The lost are like this
Set after NIGHTWING 112. Thanks to Livia for a particularly helpful beta. Rated NC-17.

It bothers Dick, how familiar it all seems.

Rose chatters away to Slade about the events of the evening as the two of them clean and rack weaponry, and if he closes his eyes, he could be in another place, another room. The house Slade's rented isn't exactly right; the heavy drapes make the air stifling, thick with the old-fashioned masculinity of the deer heads on the walls and the heavy brass vases standing guard in each room. The sight of Slade bandaging up the cut on Rose's arm with careful hands and impassive face still gives him vertigo. He's had more four a.m.s like this than he can count, and this one is blurring into all the rest. He leans against the wall and waits. Slade's taken to demanding his presence at all hours, but it's almost dawn and the daily training run is finished, he can't possibly—

"Hungry, Rose?"

"Ravaged!" she exclaims with a giggle.

"I had them keep dinner warm. Let's eat."

"Great!" She starts into the dining room, then stops. "Are we having Dick for dinner?"

"You'd better ask him, sweetheart."

Rose's eyes gleam. "You know you have to eat with us, don't you?"

Behind her, Slade's glance is amused, but leaves no doubt as to the correct answer. "Of course."

She grins smugly and turns. Dick follows her into the dining room. Slade, behind him, rests a heavy hand on his shoulder, restraining him. He's wearing cologne, or maybe he'd been smoking a cigar earlier, waiting for them. The smell of tobacco that envelops them as he leans in is rich and sweet. Dick wants to pull away, but the way Slade's massive physical presence crowds him makes him go instinctively still instead. As he waits for Slade to speak, Dick's exhausted mind flashes to an image of Slade's back—it has to be as scarred as Bruce's.

"You can explain her injury later," Slade finally rumbles in his ear, and his heart drops. Later. He'd be lucky if he got to bed before morning.

Rose plops down next to him when he sits and doesn't stop talking. She kicks his ankle for emphasis, and her foot's not much smaller than Tim's. Slade carves the chicken slowly, peeling back skin, exposing layers of flesh, snapping through joints. For all anyone else would be able to tell, he's thinking only about the deft movement of the knife.

Dick has no appetite, but he takes the plate Slade hands him.

By the time Rose goes to bed, it's so late Dick's eyes are watering. Slade watches her leave, and by the time his gaze has shifted back to Dick, his expression has cooled twenty degrees. He leans the chair back and sips his Scotch before speaking, but that doesn't dispel the menace. "Got a story you want to tell me, kid?"

"She didn't spot the knife in the target's hand."

"And you didn't neutralize him yourself in time."

Dick knows that he can't challenge Slade's authority, but he can't back down, either. If he shows real weakness, Slade will decide he can't be useful and gut him—maybe not now, but later, and without warning. Dick's so exhausted the danger makes him feel punch-drunk. "She wasn't being careful. She'll be more observant next time." He pauses. "You can't expect someone to go through this kind of training without taking some risks."

"Oh?" Slade leans forward again, eyes sparking with a slow, predatory interest. "Where's your scar, Dick?"

"That little cut isn't going to leave a scar, Deathstroke."

Slade curls his fingers around Dick's arm, rubbing his thumb lightly into the old wound from his gunshot. "That doesn't answer my question."

His eyes on Dick are steady with the patience of a big-game hunter, and of course this is Dick's punishment for Rose's injury. Punishment and a tightening of the grip at once, and Dick wishes he didn't feel the same sick thrill every time Slade makes him bare his throat for him. He'd thought that by this point he'd be dead inside, but it's like Slade's rummaging around inside him, looking for anything that can still respond to pressure. "I was thirteen. I disobeyed an order. I nearly died."

"Let me guess. Trying to save Batman's life?"


"And how did he take it?"

Dick stares at Slade's hand. That had been the first of the things he and Bruce could never talk about again, the scorching, painful denials that knit them together for so many years. Now Slade will know, too. "He fired me."

Unexpectedly, Slade laughs. "You two. You couldn't be more predictable if you tried."

"Did you predict this?" Dick flashes out, with a sudden, careless anger.

He stops. "No. No, I didn't. But the more I get to know about you, the more I think maybe I should have." He gets up, squeezing Dick's bicep hard enough to make the old wound ache. "I don't mind if you get yourself killed, Dick, but Rose I'll take personally. Keep that in mind the next time some punk comes after my little girl."

"Either you trust me or you don't."

"Even you know it's not that simple, kid." Slade releases him. "Don't stay up too late. You've got a busy day tomorrow."

Dick could fall asleep where he's sitting, but he knows what Slade would think of that. So he waits until enough time has passed that he won't seem to be following him out of the room, and then he staggers to bed.

"So I said, 'Hey! You broke my heel!' and I drop-kicked him into the swimming pool. So much for his thousand-dollar suit!"

Dick can't help smiling a little as he glances back at Rose, sailing along behind him on the jumpline. She does a little somersault on the line, just to show him she can, and flashes him a cocky grin as she brings her feet up barely in time for their landing. He remembers so well what it was like to be sixteen, when there was nowhere he'd rather be than in the sky. Tim has never seemed to feel the same pure joy in flight.

"Most of the women I know would've done a lot worse than dunk him," he says, checking the surrounding roofs for hostiles.

"Like Catwoman? She's so beautiful, I could just kill myself!"

"Or Oracle."

Her eyes get big. "You know Oracle?"

"Oh, yeah. And you don't want to make her mad, Rose. You'll never get your driver's license."

Satisfied that the area is clear, he crouches down and crawls over to the lip of the roof. The targets of this mission—the lawyers of Jimmy the Mutt, employer of the thugs they'd beat up earlier—aren't in sight. Rose is almost on top of him, peering over his shoulder. Her body is light, as if her bones were bird-hollow.

They've got a few minutes until the rendezvous. It's a chilly night, and he can see Rose's faint shiver beneath her costume. He reaches into his bag and pulls out a thermos. "Coffee?"


It's probably not very smart to caffeinate Rose, but he has to start somewhere. He pours her a mug, and she settles down, her hip pressed against his as they watch the street.

"This is cozy," she says after a little while. "Did you and Batgirl use to do this on patrol?"

He suppresses a wince and hastily changes the subject. "You need to be more careful, Rose. You can break a lot more than a heel on this job."

"Oh, I know that! I got my ribs kicked in last month—that's probably why Daddy decided he wanted you to teach me. Good thing I heal fast, huh?"

She sounds much too cheerful about it. "Did something like that happen with your eye, too?"

"Oh, no," she says matter-of-factly. "See, I didn't—I don't know, I was silly. I didn't want to kill Joey. So Dad said I wasn't ready. Wasn't committed." Now her voice wobbles a little. "I had to show him that I really was his girl."

Dick's stomach lurches. He jerks his head around and stares. "You did that to yourself?"

"Sure." At his appalled look, she pouts. "Oh, like you never did anything that hurt to make Batman happy!"

She doesn't really know what she's talking about—she's just a kid talking. He still has to look down, and only barely manages to turn his head enough so that he appears to be scanning the street. Every broken bone, every ruined relationship, every return to Gotham: self-sacrifice is the only expression of love Bruce has ever recognized. And it has never been enough.

"And what about now? You didn't want to train me at first, but Daddy got you to, didn't he? And now you do whatever he tells you to. He says we're going to keep you, you know. He says you look good in his colors. I think he's right."

He keeps his eyes fixed below. Slade hadn't actually picked the colors, but he'd insisted on the costume change. Afterwards, he'd looked Dick up and down and laughed his approval.

"Nightwing?" She touches his shoulder hesitantly. "You do want to stay with us, don't you? You like Daddy? You don't think I'm—ugly now?"

The quaver in her voice is real. She wants so much, so badly, and he can't pretend that he doesn't recognize that need, doesn't remember aching with it for years. "No." He rolls back on his elbow, meets her eyes, and half—forces the smile. "You're not ugly."

She stares down at him, mouth trembling, and he thinks of all the kisses he's had, and almost had, on rooftops. He hopes he won't have to—but her expression changes, grows fierce and hungry. "Isn't that them?"

It is. "Good spot. Remember—you just want to plant the bugs on them. Don't ruin their suits. Unless they really, really deserve it."

She stifles her high-pitched laughter and aims.

Later that night, he hustles through a shower. Ever since Slade left that message on his mirror, scribbling an amused intimacy in steam, he keeps looking over his shoulder in the shower, fighting the feeling of appraising eyes on him. But there's no one in the bathroom when he emerges and wraps a towel around his waist. Not this time.

When he walks into his bedroom, though, Rose is in his bed, a sheet half—draped over her. She's wearing a sheer pink thing that does almost nothing to hide her pert little breasts. Her white hair tumbles around her bare, strong shoulders.

He stops dead. It's a few seconds before he can blank his face.

Fortunately, Rose doesn't seem to notice. "Hey there, handsome," she says huskily, and lets the sheet slip further. He can see the soft curve of her hip.

He tries to keep his voice neutral. "Rose, what are you doing?"

"Now that's a silly question. We pulled off a mission tonight! Let's celebrate!"

"Oh. Ah. I see." He shifts. "You're a very attractive girl, Rose, and I'm sure this would be a—a lot of fun, but I can't."

Her voice returns to its normal pitch at once, and she slides closer. "Why not? I'm old enough."

He seizes on the easiest out. "Your father—"

"Oh, Daddy won't mind."

It's true that Slade isn't exactly the shotgun type, but Dick shakes his head. "I don't think he'd like it."

"But he gave you to me! To teach me things!"

"Not this sort of thing."

"Don't you want to be my first?"

Her first—Dick stifles a groan. Recalculating, he sits down carefully on the edge of the bed. "Rose, you deserve better. Someone more your own age, someone who'll be able to stay with you for a long time." Someone who won't hurt her the way he'd hurt Kory and Babs.

"I don't want some stupid boy, I want you." He should've been prepared for it—he knows how fast and strong she is now—but he isn't, and her lunge takes him down onto his back. She kisses him hard. "See, isn't this nice?" she croons.

He shuts his eyes, but he can't prevent his body from responding when a pretty, half-naked girl crawls on top of him. The memory of the last time is seeping through his body, weakening him like a poison. "Rose," he says desperately, "we can't do this."

"But you like it," she says, and wiggles. "I can feel it."

"That's not—"

She leans forward and brushes her mouth against his ear. Her breasts tumble out of the negligee. "Besides, you're not going anywhere. We'll be together and then you can't leave. You'll be one of us, and you won't have to be alone anymore. Daddy will take care of both of us."

He doesn't forget that he's spent most of his life fighting Slade, but Rose's words stir something primal and fierce that crawls up the back of his neck, an erratic impulse trying to short-circuit thinking about it altogether. Urging him to just roll her over and sink into willing flesh, into connection. Slade's hand on his shoulder, Slade's colors on his chest, Slade's daughter in Slade's house on top of him, taking him inside her—

"No!" He throws her off him, hard enough to bang her against the wall, and gets to his feet, breathing hard. "Rose, I'm sorry. I can't."

She looks at him, stunned, lip quavering. "Is it that Barbara girl?" she demands, her tone verging on the hysterical.

"Come on, Rose, let's get you to your room."

She shrinks back against the wall. "Is that why?"

He can't talk to her while she's in his bed. He leans forward and scoops her up. "That's not it. I swear, Rose."

"Then what?" She pounds on his chest, and she's strong enough that it really hurts, but he holds her far enough away that she can't get the solar plexus and heads into the hallway. "What is it? Why don't you like me? I thought you liked me!"

Her room is a chilling combination of girlhood innocence and mercenary fervor: the teddy bears wear bandoliers and the boyband posters have been used for target practice. His own room at the Manor had always had half-a-dozen weapons stashed away, but somehow there had always been more of a dividing line between Dick and Robin. "I do like you," he says feebly, laying her on the bed. "I just can't. Someday you'll understand."

"No, I won't!" she sobs, and turns away from him with a stiff-arm. "Get out of here! I hate you!"

He's glad to escape, but as he closes the door behind him, he sees Slade, leaning on the wall. His steel blue robe hangs open around the sweatpants he'd obviously been sleeping in.

"Don't break her heart on my account, Dick," he drawls.

Dick frowns, automatically tightening the towel at his waist. "It's just not my style."

Slade raises an eyebrow. "That's not what I remember. Didn't Batman teach you to keep it in the family? Those gorgeous redheads?"

He can't bear to have Barbara's name mentioned in this context—or Kory's. "She's just a kid, for God's sake."

"And yet you're out there every night, teaching her how to kill people better. That seems a little confused to me."

"That was your decision, not mine."

"And what if I decide I want more from you?"

"Are you saying you want me to sleep with Rose?" Dick demands.

Slade shrugs. "Sooner or later, kid, you're going to have to make a commitment. That would be one way."

Of course. Slade leaves strategy to others, but he's always been a brilliant tactician, knows exactly how to get into his opponent's head. Rose isn't just part of the job—she's supposed to be the insurance he'll do it. "I'll find another one."

His eyes measure Dick. "You hope. Now, I'm going to go make my girl feel better so that we can all get some sleep tonight."

He turns away before Slade can open the door. He doesn't want to see.

Dick checks his watch impatiently as he waits downstairs. While eavesdropping on the lawyers, he'd heard about the Mutt's meeting with a state senator that evening. It'd be a real setback for the Mutt's crew if Dick could convince Senator Jeffries that he couldn't expect to keep their little deal a secret. The meeting is in half an hour—and Rose is nowhere to be seen. He hasn't laid eyes on her since he left her room the night before. He's called her several times, but actually venturing upstairs to look for her is the last thing he wants to do.

This is worth doing, whether Rose comes along or not. Dick's tempted to go alone, but he knows it's too dangerous. Both sides will have their own security, and they're bound to be jittery. He needs backup. He wants to call Barbara, but he knows it would be wrong. He can't help anyone in his old life anymore, except by not dragging them down with him. He could ask Slade, but that feels like surrendering something important too early in the game. It's where he's headed, he knows that, but—Just thinking about going into combat at Slade's side, he has to shut his eyes and let a shiver pass over him. Slade's bigger than Bruce, and stronger, but Dick's always done his best to avoid getting too near him in a fight. Up close, he's bound to be magnificent—

"If we have to do this stupid mission, let's go already," Rose snaps, and he opens his eyes again. She's standing at the bottom of the staircase, adjusting her gloves.

"Wait," Dick says. "Tell me the plan."

"No killing, no maiming, no fun at all," she rattles off sulkily.

That's not exactly the full version, but at least she seems to have grasped the key point, that they aren't going to assassinate the senator. That hasn't always been the case on their prior missions. "All right, let's go."

The crates are still stacked in the corner of the deserted warehouse, and they crouch down to wait behind them. They're not going to interrupt the meeting until after the senator takes the bribe. "Guess what I did today?" Rose whispers, not very quietly, after a minute.

It will probably take longer to shut her up than to let her get her story out. Dick tilts his head receptively.

"I met some boys at the park. We robbed a liquor store."

"You what?"

"Well, we put a couple of bottles of gin under our coats and walked out without paying for them."

The sound of footsteps echoes off the ceiling; Dick can hear the senator entering, talking to his guards. He needs to hear this story and figure out how to spin it for Slade, but not now. "Ravager—"

"And then," she carries on, fixing him with a defiant eye, "we went to one of their friend's houses and drank the gin and played Spin the Bottle and I kissed three different boys and one of them put his hand under my bra."

God, he's definitely going to have to figure out how to doctor this story so that some Bludhaven teenager doesn't end up undergoing an amputation without anesthetic. "Let's talk about this lat—"

"And I let one of them drive me home," she raises her voice, "and right out in front—"

"Who the hell's there?" one of the guards calls.

"Oops," she smiles maliciously. "Guess our cover's blown!"

She's cleared the crates before he can stop her, and the rattle of gunfire that follows pins him temporarily to his position. When he's able to edge out to get a look at the action, Jeffries is down on his knees, surrounded by four dead guards. Rose has her gun aimed right at the senator's head. Dick is almost grateful that she's given him that to focus on.

"Ravager!" he yells. "Don't!"

"I'm a big girl! You can't stop me!"

"You don't want to kill someone just because you're mad at me!"

She's wavering between a grin and tears. "Why not? I tried ice cream, and it didn't make me feel better at all!"


Dick senses rather than hears a scuff of feet to his right and throws a missile right at Rose's head, hard. She falls, and a bullet zips through the space her head had been an instant earlier. Then he's up on the crates, getting the right angle to take down the guard she'd missed with another missile.

"Stay there!" he says to Jeffries.

But while he's taking the guard's gun, the senator gets to his feet and gives Rose a solid kick to the side. "Crazy bitch!"

"Stop it!" Dick has him down on his back a second later, much harder than is necessary. It's an effort not to punch him. "Your deal's off, Jeffries," he says between his teeth. "Next time you meet with these guys, it's all over the papers. Now you'd better get out of here before they show." He leans back to let Jeffries up.

"Who the hell are you? Who do you work for?" Jeffries demands.

Dick feels another giddy little drop when he realizes that Jeffries would have recognized Nightwing. In the orange, he could be anyone. Anyone's. "I'm between names right now, Senator. Now go. I don't think you want to chat with the Mutt's people without protection."

"You're going to regret this," he says, but he's already back up and heading for the door.

Dick doesn't bother answering. He's too busy checking Rose's pulse. His hand on her neck is shaking, and he has to curl his fingers around it to make it still.

She opens her eyes before he can even get a count. "You hit me!"

"Yes," he says, and he can hardly recognize his own voice, "and if I hadn't, you would've gotten your head blown off." All the corpses around them, and all he can see is Blockbuster, falling forward in the stairwell, that look of shock on his face. "Come on. We have to go now. If you shoot anyone else tonight, I'll—"

Her arms go willingly around his neck. "I knew you cared," she says smugly, and nestles her head against his chest.

He can hardly get to his feet to get out of there. He certainly hadn't planned to carry her—he's sure she can walk—but he doesn't want to let go.

Dick paces back and forth until he sees Rose's feet disappear at the top of the stairs, and then he explodes. "This has to stop."

"Sounds to me like you accomplished your objective," Slade says. "What's bugging you?"

"You don't understand." Dick gestures wildly. "You can't send her out anymore. She was crazy tonight, she—she killed four men for no reason—"

"Who were on the take from a corrupt senator. I doubt anyone's torn up about it."

He rakes a hand through his hair, not even hearing Slade. "And she damn near got herself killed. That bullet missed her by a fraction of a second, she could have been crippled for life or died, she can't—"


"She can't—you can't expect me to—"


"I can't bring her home in a bodybag, I can't—"

"Dick." He's so distracted he doesn't even see it coming, Slade grabbing him and pushing him up against the wall and kissing him hard. He stops talking then, because he has to, with all Slade's solid weight pressing away his breath and his tongue in his mouth like he owns it. When Slade lets him go, he just stares. "God, kid," he says, laughing, "you're actually losing it over some mercenary you've been blackmailed into training?"

Dick still can't say anything. His heart is beating even harder than it had been, two crazy adrenaline rushes merging into one.

"You've gotta take it easier or you'll never survive on this job." Slade's found the catch at his throat and gets the suit open. "You have to learn not to care so damn much."

He's never asked for this, not from anyone—and Slade kisses him again, running his hand inside the costume and down his chest. Slade's mouth is openly, shamelessly hungry; his breath is warmed with a dizzying waft of Scotch. Dick's hands grasp at his upper arms, and they're massive and thick with maturity, the strength of an aging, cunning lion. Dick's not fighting, and a breath later, he's actually clinging.

It's so close to what all his nerves are crying out for, but it's not perfect. So when Slade draws back again, he blurts, "Because you're so good at dealing with loss yourself, right? You're so over Grant, and Wintergreen, and Jo—"

Two things happen at once: Slade's eyes darken with a flash of pain, and he yanks Dick around, tossing him to the nearest couch and pinning him there roughly. Together, they're what he needs. If he's going to surrender, he wants it all. He's given up everything now, he needs something back that could be worth it. He shuts his eyes and sinks into the cushions without resistance. "That's not going to be a problem anymore, is it?" He reaches down and strokes Dick fiercely. "Because you're my boy now."

"Oh, God," Dick gasps, arching so hard into Slade's grasp that Slade has to brace down, push back.

"Mmmmm." Slade chuckles low and then says, half to himself, "God, Wayne, you're such a fucking coward."


He slides Dick's costume down past his waist, then pulls his own shirt off, over his head. Dick watches in helpless fascination as the powerful muscles of his arms and shoulders move together beneath his skin. All Dick's life that's meant it's time for flight, evasion, and now he's watching it like a bird with a broken wing watches an approaching snake. "You think he doesn't know, Dick?" he asks, curling his hand around Dick's jaw and pushing it up slightly, as if to see how his face looks at different angles. "The world's greatest detective?"

His meaning rushes up at Dick, shocking him like a blow to the vulnerable spot below the jaw that Slade's examining. "He couldn't. I never—" Never did, never said, never even let himself think, because Bruce cares about the mission more than anything and Dick swore. But it's all giving way now.

"Don't kid yourself. He knew. He just never had the nerve to take what he wanted." Slade's running his thumb slowly up and down Dick's carotid now. "That's just fine, though. Means there's more for me."

He leans down and murmurs in Dick's ear. "I almost want to fuck you in my colors. Better yet, fuck you in his. But you look too damn good naked, kid. No need to get fancy." He shreds the rest of the costume away with a jerk. "At least, not this time."

He sends another long, appreciative look up and down Dick, and it's almost too much. He's totally exposed, and Slade is still looking at him like he wants him, like something to be caught and pulled close and tamed so it will never be free again. Slade's known him almost as long as anyone, he knows about Blockbuster, he knows about the blood on his hands tonight, but all Dick can see in his eyes is the urge to devour him. Slade's always been brutally honest about his appetites, deeply comfortable with them. Dick wants to let go and be swallowed up in that space of amoral and uncompromising desire. He makes a sound that's close to a whimper.

"Yeah, Dick, I know." He rummages in his pocket, then pulls his own pants off, and he's already hard and huge. Dick can't look away. Slade pushes his fingers, rough and tangy with salt, into Dick's mouth, almost far enough to choke. Dick sucks on them instinctively as he stares at Slade's cock, and the back of his throat prickles. Slade slicks himself with his other hand, slowly. "You need it like this, don't you? Need to know there's someone who's not going to let Robin fly free. Don't worry, kid, I've got you."

He shifts back and lifts Dick's legs. Dick shakes off the stun just enough to grab backwards at the arm of the couch and brace himself. Slade's inside him, working him roughly, and God, there's nothing he can deny anymore, nothing, but he doesn't have to think about it as Slade pins his shoulders. "I know you don't have any idea," he grunts while he thrusts, "but you're a fucking Michelangelo. Wayne was a genius to snatch you out of the sky all those years ago, but he couldn't finish the job. I'm the one with the will to keep you—"

It only takes a brush of his forearm, and Dick is coming all over them both, in violent, jagged spurts. Slade smiles, but doesn't stop or even slow down, just keeps pressing into him. Dick looks up at the white hair dusted across his chest and thinks Slade could probably go on forever, working out his hunger and his loss with every battering stroke into him. He wishes he would; this, at least, is something Dick understands, even in this strange new form. He's been trying to offer it up since he was eleven years old without knowing what it was, or how to give it, and the sense of release in his chest now is savory-hot and painful.

But Slade comes with a growl, fingers digging hard into Dick's flesh. He doesn't even bother pulling out before he stretches out on top of Dick, letting Dick's legs drop so they become entangled. The stubble on his cheek bristles against Dick's chest. "Good show, kid," he mutters, shutting his eyes.

This is his reward, Dick thinks. Not to have to talk, just to be. As they lie there, the raw physical contact is feeding something deep inside his brain that's been starved so long he thinks it might never stop being ravenous. Slade seems to get that, and to allow for it as if it was perfectly normal. But then he speaks.

"You're taking her out again."

Dick sighs. After everything he's just done, he's numbed to the idea. "Yes."

"And she's not getting knocked out again. You'll like the consequences if she does even less now."


"Good boy." After another minute, Slade rolls off of him, and Dick has to stifle the urge to call him back. He catches the twitch and pats at Dick's wrist. "Hang on."

He pads about the house for longer than Dick is expecting and returns with a towel in one hand and—something else—in the other. Dick automatically accepts the towel and begins cleaning himself before he realizes what Slade is holding.

A syringe, with an amber liquid inside. It glints in the light as he holds it up.

"You know what this is, don't you?"

Dick barely manages the nod. His mouth is dry, his veins ice. He'd thought he had no further to go, nothing else to lose. Trust Slade to find something.

Slade pulls Dick's arm up and rests the tip of the needle casually against his bicep. "Say the word and it's yours, kid."

"Why me? Why now?"

He shrugs. "I still can't tell whether you've really given up or whether you're just trying with everything you've got to believe you have. This will settle it."

"Even after—?"

Slade smooths his other hand along Dick's thigh. "This is the only reason I'm even giving you the opportunity. But I haven't survived this long without being cautious, Dick. I'm taking you with me deep; I want to be sure."

"What makes you think I want it?"

Slade smiles. "It's power. No more standing by and watching helplessly. What happens is what you want to happen."

"If I don't go crazy." He could lose himself in the serum, dissolve away until there was nothing of Dick Grayson left, only Slade's right hand, vicious and free. No need to gouge his own eye out, but maybe afterwards he'd be glad to. The thought makes him shiver.

"Even if you do. Rose functions pretty well, doesn't she? As a killer, I mean. And she's happy."

Dick swallows.

Slade traces a little circle over his skin with the needle. "And once you do this, it'll finally be over for good. You can't go back. Batman won't want you anymore."

As if what just happened isn't more than enough. "You're greedy, Slade."

"I know what I want, Dick. Do you?"

He stares up at Slade's single eye. Just a pinch, and then his endless, agonizing fall from grace would finally become a fall into something. In Slade's hands, it might even be something like a soft landing. He breathes into the possibility for as long as he dares before shaking his head and pushing Slade's hand away. "Not now. I can't. I just—can't."

Slade raises his eyebrows. "If you say so." He lays the needle aside carefully. "But this is your fair warning. When you do ask for it, it's going to cost you."

More than this already has? he wonders desperately.

But he doesn't ask. He's afraid to know the answer.

God's most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins)

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