replaced that first time. He used to cry a lot but that had been a lifetime ago, before realizing that crying doesn’t help; you either get up and wipe the blood away or you stay down forever and he doesn't know why he’s crying now, in the presence of Slade Wilson out of everyone. And before Jason’s realized it, Slade’s got his arms wrapped around him and it’s oddly comforting. Jason chases after it like a drowned man, the feeling of being in somebody’s — anybody’s arms.
“It’s alright, Jay,” Slade’s voice is low, a comforting presence. “It’s alright, I’m here now,”
It’s still dark outside but Jason can see the cool waters of the Neva from the apartment that they’re staying in. It makes him think of Gotham, the long expanse of water and the city rising above the gloom — St. Petersburg is so different, Slade is different and he’s here, now. He’s bought Jason books and held him close and that makes him dangerous because Jason’s bad at letting people in because they’ve all left him in the end after taking everything from him and if anything that makes the tears come again, tears that he wipes away because this is the most embarrassing he’s ever been; he’s not some sobbing heroine in some chick lit for goodness sakes. But for now, he allows himself to fall, boneless and pliable in Slade’s arms and closes his eyes.
He’ll deal with it tomorrow. It’s not one of the worst mistakes Jason’s made, he thinks to himself before the darkness overtakes him and he falls.
The next morning, there’s the smell of bacon and pancakes. He hears the sizzle of eggs and groggily opens an eye to see Slade standing in his boxers in the kitchen, one hand holding a salt shaker and the other holding a whisk. There’s a bag of groceries sitting on the kitchen counter, an honest to god box of orange juice poking out from the paper wrapping.
“You said that we don’t do breakfast together,” Slade says, anticipating Jason’s question. “So I’ve decided to change that,”
Jason only stares, wordless as Slade places a mug of hot chocolate in front of him. Jason rubs his eyes and stares down at the mug; blinking as Slade reaches down, fingers brushing against Jason’s mouth as if in affection. “Drink this,” the man says, gruffly. “It’ll make you feel better,” and Jason stares down at the warm liquid, wondering how Slade’s acquired marshmallows in St. Petersburg of all places.
“It doesn’t change anything,” Jason murmurs, eyes watching Slade carefully. His stomach’s growling and breakfast smells divine, but it’s a little strange like this. Jason’s not used to breakfast anymore, he hasn’t ever since he’s returned from the dead and in a way the romantic in him wants this, Jason’s missed this. But Jason knows his limits, he knows that if he gives an inch, Slade’ll take a mile; he doesn’t trust this, he can’t afford to trust this.
There's a long break before Slade turns to him again, presses a kiss atop Jason’s forehead and places a plate of pancakes, bacon, and eggs on the sheets next to him. Tousles his hair and watches him, reproachful as he sits next to Jason, their legs brushing together. He’s got his own plate and it’s through a mouthful of eggs that he says, “It doesn’t have to change anything. But I would like to keep you, little bird — ”
Jason hesitates for a while and picks up his fork.
Afterwards, Jason allows Slade to take him to the Hermitage museum when they’re both in civilian clothes and rambles about classic antiquities, ancient Greek pottery and the Tauride Venus who’s Greek, not Roman and who’s arrival to Russia ushered in a new wave of appreciation for Western Europe among the Russian aristocracy while also curtaining the freedom of the serfs under Peter I. And Slade listens, it’s a little bit of a giddy feeling for Jason, someone actually paying attention to him for once and Jason soaks all of this up, pointing out the mosaics on the ceiling and recounts the scandalous history of the Madonna Litta.
Slade’s laughter is bark-like in its appreciation. “You’re really something, you know that? Full of surprises,”
Jason feels the corners of his mouth drawing up.
Slade buys him another crepe, lavished in chocolate syrup and nutella and watches him as he licks a bit of chocolate from his finger from where the chocolate’s spilled. And Jason’s feeling generous so he dips Slade’s finger into the crepe and licks that too, watching as Slade Wilson’s breath stutter and ignoring the fluttering in his chest before drawing the two of them closer and tasting chocolate syrup and strawberries against cracked lips. “God, Jason,” Slade groans. “What will I have to do to keep you?”
The way that Slade watches him, wondering, like he’s trying to puzzle Jason out. The glint in his eyes as if he’s finally found an answer; it’s a strange feeling being wanted, being propositioned to and Jason thinks that he likes it and that’s a terrible idea. Jason’s careful and knows his limits and knows that it’s probably a bad idea to chase after something ridiculous, to be a romantic in a world where your savior sliced a batarang against your artery and left you bleeding out in Crime Alley. He thinks of a small nest of books that he’s built up from gifts from the mercenary and that perhaps they’re too fucked up to be a romance, it’s Jason that’s romantic enough.
Something inside Jason’s chest relaxes as Slade leans over and smiles at him, easy and proprietary. This is his life now and he’s made his choice. It’s not the worst decision in the world to be stay, he thinks. “Is this a confession?” Jason says, laughing a little too sharply; he’s watching Slade carefully, there’s a sudden flare of heat in his chest.
Slade turns and smiles at him and it's so fucking fond that Jason feels something cracking in his chest. “If you want it to be, Jason,”
The way that Slade says his name leaves him feeling a little bit breathless.