“How did you know I wouldn’t shoot you?” Steph asked as she followed the mercenary over the crest of a rooftop.
“I didn’t,” he grunted, jumping across a narrow gap.
Thankfully, he was taking a route Steph could actually follow instead of leaping twenty-foot gaps without a grapple, as she knew he could.
“Then why?” she pressed. It was probably a bad idea, but she needed to know.
“It would’ve healed.”
“Wait what?” Steph demanded, her mouth working ahead of her brain as the understanding of just who she’d been fighting dawned on her. “Son of a bitch!”
The gruff, asphalt burn of Slade’s laugh rumbled out ahead of her. She wanted to kick him in the balls. Fat chance, with him being a damned metahuman. She almost laughed at the sheer absurdity of the whole situation.
Sometimes the utter strangeness of her life since becoming a vigilante still struck her, no matter how accustomed to it she thought she’d become. In those times, the world seemed to shift beneath her and she felt so entirely displaced that she didn’t know whether to howl with laughter or scream herself hoarse. This was becoming one of those times.
Here she was, the little smart-ass from Park Row who used to dress up in a homemade purple Halloween costume and chase Robin around on the rooftops, suddenly apprenticed to one of the deadliest hitmen in the world. What. The. Fuck?
To the north, Steph could see the arches and spires of Gotham University. In another life, she’d still be a student there. She would’ve had two years left on her degree... She indulged for a moment, imagining herself on graduation day, throwing her cap into the air, her mother hugging her tight, crying happy tears. It wasn’t meant to be. Her father was the Cluemaster, after all. She’d been born into this war, bound to end up fighting for one side or the other. Maybe this way she’d get to choose her own side for once.
“Where are we going?” Steph asked, hauling herself up onto another rooftop.
“London,” Slade grunted in a way that was just a little to Batmanish for her tastes.
“Can I tell my mom I’m leaving?”
“Stop asking questions.”
“Stop being vague, asshat,” Steph shot back.
“You really don’t know when to shut up, do you kid?” Deathstroke asked. He was probably trying to sound intimidating, but Steph could see his lip quirk behind his mask.
“Nope,” Steph replied cheerfully, “It’s part of my charm.”
“Let her go!” a voice growled, and the shadows split to reveal the inhuman mask of Black Bat.
Slade drew himself to his full height, eying Cassandra Cain carefully. It wasn’t a threat, but he was more than ready to defend himself.
“Cass, wait!” Steph hissed, “You don’t understand.”
“Behind me. Now,” she growled, not listening at all.
Steph loved Cass like a sister, but she was really sick of people assuming she couldn’t take care of herself. She heeded Black Bat’s order, slowly slipping behind her shoulder. Then, while her focus was on Slade, Steph jabbed her fingers into the nerve cluster behind Cass’s right ear.
The girl passed out immediately, and Steph lowered her carefully to the ground. “I’m sorry, Cass,” she whispered.
Slade watched the exchange carefully, studying her. “Come on, kid,” he said, not unkindly, and Steph knew she’d just passed a test.
They were more careful after that, staying at street level, ducking through alleys and keeping to the shadows. Steph didn’t usually come this way, but Slade seemed to know where he was going so she didn’t question it. It wasn’t not long before she found herself at a runway.
It was between two rows of buildings, short and narrow. If Steph hadn’t known better, she’d have thought it was nothing more than another back alley. But it was strikingly clear of the refuse that formed a gross crust over the streets of Gotham, and there was a jet at one end.
It was small and matte black. The fuselage was broken into a diamond pattern that she recognized as radar-scrambling. She didn’t know precisely what it is or where it came from, but it looked fast and it had enough room for two. When the cockpit opened, she climbed in without hesitation.
Slade gave her a minute to strap herself in, then the plane launched itself down the runway. They took off almost straight up into the air. The force was such that Steph couldn’t lift her head off the back of her seat. She let out a whoop of exhilaration.
They stayed vertical for about a minute, then Slade leveled off and they were screaming out of Gotham airspace. The plane was nearly silent. Even from inside the cockpit, Steph could barely hear the whine of the turbines. Even the Batplane wasn’t this quiet.
When she asked Slade about it, he replied simply, “Luthor’s an ass, but he’s got great tech and he still owes me a few favors.”
“Does this thing have enough fuel to get to London?” Steph asked.
“It’s got plenty.”
“Master Wilson,” a crisp, British voice sounded through the coms, “I see we’ll be having a guest this evening?”
“Yes, we will.”
“Very good, sir,” the voice replied, ” I’ll prepare a room for the evening.”
“Thanks, Wintergreen,” Slade replied in a tone Steph decides to interpret as fond, “We’ll be home in time for dinner.”
“Hi, I’m Stephanie Brown,” Steph piped up.
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Stephanie,” the man replied easily.
The man, she decided to think of him as New Alfred, signed off.
“So... you really are the reverse Batman aren’t you? Got a British butler and everything.”
“We’re nothing alike,” Slade grunted.
“Suuuure,” Steph grinned.
The guy took her personality in stride like Bruce never had. He was gruff but, underneath, she detected a hint of humor in his words. Yeah, Steph decided, she can get used to this.