Ok, a big thank you to Month4 for the reminder that this story hadn't been updated in almost a month. It was a great reason to give myself a rest from writing my Bondlock series. Plus, I did ask for the reminder so it was fantastic that someone did it.
Warning: This chapter containes references to The Court of Owls. Although unless you know the story, you probably won't notice it. I am not really planning to use the idea just yet, but I am leaving it open in case I want to continue this verse on after I finish this story. Just so I have somewhere to go. See, I can be practical when I really try.
Slade was not a man who enjoyed waiting. Certainly, he had waited before. Waiting for the perfect shot during an assignment, waiting for a contact to come through or an item to be acquired, waiting because with his abilities, all he could really do with his life was wait. But those were trivial things to a man like Slade Wilson.
But waiting to see if his apprentice would wake up, now that was a challenge.
The boy was delirious.
That was all Slade could put it down to as he observed the captured hero. Nightwing occasionally tossing or groaning in his sleep as he fought against his restraints, trying to escape from monsters which haunted him in his weakened state. He had broken out into a cold sweat some hours earlier, during a particularly violent episode which had left the young soon to be ex- hero convulsing on the bed, his now unprotected wrists rubbed raw from the strain.
Slade had grabbed the adrenalin and the vial, transferring both chemicals into syringes and ready to use at the first sign of heart failure. An event which was looking more and more likely as the heart monitor by the bed sped up before slowing, showing an erratic pattern.
The boy was fighting the poison. He was strong, both in body and mind. But Ricin was a vicious poison and there was no guarantee that he would beat it. Even with the fluids which were flushing the poison out of his system, it would be a close thing.
But that wasn't all that was in the boy's blood. It had taken Slade a while to identify the strange metal compound as a conductive alloy of silver and copper more commonly known as Electrum. The metal, most commonly found in old coins, had not just been in Nightwings blood, but had bonded with his cells. A process which must have taken years, if not a life time of exposure to complete.
But why it was there, Slade wasn't sure. Maybe some new experiment from the Batman? Certainly, Nightwing could not have been more than a child when the exposure started, around the time that the young Robin had first appeared. But why would the Dark Knight do such a thing to his child? And had he done it to his other sons? And if so, for what purpose?
These were questions Deathstroke would love answered. He didn't like variables in his plans, and this was a big one. If Batman was working on something using his child, it would certainly explain why the Dark Knight had made the younger hero cling to him, long after the boy should have flown the nest. But it would also make it more difficult to hold Nightwing. Batman would fight harder if he stood to lose not just a child, but a project.
No, Deathstroke would need to put the word out, enquire with Batman's rogues about the hero's interaction with his partners. Maybe one of them would know something which could explain this.
Once again, Tim Drake was standing on the road leading from Bludhaven to Gotham. It wasn't where he was supposed to be. No, Jason had basically ordered him to join the Titans in Bludhaven to begin their search. But when Tim had gotten to this point, he found he could go no further.
Cyborg had understood, almost seeming relieved when Tim had asked to be left behind at the Zeta Tube. Maybe the similarities between himself and the hero they had known as Robin was making them nervous. If so, Tim could understand. Although he personally believed he lacked the confidence of his predecessor, there had been many comments regarding their similarities, especially during his first few months as a hero.
The Titans leader had been given a rough map of possible places which Deathstroke could have hidden Nightwing and a brief outline of Nightwings feud with Blockbuster. No doubt, the older hero was already planning to investigate Blockbuster for possible links to Nightwings disappearance.
It was a good thought. Maybe Deathstroke had been hired by Blockbuster to finish off Nightwing?
But it didn't feel right. Not with what Tim had heard of Deathstroke.
The Titans had given Tim a brief outline of the interaction between the mercenary and his predecessor. To say the Boy Wonder had been shocked had been an understatement. What Dick had suffered at the hands of this man was horrifying. Tim had never guessed that it could be possible if it wasn't for the assurance of the older Titans and Wally's own testimony as the Speedster prepared to begin his own part of the search.
What Deathstroke had done….
Tim shook his head. Bruce could not know about this, that was for sure. The Detective had always been protective of his family and no doubt hearing how this man had systematically harassed and bullied one of his kids would drive the hero to the edge. Thankfully, and this was the first time in a long time that Tim was thankful for this, the Detective was off planet. But at the same time, Bruce was off planet. He couldn't help to find Dick. He couldn't help to save him. It was all on Tim.
Tim's mind was working to its fullest as he desperately tried to think. What would someone like Deathstroke do? No doubt he would have already factored in the Titan's arrival and would put Nightwing in the last place anyone would look. No, that wasn't it. He wouldn't have Nightwing in the last place. He would take him to a place where they would never look at all.
But where would that be?
Just about everywhere in Gotham was Bat territory. It had been for years. There was no place there where you could hide for long. At least, that is what Tim believed. And Bludhaven….
Well, that was almost as bad. Any hiding place would have an equal chance of being discovered. But where would no one look?
Tim turned and looked around him at the dark trees lining the road.
If he had been the one hiding, he wouldn't go into a city. Hiding in plain sight could only work for so long when you were being hunted. But what about the roads between? The places no one ever thought about?
Deathstroke was smart. That much was clear from the brief.
But Tim was smart too. And if he had to hide something, he knew exactly where he would do it.
He reached into the pocket of his belt, where the brand new, bright yellow communicator with the black 'T' rested.
Wally raced across the ground, dodging trees as he looked around, his speed only a match for his eye sight as he scanned his surroundings. Red Hood had been adamant that Slade would have taken Nightwing to one of the two cities but Wally wasn't so sure. Slade was smart. Too smart. He would have predicted that the Titans would be called, predicted that they would offer enough members to sweep through both cities looking for him.
So really, the smartest thing he could do would be to take Dick away from either city.
Swerving around, Wally started in a new direction.
He was on the main road now, the one which Dick had often used while travelling between the cities. All around him was a wall of green. And standing in stark contrast in the middle of the road, was a red and black figure.
Wally stopped, feeling the slide of his boots as gravity pushed him forward a few metres. Robin looked up from the yellow device in his hands. A device which was quickly slipped into a pocket as the teen noticed the Speedster.
Wally didn't need to see the kid's eyes to know the teen had the exact same thought as him.
Without speaking, Wally reached forward, grabbing the kids arm and hauling him over his shoulder. Robin reacted perfectly, wrapping his arms around Wally's shoulders before the speedster ducked into the foliage.
The pair barrelled through the trees, Robin's cape flying out behind them like the kid was flying.
"We are near Wayne Manor!" Tim shouted, trying to make himself heard before the wind took his words. "Turn left!"
Wally nodded and followed the kid's instructions.
After a few minutes silent running, he risked a look back at the teen clinging to him.
"Where are we going?" He asked.
"West. There is an abandoned settlement west of Gotham. It was attached to a factory which went bankrupt back when Gotham was nothing more than a fishing village."
"Why didn't we hear about this before?" Wally shouted back.
"Because almost no one knows it was there! It is never spoken about except by a select group." Tim replied, tightening his grip on the Speedsters shoulders. The advantage of being a young and inquisitive boy with inattentive parents, you learnt some fairly obscure things. Gotham may have its fair share of secrets but that didn't mean it was the only place in the area with secrets. Tim knew that first hand.
Underneath Wally's feet, the ground started to grow rough. At one point, there had been a road here. But that had been a long time ago. But it was a good sign that they were on the right path. Wally followed his feet.
There were another few minutes of silent running.
"There!" Tim suddenly shouted. He didn't dare point, the sudden jolts as the Speedster ran threatening to dislodge him at any moment but he didn't need to. The old buildings loomed suddenly.
Wally slowed down enough for Tim to safely jump off his back which the teen did promptly. Slowing to a stop, the Speedster turned to join the Teen Wonder. They both looked around. There were three, maybe four buildings, all of them in bad shape. And looming above them was a dark factory.
"Well, I can't be the only one with a bad feeling about this." Wally muttered.
Tim ignored him. Pulling out his Bow Staff, the teen stepped forward, entering the long abandoned town.
Dick was floating. It was an unusual experience, like the one he sometimes got when he was just about to awake from a good sleep and was aware of his surroundings and yet still somehow asleep.
His body felt numb but it was a good kind of numb, where nothing hurt. Where the visions could no longer get to him.
The visions had been less than pleasant.
Sometimes they were of him being hurt and sometimes of others.
Sometimes it was of Artemis crumpling to the ground with Kaldur's blade in her chest. Sometimes it was of Bruce bearing down on him, ready to strike. Sometimes it was of Conner burning up before his eyes or M'gann surrounded by fire, of Wally literally disappearing, Zatanna being ripped to pieces or Kaldur being lost to them all. Sometimes it was of Tim falling into darkness or Jason falling into insanity.
Sometimes it was the team, sometimes it was the Titans. Sometimes it was just people he knew, friends and family. But worst, sometimes it was his parents. Their fatal fall from the trapeze as he watched, the scream catching in his throat, unable to escape.
But that was not the most terrifying vision. No, that was reserved for the one image which kept playing over and over again, of the black and orange mask looming over him, him helpless to escape it.
After that, this space, this numbness was a blessing. It was a same place, where no one could touch him. Of course, sooner or later he would have to leave. To go back to the fight or to finally rest.
He felt exhausted, like he had been fighting for so long and so hard. He 'had' been fighting for so long and so hard. Fighting for Gotham, fighting for Bludhaven, fighting for the team, fighting for justice. But now, it was finally time to stop fighting. Time to rest.
With a final soft beat, Dick Grayson's heart slowed and then stopped.
And now to run before the masses decide to murder me. I regret NOTHING!