He thought it was a dream.
'If you could change one event in your life, what would it be?'
A lifetime of regrets, of mistakes. A life worn thin to the bone. So many events from which to choose, spiraling all the way back to agreeing to take the formula.
Deathstroke and Joey and Addie and the contract on the Titans, Tara and Joseph again and Rose and Wintergreen. So many people he'd hurt and pushed away. So many wrong paths taken.
But there had been a point, despite all those regrets, where he'd been almost at peace. He'd taken contracts only on those who truly deserved death. He fought alongside heroes. His daughter was safe.
He regretted killing Joey, but he knew it was necessary. The mistake, the fatal error that had destroyed his life, was looking his son in the eye when he drove in the sword.
If he could go back...
If he could fix that...
Rose would be whole. He wouldn't be public enemy number one. He wouldn't have destroyed all his relationships.
Wintergreen would be alive.
That would be the event he'd change. Despite the fact that his son would be truly dead and gone, he'd refuse to let him in.
And in this world where heroes are reborn nearly daily, perhaps...
But, then, he thought it was a dream.
Slade woke with a start. He'd had the oddest dream and it lingered with a feeling of...hope? Slowly he blinked open his eyes, then instinctively reached for his eyepatch on the night stand. As he looped it over his head, he took in the room.
It wasn't the hotel room in Caracas he'd been holed up in for nearly a week.
It was familiar.
Before he could place it, a movement on the bed next to him had him reaching for the gun also on the night stand.
"Gonna shoot me?" a sleepy, amused, very familiar voice asked.
Stunned, Slade sat up and stared down at the muscular, golden, scarred back of Dick Grayson.
The kid had his arms wrapped around the pillow his head rested on. His face was turned towards him, his eyes closed, a soft smile on his lips. The sheet barely covered his hips.
The same sheet was pooled in his lap and Slade could tell he was nude beneath it. So, obviously, was Grayson, and they'd been in this bed before, in this room, in this house.
A bed, room and house that had exploded around him as his daughter had fled with Grayson.
Was he dreaming they were back in those days? Had something sent them back in time?
Neither felt right, because Dick Grayson had never smiled in this bed. Slade had known full well that he'd been there with only the barest of willingness, that the kid had suffered his touch in his attempts to prove he was on Slade's side.
"You're thinking too hard and it's waking me up," Dick protested, still amused, still smiling, and his eyes finally opened, gleaming bright blue with sleep and a muted but very real desire. "I had a hard night, even harder once I got here." The smile momentarily became a smirk.
Slade put down the gun he was still clutching and quickly looked around the room, trying to determine something, anything.
And he saw the black cape and cowl draped over a chair.
Not Renegade. Not time travel. Possibly still a dream, but why would he dream of this? Sharing this bed of all beds with Batman? While he'd found sexual release here, he'd never found real pleasure.
Not the kind that he could see reflected on Grayson's expressive face.
Slipping from the bed and tugging on a pair of sweat pants that were at the end of the bed, Slade ran a hand through his hair and over his face. As he moved to pull open the curtains at the French doors he heard a rustling in the bed and the soft pad of footsteps.
"Slade, you okay?" A strong hand squeezed his shoulder and he glanced over it into Grayson's eyes.
"Yeah, just a weird dream." Mentally he shook himself and turned, taking advantage of their close proximity to take Dick's hips in his hands and pull him even closer. For now, he'd just go with it and see what came next. "You want to get some breakfast or you want to...?" As he asked the question, his thumbs slid into the creases of Dick's pelvis and he felt the kid's cock stir. His own responded and he rubbed them together as he bent to kiss him. The kid tasted the same and memories stirred and his desire took him in a sudden, tight grip.
Grinning mischievously, Dick tugged them back towards the bed. "Wintergreen's gotten used to reheating everything when I stay."
So, Wintergreen was alive. Slade was tempted to go find him, but Dick sat on the edge of the bed and skimmed his sweats down his legs before bending that very twisty body forward and sucking his half-hard cock into his mouth. Slade felt the buzz of desire roll down his spine and pumped his hips gently, his fingers tangling in Dick's soft black hair. The kid's hands found his ass, pulling him into his hot mouth, as his lips sucked and his tongue flicked on every pump.
After a few minutes, Slade felt himself getting close and he tugged gently on the hair, pulling Dick off him. "Kid..."
Grayson licked his lips and smiled up at him, lust in his eyes. "How do you want me?" he asked as he slowly pumped Slade's cock in his fist, keeping him on the edge.
Slade remembered the desk was very sturdy and just the right height. "The desk."
"You just like bending me over things."
"Well, you are very flexible."
Laughing, Dick rose and, idly tugging on his cock, strolled over to the desk. He moved items out of the way, then braced himself, legs spread slightly, hands the same width apart atop the leather blotter. Slade found lube in the night stand drawer and oiled his cock as he moved to join the younger man. Two greasy fingers slid easily into Dick. The kid had never been this loose, not even the morning after. How long had they been lovers?
A question to be answered much later, Slade decided, as he sank to his balls.
Grayson grunted and wriggled his ass and Slade took hold of it, using it for leverage to thrust.
"Jesus, Slade..." Another grunt, and Slade snaked one hand around to fondle Dick's balls, then slide up his erect cock.
"Don't come on my desk," he growled, making Dick laugh through his nose as he tried to breathe with the hard thrusts.
Slade grinned as he angled his hips and hit his prostate again. Between the oil and Dick's pre-cum his hand was getting slippery, but he clamped it around the base of Dick's cock to prevent him from orgasming, and picked up the pace, letting his own desire grow.
With a growl and a hard jerk of his hips, he shuddered into orgasm, which left him with trembling legs and pounding heart. Beneath him, Dick was squirming and groaning, and, when he pulled out, he brought the kid up with him, wrapping his free arm around his chest and burying his mouth in his neck. It only took two quick pumps of his fist before Dick was coming over his hand, his head lolling on Slade's chest, soft pants of need breaking from his lips.
"Let's get cleaned up and get some breakfast," Slade purred.
"I think you broke me."
Chuckling, Slade guided them both into the bathroom.
Grayson kept several changes of clothes in the closet and dresser, having two whole drawers in the latter. He also had a shelf of toiletries in the bathroom. Slade was certain he didn't live here, but he was more than a casual lover.
While Dick was in the shower he'd checked his Blackberry and discovered the date was the same, confirming that time travel hadn't happened. It was possible this was one of the alternate Earths, but a quick search had informed him that the president was the same, the superheroes were the same--something that usually changed between Earths, for some reason--as well as the villains.
He wasn't listed as a villain. In fact, all he could find about himself were rumors in tabloids and the discreet website he'd set up nearly a decade before and abandoned after Addie's death. It was still running, getting his name and abilities and prices out to those who knew how to inquire and had the money to pay him.
It was mercenary work.
Dressed in casual clothes, Dick's feet bare and his hair still wet, the two men made their way downstairs to the large, sunny kitchen. Slade braced himself, keeping his face expressionless, but his heart rate increased with every step.
And, then, there he was, sitting on a stool at the counter, sipping tea and reading the newspaper.
"Brunch it is, then," Wintergreen said lightly, his voice holding a teasing quality that had disappeared so long ago.
"Thanks, Wintergreen, sorry about that," Dick said with absolutely no remorse, moving to the coffee pot and reaching into a cabinet for mugs with practiced ease.
"Not a problem. It'll take only a few minutes to put together the omelets. Everything else is in the warming oven." As Wintergreen set aside his paper and rose to go to the stove, Slade drank in the sight of him.
Three years had passed since his...death, and, yet, he looked younger. There was a smile on his face. That pinched, drawn look of frustration that had been in place for years was gone.
Maybe it had never existed.
Slade picked up the newspaper and took it to the table, refolding it so he had the front page in front of him. A mug of coffee appeared at his side and he nodded, then scanned the headlines as Dick joined him, bearing plates of sausage, bacon, and homemade pastries.
The United States government seemed to be doing the same thing--dithering over healthcare reform--and the war in Iraq continued. College basketball was in the middle of its tournament and baseball's opening day was around the corner. The stock exchanges seemed to be holding at around the same mark as when he'd checked them the day before, and the stocks he traded in still existed. There were headlines about New Krypton and the disaster in Star City.
All the same.
"Something fascinating in there?"
Slade folded the paper and set it aside, then picked up his coffee. "Not particularly."
Dick smiled and crunched on a piece of bacon.
"How long can you stay?"
The smile faded. "I finally pinned Tim down to a meeting tonight, but he's going to bolt, so I need to get home this afternoon and ambush him." He shook his head slightly. "He was right all along about Bruce, but he's still mad. I wish I'd explained about Damien better, but now that he's tracked down the proof he needed, and about which I'm fully and happily willing to eat crow, and we've dealt with R'as's latest attempt at destroying us all, we can talk. I hope. He's so damn closed off."
"He's a bat."
Dick snorted and smiled again, a bit wistfully. "If he'd been a few years older, I wouldn't have fought so hard to take the cowl. I've known for years he was Bruce's true successor."
"You don't want to be."
Startled by that carefully asked question, Dick shook his head. "No, we've talked about this. Hell, you beat the crap out of me to try to keep me from becoming Batman. I admit, it's not what I want, but sometimes we have to do things we don't want to. Gotham needs Batman."
Slade absorbed that for a moment, then nodded and replied, "True," trying to keep his comments neutral. He could tell Dick what was going on--it wouldn't be the first time something weird happened with altered memories or parallel worlds--but for now he was going to keep this quiet.
There were things he needed to see, things he needed to figure out.
Wintergreen put a plate in front of each of them, loaded with an omelet stuffed with ham, cheese and mushrooms, and Slade's mouth watered. It had been too damn long. He smiled up at his oldest friend and thanked him. The old Wintergreen--his Wintergreen--would have been startled, but this one only smiled and nodded before retiring from the kitchen with the admonishment not to leave a mess behind.
"Alfred's scones," Dick sighed in joy as he pulled a roll apart to add butter. "I'm so glad those two are friends. We both get fed so well, these days."
"So I suppose it's a good thing we do what we do in order to stay in shape."
Dick laughed and forked a bite of omelet into his mouth.
Over the rest of the meal they talked about inconsequential things--politics, sports, how much of a brat the new Robin was--as well as an art exhibit they'd attended together the weekend before. Dick asked him to go back to the gallery in a few days to help him decide on a piece.
So, they were out in public together.
As Slade mulled that over, Grayson's phone rang and he answered it with a smile on his face. "Hey, Roy."
Harper--Red Arrow, Arsenal, whatever he was calling himself now--was in a coma, one arm missing, daughter dead. Everyone knew the former, but the villain grapevine had spread the latter, and Slade had nearly killed one idiot who had crowed just a bit too loudly. He'd also heard that Cheshire was on a rampage through Argentina.
"Yeah, I'm tied up today, but tomorrow, picnic in Central Park with my favorite girl and, oh yeah, you, definitely." He laughed at Harper's response. "Yeah, yeah, noon at the carousel. I'll bring Alfred's famous reubens. You bring the beer." With another laugh, he hung up and stuffed his phone back in his pocket. "If I have to cancel again, Lian will never forgive me," he said a bit ruefully.
"Putting my personal life before Gotham?" There was an ironic twist to his lips, that made Slade's eye narrow. "Yeah, I know. You've been trying to get me to stop doing that for years but it was ingrained in me from childhood."
"Gotham has plenty of protectors." It was a neutral enough assumption.
"I should swing by Bludhaven, though, check on Cass."
Slade's breath caught for a moment but he forced himself to give a noncommittal smile as Dick rose, stretching slightly.
"Last night you said you had some work you needed to do so I'll let you get to that. I'm going to take advantage of your indoor pool and sauna."
"Buzz me when you're ready for the sauna. I'll join you."
Dick's nostrils flared and his eyes darkened with lust. "Yeah, I'll do that. Try to remember that I need to be more than a limp rag to meet Tim later."
As he watched Grayson head for the pool, Slade couldn't help but chuckle, and desire began to simmer in his belly. Maybe he shouldn't look too deeply into whatever had happened, but he did need to know some details. Obviously Prometheus hadn't harmed Harper and his daughter hadn't been in Star City, but the city still had fallen.
And Slade was trying very hard not to wonder about his own children.
Finishing his plate, he took them both to the sink and rinsed them, then poured a fresh cup of coffee before retreating to his study. The walls were still lined with the heads of animals he'd hunted, but not Wintergreen's. A shudder of relief went through him as he sank into the chair behind his desk and he allowed himself a moment to feel the joy his oldest friend's life brought him, before turning on his computer.
His calendar was the first screen to appear and he noted an appointment in two days in Cartagena. Clicking on the appointment opened up screen after screen of information and he quickly deduced he was bringing in a white slaver dead or alive. From the abundance of information, Slade believed he was planning on bringing him in alive. Dead was always so much easier and never needed as much prep work.
Quickly he scanned back through the previous months, checking out jobs he'd taken. He'd killed, that was obvious, but they weren't the assassinations he took now. He didn't even need to check on most of the names--he recognized them as being the scum of the Earth, from low life drug dealers to kingpins to weapons brokers to corrupt politicians.
He also noticed that none of the jobs were in the United States except for one. Three months earlier he'd been hired by the president of a shipping company to find his kidnaped daughter. From all he could determine, the parents were on the up and up, good people, and the daughter had been ten years old.
Slade read the notes with a growing regret. He'd found the girl dead and he'd executed the kidnapers, then he'd refused to take any money from the grieving family.
On the next night the only appointment was a notation of DG.
Had Dick known and comforted him? Or had the date been set all along? It was obvious that Grayson wasn't here to arrest him. Did he hide his jobs from him or did Grayson know and turn a blind eye?
Or did he quietly sanction him as some heroes had done in the past before he'd turned to killing innocents.
Sighing heavily, Slade ran a hand through his hair then clicked back to the calendar for the current week. On Friday was a notation he'd seen every Friday of the weeks he'd examined. It was a simple R at lunch time.
He opened his financial program, glad the passwords were the same, and noticed immediately that his accounts all had smaller numbers. They were still substantial, but his gross worth was several million less than it had been. If he wasn't taking just any job, that would explain it. Clicking back through deposits he found none from Luthercorp.
None from The Society.
A quick search of various news agencies, starting with The Daily Planet, revealed that The Society did exist and had done many of the same things, but there was no mention of his name, and somehow Bludhaven had been spared.
Slade returned to his financials and discovered monthly checks made payable to Rose from his personal account, and debit card payments every Friday to one of his favorite restaurants in San Francisco. When he checked his main business account--the one above board and open to the IRS--he found monthly payments in not insubstantial amounts to Titans, Inc.'s operation in California.
He was partially funding the Teen Titans? And presumably meeting Rose every week in San Francisco? Was she still a member?
That wasn't hard to find out either, and as a picture of the current roster appeared on his screen, Slade stared in shock at the mask that revealed lenses for both eyes.
Rose had both her eyes.
Did that mean...?
Holding his breath, Slade checked for payments and contacts to the scientist he'd used to recreate and improve the formula that had given him his abilities.
There were none.
As he stared at the computer, feeling a fierce hope blossoming, his private line rang and he automatically reached for it.
"Slade, I wanted to personally thank you for pointing me in the right direction on the search for Emir Ahmad's assassin. I've wired your consulting fee to your Swiss account."
His breath choked any reply.
"I...sorry." He coughed and was shocked to feel tears in his good eye. "Glad to help, Addie."
"Yes, well...Thanks again. Goodbye, Slade."
He said 'goodbye' to a dial tone and stared at the receiver in shock for several minutes before gingerly replacing it.
If Addie had been given a transfusion of his blood, did that mean he'd never taken the advanced formula? Could he not regenerate? Or did it mean that the circumstances leading to Addie's need for a transfusion had never occurred.
Too many what ifs. This was driving him crazy!
As he buried his head in his hands, a thought from his dream rang through his mind.
'If you could change one event in your life, what would it be?'
Was that what had caused this? Had something granted him a wish, and his one wish was to never have been possessed by Joseph?
With trembling hands he ran a search for his son.
There was nothing after his death at Slade's hand.
Grief welled in him. If this existence was created by that one wish, Joseph was truly dead, and he'd lost the renewed relationship with his son.
There was no way to weigh that against all the positives--Addie alive, Rose still a Titan and with both her eyes, Wintergreen alive, Grayson...
The intercom sounded and Dick's voice came over it, lighter than he remembered since before they'd lost Joseph. "Ready for that sauna?"
"I'll be there in a few minutes."
Taking a deep, cleansing breath, Slade shoved aside the dark thoughts, the confusion, the need to know, and moved into the moment, focusing on the now. The past had changed and he'd learn about it gradually. The future had yet to be created. He could wallow in all that or...
There was a naked gypsy boy in his sauna.
Feeling a renewed desire, Slade shut off his computer and headed to the indoor pool and sauna.
The door was open, steam billowing out of it, and he quickly stripped off his clothes and stepped inside, pulling the door closed behind him. Grayson was sprawled across one of the benches, leaning back against the one on the upper level, arms spread, head resting on a pile of towels, beautifully naked. Slade assumed a similar position next to him, letting their hands touch.
"I wish I could balance decadence with reality like you do. I can only be like this when I'm faking being the playboy."
"It's that austere upbringing," Slade teased softly, then snorted when Dick rolled his eyes. "Speaking of, Bruce is alive?" That was a new development to him. He knew the villain Hush was pretending to be Wayne in Gotham society but, since he'd known to the moment when Grayson had assumed the cowl, he believed that the real Wayne was dead. He assumed, due to their relationship, he knew all the details but this was obviously a recent development.
"All I know is that the skeleton Superman brought to us after Darkseid killed him was a clone of some kind and a crazy one at that." Grayson sighed. "You were right about the stupidity of using a Lazarus pit."
Slade cocked one eyebrow in surprise. He hadn't known about that. "So, where do you think Wayne is?"
"No clue and Tim doesn't know either, but we will find him."
"Then what will you do?"
Eyes closed, Dick shrugged. "Go back to being Nightwing. It's what I prefer. I've already talked to the League and they'll take me in that role. Roy's coming back, did I mention that? With Green Arrow and Canary in Star City helping to rebuild and all the other Titans becoming part of the JLA, we all felt it was a good idea. I guess we're all finally growing up. I'm hoping that a new East Coast band of Teen Titans will emerge. Being a part of a team was always good for Tim. Maybe he'll take it on."
"Rose could move back here," Slade said carefully.
Dick smiled and blinked his eyes open. "That would be great for both of you and she and Tim always got along."
Slade smiled down at him, pleased to know that he did have a relationship with his daughter. Reaching over, he poured some more water over the hot stones, and listened in pleasure to Dick's moans, then ran his eye slowly over the kid's sweat-slick body--all golden muscles scattered with black hair, all relaxed.
And apparently all his.
Leaning down, he kissed Grayson and murmured, "I want you, kid, but the steam'll probably kill us."
Laughing, Dick kissed him with wild abandon, then pulled them both to their feet. "That's why the locker room has that really comfy couch."
Hitting the controls to the sauna as he passed them, Slade allowed himself to be led to the couch. Dick spread soft towels across the butter soft leather, and Slade sat, tugging his lover down with him. As Dick straddled his thighs, his hands clutching his shoulders, their mouths met in a messy, hot, wet kiss, all tongues and teeth and impatience.
Slade reached between them and arranged both their cocks so they lined up and as they rocked into the kisses and caresses, they hardened and began to thrust. Dick slid against him, groaning into his mouth as the sweat made them so slippery, and Slade grabbed his ass squeezing it and grinding their pelvises together.
"Shit," Dick gasped, pulling back from the kiss. "You make me come so fast." As he ground that out, his whole body shook and he spilled over their stomachs. Slade held him close, thrusting upwards, rubbing the aching tip of his cock into the sticky emission until he came with a loud grunt and a bite on Dick's neck as the kid slumped on him, panting for air.
"Luckily we have amazing stamina," he murmured, as they sank into the softness of the couch.
They showered together, managing somehow to keep their hands mostly to themselves and, freshly dressed, they ate lunch out on the deck. Slade opened a bottle of wine which they shared as they alternately talked and sat in companionable silence.
Too soon it was time for Dick to leave and he did so with a soft kiss.
"Next weekend?" he asked a bit wistfully.
Slade remembered his calendar and nodded. "I'll be here. We can check out that art piece, perhaps."
With a brilliant smile and another kiss, Dick bounded down the front steps to his motorcycle and roared down the drive.
A weekly thing, it seemed.
Smiling in pleasure, more relaxed then he'd been in years, Slade went back into the house and sought out Wintergreen. Over the years before his death, he'd been in the bad habit of keeping too much from his dearest friend. He hoped that wasn't the case now.
And he needed to talk to someone.
Wintergreen was in the library, reading. On Slade's approach, he set aside the book and gestured to the chess board on the low table between his chair and another. "Shall we continue?"
It would help him compose his thoughts, so he nodded and sat down, crossing one knee over the other. "Whose move?"
Examining the board, Slade was surprised to see that he was white. He thought for several minutes, then moved his knight. Wintergreen made a soft noise and took nearly five minutes to move his closest bishop.
Slade sat back, tapping one finger against his lips, then smiled and moved his queen into position. "Check."
"How...?" Eyes wide, Wintergreen looked for various ways to escape, then finally sighed and turned his king on its side. "I surrender. I don't know how you do it. I taught you the damn game." He was smiling through his grumpiness and Slade chuckled softly.
"I had a very good teacher."
Wintergreen nodded his head in acknowledgment and sat back. "What's on your mind, Slade?"
"You know me too well."
"Better than anyone, except perhaps Mister Grayson."
Slade felt his brow furrowed and steepled his hands together, elbows on the arms of the leather wingback chair. "How long have we been together?"
Wintergreen frowned slightly. "I never have known when it began, though I suspect back when the young man was still in short pants, but you both settled into this nearly three years ago, after he left the police force in Bludhaven. Are you going senile, old friend?" he added lightly.
"I trust you with my life, right?"
He watched as his oldest friend straightened, the smile leaving his face, and as he responded seriously, "Of course."
"Something's happened. Something changed. The world is different than I remember."
"I don't understand."
"I think I made a wish and it changed everything. My memories of the last several years are so different than reality."
"Did someone do this? A villain? Luthor, perhaps?" Wintergreen began to rise, anxious, but Slade waved him back down.
"I don't know. All I know is I woke up this morning and everything was different."
"Could you give me some specific examples?"
Along with the worry and anxiety, Slade could see a healthy dose of skepticism in him and he approved. "Well, in my memories, there is no way Dick Grayson would willingly sleep with me. But, the most obvious difference is you." He dropped his eye to his lap and felt the guilt that had never gone away wash over him. A few calming breaths and he softly said, "You're dead."
Wintergreen's eyes widened and he sank back in the chair. "I...when?"
"A couple of years ago."
He looked away again. "It doesn't matter. You're not the only one. Addie's dead, too, but Joseph isn't, and Rose, my Rose, loves me but wants nothing to do with me. Is she my regular Friday lunch date?"
"Yes, she loves you. Once you finally got your head out of your arse and took her in, you developed a strong father-daughter bond."
"And I never gave her the serum?"
He watched the horror blossom on Wintergreen's face. "What? The serum that made you and killed Grant? No, never. She has abilities because of your altered genes but there's never been any talk of trying to enhance them."
"Good." Slade breathed a soft sigh of relief. "Do you believe me?"
"I..." Wintergreen nodded strongly. "There's no reason you would make this up. Perhaps you're the Slade Wilson from one of the alternate worlds, or perhaps something has altered time or all our memories. Or, perhaps, as you believe, you made a wish. We have certainly seen stranger things." They sat in silence for a few minutes before he asked, "What was your wish?"
"Did I kill Joseph?"
"Yes. He was possessed and insane and deadly. You had no choice," he said gently.
"In my memories, I did so facing him, looking him in the eyes. My wish, was to not do that."
"I wasn't there, but I've seen footage. You...you took him from behind. What difference..." Wintergreen's eyes widened again, shock clear on his face. "Did he possess you?"
Slowly Slade nodded, his body tense as he remembered those years of subtle manipulations until he finally was taken over completely. "I didn't know he was there until it was too late. He slowly, very slowly twisted me. I pushed away everyone I had loved, made stupid decisions that put me on the opposite side of Grayson, of Addie. He turned me into the one thing I'd always refused to become--a super-villain." His voice dropped as sorrow flooded him, but he needed to get this out. "I took on any job that would pay my fee, regardless of the target's guilt. I joined The Society. I drugged Rose. I...Eventually he took over completely and that's when...that's when..." He couldn't.
"What, Slade?" Wintergreen encouraged, reaching out and brushing his fingers over the back of Slade's wrist.
Slade took a deep breath and forced it out. "I killed you."
To his amazement, his dearest, oldest friend, didn't pull back in shock, but kept his fingers on his wrist even as he stared and trembled.
They continued to talk for hours, eventually moving into the kitchen for sandwiches and beer. Slade learned some of the differences in this changed reality, most of them surprisingly subtle, like the fact that Lian Harper hadn't died in Star City. But he knew that one small change could affect everything. And other things were the same. Wayne had still died, or at least everyone had believed that, and Dick had become Batman. The dead had still risen recently in what was being called the Blackest Night, but some of those dead had been different. Slade wondered if he'd been assaulted by Joey instead of Addie.
Wintergreen clarified what had happened with Addie.
"Yes, you let yourself become enhanced even more. It's unlikely that anything will kill you now, but I remember what happened to Adeline. She didn't get a transfusion from you. In fact, she refused, fearing what might happen, and you were reticent as well, but you managed to find a donor. Can't recall the young lady's name, but she was compatible. In your memories she was made immortal and driven mad?" he asked sadly.
Slade nodded slowly. "And her death at the hands of Starfire pushed me further from the Titans and the path I'd tried so hard to stay on. She called me today, so I take it we're at least on speaking terms?"
"Oh yes. You occasionally work together or do work for her, and her network provides you with information. There's nothing romantic going on. You are quite enraptured with Mister Grayson."
There was a twinkle in Wintergreen's eyes that made Slade, at his age, squirm. "We're together in public?"
"Not blatant but everyone important in both your lives knows, and, unfortunately, you have made the tabloids. Apparently there are several dozen Gotham socialites heartbroken by the eldest Wayne being a homosexual."
Slade chuckled and rose to fetch two more beers then stopped and turned. "Do you know if Wayne knew about us?"
"Oh yes," Wintergreen replied wryly. "He didn't take it well, either. Not the homosexual aspect. That it was you."
Responding with a snort, he made his way back to the table and handed his best friend a beer before sitting and opening his own. "I bet."
"On a more professional note, you do have job in two days. Should I cancel?"
"No. I looked it over and it looks doable. I may have different memories but my mind and body are still the same."
They spent the next hour going over details of the job before Slade got a text message from Grayson that, after deciphering the netspeak, basically read 'thanks for teaching Tim that dirty move, now I'm limping for two reasons'. Excusing himself, he texted back 'you're welcome for both' as he headed for his bedroom. He wasn't surprised when the phone rang.
"I got him to stay," Dick said in lieu of a greeting.
"He made me grovel." There was a bit of a whine there.
Slade grinned a bit nastily. "Having one's ego deflated a bit is never a bad thing."
"Like you'd know anything about that," Dick laughed and launched into his plans to find Bruce. Slade listened, offered advice, and thoroughly enjoyed himself.
The next day Slade spent most of the time training, preparing his weapons, and refamiliarizing himself with the plane he'd lost a year or so ago. And the following day he headed off for Columbia. His uniform felt the same as did his weapons, but something inside himself felt lighter. The man he was going after was the head of a small white slavery ring that specialized in pretty blonde pre-teens sold mostly to drug lords in Central and South America. Slade had no illusions that this would stop all human trafficking but it would put a significant dent in it in one region of the world.
He was being paid by a coalition of parents who had lost their daughters to this ring and businessmen who wanted that part of Columbia safer. The money was small potatoes--would cover his expenses and little else--compared to jobs he remembered doing over the last few years, but he had a feeling the man he was in this reality might well do the job for free if no one had come up with any funds.
As he'd spent more time talking to Wintergreen and looking into some of the jobs he'd done, he came closer and closer to the conclusion that he liked the man he was here and now.
So did Dick Grayson and that meant something.
The lust he'd always felt for the kid was something more here. Something deeper. Something real.
He wasn't going to blow that.
Along with capturing the slaver, he'd freed two young girls and returned them safely to the States and the arms of their families. When one of them, the braver of the two, had hugged him tightly on seeing her parents waiting for her at his private air strip, that had reinforced his feeling that this was right.
Seeing Rose smiling at him from two blue eyes pretty much cemented it.
"Hi, daddy," she greeted him with a hug and a kiss to the cheek in the casual French bistro in San Francisco. As they sat, she added, "I heard about the arrest of that white slaver in Cartagena. Good job."
"Thank you." She was proud of him, he could see it in her expression and her eyes, those beautiful eyes. He quickly glanced at the menu to hide his own emotion.
"And you and Dick made The Insider at that gallery showing," she teased lightly. "I think it's cute how he hangs all over you."
Slade tried to peer sternly over his menu at her, but she was giggling and...he'd never seen her giggle except in her madness. Lowering the menu he shrugged as if embarrassed and decided to change the subject. "So what have you been up to this past week?"
"Stopped a bunch of idiots from torching a mall, kept the Golden Gate Bridge from collapsing due to some other idiots, got in a brawl with Wonder Brat."
She rolled her eyes and took a sip of water. "I know, daddy, I try, but she pushes all my buttons. I get along with everyone else, especially Eddie and Jaime and, of course, Bart, but without Tim around she gets really bossy."
"Is it easier for you to take orders from a man?"
"Way piggy, daddy."
Snorting, he sipped his own water and watched her animated face as she launched into a funny story of her friends. They ordered and he was still listening to her talk when their food came.
He'd never just listened to her.
She was bright, funny, sarcastic, and happy, above all, happy.
"Dick told me that with the Titans disbanding he hopes to start an East Coast branch of your group. Would you think about moving back?"
That stopped her for a long moment, then she smiled and nodded. "I've missed you, though I swear I always gain ten pounds just breathing in Wintergreen's cooking. Did Dick mention who he'd like on the team?"
Was that a bit of coyness in his daughter's voice?
"The only person he mentioned was Tim."
And did she just smile wider?
He cut into his chicken, took a bite and chewed it silently, then said, "So you like Tim Drake."
Rose's scandalized gasp nearly made him laugh but he restrained himself to a soft smile. "Daddy!"
"He's not good enough for you."
She snorted at that, a habit she'd obviously picked up from him. "Yeah, right. He's handsome, smart, rich, and just slightly cracked."
"Dick's managed to reign him in...somewhat."
"I really don't like that stupid hood. He has such nice hair."
Slade decided that didn't need a comment and poured himself a second glass of wine.
One week he'd been in this new reality and Slade was surprised at how easy it was becoming to fit in. Wintergreen knowing the truth helped, but no one else had caught on and he apparently had more friends than Wintergreen, including a semi-monthly poker game at the local country club, at which he was a member.
At least he didn't golf.
Saturday the sun peeked from behind a few fluffy clouds, and the air held both the hints of rain and blossoms. There was one more person he needed to see and it was a good day to do it. He got the directions from Wintergreen and called Grayson, asking him to join him, then wearing a light jacket and casual black jeans and a ruby red shirt, he chose the Porsche and headed out.
The cemetery was quiet, no one being buried until later in the day, and the grave was easy to find.
It was next to Grant's.
There were fresh flowers on both graves and Slade knew they were from Addie. She'd always sent them every week. He'd visited regularly as well, until...He'd simply stopped.
Crouching down, Slade lightly ran his fingers over the carving on the newer tombstone and let the sorrow seep in. "Is this real, Joey? Are you the price I pay for this new life?" He took a deep breath and rested his hand on the curve of stone. "None of this was your fault. You were the best of all of us. You were the true hero. If I'd known. If I could have stopped it..."
He felt the presence of another but didn't turn or rise. "You're lost to me here, Joseph," he murmured sadly. As he squeezed the stone, a hand squeezed his shoulder, and he finally rose.
"I haven't been here for a while."
Nodding at Dick, he stepped back to let him mourn his friend, and then moved to Grant's tombstone and let the silent regret wash over him. Grant had always been lost to him, but Joey'd had a second chance. A third and a fourth.
But, not here.
Dick's arm slid around his waist and he leaned into him. "Why here, Slade?"
"Because there's something I need to tell you and I had to see this. I had to make it real." Gesturing with his head towards a nearby bench, he guided Dick over there and they both sat. Slade rested his elbows on his knees, leaned forward slightly, unsure of how to say this. It had been hard enough with Wintergreen, but Grayson was...
He wasn't exactly sure what Grayson was to him. Lover, certainly, but love? That had never been a real possibility in his reality; he'd made sure of that. Wintergreen hadn't been able to tell him. Apparently his Slade was good at keeping his emotions close to his vest, too.
"What's going on, Slade? There's something different about you. Has been since last weekend."
"Very perceptive of you."
Dick tried to lighten up the mood. "World's second greatest detective."
Slade blew out a soft breath and stared out across the rows of tombstones and monuments. "At first I wasn't sure what was happening so I just went with it, but I told Wintergreen and, if anyone else needs to know, it's you. You're important to me...here." He could almost feel Dick frowning at him and wasn't surprised when one hand came to rest lightly on his thigh.
"You're important to me, too. You know that."
A harsh laugh escaped before he could stop it, and Slade straightened up, turned slightly to face the younger man. "But, that's just it. I don't know that." Dick frowned deeper and Slade sighed again and launched into the explanation. "When I woke up last Saturday with you in my bed smiling at me, I don't remember you getting there. My memories are different, very different. The world is...better."
"Are you from an alternate Earth?"
For superheroes, that was the obvious first question. "No, I'm pretty sure I'm not, and I haven't traveled in time or had my memories altered. The world is different. My house blew up nearly three years ago. Rose...Rose only has one eye. Wintergreen and Addie are dead. Joseph is alive. And, you...You certainly don't share a bed with me. Not willingly, at least," he added under his breath.
There was silence for a few minutes then Dick asked, "So, what do you think has happened?"
"I had a dream and in it I made a wish. I wished for one thing to change and it did and now everything is different."
"What was the one thing?"
Slade's eye drifted back towards Joey's grave. "I didn't look Joey in the eye when I killed him."
They talked for nearly two hours, Slade outlining the differences, the way his life had spun out of control from Joseph's manipulation and eventual complete possession of him. Grayson asked a few questions, but mostly listened, absorbing and analyzing it all. Slade touched only lightly on their own dysfunctional relationship, saving the truth to the end.
"So...what about us?"
He couldn't meet Dick's eyes and instinctively stiffened and pulled slightly away on the bench. He heard Dick sigh but couldn't help himself. "It's not good. If we have any relationship at all, it's one of complete animosity. I started pulling away from the Titans, you, after the possession but it wasn't until Starfire killed Addie that I turned on you. The few times we met after that weren't good for either of us and, then..." He looked up at Dick who was still watching him, waiting. "Did Catalina Flores kill Blockbuster in this reality?"
"Were you there?"
Dick's eyes widened in surprise. "No. You were helping me try to track him down after he had my building and circus burned down. I was with you."
Relieved, Slade continued, "Good. Good. In my memories, you were with her and you let her kill him, didn't try to stop her. You blamed yourself, felt that Wayne would blame you, hate you. You went a bit self-destructive. Got yourself shot in the leg, got kicked off the Force. You infiltrated the mob and then you came to me." He looked away again. This was damn hard, because while he'd enjoyed it, he'd never been completely happy about what he'd done to Grayson. "I made you my apprentice, I guess. I let you train Rose, but I knew you were going to betray me. I never believed you'd given up on being a good guy, but I let you in and waited, and you let me..." Slowly he turned to face Dick and lifted a hand to cup his cheek, his fingers caressing as he spilled the hard truth. "I had you in my bed, Dick, but you were never willing."
Dick's eyes slowly widened but he didn't pull away from the caress. "Oh." After a minute he lifted his own hand to slide it around the back of Slade's neck. "I prefer this reality. I don't care if you wished it into existence. It's so much better." Together they leaned forward until their foreheads touched and they breathed in each other.
"I've lost Joey," Slade finally admitted raggedly, "That'll never be a good thing, but, yeah, everything else is so much better."
"I'm glad you told me." They slowly separated, but still touched. "You probably have a lot of questions about our relationship."
Finally relaxing, Slade nodded but replied, "Yeah, but they can wait. I don't need to know everything right now. I...I want to help you find Wayne and I want to help you get your East Coast Titans started. I want to be this better man that you know, that you smile at."
"That I love?" Dick teased softly, his fingers playing in Slade's hair.
"Do you?" he asked solemnly, almost afraid of the answer.
Dick smiled widely and leaned forward to kiss him, just a gentle brush of lips, but it was like an explosion between them. "My image may be man whore, but you know the reality. The emotion has to be real for me to share myself like that. We don't really talk about it, but I've loved you for years."
"I forgot how to love a long time ago."
"That was the other you. Just let yourself become the man I love and you'll find it's easy." Slade snorted and Dick grinned. "Okay, a bit cheesy, I admit." He quickly grew more solemn. "I'll be here for you, Slade. I'm not going anywhere. I'll answer any of your questions and we'll make everything all right."
"That's still a bit cheesy."
Laughing, Dick leaned over and kissed him, this time a bit more deeply and with a lot more heat. When he pulled back he was flushed and breathing hard and Slade felt desire stir in him. "I don't need new art."
Slade smirked and pulled them both to their feet. "Anticipation, Grayson. It makes it so much better. Show me this artwork. We'll get a drink somewhere." He leaned close and whispered, "And then we'll go home and I'll fuck your brains out."
The art was modern and interesting. The gallery owner was fawning a bit much, but Slade managed to steer Dick away from a few way too busy pieces to something simpler. The kid still had atrocious taste in clothes--how many colors were on the shirt he was wearing today?--but he was gaining some appreciation for art.
Stopping at a quiet bar a block away, they sat at a corner booth and Dick had a beer while Slade ordered a Manhattan, and the subject of the Teen Titans came up.
"I discovered I've been partially funding them?"
"Yeah. For a while there you and Bruce would up each other's donation until I finally told you both to knock it off and that I wasn't the prize in a competition." The fondness in his tone of voice made Slade smile. "That's not why we took Rose in, though. I hope you don't think that."
"Even without the enhanced abilities, my daughter can take care of herself."
"She's a good fighter, and that ability to see into the next moment is very useful. You've trained her well. She misses you, though."
"We spoke yesterday about her moving back here and she seemed excited about the idea. Also, she apparently has a crush on your younger brother."
"Which one?" Dick asked, tongue firmly in cheek.
Slade glowered at him. "The only slightly insane one who's not twelve."
"She and Tim do work well together and he was happiest in the Teen Titans. Without them, he's too solitary and when he's too solitary he's too much like Bruce."
"You always did better with a team, too."
"I know, which is why I'm sticking with the League. I think, if we can find Bruce, I can get Tim to head up TT East."
"I would like to help you on the former."
Dick's face lighting up made Slade feel right about that choice, right about a lot of choices. "Thanks. Tim and I are going to spend tomorrow going through everything he found. Would you like to come help?"
"How does he feel about me? Us?"
"Um, well, not totally on board, but he knows I'm happy and wants that. As far as I know, you've never been on opposite sides in anything, never fought him."
Slade could see the question on Dick's face. "Good. I...well, let's just say things were very different as I remember them." An image of Robin sprawled in an alley, Slade's gun in his face, passed quickly through his mind and he mentally shook it off. He'd have to live with the memories but he wasn't going to let them drag him down. This world, this reality, was too important. He watched Grayson lift his bottle to his mouth, suck down some of the beer, his Adam's apple moving as he swallowed, and the simmering desire ignited. "Do I have a place in the city?"
Dick startled, then a slow smile crossed his face and he blatantly licked beer off his lips. "Yeah, a penthouse across from Central Park."
"Traffic to Long Island at this time of day on a Saturday is a nightmare," Dick agreed, quickly finishing his beer.
"Do I have a key with me?" Dropping some money on the table, Slade rose, Dick joining him.
"Should be on your key ring, but I have one. My bike'll be secure in the garage down the street so we can take your car." They headed at a quick pace to the garage and, once in the car, Dick gave him the address which was several miles away, as they were in Chelsea and the penthouse was on the Upper East Side, which didn't surprise him. Slade pulled into traffic and immediately began tapping his fingers on the steering wheel as he slowed to a crawl.
Twisting in his seat belt, Dick leaned over and whispered suggestively, "I can take the edge off."
The side windows were tinted. They weren't moving very much. He could control himself.
Slade smirked at his lover and made himself comfortable in his seat, spreading his legs slightly and keeping his right foot on the brake. One-handed he unfastened his belt and jeans, spreading open the fly and revealing that he wasn't wearing anything underneath. A quick glance showed Grayson's eyes darkening, his lips parting in a slight pant, and he took a deep, evening breath and reached in to free his cock. He wasn't hard, but the blood was beginning to swell along the shaft. Lifting his right arm, he wrapped it around Dick, giving him access as he wriggled mostly out his seatbelt and folded himself into a nearly impossible position, one hand braced on Slade's left thigh, the other wrapping around the base of his cock and lifting it into his mouth.
Groaning softly, Slade let his fingers play in Dick's hair as the kid licked his shaft, swirling his tongue around the head, then slid his mouth down the underside to lap at his balls. Carefully Slade drove the car a few more feet, stopped again and watched Dick wrap his tongue around the mushroom tip and pump the lower shaft.
He reached erection as he drove through an intersection and stopped again, and when the car came to a rest, Dick deep throated him. "Kid," was all he managed to growl before the throat closed around his cock head causing him to arch his hips up helplessly and his foot nearly to slip off the brake. Fingers in Dick's hair, he pulled him up and saw the amusement on his face. "Do that again and I'll wreck the car." Releasing Dick he watched as he resumed the licking and sucking on the head and a few inches down the shaft, and he breathed deeply, getting his control back, then inched the car forward a few more feet.
They continued this for several blocks, creeping northwards through heavy traffic, Dick's mouth keeping him on edge, Slade's control iron tight. A few times he bucked his hips and a few times Dick stopped all together, resting his head against Slade's stomach and gulping for air. As he drove unimpeded for about a mile, Slade held him there, petting his cheek and letting him suck his fingers. When they stopped again, Dick ducked as low as he could and sucked his balls into his mouth, humming around them.
Need burned through him, he wanted to thrust and come, but Slade held it in. It wasn't safe and this long, teasing blow job was just building his desire. A glance over showed him that there was a hard bulge in the front of Dick's jeans as well. As he turned at the corner of Central Park, he wondered how fast Dick would come this time.
That thought nearly made him come, and he bit his lip and breathed through his nose. Dick lifted his head to see where they were, then licked the pre-cum from his slit. "There's a parking garage next to the building. You're in D-3," he moaned out, before pulling the head of Slade's cock back into his mouth.
Slade didn't remember parking or turning off the car, but suddenly they were stopped and the place was dark, and Dick was deep throating him again and he was coming with a loud grunt and hard thrusts of his hips. As he sank back in the seat, breathing hard and trembling, Dick rose, cracked his neck and licked semen off his lips, then smiled eagerly.
Voice shaking, Slade asked, "Did I teach you that? No, wait, I don't want to know." His Grayson had always been reluctant to go down on him and had gotten it over with as quickly as possible with hard, deep sucks and very little teasing. Usually Slade hadn't come, wanting to do so fucking his apprentice so they hadn't spent much time on oral sex.
He found that he actually wanted to taste the kid's cock. It had been years, over a decade, since he'd given a man a blow job. Almost every sexual relationship he'd been in, he'd been the dominant partner and that meant, with a man, he got sucked, he did the fucking.
Was it different here?
"Out of the car," Slade managed to grunt out, before closing his jeans and dragging himself out the driver's side. Dick bounded over to him, obviously aroused and ready and full of energy, and nearly yanked him to the elevator. He used a key to unlock the trip to the penthouse and the elevator opened right onto a foyer.
The place was elegant and well furnished and Slade didn't care. Pushing Dick against the nearest wall, he dropped to his knees, yanked open his jeans and shoved down his boxer briefs. The kid's cock sprang free, dark red and leaking pre-cum, and Slade lapped at the tip before sucking it into his mouth. He tasted salty, a bit musky, and completely like Dick.
"Slade?" Dick gasped, then moaned and his knees buckled. Slade wrapped his arms around his upper thighs and held him up as he sucked hard and fast.
With a yell, he came, spilling into Slade's mouth and down his chin. When he began to soften, Slade pulled free with a final kiss to the tip, then let Dick slide down onto this butt. Their eyes met, and Slade knew his own was as full as lust as his lover's, then they met in a hungry kiss, their desire for each other still inflamed despite their orgasms.
"Where's a bedroom in this place?"
They both scrambled sluggishly to their feet and Dick wrapped his arm around Slade's waist, guiding him. "This way."
The master bedroom was dark colors and heavy wood but lit by several windows edged with navy tapestry curtains. The only important item at the moment, though, was the massive four poster bed. As Dick broke away from him to shuck off his clothes and tug down the matching navy bedspread, Slade wondered if he'd ever tied the kid to those posts. He undressed quickly, leaving his clothes, and the gun he never went anywhere without, in a heap on the floor, and joined Dick on the firm but soft mattress, leaning over him as he reclined on a stack of pillows.
"I recall you promising to fuck my brains out, not suck them out, though that was a nice surprise." His voice was lazy but held an edge of desire, and Slade ran his eye down his body, noting that his cock wasn't completely limp.
"Didn't want you exploding all over the foyer."
Dick snorted and reached up to run his hand over Slade's chest, his fingers trailing down the line of hair to his groin, where his cock wasn't completely limp either. "I do really love your recuperative ability."
"I'm guessing I need it to keep up with your youth." As he spoke, he bent and kissed Dick. He meant it to be a soft brush of lips, but the kid turned it into a passionate oral attack, his hands and one leg wrapping around Slade and dragging him down onto him. As they rocked together, they both became hard again and it wasn't long before Dick directed him to the drawer with the supplies.
Slade poured oil into his hand, rubbed it on his cock, then pushed two fingers into Dick's eager body. Tossing aside the bottle of lube, he used his other hand to keep Dick on edge, fingers tight around the base of his cock as his thumb stroked the sensitive glans. Dick hissed and lifted his hips to push onto the fingers fucking into him, and when Slade hit his prostate, Dick groaned and arched off the bed.
The sight took his breath away and made his cock throb. Pulling out his fingers, he lifted Dick's legs over his shoulders, lined up his cock and pushed in.
Watching his eyes go a hazy blue, Slade pressed his thumb against the tip of his cock and thrust all the way inside.
Dick yelled something incoherent and pre-cum spilled over his thumb.
"Not yet," he growled, his free hand braced on the bed as he began to thrust.
"Let me come, please," Dick begged, face flushed with heat and need, body twisting and bucking against his. His hands were everywhere, trying to touch Slade, trying to touch himself, and Slade just grinned and slammed his pelvis forward.
Another loud cry spilled from his young lover, whose eyes fell shut as he arched off the bed, head pressed against the pillow, back in a bow.
Slade released his cock and used that hand as a brace to lower himself, allowing him to fuck harder and faster, and rub his stomach against Dick's erection. "Bring yourself off. I want to watch," he growled.
He barely got half the words out before Dick had both hands around himself, jerking hard, and coming even harder. As he moaned and shook, his muscles clamped around Slade's cock, pulling his orgasm from him quicker than he expected.
They collapsed together, both sticky and panting, and still joined, Slade draped over Dick, who managed to get one hand on his lover's hip, and his lips on his neck.
"Is it always like this?" Slade groaned, then shifted and pulled his cock free.
Dick held him close and kissed his neck again. "Pretty much."
"This reality is much better."
Eventually Slade moved to his side, holding Grayson close, his head pillowed on Slade's chest, and he watched him drift to sleep. He marveled at how relaxed the young man was, how he obviously felt safe with Slade, and how that made him feel.
And as he felt the tug of sleep and closed his eyes, he gave a silent thanks to whatever granted his wish, and a silent goodbye to his son. He'd mourn him always, but this new life was a gift he wasn't going to squander.
He wasn't ever going to give this Dick Grayson a reason to hate him.
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