Authors Note: Hello everyone. I really hope the people who started reading this are still doing so because you really deserve an end to this. For those still reading this story and for those new comers who have never even heard of this because I started writing it in 2005 and haven't updated since last year, thanks for reading. At least two more chapters to go and we'll have our ending. As I promised I'll never abandon a story. Enjoy...
Disclaimer: I think I've said this before but it bears repeating. Despite what the hallucinations tell you I do not own the Teen Titans or Slade... or Gotham or Raven or a high tech super lair. Imagine what I could do if I did?
Nightwing suppressed the urge to curse as he viewed the installation at the bottom of the hill five miles away. To most people it would've looked like an old run down military camp that was still in use only on paper. Walking the perimeter of the small airbase was roughly five guards in standard military garb and weapons. Within their assigned perimeter were a few lit offices loosely grouped together around an old jet air hanger but out of the five small buildings only two were appreciably lit. All in all it looked fairly abandoned, the sort of places used for training because it wouldn't disturb any officers or operations if it was out of action for a few days. The sort of place that military on their way to retirement might hope for a placement but would be hell for any one else.
To someone with beyond state of the art surveillance devices, it looked far worse. At every conceivable vulnerable point of the place was either a surveillance device or some sort of high tech weapon. Occasionally there were both. The air hanger they watched the truck disappear into had heat sensors, motion detectors and what looked suspiciously like low powered, silent missiles. The entire thing was ridiculous. How they managed to go completely overkill and still make this place look neglected was beyond Richard.
"You missed the pressure sensors in random grid on the surface of the air hanger," murmured Slade as he pointed the patches of canvas and metal that looked almost separate from the rest of the building. Nightwing took a moment to lower his binoculars and glare at the ex-villain before turning back to his surveillance.
"We can take down the guards when they change and use their routes to infiltrate the hanger," muttered the vigilante, knowing even as he spoke the words that such a thing with their state of equipment would be suicidal.
"Interesting theory. Unfortunately Raven would be rather distressed if I let you get yourself killed. Otherwise I would agree with you," replied Slade as he lazily raised himself to a crouch.
"I can do it!" fiercely whispered the vigilante. A small voice at the back of his mind berated Richard for acting like a spoilt child before being shushed by the dark haired mans hatred for the monster beside him.
"Very well, you attempt that and I will go and collect the equipment needed to infiltrate the base alive and uninjured," cheerfully whispered Slade before silently moving away from the crest of the hill they'd been observing the complex from. "Well Robin? What will it be? Storm the facility below or discover one of my hidey holes? Your choice," murmured the ex-villain in a maliciously amused voice. Nightwing was far too distracted to notice the sharp hitch of breath in the middle of Slades last word. Because it wasn't Robins choice, it had never been Robins choice. It was Ravens choice and always had been. Dear Azar he'd lived with the infuriating Sorceress for a decade and he still didn't take for granted what she'd choose. The half blooded demon had been denied any choice in her life for over half her life and her lover would never take such a freedom away from her now. He loved her and this separation tore him apart but it'd been her choice.
Hearing the story later, Raven would decide that her childhood friend had been ready to fully attack Slade. Why he did not even Richard himself couldn't have told her. Perhaps the vigilante that had been fighting for so long had finally decided to stop for just a moment, perhaps Nightwings cool intellect had chosen that moment to break through Robins rage or perhaps living with an empathy for most of his teenage life had rubbed off on the man and he actually realised how much pain Slade was in at this plan. Although the reason was probably none of the above, Richard Grayson, last remaining of the famous acrobats, adopted son of Bruce Wayne and Batmans original protégé, stopped. Slowly, barely believing what he was doing, Nightwing relaxed out of the tense battle stance he had taken and stood facing the villain to look into his gaze. For a moment the vigilante expected to have to look up several feet until he realised with a start that they were roughly the same height.
"Alright Slade, let's go," responded Nightwing. For the first time since he was a child only just meeting the villain, the tone Richard directed to Slade was perfectly calm and reasonable. Slade absently decided not to question his luck as he led the former Boy Wonder away from the high security. It'd be far too much to ask that the vigilante remained his age.
After travelling for just over two hours, Nightwing was very surprised when Slade announced they were here. To put it simply, here was a slum. When the ex-villain began to calmly stroll down a neglected, filthy street the vigilante reluctantly followed. He'd spent a good portion of his life patrolling areas like this. Housing was cheap, which meant both the low class crooks, the unsavoury nobodies and the innocents with nowhere else to go all gathered here. The Boy Wonder had cut his teeth on such streets with the Bat himself. No one ever managed to hide anything in these places, it was one of the few times when you could absolutely trust everything gossip said. It was how communities like these stopped from completely self destructing.
Richard hid his further confusion as he realised which building his childhood nemesis was walking towards. It was the type of place Nightwing was very familiar with, you found a virtually identical business in every crime ridden slum there is. Peeling paint, faulty lights and a few tacky pieces of Neon tubing, to call it a bar would have been an insult to establishments across the globe. This was a place the scum of any city came to forget their miserable existences. In some of these places that hope was granted far more realistically and permanently than most.
The vigilante felt a familiar sense of derision as Slade sauntered into the wretched place, he had no idea what the arrogant monster thought he was doing but there was no help to be had in places like this. Even the more dangerous villains wouldn't be found in such a dump, this place was for the pathetic low life. Nevertheless Richard followed Slade into the bar, if nothing else he would rescue Raven by himself and prove to her that the villain only ever acted in his best interests.
Inside was just as dismal as the outside, the dim lights and feeble sunlight barely cutting through the murky air, the smell of cigarettes, sour beer, sweat and the slightly rotting odour of spilt blood clung to the very walls and bones of the building. Only through years of similar experience allowed Nightwing to resist gagging.
Behind the bar stood a wiry old man, sullenly wiping the stained wooden surface with a filthy rag. He didn't bother looking up as the pair entered.
"Sorry, we're closed," mumbled the barkeeper, frowning at a particularly troublesome stain on the wood as he otherwise ignored his new customers. "Come back in a few hours."
Slade smirked. "Oh I think you have time for me," drawled the ex-villain. The bartenders response was immediate. There are some people that are impossible to forget. As soon as Slade uttered the first syllable the old man looked up horrified and flinched away from the bar, hitting the wall as he backed up too far.
"Deathstroke! But you… you're dead! You disappeared a decade ago!"
"I hope my rumoured demise doesn't mean someone's touched my things," murmured Slade in a maliciously courteous whisper that froze Nightwings blood. This was the Slade he remembered from so many years ago.
"No! No, o-of course not Deathstroke. No one's crazy enough to do that. Your things are right where you left them, untouched I swear it," hastily shouted the bartender, desperate to avoid his customers… disappointment.
"Good," murmured the former villain as he hopped over the counter. The sense that keeping Slade waiting would be detrimental finally got the bartender moving and he shakily pushed down on a section of the wall, causing it to swing backwards. Somehow the white haired man avoided losing his balance as the ex-villain swept passed, Nightwing following Slade into what looked to be the staircase into the cellar. Halfway down the stairs he stopped and stood perfectly still. If it hadn't been for the vigilantes superior reflexes he would have stumbled over him.
Just as Richard was about to ask what Slade thought he was doing, a blue light flashed from their left hand side and a door that had merged perfectly into the wall swung inwards revealing a brightly lit room. When the vigilantes eyes adjusted to the sudden flooding of light, he stared at the opened room in awe. The small warehouse space was filled with just about every high tech gadget Nightwing could imagine and quite a few he would have given his right arm for. Most of the technology appeared to be roughly ten years above the present state of the art line, pretty much at the same level Batmans technology was now.
"What is this place?" whispered Richard, the awe of a dreamer in his voice. Slade merely snorted as he gracefully picked his through to the centre of the room towards what looked to be the only clear space on the floor.
"What else did you expect? Honestly Robin I'm surprised you haven't suspected this for years. Didn't it seem odd to you that no matter how many hideouts you destroyed, the higher league villains always had more toys. Bruce has been trying to find one of these places for years, you should feel honoured," said the former villain, absently provoking the man as he concentrated on taking stock of what was in the room. It looked like the old man had been telling the truth, he could see no disturbance in the carefully arranged room.
Richard on the other hand was panicking. The most dangerous villain he knew had casually used his adopted fathers name as if it was nothing. Was it on purpose? Was the monster trying to intimidate him into believing that Slade knew everything about his life, that no one he knew was safe? Was he just trying to make him more nervous, more on edge than he already was? How did this fit in with Slades plan?
"What? Who do you mean Bruce?" demanded the vigilante, trying to make his voice as unrevealing as possible. The villain smirked as he heard the catch in Richards voice.
"You mean he never told you?" Slade asked an indifferent voice. "Wayne and I go back years. Almost as long as he and Selina." The vigilante tensed as he caught Slades smirk when the villain turned to face him slightly. "Such a shame when families break up. I hear Bruce and young Tim are getting along quite well though. I need to stop by one of these days, I've always loved Alfreds meals."
"Don't you dare!" shouted the former Boy Wonder, lunging at the man. He would not allow his family to be hurt by that psychopath. He would not lose another family! A moment later the vigilante was hung in mid air. He struggled as a bright blue light surrounded him, trapping him enough so he could barely move.
"It's nice when things go according to plan, don't you think Robin?" questioned Slade in an almost friendly tone.
The trapped Nightwing snarled at his childhood nemesis. "What are you going to do now Slade?" spat the former Boy Wonder as he frantically tried to free himself, all the while cursing himself for his stupidity. It was a trap, all a trap…
"I'm going to leave you up there until I have finished collecting what we need. After your actions today did you really think I would just let you loose on my equipment? I can't even trust you to stop throwing tantrums, never mind keeping your hands to yourself. Some of these things have self destruct safeguards…" muttered the villain as he continued picking his path towards the centre of the room. A sharp pang rang in his heart. Raven would have been amused by hanging the Boy Wonder up like a turkey… she would have berated him for it but she would have been amused. He missed her…
"If you see anything you like please tell me. I have no use for such things any more. They should still be roughly seven years ahead of the military and commercial sector and roughly equal with Waynes special projects. Going up against Luthercorp however is a different matter," murmured the ex-villain as he finally picked his way to the centre of the room. For a moment the room was perfectly still as Slade wondered whether the security measures he had set up soon after Addies death would still work. He hadn't been that man in a very long time…
The biometric computer scanner however did not recognise the mans emotional and mental changes. Instead it responded to its designers programming. From the floor in the centre of the storage room rose a small white tower. The villain tensed as he reached out to the object and it yielded to his touch, opening with barely a hiss of escaping air. Inside the carefully guarded cylinder was a very familiar costume of black fabric, grey metal and a mask.
Nightwing averted his eyes as the ash blonde man clad himself in an assassin's garb. Even the vigilante didn't know whether he did so out of common courtesy or fear at seeing a man he'd turned his back on become the monster that had haunted his dreams. Suddenly Richard was very much aware at how little he had actually feared the man without that Halloween costume of a mask and how much the symbol shook him even now. He'd thought he was beyond the fear of monsters in the dark.
After intensely surveying the room, Nightwing looked back towards the centre of the room just in time to watch Slade carefully attach his mask. The transformation was immediate, the warrior had looked dangerous before but as he stretched slightly and flexed his fists, Nightwing was struck by how lethal he looked. It was as if putting on that infamous mask had changed the man, gave a still fanged serpent his poison back.
Slade cocked his head slightly as if hearing something just outside his range. A moment later his shoulders relaxed and the former villain turned to face the still captured vigilante, clasping his metal gauntleted hands behind his back. As soon as Slade caught his gaze, Richard was released, only years of instinct originally created by an acrobatic youth prevented him from falling on his arse.
Nightwing had no time to berate the villain for the undignified lack of warning before he snapped into a battle stance. Surrounding him, in their familiar slouched shoulder pose that allowed them to lunge forward without any notice, stood twenty simulacrum Slade-bots.
A mirthless chuckle issued from their creator.
"They won't attack you without my orders."
The vigilant snarled at his reincarnated nemesis. "I don't find that reassuring," despite Richards words, he relaxed his pose no longer posed to fight but still able to attack or defend within a moments notice. "How are you controlling them?"
"A neural interface, integrated into my masks technology and allowing me direct control over their AI. However, I am a little rusty. So please no sudden hostile movements," murmured the former villain. Despite himself the costume brought back old memories and Slade felt a thrill of pleasure as Robin almost imperceptibly flinched from his voice. The assassin reluctantly quashed such notions. He knew Raven loved him and always would but she'd never forgive him if he lost himself in the guise of Deathstroke once more. The man sadly smiled behind his mask as he flexed his fist, the costume still fit as if it were a second skin and for years it had been but he was stronger than that now, he had to be.
"Let's go storm a fortress," hissed Slade as he commanded his robots to flee the building using an old escape route. Richard silently followed a moment later as Slade slowed down his movements to show the vigilante the way out. It was time to get Raven.
The pair watched from the same hill they had been on several hours before but this time was different. This time the two men practically ignored each other as they moved towards the complex, Nightwings movements synchronising with Slades with a familiarity that had been drummed into his head when he was just a teenager. Even now Richard refused to acknowledge how deeply those few days of intensive training had left their mark. On a few dark nights, long after any criminal had finished their work, long after he had exhausted himself once more with his incessant rounds and training, Richard often lay awake, banished thoughts breaking free of their bounds in the moments before sleep. What would have happened if he had never met Slade? Would he be any different than he was today? Would he have fallen in love with Raven if he hadn't let that psychopath get inside his skin?
Such thoughts were carefully forgotten by the time dawns light woke Nightwing up a few hours later. Admitting hatred was one thing, admitting even to himself that Slade had held… did hold a voice whispered in the back of his mind… that much power over him was unacceptable. He was who he chose to be, Slades Apprentice had never existed willingly, the mask of X had never been more than a plot, he had never enjoyed the role of either. He was a hero, not a villain. The vigilante had broken into a few high tech security buildings in his time but only to see how vulnerable they were, only to see how the real villains would do it. He had never taken anything, he was not a thief. The criminals who had ended up in hospital before being tried and taken to jail had deserved it, he had been protecting himself as they resisted. He had never enjoyed hurting them, he was not a monster. He was not a monster, he did not wear copper and black, he was Batmans son, the Graysons son, he was not a monster…
Nightwing gave no outward sign of surprise as Slade brought their movements to a halt, the path his thoughts had taken a few seconds ago already forgotten as they had been several times before. Richard was getting very good at blocking such traitorous thoughts. He was not a monster after all.
The former villain waited at the corner of the air hanger for only a moment as he directed the moves of his very own golems. Already three out of the fifteen he had brought had been disabled despite their commands to use the utmost of their programming. Still whoever ran this place was not getting any more technology. All his robots had two self-destruct mechanisms, one the dramatic explosion he had used before on a young Robin and the other far more insidious. Designed to destroy all AI circuits and any other advanced technology whilst leaving behind a shell, the latter method was automatic and almost entirely silent. Still his creations had done their job, Slade believed the two of them could now infiltrate the warehouse without injury and several of the former villains more effective computer viruses had already been uploaded into the compounds many self sufficient computers.
They would of course take as many of the simulacrums inside as possible but they were no longer necessary. The place was not yet aware that they were under attack and would remain oblivious for several minutes, that would give his uploaded programs enough time to find the subroutines necessary for keeping the prisoners captured and release them. Slade adored modern technology, it made everything so much easier. Virtual safeguards were so much simpler and less time consuming.
The villain gracefully entered the back door his robots had thoughtfully made for him, taking for granted that his former apprentice would fall in behind. He loved it almost as much when old plans worked to his advantage.
The pair did not react as they stepped from the darkness of outside to the almost blinding sterile white of the underground compound. After all, their masks were for more than just hiding skin. Slade immediately broke into an easy run which the pair of them could keep up for several hours. There was no need to use up energy carelessly after all. The ex-villain barely registered a choice as he came to the first crossroad, racing past several doors and ignoring the surveillance devices. If his viruses hadn't already taken them down then there was no point trying to avoid detection. If surveillance was still running then his programs had been detected and he needed to get to Raven as quickly as possible. For the first time in hours he could sense her presence. He knew exactly where she was, he just needed to get there, now.
Robin didn't allow himself to think as he followed the dark presence in front of him and ignored the robots slinking around behind. If he thought on the situation he'd begin to panic. Instead the vigilante ran as he had many years before. He had never allowed himself to heal, had never put those blinding white corridors behind him. The man didn't even see the differences between the corridors he ran down now and the ones a lost boy, a hero had ran down before.
The dark haired Sorceress glared as her captor began speaking and her restraints were tightened. She barely acknowledged the names of the human drugs she had been pumped with in order to keep her under control, she could feel their effects well enough. Strangely she was also reassured by the symptoms the scientists had induced. They did not know her abilities as well as her captors believed and as she had half feared they might. The drugs had severely weakened her but her powers had not been touched, only her control. Her demon half was untouched.
Still the effect was the same. Without the necessary control over her powers she could not chance using them, at the very least it would probably result in the death of most in this room. The Sorceress could almost hear her loves voice in the back of her mind assuring it would be self-defence but it wasn't worth the possibilities. Without control she could only imagine what the least dangerous result would be, she had no idea of the worst-case scenario but it probably involved a version of Armageddon. Such things tended to happen around or more accurately, because of her. Instead Raven tried to meditate through the fog infiltrating her mind. Unfortunately the scientists had no idea what they had done and little idea of what they had in their grasp.
The interrogator remained in the shadows of the room even as he moved closer to the Sorceress lying prone on the table. As he had many times before the man gently placed the last of the electrodes on his subjects temples. It was important to remain involved with your projects. Loss of perspective was not justifiable. Following his own procedure, the interrogator sent a small jolt of power through the connection, the pain barely registering on the Sorceress mind. He smiled slightly, this was all he had been working towards. Just a quick test first.
"Who are you?"
The interrogator frowned slightly as the screen remained blank. Perhaps a small demonstration before they began to work was necessary afterall. The man allowed a smile to twitch at the corners of his lips as he gave the same signal he had given in hundreds of supposedly similar interrogations and like almost every other time before the subject screamed as pain swept through the victims body.
It took the man seconds to realise that the quality of the scream was different, more outraged than agonised. Following his instincts the interrogator was already running by the time his assistants noticed the faint red glow under the subjects eyelids. The scientists didn't have time to follow their leader out the steel door as they were struck by a wave of darkness. The demoness relished their screams as they echoed in the room for a moment before she bored of such small entertainment, casting them into one of her fathers realms as just reward for their daring. The fire demons could have some fun with them.
The Sorceress slowly sat up, the needles and restraints that had held her captive melting away the moment her powers touched them. For a moment the demoness smiled as she let her senses stretch across the place that had kept her captive. Her wave of blackness covered the bottom floors, destroying everything in its path. The screams of its victims echoing in the demoness' ears as she stretched her arms and prepared to stand from the table. Without warning the Sorceress doubled over on the interrogation table, the dark wall ceasing its destruction at her command. The redness receded from the pale woman's eyes as she sensed something. Just a whisper really, barely noticeable to such a powerful being but so familiar just the same.
Slade was here, he was coming for her. The Sorceress could feel her blood rebelling against her human control, her appetite only whetted from the thankfully evil souls she had already consumed. Trusting in her beloveds strength, Raven forced herself into a painful slumber, only subduing her demon side by the promise of healing. After all full strength was desirable when destroying a Universe. Before she fully succumbed to sleep, Raven sent out a desperate plea to Azar or any other spirit of good that might be listening, that Slade would be able to reach her before she fully recovered from what the humans had inflicted on her. If she woke without his influence she wasn't sure who would emerge.