The sound is faint, as if from a great distance. It's harsh, guttural. A cough.
It brings him back to heat and acrid smoke and burning flesh, and Slade drags air into his lungs, only to choke on the bitterness. He opens his eyes and sees the flames, and the memories return.
A fight, inevitable. A bullet going astray, setting off an explosion.
Heat and pain and darkness.
Pulling himself to his feet, he chokes again, wincing as his hands touch embers, burning through the kevlar reinforced leather. He ignores the pain, scanning the burning building, searching for the origin of the sounds he can hear. Weaker, fainter.
Eye piercing the roiling smoke and red gold flames, he finds his nemesis, his student, his boy.
Nightwing is down, surrounded by burning timbers, ash coating his face, eyes closed. His chest heaves as he tries to find air, and Slade moves, finding the strength to leap the flaming debris, regardless of the pain his own body suffers.
The kid's alive and he's going to stay that way.
As he reaches his side, scoops the limp body into his arms, critical eye taking in raw burns on his arms and hip, knowing he suffers from similar, he hears another distant sound.
And runs through the flames towards them.
His safety, his health, his very freedom mean nothing at the moment. Only Dick's survival. As Slade reaches fresh air, feels a cool breeze sting the burns on his body, he sets the young man down on the ground and tries not to smile in relief as a hand catches his wrist and a mouth opens with the eruption of another cough.
Reaching down, Slade flicks open the lenses and gazes into cloudy, pain-filled, blue eyes. "Jail."
"We'll just end up fighting again."
Dick smirks slightly, coughs again, a harsh, hacking noise that makes Slade frown in concern. "You'll be in jail, remember?"
Slade snorts and brushes an oddly shaking hand over the back of singed black bangs and a too pale forehead. Then he leans down and murmurs, "I'll come back for you, but I can't stay."
"You always do," Dick sighs, and, as Slade rises to leave, he wonders to which part of his promise the kid's referring.
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