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A Hero's Work

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This time, it was Dick’s safehouse. 

Modeled after one of Jason’s actually, tucked into a seemingly abandoned shipping warehouse twenty miles into Gotham’s red-light district.  Dick’s scope of vision was slowly narrowing as he stumbled up to the warehouse door, fumbling for the hidden keypad.  The heavy grime in Gotham’s air was burning his lungs.

“You still with me, kid?”  That was Slade, sidled up behind him with Jason still slung limp across his shoulders.  All that orange and black armor was very close, nearly flush with his entire back.  A protection from any possible lackeys on their tail.

It was painful, but grimly Dick nodded, finally releasing the catch to reveal the keypad.  All he had to do now was input the code to disable the security and open the sealed door.  Easier said than done. 

His breath wheezed between his teeth, hand not scraping at the keypad as he struggled to put in—let alone remember the code—holding up an uncomfortable stinging sensation in his ribs.  After a full minute of staring at the backlit numbers, Dick finally managed to put in the code, the mechanical door sliding open with a hydraulic hiss.  Slade quietly passed him, leaving Dick to re-enable the security, engaging lockdown just in case anyone had followed them.  They shouldn’t have, Dick and Slade both made sure of it, but just in case.

He had a feeling he was going to be unconscious is a few minutes and didn’t want to leave Slade to defend the safehouse from invaders without at least automated help.

The metal stairwell was a task as his body began shutting off functions to prevent pain overload.  But he made it to the bottom to find that Slade had in fact found the med bay, tucked under the loft containing his bedroom.  Dick had specifically pointed them to a safehouse with a med bay.   He had the suspicion that at least three of his ribs were cracked if not broken, and possibly a punctured lung.  And how knew what condition Jason was in.

Slade had placed Jason on one of the beds, which was now where Dick found himself, desperately tugging at the chains binding Jason’s arms and legs.  He could barely tell if Jason was breathing, even as he checked his pulse.  Lifted his eyelids to test his pupils’ responsiveness.

“Slade,” Dick coughed, leaning heavily on the elevated bed.  “There’s—there’s bolt cutters in the tool bench.”  He gestured vaguely across the open, furnished warehouse floor.  With the rummaging of tools in the background, Dick still tried to shift the chains aside, trying to assess what condition in which the skin beneath was.  Heavy boots announced Slade’s movements before he was by the bedside, a tower of shadow in the dark warehouse.

“Back off, kid,” he said, wielding the largest set of bolt cutters Dick had stored in this place.  The farthest Dick could make it was propping himself against the bed, feet braced on the floor.  Beneath the cutters and Slade’s enhanced strength, the chains fell away like butter and Dick crammed himself beside Jason, removing jacket, shirt, pants—down to Jason’s boxers, stained and tattered.

Blood froze in his veins.  Heat settled in his gut, flushing out the molten lava from his torso with something worse.  Roman had—

No, he couldn’t think about that now.  He needed to flush the drug out first.

He grabbed the blood pressure cuff, flipping on the monitor.  While the machine worked, he assessed what injuries Jason had sustained.

There was a messily patched up bullet hole on the right side of Jason’s chest, surrounded by splotches of green and blue.  But he was breathing, shallow but steady breaths.  His pulse was elevated, but not to dangerous levels.  Same with his blood pressure.  He deftly unstrapped the blood pressure cuff.

A stitch in his side forced a cough up his throat.  Dick covered it with the back of his hand, stained it red.  Jason needed help first, Dick had no idea what Roman Sionis had injected him with—it could be the compound Mask had been shipping to the U.S., an enhanced version, or something else entirely.  Dick was glad he’d snuck a sample of the compound into his belt. 

So, he wiped away the blood and reached for a needle and vacutainer in the stack of drawers beside the bed.  But Slade snatched them out of his hands.

“I don’t think so, little bird.  You don’t get to hide coughing up blood.  Your brother will survive until I get you patched up,” he said, placing the needle and tube back on the stack of drawers.

“But we don’t know if the—” Dick coughed again, wincing as heat flared through his ribs.  “The compound will react negatively—”

“Dick.” Slade was gruff.  “If the boy hasn’t reacted badly by now, he’ll be fine.  At least until I’m done with you.”

Slade’s helmet unsealed with a click and a hiss, revealing his stern, immovable expression.  Dick grimaced.  “Don’t pull a dad on me, Slade.  I’m fi—”

Slade picked him straight off the bed, feet dangling as he held him as though he were a child, helmet discarded on a nearby stool.  “I will pull a dad if I have to.”  He smirked.  “I saw the tail end of that fight.  If that meta didn’t puncture a lung, you’ve at least got a few broken ribs.”  Dick scowled.  “And possibly a concussion based on how many times he threw you into a wall.”

“How long were you fucking watching?”  Dick snapped, squirming as his own weight pulled at his ribs.

“Long enough.”  Slade spun on his heel and deposited Dick on the bed beside Jason’s.  “Do you need help getting the suit off?”  The touch of softness had Dick’s bones melting further, body deciding for itself that he did not need to fight any longer, leaving him with trembling muscles and aching tissue.  But he still had enough left in him to smack away Slade’s gloved hand.

“No.”

An eye on Jason, still shallowly breathing with cheeks burning red, Dick began to disengage the defenses on his suit, removing his gloves first.  He set those near the foot of the bed, going for his belt next.  But his gaze kept drifting back to Jason, seeing his blank eyes, the few seconds when Dick couldn’t tell if he was breathing.  The few second his heart seized and it felt like he couldn’t’ breathe.  Limp and lifeless.  He fumbled with the buckle on his belt, fingers shaking.

Every breath was turning sharp, painful with the sting radiating through his ribs.  But now his chest was getting tighter, glancing between Jason and his hands that just wouldn’t work.  He’d look dead.  Gone.  And Dick would have been too late.  Dick was too late.  He’d discarded Jason’s distress message.  Had let him stew in Roman’s possession for five days.  Maybe even longer.  And when Dick had burst into that foreman’s office—Roman had been bent over Jason’s slack form, hand tight around his jaw, manipulating him as he pleased.  After Jason had spent God knew how long in a coffin.  And the flash of Dick’s parents, plummeting to the floor of the circus, twisted and broken and lifeless on the ground. 

Just as Jason had been.

A sob rattled through his shuddering chest, fingers failing entirely.  A tortured cry on his lips.  He could have prevented this.  Could have stopped Jason going Pit mad.  Could have stopped him getting beaten within an inch of his life.  Could have prevented Jason from being locked in a coffin for who knew how long.  Could have prevented what had stained Jason’s boxers.

 Heaving sobs brought on heaving coughs, thrashing pain through his torso.

But then Slade’s large, bare hands were cupped over his cheeks, single eye watching him with something close to worry.  It didn’t stop Dick’s crying, the leaking of tears through his domino.  Delicate fingers touched his chin, beckoning Dick to tilt his chin, bare his face to the man treating him with such kindness.  That did nothing to help the aching in his heart.

“Do your injuries really hurt that much?” Slade murmured, fingers light against the skin of his cheeks.  Dick shook his head, hiccupping lightning through his damaged bones.  “Then what’s wrong, little bird?  What can I do?”

Dick couldn’t get more than a few garbled words out, hands reaching out to latch onto Slade’s wrists.  Those fingers inched up Dick’s face, slow.  Dick still flinched.  Slade’s nails carefully pried under his domino, peeling it away to reveal Dick’s red, tearing eyes.  A hand ran through Dick’s hair, the other stroking his cheek, his jaw, smearing the trails of furious, terrified tears.

“I—I thought,” Dick stuttered, hands tightening to a bruising grip on one of Slade’s forearms.  “I—I—”

“Take you time, kid,” Slade reassured, fitting himself between Dick’s spread knees, leaving only half a foot’s space between them. 

“Dead,” he croaked through a throat full of tears and blood.  “Jason was—” He was cut off by his own coughing, every jolt like a fresh stab wound in his sides.  He had to press a hand against his ribs to steady himself.

“You thought your little wing was dead,” Slade deduced, the hand in Dick’s hair sliding back around to Dick’s bare cheek.  Dick nodded.  Slade sighed.  A thumb stroked over Dick’s lip, came away bloody.  “Let’s take care of your wounds first.”

Slade took the initiative and stripped Dick of his suit for him, all the way down to his skin tight briefs.  Colorful bruises were already blooming all over Dick’s torso, two thick streaks of black—arm marks—were rising to his skin.  Gently, Slade palpated his ribs, searching for broken ones.  Each that he found had Dick groaning, high in his throat.  Slade found four to his dismay.  Strong hands slid along Dick’s thighs, squeezing once, twice, as some remnant tears slipped through, wetting his cheeks and chest.

“He’s right there, little bird,” Slade whispered, reaching for one of the body scanners Oracle had developed, sitting in one of the drawers.  An x-ray machine without the radiation.  “Watch his breathing and lay back for me.  He’s right there.” 

Dick let himself be laid down, eyes trained on the shallow rise and fall of Jason’s bared chest.  The gunshot wound looked on the verge of infection, angry red around the edges of the barely stitched wound.  He had giant splotches of yellowed bruising down his ribs and hip, trickling down into Jason’s boxers.

A nasty pinch in Dick’s chest had him trying to sit up.

“What the fuck, Slade?”  Dick watched a large needle and syringe being pulled from his ribcage.  Cool liquid spread throughout his chest, sucking away sensation with it.

“You have a punctured lung, kid.  Not too bad but enough that I’ll have to draw the air out from between the tissue layers.”

“Shit… all right,” Dick grumbled through a stuffed nose.  Laid back down.  Went back to watching Jason lying practically motionless as the local anesthesia worked its magic.  Jason was alive.  He was alive and out of the coffin.  Once Dick was patched up, he’d run the blood sample, treat accordingly.  And whatever Pit madness was left, he’d deal with it.

“Fuck,” Dick moaned, feeling the pressure of the needle sliding in between his ribs.  Dick’s hand clamped down on Slade’s shoulder.  “Fuck!”  The plunger drew back, creating a vacuous sensation that seemed to suck his lungs through the needle.  The plunger stopped, Slade’s free hand clamping over his mouth.

“You need to not talk while I’m doing this, little bird.  I might end up stabbing your lung instead.  Understand?”  Slade spoke softly, unbothered by the long needle he had between Dick’s ribs.  Tears stung Dick’s eyes once more, for entirely different reasons, but he nodded, muscles trembling.

Slade resumed pulling the plunger, leaving his hand where it covered Dick’s mouth just in case.  Dick dug his nails into Slade’s wrist but it didn’t faze him.  The suction ripped at his lungs but then it was done, the needle withdrawn.  Slade’s hand slid away, but not before he squeezed his jaw.

“Slow breaths.  No heaving.”

Eyes on Slade, Dick brought in a shuddering breath, pleased that the catch was gone.  But now his eyelids were heavy even as Slade brought a pen light over his face, testing his pupils. 

“Do you know where you are?”

“Safehouse 12, red light district, Gotham,” Dick sighed, bringing a hand up to scrape at his face but Slade grabbed it, wrapping it in his iron grip.

“Squeeze my hand.”  Dick did, as hard as his tired muscles would let him.  Slade released him.

“Bend your knee, all the way.”  Dick did.

“Who am I?”

“A fucking asshole is what you are,” Dick grumbled, glancing back at Jason, who hadn’t moved.

“Fair enough but not what I asked.”

Dick huffed.  “Slade Wilson, alias Deathstroke the Terminator.”

That seemed to be enough for Slade to determine he didn’t have a concussion and moved on to dressing the rest of his wounds.  The longer Dick stared at Jason, the more his chest tightened.  He couldn’t get the sight of Roman hunched over him out of his head.

“Slade,” voice reedy, feeling all the energy drain from his bones the longer he lay there.  “I can’t—still need to—”

“I will take care of your little wing.”  Fingers came to caress his jaw.  “But you need to relax right now.  Before you make your wounds worse.”  A pointer finger circled his Adam’s apple, eyelids heavy.  Dick swallowed.  “Your cracked ribs from a few days ago still aren’t healed.  And neither has that stab wound.”  Dick shifted, helping Slade wrap the bandages around his chest.  “I’ll take care of your little wing.  So, just do what your body tells you.  Sleep.”

The dexterous fingers were back at his cheek, turning his gaze away from where Jason was.  Dick’s lidded eyes blearily focused on Slade’s single grey.

“All right?”

With a frown, Dick couldn’t stop his eyes from closing, leaving Slade in charge of two beat up birds.


The next thing Dick knew, he was bolting upright, skin clammy, chest heaving as an already forgotten nightmare left him shaking.  Immediately, he regretted the sharp motions, ribs throbbing in retaliation, his head not too happy either.  He was still bare chested, but the rest of his suit had been stripped away, replaced with a pair of boxers Slade must have looted from his dresser up in the loft.

“I don’t think forty-five minutes counts as sleep, kid.”  Slade’s voice came from the bay of computers on the opposite side of the med bay.

“H—how did you get into the computers?”  Dick’s voice was shakier than he’d like it to be.

“I’m not going to give all my secrets away,” Slade teased, fingers gliding over the keys.

Dick swung his legs around to the side of the bed, apprehensive of how the cold concrete would burn into his feet.

“If you get out of that bed, I will break your tibia myself to make sure you stay still longer than ten seconds.”  Slade hadn’t even turned from the screens.  And Slade didn’t make idle threats.

Rolling his eyes, stitch in his side, Dick inched back into bed, careful of every twitch.  Fuck, he was so sore.  So sore it was painful to even lift his arm.  The shaking wasn’t stopping, destabilizing every bone in his body as the nightmare remnants lingered on his skin.  It shook out every grounding thought while he listened to the tap of keys from across the way.  Shook everything out until Dick felt hollow, tasted ash on his tongue.  Couldn’t bear to look over at his little wing, afraid that he’d passed while Dick had let himself fucking sleep.

His breath skipped a beat, eyes squeezing so tightly shut he thought he might be able to think that what had happened, didn’t.  A deep wrenching in his bones kept his eyes shut, hands fisting in the single sheet of the medical bed.

Dry, warm skin slid over Dick’s forearms, hands shaping his shoulders with a feathery touch.

“Every time I teach you how to relax, I swear it slips in one ear and out the other.”  Slade’s deep baritone settled somewhere in his chest, drawing out the nightmare.  And the large hands so adept at murder settled on his chest with a gentle caress.  A gentle press.  “Slow down, little bird, or your heart’s going to rip out of your chest.”

Dick tried, doing breathing exercises that Alfred had taught him when he’d been kept up too many nights by the image of his parents plummeting to the dusty floor of the circus tent. But he could only get his heart rate down so much, especially with Jason burning the skin of his right side.  Laying there.  Motionless.

Lips sealed over his, stealing away the tightness in his chest as a surprised noise caught in his throat.  His eyelids fluttered, muscle melting at the tenderness in the touch.  Slade might be an asshole, but he seemed to have Dick’s best interest in mind.  At least while they were alone.  And Slade had no contract.

Well, even if Slade had a contract—Dick’s thoughts stumbled as Slade’s large hand cupped around his jaw, fingers pressing hidden spots to make him open for Slade’s tongue.  It was a soft sound that slipped out of his nose as Slade took what he wanted, exchanging light breaths.  At least until Slade pulled off, leaving wet, slightly reddened lips in his wake.

“There.  Now do you want the blood work report or not.  I haven’t a mind for medical jargon.  The Bat made sure you did.  Or maybe that was the youngest bird,” Slade drawled, dropping a file onto Dick’s stomach as the warmth of his hand left his cheek cold on retreat.

Slade pulled a chair up to Dick’s bedside as he creaked upright, paging through the report.  As Dick squinted at the tiny black print, skimming through for any red flags.  The compound was a mixture of a powerful sedative—derived from fucking ketamine, and a hallucinogenic.  Despite the black pit in his gut, he looked over at Jason, still as stone except for the steady movement of his chest.  He quickly went back to the documents.  Allowed to run its course, the drug would wear off within forty-eight hours.  Jesus fucking Christ.

“Antidote?”

Slade produced a vial filled with clear liquid, tinged red.  “Your fancy fucking computer popped this out.  What I’m assuming is your antidote.” 

“Well then fucking give it to him.”  He hated that his voice cracked in the middle.  Dick discarded the file onto the stack of drawers.

Before Slade moved for a needle and syringe, his fingers wormed their way into Dick’s clenched fist, coaxing his palm open.  Dick watched as Slade’s still swollen lips pressed against his knuckles.  “He’ll be fine, kid.”  Heat blew across the back of his hand.  “And when you’re both back on your feet, we’ll talk about relaxing with your little wing.”

Dick scoffed.  Any other time, he would be blushing, but Jason was too entwined in the taste of death in Dick’s mouth.  “Just do it, please.”

A final swipe of Slade’s thumb, and he pulled away, rummaging for a needle and syringe.  A sick throaty heartbeat sat in Dick’s sternum, thumping aches through his broken bones.  But the red liquid sloughed into the syringe and the needle pricked the crook of Jason’s elbow.  Slade pressed the plunger, the antidote funneling into Jason’s veins.  The needle withdrew, disposed in the sharps container on the floor.

There was nothing, for only a few moments.  Then the med bay turned into chaos.

All of Jason’s muscles thrashed at once, jerking him upright with a guttural scream.  Slade was on him the second he moved.  Dick was out of bed in the next, ignoring the raging pain slicing between his ribs.  Slade had him pinned face down on the bed, knee firmly planted in the small of his back as he jolted, fighting to get free.  The screams echoed in the cavernous warehouse, deafening Dick’s ears while shoving guilt and fear into his heart.  Just beside the burning of his broken ribs and the heat from his most likely ripped open stab wound.

“Haul him up, Slade,” Dick ordered, standing beside Jason’s bed, watching uselessly as Slade obeyed.  Though he had to quickly readjust his hold as Jason’s legs lashed out at Dick, who narrowly avoided taking one to the stomach.  Slade’s well-muscled thighs managed to lock Jason’s legs together in a kneeling position, eye to eye with Dick.  Gathering all his remaining strength, pushing past the pain in his ribs, he lifted his arms and clamped his hands around Jason’s face.

Stilling him, forcing his wild, wicked, empty eyes on Dick.  His pupils were blown out, barely any of that gorgeous blue Dick loved so much.  Jason was still struggling against Slade’s hold, muscles bulging in desperate effort, ragged pants coming through bared teeth.  He looked nothing more than a feral animal.  Was hissing and growling like one too.  Even tried biting at Dick’s hands, but he remained.  Hands pressed on either side of Jason’s red, seething face, dark brows knit together over colorful bruises and barely healed cuts.  Even a few drops of ruby slid from his split lip.

“Jason,” Dick said firmly, flexing his palms.  “Jason, you’re home.  You’re safe.”

Jason twitched, a sudden disparity in the blind fight.  Dick had done this more times than he would have liked to.  Sometimes, on particularly bleak or anxious days, Jason would slip, let the Pit-madness back in, unwanted.  And sometimes when Dick was around to help, he’d up in a knock-down drag-out fight until he had a few bruises and Jason pinned to the floor.  Or locked up.  He’d always found it useful to remind Jason of where he was.  Who he was with.  The amount of agency he had just beneath that madness was there, Dick just had to help guide it back.

“It’s Dick, Jason.  Look at me,” he said, shaking Jason’s head just a little.  “Roman can’t touch you anymore.  You’re with me.”

Another twitch.

“Jason, please,” Dick’s voice cracked, unwarranted.  But seeing Jason like this after knowing where he’d been.  Not knowing what else Roman—fucking Black Mask had put him through.  “Jason, come back.  I’m right here, little wing.”

That evoked a violent shudder.  The thrashing stopped, though Slade did not release his grip.  Teeth still bared, Jason snarled.

“Come on,” Dick coaxed, grip relaxing ever so slightly.  “Come back to me, Jason.  I’m so sorry I let this happen to you.”  Dick didn’t need to see Slade’s face to feel the disapproval on it.  “But you’re out.  You’re in our safehouse, with me.  With Dick.  I’m right here.”

A shaking gasp and Jason’s pupils shrank, leaving him panting and limp in Slade and Dick’s grip.

“Jason?”

“’m here.  Here,” he muttered, gaze hazy as his strength all but visibly leeched from his body.  “’m with you.”

Dick barked a weak laugh, stepping into Slade’s hold to wrap his arms around Jason.

“Jason,” Dick murmured in his hair.  “Jason, I’m so sorry.  I missed your message.  I’m so sorry I didn’t get you out sooner.”

Slade was deftly extricating himself, letting Jason sink back onto his heels on the bed, Dick following, refusing to relinquish his grip. Jason’s clothes had also been replaced with a pair of Dick’s boxers, just barely large enough for Jason’s hips, his thighs bulging at the seams.

“Yeah,” Jason heaved.  “You should be.”  Even through the exhaustion, Dick could read the dry sarcasm, but it didn’t hurt any less.  God, he’d dismissed Jason’s distress message, hadn’t even thought about Jason or his check-in for four days.  He’d let Slade fuck him silly while Jason had been locked in a coffin in a shipping container, slowly going mad.  Fuck.

Dick just wound his arms around Jason’s shoulders, crushing the younger man against him.  It didn’t matter that Dick’s broken ribs were probably breaking some more.  He deserved it.  Jason’s fingers wound their way over Dick’s back, nails scraping lightly.  Soothing.  Dick couldn’t bear the sight of what he’d allowed to happen, so he clenched his eyes shut and buried his nose in the crook of Jason’s neck.  He still smelled like Jason. 

Gun metal and his cologne and pine trees.

His breath hitched again, inching closer to the reassuring warmth and leveling weight of Jason’s massively muscled body.  Dick could never pack on as much muscle as Jason could, always kept lithe and lean for his acrobatic twists and maneuvers—and it led to a size difference that always left his cheeks burning.  His hand slipped up the smooth length of Jason’s scarred back, curling in the short, soft hairs at his nape. 

And just sat.  And breathed in Jason.

“Hey Dick.”  The words were just barely there, touching Dick’s skin.  The sound that came out of his throat was more of a whimper than the acknowledgement Dick had wanted.  “Thanks for coming.”

Dick’s laugh was wet, weak and only urged him to tug Jason closer.  “Yeah.”


Slade was sprawled across the armchair in the living area of the warehouse, just out from under the overhang of the loft where the med bay was nestled.  He had his chin propped on the fingers of one hand, pointer stretched up towards his temple.  His gaze hadn’t left the two sleeping men for hours.

He had planned on trying to move the two younger men up into the loft, into the more comfortable bed, but as soon as they’d stopped speaking, Dick had been lulled into a heavy stupor and Jason wasn’t far behind.  So now the two birds were wrapped around each other, squished onto the thin medical bed only meant for one. 

Slade knew Dick’s injuries had drained him, the fight with that damn meta meat-head too soon after the little bird’s week long stint of sleeplessness.  Could see it in the sleek lines of his body crouched on that rooftop only a few hours ago.  Felt it pressed against his armor as he’d held him at gunpoint to fool that salacious prick Roman into a false sense of security.  Get his dirty hands off of Dick’s little wing.

Who was by no means little. 

The boy practically engulfed Dick, chin tucking over the sweaty black curls.  Jason’s hair was buzzed short around the sides, little frills of black and his white streak left loose on top.  His leg was thrown over both of Dick’s, crooked to curl him close.  And Dick was no better, tucked close into Jason’s mass—which probably wasn’t comfortable given his broken ribs.

Slade hadn’t gotten a chance to do more than a simple visual evaluation of the younger bird before he’d gone ballistic and then eventually passed out with Dick in his arms.  It didn’t look like the kid had any broken bones, just superficial bruising.  And the messily healing gunshot wound.  That would definitely need more attention.  Later.

Dick’s body jerked; a nightmare.  But Jason immediately adjusted, nose ducking down to graze Dick’s forehead.  Dick stilled.

Fuck if Dick wasn’t a wreck.

The kid had barely been able to keep himself from collapsing while Slade had patched him up.  Had barely kept himself together on the journey from the warehouse district.  If Slade hadn’t already been carrying two hundred plus pounds of muscle across his shoulders, he would have slung Dick up as well for how very obviously every step, every breath looked like agony.

And that fucking meta had beat him within an inch of his life.  The kid was enormously stupid for charging in there, fueled on little else than rage and adrenaline.  If Slade hadn’t been there, the kid would have been dead.  Or in the same position his little wing had been in.

Drugged and chained.  At the mercy of Roman fucking Sionis.

Fury boiled low in his chest.  He wanted to track down the Bat and rip him to fucking pieces.  Dick would yell at him for it, but eventually forgive him.  Though there was no real reason to tear into the Bat other than being a neglectful parent. Jason had sent his message only to Dick.  Dick kept his physical state to himself.  The Bat couldn’t have known, unless he was more involved with his kids.

Slade sighed, legs splayed out, one propped on the coffee table. 

Jason’s breathing had normalized, and Dick’s were shallow, indicative of how broken his ribs were.  He didn’t want whatever was fluttering in his chest when he looked at the original little bird, but it was there nonetheless.  That feeling of responsibility, obligation—no, those weren’t the right words, but Slade wasn’t going to find the right ones.  Didn’t want to know what the right ones were.  Not right now.

He slid out of the armchair, resolve to leave those thoughts behind hardening.

As soon as his feet, now free of his boots, touched the ground though the younger bird jerked awake.

“What the fuck?”  It was groggy, tired, but Jason’s eyes widened hand shooting to his thigh.  Most likely for a gun that wasn’t there.

Slade raised his hands in deference.  “I’m here at your brother’s request.  No harm intended,” Slade soothed, waiting till the tension bled from Jason’s shoulders before he approached further.

“Oh.”  Jason turned back over to curl around Dick, sparing Slade no second thoughts.

“The bed upstairs would be more comfortable,” Slade offered, moving to Dick’s side of the bed, placing himself in full view of the warier of the two birds.  There was a single dark blue eye watching him from the swath of curls in which he had buried his nose.

“Why are you here?”

The boy was in good enough shape to tighten his grip around Dick without a flinch.

“I was asked.”  It was a lie.  Though his little bird would be dead if he hadn’t interfered, tracked the little nuisance down and made sure he didn’t kill himself.

“That doesn’t answer my question,” Jason growled, quietly, avoiding waking Dick.  “Why are you here?”

“Same reason you’re clutching my little bird like he’s going to disintegrate.”

Jason bared his teeth, blue eye flaring but he didn’t relinquish his grip.  “Yours?”

Slade jutted his chin, smirk on his lips.  “Mine.

The boy looked near ready to leap off the bed and knock him to the ground, but Dick was suddenly shuddering, fists clenching.  Slade released the enticing challenge, at least on his end to settle his gaze on the tense line of Dick’s body. 

“Like I said, both of you would be more comfortable upstairs,” Slade drawled, and despite the sharp points of the boy’s posture, he leaned down and scooped Dick from his grasp.  Without a second look, he turned away from the med bay to the stairs trailing up to the loft.  Thankfully it was a straight shot and not one of those annoying spiral staircases.  He paused at the foot.  “Can you make it up?”  It was only half a tease.

Soft footfalls answered his question, and Slade continued up the stairs with a shivering bird in his arms.  From how ice-cold Dick’s skin was, the shivering was only partially from whatever nightmare was plaguing him.  At the top of the stairs, Slade stopped, making sure the boy was able to make it up the stairs on his own.  It was slow progress, but there he was, panting, three quarters up the stairs.

A grimace flattened his lips but he turned back to the cozy loft area, taken up by a large, low-profile queen-size bed laid in grey and black cotton.  A black nightstand only on one side with a dresser set against the wall opposite the solid railing from which he’d pilfered the boxers both boys wore.  Slade had wanted those stained boxers Jason wore gone, burnt.

Dick’s lips parted against Slade’s throat, a wordless cry as a violent jerk shook his body.  Slade sat on the edge of the bed, cradling the boy in his lap.  Aware of the panting coming from the staircase, Slade brushed his lips against Dick’s cheek.  And began to murmur soft nothings to him.  Letting his deep voice slip inside his consciousness to uncoil the tension limned throughout.

And it worked, Dick’s body all but melting against him.  Slade couldn’t help but smile to himself.

Jason had finally reached the top of the stairs, huffing, but Slade knew, had he offered help, the boy was too proud to take it.  Satisfied that he had both boys in his sight, he stood with Dick to pull down the covers and place him beneath, arranging the few pillows behind him to take pressure off his ribs.

Slade gestured to the door across from the stairs, gaze still trained on Dick.

“Go shower, kid.  Your brother isn’t going anywhere.” It was as subtle as Slade could make it.  He’d seen the bruises, too hand-shaped to be anything but what he knew they were.  Had seen the dried mess still between the kid’s legs.  Slade had to fight every urge to march out of this warehouse and finish what he’d started with Roman.

He turned to see Jason still standing at the top of the stairs, staring at him, white in the face.

“Go on,” was Slade’s gentle prompt.  The kid didn’t move for a long while, staring down Slade like he could televise his threats through his eyes.  But Slade stood, unfazed, patient until he finally cracked and limped into the bathroom, door shut firmly.

Jason would probably be in there for a while.

Sighing, Slade went back down to the medical bay, retrieving morphine, needle and syringe as well as fresh bandages, antiseptic, antibiotic cream, and magnesium-calcium salve.  He found a printed list tucked in the stack of drawers, Dick’s name along with Jason’s and a few other heroes in black ink, beside dosages of specific drugs stored in the bay.  Quite useful; Slade went under Dick’s name, found the proper dosage of morphine for Dick and tucked the sheet back into the drawer.

Then he carted his stash back upstairs to find the shower running, quiet shuffling the only thing telling Slade the kid hadn’t passed out.  The bathroom door was shut, steam rolling out from under the door.  He debated a moment on checking on Jason, but decided it best to leave him alone to process by himself.  Him and Dick would be here to help with the fallout.

So, Slade moved to the nightstand, arranging his trove of medical supplies before perching on the edge of the bed.  Dick’s eyes were pinched, nose scrunched uncomfortably in sleep and Slade used a thumb to smooth the lines.  Instinctually, Dick leaned into his hand, face relaxing with a deep sigh.  That annoying fluttering was back in his gut.

Slade arranged the sheets so he could access the stab wound near the kid’s hip, the one he’d treated three days ago when Slade had watched him practically fall onto the roof of his safehouse.  He went about peeling back the bandage, finding it seeping blood, crusted and angry around the edges.  Cleaning the wound was a delicate business, and Dick was apparently too tired to even twitch at the sting of antiseptic.  If Dick had gone on any longer with that meta, he might have needed stitches.

Dick remained completely motionless as Slade treated the wound with the antibiotics and applied a new bandage.  Distantly, he heard the shower cut off, more rustling as he drew up a heavy dose of morphine before administering it in the crook of Dick’s arm.  As soon as the syringe was emptied, the tension drained from every line of Dick’s body.  Satisfied with his work, Slade cleaned up, returned everything except the antibiotic cream to the med bay.

And when Slade returned to the loft, ice pack pilfered from the freezer in hand, he found Jason with a towel around his waist, hunched on the edge of the bed. Head in his hands.

“Dick didn’t want me killing Roman,” Slade began.  Jason’s head snapped up, blue-green eyes practically glowing.  Slade placed himself against the sturdy railing-wall separating the loft from a ten-foot drop to the warehouse floor.  “Morals and all.  But I have no qualms about going back and finishing the job.”

It was too dark for any normal human to see the red rimming the kid’s eyes, making the blue of his eyes stark, but Slade wasn’t a normal human.  Those puffy eyes narrowed on him.  “Finish?”

“Shot him in the chest,” Slade clarified.  “About where you have a pretty little bullet hole.”  He nodded towards the exposed stitching on Jason’s right pec.  “You either got really lucky, or someone knew what they were doing.”

Jason’s hand—and if he wasn’t looking, he’d have missed it—trembled slightly as it brushed over the amateur patch job.  His puff of exhalation was weak, almost in amusement.  “It was luck.”

“Lucky you.”  Slade’s arms crossed, settling against his chest as he watched Jason almost absently pick at the bullet wound.  His face was still a mottled blue-yellow, most of the swelling gone as was custom with old bruises, but it still looked uncomfortable.

Jason grimaced, for any number of reasons.  “Lucky me.”  He brought his red-rimmed gaze back up to Slade’s single eye.  “Now are you gonna fuck off, or what?”

“You don’t even want my gift?”  The ice pack flew through the space between them, and frankly Slade was surprised the kid caught it.  Confusion scrunched his brow for a moment before he figured out what Slade had tossed.  “I have nothing better to do with my night, so I’m going to be sticking around.  There’s cream for the gunshot wound on the nightstand.  Besides, it’d be rude of me if my little bird woke up and I wasn’t here.”

The fact that Jason didn’t react to Slade’s jab this time told him the kid was utterly exhausted.  His lips pursed.

“Try not to jostle Dick when you’re settling in.  I’ll be downstairs.” 

Slade pushed off the railing and was barely down the first step when he heard a mumbled, “Thanks.”

Slade only smiled to himself.