Note: This fanfic was spawned as a bridging story to establish how Dick Grayson went from the events of Nightwing #100 to being Deathstroke's new 'associate' to infiltrate the villains 'network' (further inspired by advanced solicits of Nightwing #113) And finding himself committed to eventually rescue Dante and Leon from the situation that Abyss goat and I abandoned them to at the end of 'Dark Obsessions', the fic which precedes this story. Further Author's Note regarding Dark Obsessions.
By Jacque Koh
He could feel a familiar presence beside him when he woke. "Bruce?"
"I'm here, Dick. I'm here now." He felt cool fingers on his lips trying to ease chips of ice into his parched mouth.
"You gave Alfred quite a scare when he found your uniform scattered around Jason's memorial, and you lying unmoving near by."
"Sorry... had things to do before I came back." It took a few more blinks before he could focus on the man seated beside his bed.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"You-- had enough worries." Dick shook his head dismissively. "Didn't want to heap my problems on top... Didn't deserve--"
"You are my son. My son. Dick-- don't emulate my stubbornness." Bruce interrupted him angrily then immediately looked abashed. "I-- I promise I'll remember what it felt like when you hid your distress from me, and I won't do the same to you again."
"It wasn't just--"
"I know about Blockbuster, Dick." Dick sucked in a sudden breath at his words. Before he could say anything though, Bruce had gone on with a statement that he never expected. "If you're expecting me to feel ashamed of you... Don't. I'm not.
"If there's anyone I'm ashamed of-- it's me."
"For-- for being so selfish... For-- for just sending Alfred with clothes for you and not going to help you too. Everyone knows you'd come at the drop of a hat if I asked, or if you had a suspicion that I needed help. "
"Bruce, you don't understand--"
"You didn't shoot, Blockbuster, Dick."
"I stood aside and let--"
"You didn't know it, but there was a witness. A near by resident; someone who Nightwing apparently helped once, he went to Amy Rohrback. He didn't want any rumours circulating that would ruin Nightwing's rep. He told her that he saw Nightwing stumble away from Blockbuster and collapse. That he heard the shot fired well after Nightwing's departure.
"You didn't kill Blockbuster, Dick. And you have no control over another person's actions." Bruce reached out to take Dick's chin in his hand and forced him to meet his eyes. "I wager that with or without your interference, Tarantula would have killed Blockbuster anyway. So, it really isn't your fault."
"But there's blood on my hands, Bruce..." Dick raised his hands appealingly to him. "I still see the blood..."
Bruce caught Dick's hands in his. "Then it's as much on my hands as it is on yours."
"Huh? But why--?"
"Dick-- I wasn't there for you. You were alone when you most needed a friend. And I wasn't there."
"Listen to me, Dick. After Jason died-- I was hurting... I wanted those responsible to burn in hell. I wanted the Joker dead." Bruce confessed to him softly.
"What stopped you?" Dick's question was almost whispered to him.
"Superman-- Clark... He made me aware that he was there to make sure I didn't do anything stupid. And I had been quite crazy for a period-- if you remember?"
Dick winced. That hadn't been a good time in their relationship. Dick had been off planet on Titans' business when Jason died and hadn't attended the funeral. Nor was he informed of the boy's death after his return. When he did find out though, he had gone to Gotham and inadvertently become embroiled in an argument with Bruce over Jason's suitability as a Robin.
"Then, there's what happened recently with-- one of my oldest friends Tommy?"
"I remember." Dick had attended that funeral with Tim and stayed on for a while to make sure Bruce would be all right.
"I nearly choked the Joker to death after I came upon him holding a smoking gun and standing over Tommy's body.
"James Gordon shot at me three times to get my attention and make me back off. The second shot grazed my arm. The third took off one of the ears of my cowl.
"Jim was ready to put the fourth in the back of my head if I didn't come to my senses."
Dick's eyes went wide at the matter of fact way Bruce was telling him of the incident. He hadn't heard the full story until then and hadn't known how crazed Batman had acted in reaction to his friend's death. To hear now how close Jim Gordon had to come to shooting Batman in the head to stop him from killing the Joker was sobering.
"But it wasn't the threat of death which made me pull back, Dick. It was Jim's words to me… when he realized that I was prepared to throw away everything I had believed in to kill the Joker.
"He appealed to me through our friendship… That night.. I had asked Jim how many lives we going to let the Joker ruin. He told me: 'I don't care. I won't let him ruin yours.'"
"The point is Dick…" Bruce took his hand and looked him in the eyes. "I had someone with me to rein me in all those times when I faltered in my own beliefs. Superman, Jim, even Selina did her best to try and stop my rampage during the Hush incident. I had a true friend with me at those times I was at an emotional nadir and when my judgment had broken down.
"You didn't have anyone. You were alone-- with someone who had an agenda of her own. You didn't have a friend, and I wasn't anywhere near either.
"I'm sorry-- that I wasn't there for you."
"You-- had problems of your own. Gotham was still recovering from No man's land... Then there was the new Robin... And the blow up of the Gotham mobs--"
"A man isn't only a father when it's convenient for him." Bruce cut him off angrily. "I could have made the time and met you at the funeral for your apartment residents... Or I could have sent Batgirl in to provide you with back up. I didn't do anything that a father or a friend would have done for you-- even when I knew what had happened to you recently...
"I-- I'm-- sorry, Dick."
"Bruce, you're overlooking what I did!" Dick stared at him in anguish. "How can you forgive me? Someone died on my watch; someone who I could have save--"
"Dick, you're too hard on yourself." Bruce shook his head as he gave him an encouraging smile. "You're remembering the grounding I gave you years ago when one of the Joker's men almost had a fatal fall because of what you did, aren't you? It's not the same.
"Then, you were careless and hadn't thought to consider the danger you had placed that perpetrator in. It wasn't a deliberate attempt to injure, but it was your lack of foresight and consideration towards an opponent that you showed which troubled me then.
"Someone may have died this time, but when I listen to you, you're not differentiating Blockbuster as a crime lord or as an innocent. That tells me that the lesson of long ago sank in, Dick. You did not fail me or yourself in that way.
"I've been where you're at now, Dick. And you actually did better." Dick stared at him in disbelief. "You hadn't needed someone to stop you from killing. That night-- I had decided then and there that the Joker didn't deserve to live. And that I was going to make sure of it with my own bare hands. It wasn't a spur of a moment thing; there wasn't a meta human nearby driving my rage.
"I fell, Dick. I was on the verge of deliberately flouting my own rules, and I had thought this out thoroughly and was ready to embrace the consequences. Jim was there to pull me back and stop me from crossing the line.
"But Bruce--" Dick tried to protest, his mind was in turmoil.
"Dick? What would you be saying to me now if Jim had killed the Joker after making me back off?"
"What? Commissio-- ex-Commissioner Gordon would never have--"
"Exactly Dick, but look at Jim Gordon. The Joker crippled Barbara and tortured him with pictures of her naked and hurt. The Joker also killed his wife, Sarah." Bruce interrupted him quickly to press his point. "Jim has every reason to hate the Joker, and after your experience with the BHPD you know how easy it is for a corrupt police officer to rig a crime scene and have evidence show that a perp was killed while 'resisting' arrest.
"Tell me, Dick. Would it have been my fault if Jim gave into temptation and killed the Joker?"
"But Gordon didn't--"
"Answer the question, Dick."
"But-- no! No, it wouldn't have been your fault. We know him. We wouldn't have expected him to kill the Joker--"
"Yes. Despite all the reasons we know that Jim has to hate the man, we know he still wouldn't have killed the Joker. But if he did, you'd still say it wouldn't have been my fault, isn't that right?" Bruce pounced on his train of thought. "Can you say why the one you were with had any reason to kill Blockbuster? What reason did Tarantula have to hate Desmond enough that she'd kill him?"
Dick had no answer for him. He couldn't say he knew Catalina or understood her motivations. He didn't know why she killed Blockbuster. He didn't understand why she saw nothing wrong in killing. She just did.
"You weren't with Jim Gordon that night, Dick. You weren't with a friend you could have trusted to help you when you needed help. That was your only mistake.
"You didn't shoot and kill Blockbuster. And you weren't in any position, mentally or emotionally, to save his life either. And I'll be a worse father and a friend if I let you continue your downward spiral of misplaced guilt because of a passing association with someone who was bad for you."
Dick just stared at Bruce for a long while as he tried to process what had been said to him. "Bruce..."
"We all have down moments, Dick. We're all fallible." Bruce shrugged at him. "Look at where I am now? The GCPD has declared Batman and his associates' public enemy number one with a shoot on sight order. And they did this despite over a decade of history of our helping and providing them with support."
"I sent Tim and Cassandra to Bludhaven." Bruce gave him a wry smile. "Right now, your city's safer for them then mine.
"Dick, you did good in Bludhaven. Trust grudgingly given or not, that ex-partner of yours in the BHPD, Amy Rohrback, is willing to trust you and us by extension. I know Robin and Batgirl will be safe in Bludhaven because of Nightwing's success. Unlike Gotham... Batman's lost the trust of the GCPD.
"Dick, I'd like you to consider returning to Gotham. Black Mask has taken over all the gangs here; I could use your support in breaking his power."
Dick took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His head was swimming with all the information he had been confronted with since he woke up. Batman-- Bruce wasn't disappointed in him. In fact it sounded as if he was proud of Nightwing's accomplishments in Bludhaven despite Blockbuster's death...
"Dick, you seem to be under the impression that you need to ask my forgiveness for Blockbuster's death."
Dick's eyes flew open to stare at Bruce. He felt as if the man had just read his mind. "I don't see it the same way. You're your own worst critic, Dick. You have to forgive yourself for a mistake-- and it's not even in moral choice, but in the people you associated with."
'Tarantula' was the unsaid name between them.
"Not that I'm saying all your friends are questionable, mind you."
Dick looked up at Bruce with a start, but saw the mischievous glint in his eyes. He couldn't hold back the ghost of an answering grin to the encouragement. "Wait? You're saying I have shitty friends?"
"Well... I wouldn't exactly say Arsenal is a very upright and credible role model whom I'd like you to emulate." Bruce told him innocently.
"Hey, he has grown up some since he's had Lian, you know? Being a single dad does that to you."
"Ah yes, and what a lovely mother for his child too." Bruce rolled his eyes at the thought. "An internationally acclaimed assassin."
"She actually isn't too bad a person to know-- when she's not trying to kill you, I mean." Dick protested weakly.
"We have spoken." Bruce nodded in remembrance of an encounter. "If it weren't for her profession..."
They fell into a long thoughtful silence, before Bruce broke it with a rather anxious question. "So... Will you consider working in Gotham for a while?"
Dick looked up at him, his expression uncertain and still pained. Bruce did not hesitate to offer his further assurance. "Dick, my opinion of you has not changed, despite what you think. I don't see anything that I need to forgive you for. And I'm sorry that you feel that I will turn away from you for what you think you did.
"You're my son, Dick. Nothing can come between us. Nothing.
"I know, I was foolish about what it meant once when I almost gave up Bruce Wayne. But I learned my lesson. I wish you'd believe in this bond between us again."
"So... What do you think?"
Dick took a deep breath as he stared at Bruce's hopeful expression before letting it out again. "Sure-- I can hang out here for a while."
Bruce gave him a knowing look. "But you'd also still like your own place too, wouldn't you?"
Dick gave him a rather sheepish though pleading look. "Well... It cramps a bachelor's style to still be living with 'Dad'. It's-- not like I can't afford it with my own money..."
"I suppose you'll also prefer to set it up yourself?" Bruce sighed in resignation, though still very much in good humour.
"Okay. But since you'll be living nearer, 'Agent A's' going to be expecting you to visit more frequently. And I know Tim and Cass would like it too if you occasionally visited them in Bludhaven."
"I'll keep that in mind." Dick promised him with a smile. It wasn't all that brilliant a smile, but Bruce was just glad that Dick was able to smile again.
"Oh, and I guess I should warn you. Wally's upset with you. It seems you read him the riot act a few months back about contacting Nightwing when the Flash needed help. He's not happy you didn't think to call him."
Dick winced and looked suitably abashed. "I'll apologize...
"I-- I guess I've been pretty stupid, haven't I?"
Bruce just shook his head. "Like father, like son. I do the same. But now, at least, I understand what I've been doing to my family."
Dick raised an eyebrow at him. "Leopard? Spots? You're starting to make me wonder if I've woken up in some freaky twilight zone, Bruce."
"Brat!" Bruce cuffed his son lightly upside the head.
Outside the room, Alfred sighed quietly in surprised relief and pride at his eldest 'son's' treatment of their injured fledgling. "Bravo, Master Bruce. It seems you can teach an old dog new tricks after all." The butler pottered off, with a smile on his face, to call Tim to give him the good news.
Dick groaned theatrically as he eyed his unexpected houseguest. Of all the people to come visit the little Gotham hidey-hole that he was working hard to establish for the last couple of months, this man was the last he expected. "Deathstr-- Slade." Dick corrected himself immediately, seeing how the man was in 'plain' clothes rather than his blue and orange assassin's gear. "Should I just give you a key to my apartments?"
"Hey, kid." The silver-haired, one-eyed man grinned at Dick from his position on the couch as he looked over the newspapers he had been reading. "My timing seems to have improved. I only had to wait 15 minutes for you to appear this time."
Dick rolled his eyes as he locked the door and hobbled towards the kitchen, with the support of his crutch, to put away his groceries. "What is it now, Slade? I swear this is the fourth time you've let yourself into my apartment uninvited--"
"Don't tell me you're not counting the second time when you surprised me while I was masquerading as a Wildebees--"
They lapsed immediately into awkward silence for a long while. Neither forgot the disaster of a situation that sprang out around them then; when Slade's son Joey had been possessed by Trigon-corrupted spirits and tried to destroy the Titans using the Wildebeest organization. Slade had killed his son when Joey begged him to do so, to stop him from hurting his friends and family.
"His-- spirit was still alive, you know?" Slade told Dick softly. "No one realised it. Until..."
Slade looked up gratefully as Dick handed him a beer. "He was in me-- and I didn't know. Not until he took over my body-- killed Wintergreen. Cyborg has him now. On a magnetic storage disc of all things..."
"But are you sure that it was really Joey?"
"What?" Slade looked up at Dick, a bit startled by his words.
"I read Cyborg's report." Dick told him softly. "That time with the Wildebeests-- when Joey was possessed. The one who ordered the killing and who made all the plans wasn't the real Joey, Slade. He had access to all of Joey's memories and powers and it acted like him, but it was the real Joey who returned briefly and begged you to kill him rather than allow him to hurt anyone else, Slade.
"The real Joey would never have tried to kill you, or Wintergreen. And he certainly would never have tried to make you kill the Titans." Dick told him firmly.
"You-- really believe that?"
"Who ever it is that's on that disk with Jericho's powers, it isn't Joey, Slade." Dick told the older man confidently. "And I put that as an addendum to Vic's files."
Slade looked down at the drink in his hand. "Th-- thank you..."
Dick just nodded as he eased himself into a seat at his computer, leaned his crutch near by and swivelled the chair to face his guest. "So... are we going to play twenty questions?"
Accepting the change of subject gratefully, Slade relaxed on the couch and waved his beer at the other man casually. "Did you know Nightwing is being hunted?"
"Light." Dick shrugged as he took a sip of his mineral water. "I tagged him when I gave him the slip a few days back. The Outsiders are on alert to know he's sniffing around and all Titans have been informed to watch out for him.
"The Justice League can't seem to nail his location for whatever reason, but I, at the least, can still get an early warning buzz when he's a few miles away. Cyborg's been making duplicate devices to hand out to the others."
"And do you know why he's after you?"
Dick looked Slade dead in the eye. "I was the leader of the Titans for almost all the times we clashed. I'm not going to overlook a desire for another fight with the Titans though. Figured he's looking for pay back. "
"And then some... But he won't anymore."
"I've laid a prior claim."
Dick almost spit-sprayed his soda over Slade when his meaning registered. "You what!"
"After you evaded him for so long, Light remembered that the H.I.V.E. once hired me to capture the Titans so he approached Deathstroke." Slade took a long drink of his beer as he inwardly chuckled at the other man's spluttering. "Sure, you had to be the only one who managed to evade me, but he knew I could find you."
"So it was really just me who's his target, eh?" Dick arched an eyebrow at the other man. "You could have just told him 'no.'"
"He would have persisted and hired someone else." Slade shrugged. "I decided I didn't like the idea."
"Why?" For a long moment, Dick thought that Slade would refuse to answer.
"Joey loved you."
Dick didn't even attempt to misunderstand the statement. "That was a long time ago, Slade." Dick had to look away as the memories of the sweet moments they shared suddenly bludgeoned his senses. "How did you find out anyway? We never told anyone."
"When I went to clear Adeline's things after she died, I found the room where she put our son's belongings." Slade looked up at Dick. "He had more art on you than of anyone else."
Dick's hand clenched about his near empty soda can, crushing it. "No... I-- We broke up so long ago after-- after... I-- thought he was long over me. There were so many girlfriends..."
"There were many single pieces, no doubt about that. But he had a whole room full of paintings of Dick Grayson." Slade reached for his hand and gently eased the can from it. "He still loved you, Grayso-- Dick. You could see it in his art."
Dick looked up at him at those words, and they locked eyes. Slade could see understanding lighting in the blue eyes as to his meaning. Slade made his move slowly, giving Dick all the time and opportunity to pull away from him, but he did not. Clearly Slade was enough like his son that the echo of a past love was sufficient to allow him to close the distance between them.
His gamble was playing off. If there was an opportunity to get close to Grayson, it was now when he tried to voluntarily exile himself from friends and family despite their steadfast resistance to his efforts. The kid needed people around to love, and to love him, too much to be a hermit. And if rumour held, his touch starved nature had been freed too well by Starfire for Nightwing to ever be able to relapse into Bat trained solitude and distrust for very long.
Slade knew that he still needed to be careful though. With Nightwing's recent bereavement when his circus was burnt to the ground and his apartment block blown up, he was still wary of developing a new 'family' around him. The vicious losses had been a crushing blow to him when he was still distinctly not coping with the death of Donna Troy.
"Dick. You know I can protect myself." Slade allowed him to pull away from the kiss but he kept a firm hold of his hands. "I would not be in any way endangered by your presence in my life."
"Slade-- you don't--"
"I am more like my son than you think." Slade's mouth claimed his lips again. He was going to let Dick think that it was his son's influence which made the mercenary notice him now. What Slade would not tell Dick was that the seeds of his attraction had been planted years earlier.
In the chaos that had followed the fall of the Cult of Blood when the Titans had finally scored a decisive victory over them and freed a drugged and captive Nightwing from their clutches, Slade had slipped into the depths of their operations to liberate the mountain of information they had acquired. Ostensibly, he had done this out of curiosity and to get his hands on information he could possibly use in his line of work. It was when reviewing the information he had liberated that he came across the tapes; hours upon hours of recordings detailing the process by which recalcitrant followers were brainwashed into becoming loyal minions. The largest group of files had belonged to Nightwing.
Back then the media had been full of stories of the Titan's leader's painful road to recovery from the drugs that the cultists had pumped him full of. The papers spoke too of the mental and physical torture Nightwing had been subjected to in the effort to break him. But the cultists had never succeeded in breaking him completely. Up until the televised finale of fevered worship by the cultists, Nightwing had been controlled by a combination of hypnosis and drugs, and he still kept breaking the conditioning. The man had finally been drugged senseless to prevent him from lending any aid to the Titans who faced Blood during the final confrontation. Nothing, however, was mentioned of the sexual abuse. The JLA had blocked or mind wiped any knowledge of it from the involved parties.
In morbid curiosity, Slade had watched the recordings; watched as the cultists used drugs, physical, and mental torture to break the young man and make him a puppet loyal to their cause. Blood had personally taken the abuse up several notches by having their heavily drugged captive shackled to his bed nightly where he'd 'demonstrate' his deep 'love' to the helpless man.
Slade had felt sick for what was done to the man his son admired and loved. And-- guilty for the arousal that stirred within him as he witnessed the violations visited upon that beautiful, sculpted body. But despite his disgust, he hadn't been able to stop himself from watching all the recordings of Dick Grayson.
Joey had told him that it was memories of his experience during his captivity that pushed Nightwing to break off their nascent though comfortable hassle-free affair. Though Nightwing had allowed Joey to come close again, he could not handle intimate contact. Despite Joey's assurances that they did not have to have sex to be together, Dick thought it would be better for them to just be friends and set him free to pursue sexual relations with others.
In the end, Joey had agreed. Though Joey was willing to make the sacrifice, both were aware that Joey was a very physical and sexual person in his private life. Dick knew that he could not give that closeness to Joey for a long time to come, and Joey loved Dick all the more for his willingness to let him go.
That Starfire was the one to eventually breech the new walls Nightwing had constructed around him was no surprise. It was 'generally known' history that Starfire had spent several years as a slave in an alien society and it was without question that the services she had provided to her various 'masters' were sexual as well as physical. That 'shared history' of trauma was sufficient to bring Nightwing back into her arms to accept comfort and love which he might otherwise have rejected and thought of as pity from anyone else.
Joey had been sad, but resigned in his acceptance of Dick's return to his ex-girlfriend's arms. He had never stopped loving Dick though. That fact was obvious enough to his father when he was clearing his ex-wife's estate. Slade had found Joey's work room and his finished and unfinished art pieces.
As he had told Dick, a great number had been of Dick Grayson; drawn, sketched and painted in the way only Joey knew, they had been labours of love. And Slade could admit understanding the appeal. Furthermore, the raw magnetism of Dick Grayson was quite understandably enhanced by his rather complete lack of ego or conscious recognition of his own attractiveness.
Here and now, Slade had the opportunity in front of him, where he had not before, to pursue his interests. This was certainly a cleaner approach. His actions were definitely altruistic and not completely selfish. He truly was trying to protect someone whom he had long admired. This was just one of the side benefits.
However, Slade well knew that it was going to be a hard fight. Already, Dick's hand had come between them and he could feel it trembling with the younger man's indecision about whether or not to push him away. But Slade knew that the Dick was weakening. He had clearly been kissing back that second time.
Slade knew it was a need for the undemanding, gentle affection that he offered which kept Dick close; a quiet presence and feeling which Slade knew was a resonance of the comfort that Joey had once given to his friend so long ago. However, that reminder of Joey clearly did not bring only good memories.
"Talk to me, kid." The mercenary allowed Dick to break the kiss, but not draw too far away. "What's on your mind?"
"Slade..." Dick looked down, unable to meet his eyes for the moment. "What-- what do you remember-- of the last time I-- was in Joey's company?"
Slade closed his eyes for a moment as the memory of that time returned to him. "He tried to have you and the Titans possessed by the corrupted spirits."
"This-- despite telling me rather frequently that my completely human body was useless for his purpose." Dick smiled mirthlessly at the memory. "It-- it was-- the real Joey who kept me alive, you know? The-- 'Hybrid' came close to killing me at least three times that I was conscious of. But Joe never followed through with the threats; I could actually see the restraint in his eyes.
"Still... He-- the thing that was in control of his body hurt me, Slade." Dick drew his hands from Slade's grip and moved them to hug his own arms. "It may not have really been Joey... And I-- I know it was those damn spirits. But-- he-- it used Joey's body to-- hurt me."
"You-- never told anyone?" Slade asked him softly having caught his meaning.
"At that time, who could I have told?" Dick moved to grab his crutch and hobble over to a window to look outside. "We were all stressed out. We buried two Titans, were trying to fix a Cyborg who we weren't sure was really alive anymore, and we were faced with the aftermath of the Wildebeests' conflict that caused countless injuries and cost millions in property damage. The whole of New York was on a Titans witch hunt. And then there were the several teams of Titans from our alleged future trying to assassinate Troia..."
"We were at Titans isle alone." Slade reminded him gently as he came up behind him.
"Where you knew I just needed to hit someone and you were a convenient target." Dick grimaced at the memory. "You had just killed your son, Slade. You were grieving too. Why in hell would I tell you then that your son's possessed body 'reacquainted' itself with mine for old time's sakes before it tried to kill me again?"
"So-- it wasn't just the deaths that got to you?"
"Got it in one." Dick stared at his shoulder where Slade had rested a comforting hand. "They were friends and people I cared about, Slade. But Joey? In our time together-- I loved him, Slade. And-- he-- his body-- hurt me...
"I could have handled any other pain or torture... But those damned spirits-- perverted every good memory I ever had with Joe... Dragged-- dragged out parallels with what-- Brother Blood did to me."
"And you spoke with no one? Didn't-- Wait-- you weren't mind wiped after--" Slade feigned ignorance. Having heard how zealously and casually the JLA seemed to mind-wipe their foes, he was wondering why they never thought to use it on their allies to hide or eliminate mental trauma.
"No, I refused to let anyone else mess with my mind." Dick's eyes hardened at the memory.
"But sometimes-- isn't ignorance bliss?"
"Trauma hidden is not trauma dealt with." Dick growled at Slade's words. "And I'd much rather handle it up front than to let it creep up and bite me when I least expect it."
They were silent for a long while. "Slade, contrary to what you may suspect, I remember my time with Brother Blood when I was his prisoner quite vividly." Dick told him quietly. "I'm never eager to revisit those memories, but I refused to let the JLA 'help' me by removing the memories. And Batman backed me on that. We may have removed the knowledge of my identity from Blood's Cultists, but they left me intact.
"I went to a psychiatrist after Blood, Slade. I haven't talked to her as much as I used to, but-- my appointments have picked up again recently." Dick looked up and gave him a wry smile. "It's one of the reasons why I can still think straight and operate rationally right now. The world doesn't stop just because Nightwing's life went down the toilet. He still has responsibilities, and so does Dick Grayson."
"But this isn't you, kid." Slade waved his hand around the room. "The first time I broke into one of your apartments, I couldn't believe you hadn't recently moved in. It wasn't until my next few visits that I saw it was a natural state for you to have clutter. But look at this? It hardly looks lived in."
"What about the other apartments?" Dick inclined his head towards the door as he turned to face Slade again. "Was my attempt at camouflage that weak?"
"Far from it, kid." Slade shook his head. "You did good with the files in City hall and in the computer banks. You have enough automated movement robotics and noise makers set up for folks to think this place is no different to any other run down old tenement in some other area. It's a nicely hidden little aerie you've got here.
"But did you mean to just spread your clutter over the whole block." Slade reached over to pull the younger man closer to him. "You need real people around you, Dick. Not imaginary people with imaginary lives."
"Ordinary people who get close to me have a tendency to die."
"If you really believe that then why didn't you move back with the Outsiders? Or better yet, live in Wayne Manor again. Your circus was targeted, and so was your apartment block. But why not Bruce Wayne?" Slade got in his face. "If last year's Wayne fiasco proved anything, it was that he's not untouchable. But nothing happened to him, his money keeps him safe."
"Slade?" Dick shook him off. "Why are you here?"
"Thought I already told you."
"I don't need your, or anyone else's, protection." Dick pushed past him angrily.
"Maybe I just want you to have a break for a while." Slade caught his sleeve and pulled the younger man into his arms, making the crutch drop to the floor with a loud clatter. "Give you time to heal and get back on your game.
"Hey, you trust me, right? Imagine the fun we'll have messing with the minds of those who profess to know us. We could stage a spectacular break up in a couple of months; and I'll act the scorned lover and try to take you down. Then we beat each other into a pulp over the course of a few hours and a significant section of New Jersey, or New York if that's your preference, to give your Outsiders or the bat clan time enough to come in…"
A snort of laughter escaped Dick before he could suppress it. "You're just sore that you still haven't managed to catch or outright beat me yet, aren't you?"
"Not keen on the latter." Slade grimaced. "I like you kid, but I also know better than to take any contract out on you seriously. You have too many friends.
"But what say we work on the 'catching,' eh?" Slade pulled Dick into a kiss again, keeping his touch gentle and slow; encouraging Dick to melt against him and to relax and give him his trust. The man was too social a creature to be living alone and isolated.
"This is messed up, Slade." Dick tried to protest between kisses. "And-- I've recently been-- lectured-- on the company-- I used to keep."
"You've known me longer-- you've worked and lived with my son and daughter-- and you know-- I have a moral-- and an honour code-- that I adhere to." Slade murmured against his mouth. "You also think too much, kid." He silenced the younger man with a devouring kiss and Dick finally stopped protesting.
"End it, Wilson. I will not ask again."
The silver-haired, one-eyed man whom the superhero and mercenary world knew as Deathstroke the Terminator did not start, as one might expect, with The Bat's sudden appearance. Slade was admittedly taken by surprise when the Dark Knight seemingly melted out from the darkness of his apartment. However, he had been expecting a visit from the man for sometime now; in fact, ever since he persuaded Nightwing to set up a satellite base in his New York apartment.
"And if I won't?"
"I will not see him hurt--"
"Then you best leave me be, Batman. Believe me, there's been word…"
"Explain." Slade noted that the bat growl was as impressive as it was reputed to be.
"Light." Slade moved over to his bar nonchalantly to pour himself a drink. "The man wants to get back at the Justice League and cause a break between them and you. He suspects Nightwing was your former Robin, and that he was the leader of the Teen Titans; the same Titans who used to defeat him on a regular basis; the Titans who were spoon-fed the joke that he had become.
"What better target will he ever get? He knows he can hurt the League, the Titans and the new group that Nightwing was with, the Outsiders, by taking him and publicly doing to him what he did at the JLA Watchtower to Sue Dibny-- and worse."
"What?" Pure menace fairly rolled off The Bat. Enough that even Slade couldn't hold back his shudder.
"Think about it; this targeting of the Titans leader is a direct result of what the League did to Light. That is an easy conclusion to come to. Faced with a recording of Nightwing's suffering and death, you would never forgive the League for what they precipitated.
"He is vulnerable now; has been at his lowest ebb since what went down in Bludheaven; still recovering from a debilitating injury... Easy pickings-- or should be easy pickings. To be fair, the kid did pretty good eluding Light previously." Slade locked eyes with the Dark Knight as he took a sip of his drink. "But if reinforcements come in he'd eventually falter, and Light thinks it'll be the easy road to take to break the man.
"Light's heard enough to know he can open up old wounds. Don't think that we're unaware of what happened to the kid when Blood first broke him all those years ago. Don't think Light isn't capable of it too and worse. "
"Let me take care of my own, Deathstroke."
"But will he let you?"
They glared at each other in silence for a long moment before Batman spoke. "And this is better?"
"I staked a 'prior' claim so Light won't challenge me." He shrugged easily. "Call it professional courtesy, it amuses him to know this little 'secret' but he will keep it least he earns my wrath."
"He's Bisexual!" Slade glared at Batman in challenge. "And are you prejudiced against his orientation, or are you protesting because he's your son?"
"You don't love him."
"But I could, he's pretty easy to lov…"
"He doesn't love you!"
"He has no need to." Slade told him honestly.
"You-- are-- playing with him when he's confused. With all the losses he has had to face in the last few months, his need for affection right now is so great--"
"…and if it keeps him alive and untouched by Light? We all know that the JLA still hasn't been able to nail down Light's location to bring him in. That mad man would torture Nightwing outright and drag his suffering out as long as possible before he lets him die. And the kid would fight and survive for as long as he is able to Batman. We both know that. It would take a long time for him to die."
The two men stared at each other for a long time. "We are being watched to give validity to my claim… But I ask for and receive his consent before we try anything."
"Because I respect him and-- because he knew and was loved by the son I wished I knew better…"
Batman glared at Slade for a long moment before he spoke again. "Hurt him, and there isn't a pit deep enough that I cannot find you, Wilson."
"I know." And with that the shadow was gone leaving Slade to stride over to the window to slam it shut.
He had been lucky Dick wasn't in that weekend. Black Canary was slumming in Bludhaven for a while, so Rose, Cassandra and Tim had descended on Gotham to drag Dick out to watch a movie marathon that Slade hadn't the slightest interest in. Dick would not have reacted well if he had overheard the conversation that just took place.
Not for the first time, Slade questioned the fool hardy course he had taken to shield Dick Grayson from the revenge that the psychotic Dr. Light had initially planned against the JLA. However, he did not regret his actions. Joey, the gentle son he knew, would have done anything he could to prevent the horror Light had intended to visit upon his friend and loved one.
Of all the members in the superhero community, there was no other whose brutal rape and death would have had as great an impact upon the major teams as Nightwing. The 'Bat-clan'; the Titans; the Outsiders; the JLA; Oracle's Birds of Prey, and by extension maybe even the JSA... all these teams would be devastated by this hero's loss. And despite his skills, intelligence and training, as a non-meta Nightwing would be the easiest to control and contain with drugs and physical restraints; as Brother Blood had proven all those years ago. One did not take chances with any hero that was Bat trained, much less Nightwing, the Batman's first protégé.
They had mutually agreed that this arrangement would only last until they were both restless for different company. In the meantime, it didn't hurt Slade to pick up some brownie points with the Titans and the Bat 'clan'. Calling a truce with Batgirl and Robin, and letting his daughter train with them was also useful. It was good for Rose to be around other teens her age. His daughter had also known Nightwing from when she used to stay at Titans Tower and appreciated being in contact with him again.
Slade, however, was still on Arsenal's shit list for the Batman impersonation stunt with the Outsiders. But Harper wouldn't deny his daughter's association with Uncle Dick and Aunty Rose just because he was mad with Deathstroke. Also, for all that Rose and Cassandra's first meeting was hardly amicable, they still managed to get along together and commiserated with each other as daughters of world renowned assassins. Something they had in common with Lian too.
It didn't hurt either, for Dick to get a tiny insight into the workings of the villains' network for the clash and fall out to come. Nor to play around with an undercover identity as Deathstroke's new costumed associate 'Bloodhawk' as if he was testing the waters of a life on the other side of the fence. Dr. Light was certainly deriving a great deal of amusement from the idea of a fallen Titan being corrupted by one of their greatest enemies. The man was eagerly standing aside and staying quiet to see how Deathstroke's drama would play out.
Robin and Batgirl were actually receiving quite an education from Nightwing in disguises too, when they'd go out with Slade and Rose to hobnob with the community on the other side of the fence. It was certainly a learning opportunity that Nightwing didn't want his younger 'sibs' to pass on despite 'parental' misgivings.
For Dick, this whole situation was also a challenge to see if Batman would respect him to choose his own path after the debacle in Bludhaven. In any case, Slade rightly felt that the Tarantula slut was poison, and hardly in the same league as Slade and his associates. Batman could better respect the 'honour' of Slade's circle of 'friends'. And at the end of the day, the over protective 'father' figure could hardly deny that it was valuable experience for Nightwing, Robin and Batgirl to experience how the other side relaxed, and recognized the humanity of their opponents. Slade was even wondering if he'd manage to entice 'daddy' Malone out with them one day. Now, if he could somehow kindle interest in Dick to get a university education too, Slade could have Bruce Wayne eating out of his hands and hating it.
Whatever was said about Slade, he did believe in gathering allies on both sides of the fence when he could manage it. And besides, Slade had to admit that he really did like the kid. If he could do anything to ensure Nightwing's survival, all the better. Also, the side benefits were pretty good. In time, they might even cross the hurdle of Dick's male-proximity issues to actually have sex.
As it was, he and Dick were having too much darn fun just making out and messing with the minds of friends, acquaintances and enemies alike. After all, who would ever have thought that Deathstroke, the Terminator was interested in 'catching' Nightwing, occasional leader of the Titans and the Outsiders, and Batman's son, in that particular way? And Slade was deriving a lot of amusement watching Arsenal brood and stew over the perceived relationship between the two.
Then there was also the very exclusive club that Slade really wanted to bring Dick to, if only to see how he'd react to the rampant and open sexuality practiced in the members' area. There were rumours of recent acquisitions by the Don who was known for kinky entertainment, so Slade was quite sure he would soon have an opportunity to show off his own 'acquisition' and watch the fun with the Don's new toys. If Batman and Arsenal ever found out about the 'villain's' club he was going to debut Bloodhawk at though, Slade grinned to himself, there was going to be lots of fireworks.
Still, when their 'affair' finished running its course, Slade had to wonder if Arsenal would finally make his approach. The kiddies had been tiptoeing around each other for ages. Hopefully, the several months of teasing to come, right in front of the redhead, would buy Harper a clue about his feelings for his darker haired colleague. At the least, Slade would feel contented to know that Joey's spirit would be happy with him for looking out for his friend and former lover.
The End (and a new beginning)
abyssgoat of the LJ community 'dmcyaoi' wrote a birthday fic for her friend Lulu "Dark Obsessions" The access to the story is, unfortunately, restricted to community members since it is an adult fic and contains Yaoi (Japanese slash), Voyeurism, Stalking, Bukkake, Group, Rape, and sex with big toys. It was based on an AU of the PS2 Game: Devil May Cry, using Dante Sparda and her original character Remus. (Stories and fan art of whom you may find at http/ Adults only, please!)
Having been one of those whom the story was shared with some three months ago, I was inspired by the way she had ended her story, with the introduction of Leon Scott Kennedy (GameCube: Resident Evil 2 / 4) as a detective investigating Dante's disappearance, to write a possible continuation. (This is also an Adult fic containing Yaoi, Voyeurism, Stalking, Group, and Rape.) "Dark Obsessions - Part 2"(Which you can find at my website under Game fic)
That, however, wasn't the end of it as a Deathstroke Fictive popped up in my head and demanded that I allow him to bring Nightwing to the 'Los Illuminados' Club which I had created at the end of Dark Obsessions - Part 2.
This fanfic was spawned as a bridging story to establish how Dick Grayson went from the events of Nightwing #100 to being Deathstroke's new 'associate' to infiltrate the villains 'network' (further inspired by advanced solicits of Nightwing #113) And finding himself committed to eventually rescue Dante and Leon from the situation that Abyss goat and I abandoned them to at the end of 'Dark Obsessions'.
That story will get written when I finally settle the structure of this DC / Devil May Cry / Resident Evil 2 / Resident Evil 4 multi-crossover-universe, which seems to be gathering more and more DC characters as I plan it... (covers her eyes)
Until that story sees the light of day, this is what Slade made me set up which is purely in the DC universe, so knowledge of the previous stories is not essential. If curiosity leads you to read the earlier two stories, please do take heed of the warnings.
This story is safe for mature teen consumption, and is very tame as compared to the earlier two stories. "Dark Obsessions" is strictly adult in content.
Thanks for reading.