Stephanie clutched the gun in rain-slick fingers, blonde locks clinging to her face, blood rushing in her ears. He towered over her as she lay on her back, tall enough to block out the sky, a single eye gleaming from behind his orange and black mask. He watched her. She watched him.
“You’ve killed people,” she snarled.
“I have,” he agreed, unmoved.
“You’re going to kill me.”
“Batman doesn’t kill,” her voice wavered slightly.
“He doesn’t,” Deathstroke affirmed, “Do you?” He cocked his head, studying her.
“I-I don’t know,” she whispered.
She’d killed her father to save Tim. Now, she could kill Slade Wilson to save herself.
It hit Steph, suddenly, that she had been here before. When she’d killed her father, when she had been killed by Black Mask, she had been in this exact position: grounded, staff out of reach, prostrate and powerless before a man she knew she could not face. Then, as now, the final decision had been hers. To kill, or not to kill. To live, or not to live.
It was the pose of a coward.
“Why don’t you care?” she screamed, angry tears joining the tracks left by rain drops on her face. “You’re about to die and you do nothing?”
“I’m a killer,” Slade replied, slow and measured, “My life is valued by the lives I’ve taken and I’ll continue taking lives until someone takes mine. That’s the way it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s you or someone else. Hell, it doesn’t even matter if I beat the odds, live to be an old man, and die in my sleep. Death is death and it comes for all of us sooner or later.”
He came closer and the gun followed, stopping beneath his chin.
“I should kill you now,” she said, “It would be better for everyone.”
Her finger tightened around the trigger. Then it stopped, just before the click.
“The first time’s always the hardest,” Slade said helpfully, almost as if he were guiding her through the process.
“It’s my second.” She forced the words out through clenched teeth.
“It’s the first time you’ve had to really think about it. The first one was to save your friend. It’s justifiable, noble even. If you do it again though, that proves you’re a killer.”
“Are you trying to talk me down?” She asked angrily.
“Just speaking what’s in your head. I’ve heard it helps to say these things out loud.”
He chuckled darkly and Stephanie found herself laughing along.
“The way I see it,” he said, sobering quickly, “you’ve got two options. One, you can blow my brains out or, two, you can put the gun down and I’ll kill you quickly.”
“Or,” he said, slowly extending a black-gauntleted hand towards her, “you can come with me.”
She should’ve said no immediately, dropped the gun and accepted her end. At least, that’s what Bruce would’ve expected.
Or shot him in the knee or shoulder, something non-lethal. Bruce would’ve been pissed but he’d have forgiven her... eventually.
She could’ve even pulled the trigger and killed him right there. She’d have lost Batgirl. Bruce would’ve hated her. Cassandra might have too, but at least the courts would’ve considered it an act of self-defense.
But Stephanie did none of those things. Instead, she fixed the assassin a piercing stare of her own and asked a simple question. “Why?”
“You have talent. I think I’d make more money with you alive at my side than dead at my feet. Besides, Mask is a pig and I owe him nothing.”
“What would I have to give up?”
“Who knows?” he said bluntly, “Your innocence? Your soul? But tell me this: the Bat owns your life and it’s his rules that saw it end. He’ll be in this life ‘til it consumes him and he’ll drag you all down to hell with him. What would you give for your freedom?”
“Like you said; I’d be a killer until someone killed me. How is that any more free?”
“You’d have the freedom to die on your feet like a warrior, instead of on the ground like a worm.”
Stephanie thought back, seeing every moment where she was weak, every moment where she was at someone else’s mercy, the fear, the helplessness, the impotent rage she had felt. The gun fell from her hand in slow motion, hit the ground with a clattering splash. Her hand reached out to clasp Slade’s own.