The Reclamation ProjectENTRY #6
TITLE: A Code Of Honor
AUTHOR: Louise Freeman Davis
CHARACTER: Deathstroke the Terminator
Author's note: This story, which attempts to redeem Slade Wilson (aka Deathstroke the Terminator) is actually a follow-up to one of my earliest pieces of fan fiction, "A Rose in Bloom" This springboard is available in the FANZING Archives, July 1998. For those of you who don't care to look that up, here's a synopsis:
A runaway Rose Wilson, daughter of Deathstroke, who had been placed in foster care after Roy Harper's Titans team disbanded, turns up on the streets of Bldhaven, where she meets and gradually forms a friendship with Nightwing. She is revealed to have the power to occupy other people's bodies, similar to her deceased half-brother, Jericho, and briefly adopts a the crimefighting identity of Winter Lily, teaming up with Nightwing to solve the murder of a prostitute friend of hers. Once that case is closed, Nightwing arranges for her to be adopted by Deathstroke's longtime ally, Col. Wintergreen, and she goes to Africa to live with him.
"A Code of Honor" picks up some months later. To learn more about Deathstroke the Terminator and how this once-great character was ruined, I suggest his Titan's Lair biography at http://www.keeffee.com/titans/slade.html.
A Code of Honor: Prologue
Mine honour is my life; both grow as one
Take honour from me and my life is done.
"Dick?" The whispered voice came from a microspeaker mounted on the headboard of his bed, too soft to be heard by anyone else in the room. "Dick, there's--"
"Shh. I'm on it, Babs," Dick Grayson whispered back. The speaker fell silent as Dick shifted beneath his sheets, poised to spring. He had been fully awake for several minutes, listening intently to the sounds of someone trying to pry his bedroom window open. Unlike most people, Dick Grayson didn't necessarily see this as cause for alarm; Batman and Robin had both been known to pay him unannounced visits in the middle of the night. The mystery intruder was working slowly and methodically, not a trait associated with Blüdhaven's typical petty criminals, so Dick was reasonably certain it was Tim. The Boy Wonder was talented enough to circumvent any standard burglar alarm, and even those less orthodox ones Dick employed to secure his apartment. Still, he was seldom able to sneak up on a crimefighter of Dick Grayson's experience. The Dark Knight, on the other hand, would most likely have been able to slip in without alerting Dick or Oracle.
As the windowpane slid upwards, Dick silently turned over on his back, peering through the shadows as the slender figure entered. Instantly he recognized that it was not Robin, and Dick knew better than to take any chances.
Grasping his sheet in both hands, he rolled to his feet and launched himself at his visitor, the bed providing him with even more spring than usual. The intruder started and gasped, silver-white hair spilling over her shoulders as she raised a wooden staff to fend off the attack. Dick recognized her in mid-flight and simply dropped the sheet over her, instead of delivering the massive karate kick he had planned. He landed on the floor behind her and handsprung himself back to his feet. By the time Rose Wilson extracted both herself and her quarterstaff from the folds of Dick's bedsheet, he had flipped a light switch on and was facing her, arms folded and as he shook his head.
"That sort of thing can be dangerous, Rose," he chided. "Next time, call first."
Rose flung the sheet to the floor in disgust. "Here I was, hoping to show you I'd learned something "
Dick smiled. "You didn't do that badly. You had be convinced you were Robin for a few minutes. As I remember, we never got around to Breaking and Entering 101. Did Wintergreen teach you that?
Rose shook her head. "Pat Trayce. I've been training with some of the new Vigilance, Inc. recruits."
"I see. She taught you well." Rose blushed at the praise. Dick crossed to the kitchenette and took two mugs from his cabinet. "Tea?" he offered. Rose nodded and followed, sitting down wearily at his table. "So what brings you back to the States?" Dick continued, his tone deceptively casual. "I'd have thought that after your last adventure in Blüdhaven you'd have picked a different vacation spot." A look at Rose's stricken face told him this wasn't a social call. Dick immediately sat down beside her and covered Rose's hands with his.
"Rose, what's wrong?"
"I need your help, Dick," she choked out, her voice barely above a whisper. "I need you to help me find my mother."
A Code of Honor: Chapter One
Dick tightened his hold on Rose's hands, but was silent for almost of full minute. "Rose," he answered finally, his tone gentle. "Your mother is dead."
Rose shook her head adamantly. "No, she isn't, Dick!"
"Wintergreen knows his business. He was certain no one could have survived that--"
"They never found her body! She's still listed as 'missing!'"
"'Missing and presumed dead,'" Dick corrected.
"The Ravanger survived! Why couldn't my mom?"
Dick paused. The last time he had encountered this young woman, she had thought that her uncle, the criminal who had killed Rose's mother and so brutally abused Rose, was dead. Oracle had uncovered the truth about the Ravanger's survival and his capture by Rose's father Deathstroke and Dick had passed the information onto Wintergreen when Rose went to live with him. However, the two men agreed Rose should be spared this information until she was older.
Rose seemed to read his thoughts. "Yeah, Wintergreen finally told me, when I decided I wanted to train with Vigilance, Inc. He didn't want me stumbling across it myself. Which I would've, eventually. You know, you two are a lot alike. You both tell a good story, but deep down, you both think I'm still some helpless little kid!"
Dick raised his hands in surrender. "Rose, trust me, I'm the last person in the world to call you helpless. OK, you must have some reason for thinking your mother's still alive, after all of this time."
Rose opened her knapsack and began rummaging through its contents, extracting a large manilla envelope. "I came home from school yesterday and Diana Elkene was waiting for me, with this."
"She works for Vigilance, Inc. Wintergreen and Pat had left it for me."
At Rose's nod, Dick opened the envelope. In it was a lengthy typewritten note, a packet of plane tickets, Rose's passport and a hundred dollars or so in US currency. "He said that Vigilance, Inc., had gotten some information on my mom. Some monks in that area found her car at the bottom of the ravine, and took her to their monastery to recover. It took them a long time to figure out who she really was she had lost her memory. But when they did, they notified their elders. Word got back to the ruling powers in Cambodia, and they they took her. They want to keep her there, as a prisoner, as an example to the rest of the exiled royal clans who are resisting their authority."
Dick nodded as he scanned the letter. Rose was confirming everything Wintergreen had written.
"Wintergreen said they'd be after me next," continued Rose. "I'm the next crown heir, or something like that. He told Diana to put me on a plane to New York, and for me to stay with the Titans while he and Pat went to Cambodia to rescue my mom."
"But you decided to change the travel plans?"
"She's my mother, Dick! I can't just sit here and do nothing! I had a layover in Frankfurt so I caught a flight to Gotham instead. I knew I could get a bus to the 'Haven and--"
"So how is it your ticket still says 'New York?"
Rose flushed. "Well, in Frankfurt I found this passenger who was flying to Gotham. She looked like she was alone, with no one to talk to who might get suspicious, so so I made contact."
"Rose " Dick winced.
"I didn't hurt her, Dick! I let her go after we got through customs and she was just fine--"
"Just fine? How?"
"I mean, physically, nothing happened to her!"
"She had no reaction at all to being trapped on a plane with someone else controlling her body for 14-odd hours?"
"OK, so she was a little upset after I released her. They were going to take her to Mercy General for a few days for psychiatric observation, but she'll probably just chalk it up to a bad reaction to the Dramamine and the in-flight cocktails and the airline food "
"Rose, that's not an appropriate use of "
"Hey, I thought about hitching a ride with a flight attendant but I didn't know all the emergency procedures and figured I'd spill the coffee and--"
Dick shook his head. "You know, for a kid who swears she hates to use her powers--"
"--besides, if there really is a band of Cambodian terrorists trying to kidnap me, better I travel undercover, right?"
"A simple wig and a little spirit glue go a long way, Rose!"
Rose scowled. "So, will you help me or not?"
Dick paused again and regarded the letter in front of him. "Rose, nothing would make me happier than finding your mom alive, but this all sounds a little hard to believe."
"Wintergreen knows his business. You said it yourself."
Dick nodded. Wintergreen, Pat Trayce and Vigilance Inc., the private detective agency they ran, were all first-class from a professional standpoint. That was one reason this whole story had a false ring to it. For starters, Wintergreen knew full well how much Rose had hated her stint with Roy Harper's Titans. Why would he send her to the new organization now?
"Rose, Vigilance Inc. must have gotten some other evidence that convinced them Lillian Worth was still alive. Did this Diana Elkene share any of that with you?
Rose reached up to her neck and unclasped a small silver chain. A tiny silver pendent in the shape of a horned mammal of some sort dangled from it.
"This was my mother's," Rose whispered. "She never took it off. She was wearing it when she " Her voice trailed off and her eyes filled with tears. "Please, Dick."
Dick instantly was able to empathize. One of the reasons he had been able to forge a bond with the mistrustful young Titan was that he understood the pain of seeing a parent murdered. He remembered the time, not so long ago, that he himself, knowing full well that his parents were dead, having viewed the bodies and seen them buried, had nonetheless jumped at the chance to know more about their deaths, when he had uncovered some evidence that the murders were part of a wider conspiracy and that those ultimately responsible might still be alive. He, a seasoned veteran crimefighter, had taken off on an overseas wild goose chase, made a series of idiotic errors that Batman would have scolded him for when back Dick was nine, and had nearly gotten himself killed in the process. Dick Grayson knew from personal experience that Rose could not possibly keep her objectivity on a mission like this, and understood why anyone who cared about her would try to keep her out of it. But Dick also knew that Rose had to try, if there was any chance of finding her mother, and would try on her own, if he did not offer to help. How could he refuse?
Dick took the necklace from Rose, regarded it for a long minute, then squeezed her hand. "All right, kiddo, " he answered gently, as he reached to stroke her cheek. "This looks like a job for Nightwing and Winter Lily, " he smiled. "As I recall, we made a pretty good team."
Rose wiped her eyes and raised her head. "So, when do we leave?" she asked.
"Whoa!" Dick told her. "I have some investigating of my own I want to do first, and you need a night's rest after the trip you made. Finish your tea, then hit the sack. We'll start fresh in the morning."
"But--" Rose protested.
"You haven't forgotten who calls the shots on this little team of ours, have you?" Dick chided.
"No," sighed Rose, and gulped down the last of her mug.
"All right," Dick tossed her a pillow and blanket and she flopped down on his couch. Knowing sleep was a lost cause for him that night, Dick logged on at his computer, where, as he had anticipated, Oracle was waiting in her secured private chatroom.
>So, you get all that?< Dick typed in.
>Read you loud and clear. Already called up every file I have on Lillian Worth's disappearance. Nothing I didn't send you before.<
>Any reports from Cambodia indicating that the ruling party has a royal hostage?<
>Nope. But that's not information that would likely be transmitted online. Some very interesting news reports from Gotham International Airport, though, about a woman who claims she was possessed by a silver-haired demon-- <
>Babs, is there anything about Rose's mother in the current records of Vigilance, Inc.?<
>Their public account has most of their agents in Kosovo right now, searching for disappeared Albanians. As for the *real* records well, it's going to take time to crack. Pat Trayce is pretty security conscious. Next time ask me for something easy, like CBI files.<
>Actually, I have another challenge in mind. Someone I need you to find, before Rose wakes up.<
>Jimmy Hoffa? Sorry, he's dead. But you can find the body at--<
>Real cute, Babs. Look, I've got maybe five hours to figure out if this letter from Wintergreen's legit. There's only one man alive who might be able to tell for sure.<
>Oh, no. Not *him* again.<
>C'mon, Babs. I need you to locate Deathstroke the Terminator.<
A Code of Honor: Chapter Two
I don't care what Batman says, thought Nightwing as he crouched above the sea cliffs. Over the ocean, the dim morning light of pre-dawn was starting to creep across the sky. Sometimes, you can get lucky.
It had been only a few weeks since Nightwing had last confronted the Terminator, when the mercenary had trailed the Man-Bat to Blüdhaven, intent on capturing him at the behest of some sleazy television producers who hoped pay-TV would capture the market left vacant by the demise of the carnival freak show. Nightwing had managed to hold Slade Wilson at bay just long enough for the transformed Kirk Langstrom to escape. But now, it appeared Slade Wilson was still on the Man-Bat's trail, figuring if his original contractors wouldn't pay for the captured beast, others would. The Terminator had tracked the creature to a costal area midway between Gotham City and New York, and Kory had instantly agreed to fly Dick there when he had called her. Now she and Troia crouched beside him on the craggy rocks, as he scanned the beach below with his night vision goggles. For the dozenth time, the two women tried to talk him out of his game plan.
"Dick, it's crazy for you to try to take on Deathstroke yourself, while the two of us are here to--"
"Look, we've been through this. You two capture the Man-Bat and get him to STAR labs. Slade Wilson is my fight. Mine alone."
Donna glared. "Look Dick, just because you stood up to him once, after he'd taken out the rest of us, doesn't mean you're invincible, any more than we are. What ever happened to teamwork?"
"Donna, teamwork's, the last thing we need right now. If Deathstroke finds himself fighting off three Titans, that's all we're liable to get Deathstroke the Terminator, mercenary extraordinaire. What I need now is Slade Wilson. The human."
"How much of that Slade Wilson do you think is left in him, after everything that's happened?" asked Donna.
"I'm not sure, but I'd be willing to bet there's some. Last time we met, he seemed to remember something about who I was. If I can just get him to remember who all of us were take him back to the time when the Titans were his allies, not his enemies."
"To do that, he's going to have to remember Joey." replied Donna.
"That's what I'm counting on."
"But if he remembers Joey, he remembers how he died," Kory pointed out. "That could push him even farther over the edge."
"Yeah, I know," Dick sighed. "But it's a chance I'll have to take. Heads up, now. Here they come."
The shrill cry of the Man-Bat echoed through the morning air, followed by the sound of an engine. The winged creature appear, gliding and veering between the rock projections as it tried to dodge the bolts from the Terminator's blaster. Slade Wilson was in hot pursuit, trailing the creature on an ATV. As blood splattered the sand below, it was apparent the creature had already been wounded.
This was too much for Starfire. As the Terminator drew another weapon of some sort, the Tamaran princess swooped down from her perch.
"How dare you pick on a poor helpless animal like that?!" she cried, firing a starbolt squarely at the Terminator's cycle, which exploded in a fiery blast. Only Wilson's enhanced reflexes saved him from injury, as he backflipped off the vehicle to land on his feet.
"Damn you!" he snarled at his attacker. Deathstroke aimed his weapon, fired, and the snare net he had intended for the Man-Bat instead wrapped itself around Koriand'r. Starfire twisted in midair, shouting some words in her native tongue that Dick was fairly certain translated as strong obscenities.
Troia soared over to her friend and assisted her to a safe landing on one of the clifftops. The Terminator fired a second snare-net, but the wounded Man-Bat had flown out of range, and was now flying out to sea.
"Let me at him, just let me at him!" demanded Kory as Donna struggled to free her from the net, snapping some cords with her Amazonian strength.
"Starfire, settle down!" Donna ordered, gradually untangling the net from her friend. Kory was ready to dive after the Terminator again, but Donna held her back.
"The Man-Bat!" she reminded Kory. "It's heading out to sea, and too badly hurt to make it back on its own. Remember what Dick said; leave Slade to him." Donna tugged at Kory's arm, and Starfire, with some reluctance, flew after her in pursuit of the creature.
"You'll pay for that, alien bitch!" bellowed Deathstroke, as the pair soared away with the remnants of the net.
"Hey! You watch the way you talk to her!" shouted Nightwing, as he released his jumpline to land in the sand behind Wilson. "She's still a special lady to me."
"I don't have to answer to you, Teen Titan!" snarled the Terminator, landing a right cross on Dick's cheekbone that sent him reeling to the ground. Nightwing reversed his momentum and rolled in the opposite direction, narrowly avoiding the Terminator's pounce as he scrambled back to his feet, wiping the blood from his cheek.
"No, you never did," retorted Nightwing. "The Slade Wilson I knew always answered to a strict code of personal ethics. And now he's the business of handing a bunch of kids over to unscrupulous aliens? Hunting down unfortunate mutants in order to line some tabloid TV producer's pockets? How the mighty have fallen, Mr. Wilson! I'm just glad Joey isn't around to see this."
Deathstroke muttered a curse and sprang at Dick again, and Dick again dodged. Nightwing wasn't going to waste energy trying to land a blow, and could tell even Deathstroke's enhanced stamina was going to be tested floundering around in the deep sand.
"But, then " Dick gasped for breath as he struggled to get the words out. "Wh-why should I be su-surprised?" Dick raised himself up on his elbows to regard the crouched mercenary, who had grown strangely silent. Dick again took this as a positive sign and continued, knowing full well he had no further strength to resist if this was a miscalculation. "The De-deathstroke the Terminator I once knew was famous for ta-taking distasteful contracts on occasion, right? Right? Including some you eventually came to regret? Won't you at least grant me that much?"
A split-second later, Deathstroke was on top of him, and Nightwing felt the cold steel of a knife blade pressed against his throat. It was time to play his trump card, if he was ever going to. "Rose is the reason I'm here, Slade. Rose and her mother. They need your help."
Deathstroke paused and Dick felt the pressure of the knife blade release just slightly, for a second. Then it pressed down again.
"You're lying," growled Wilson.
"Starfire and Troia have the Man-Bat by now," replied Dick. "Think I'm going through all this for him?" Slade Wilson glared down at the young crimefighter for a full minute before releasing him and standing.
"What do you want from me, Grayson?" he demanded gruffly, turning away to stare out at the crashing waves. At the horizon, the rising sun was just starting to peek over the water's edge.
The use of his real name told Nightwing all he needed to know. He sat up slowly, rubbing his neck, then removed his mask before answering.
"I want to talk, face to face," he replied, then stood. "What say we grab a bite to eat?"
Slade Wilson glanced over his shoulder, eyeing Nightwing as if he were crazy. "A bite to eat?" he asked, in disbelief.
Dick Grayson shrugged. "Why not? My friend Garfield once told me you were fond of grilled cheese."
Fortunately there was a small diner about a mile or two up the beach, which was just opening to admit its breakfast crowd. Most of the patrons appeared to be truckers or bikers, who took little notice of the two crimefighters as they entered, a bit bedraggled-looking with flannel shirts disguising their uniforms. After a quick glance at the menu, Dick ordered a short stack of pancakes; Slade Wilson settled for black coffee. Neither man spoke until the waitress brought their order.
Slade took a gulp from his mug. "You want something from me, then say it now," he snapped harshly.
"Rose showed up at my apartment last night, with this." Dick pushed the manilla envelope towards Slade. "She asked me to help find her mother."
Slade Wilson scanned through the papers. "This is fake," he confirmed after less than an minute.
"I suspected as much," responded Dick. "How can you tell?"
"It's typed on a computer, meaning there's a record of it someplace. Wintergreen wouldn't be that careless. And he'd never send a kid traveling alone, under her own name, if he thought Cambodian intelligence was targeting her. Besides, that isn't his signature."
"I cross-checked it with every sample I have. The tests showed it within acceptable ranges of variation."
"Screw your tests, Grayson. After all those years, you think I don't know Wintergreen's signature when I see it? That isn't it. Period."
"Oh, I believe you. So, tell me, what about this?" Dick took the silver antelope pendant and chain from his pocket and handed it to Wilson, who stared as if transfixed.
"Where the hell did you get this?"
"You recognize it? Rose said it was in the packet Trayce's agent gave her. She insists her mother was wearing it when she disappeared."
"I gave it to Lili, our first year together. It's a Tawamban antelope: a symbol of their goddess of beauty. An artisan I knew in Chad made it for me; there was no other like it."
"So, whoever got their hands on this must have found Lillian Worth, or at least her body," remarked Dick. "Wintergreen and Pat Trayce suddenly go missing, and someone goes to great lengths to make Rose believe her mother's still alive. Any idea who?"
"Not a clue." Slade Wilson polished off his coffee and set down his mug. "Now, if that's all you need from me, I'll be on my way."
"That's all you have to say?" cried Dick in disbelief. "This is your daughter's safety at stake here."
"Then how fortunate for her you're a detective of such distinction. I'm sure you'll have this little mystery wrapped up in no time and then you can get back to your world-saving business. Me, I've got my own ways of making a living. It doesn't leave time for me to play 'daddy.'"
Dick shook his head in disgust. "You really have turned your back on every code you ever kept, haven't you?"
Slade suddenly lurched forward to grab Dick my his shirt front. "Don't you presume to judge me, Titan!" he hissed through clenched teeth "Just look where all my grand ethics got me! They didn't do my boys any good, did they? Or Addie or Lili for that matter! Why should I care anymore?"
"I've lost a few loved ones in my day, too, Wilson!" Dick retorted angrily. "It just never occurred to me to blame my own moral principles for it all!"
"You watch a couple of your kids die someday, Grayson, and you'll think differently! Believe me, the best thing I can do for Rose or Wintergreen is to stay the hell out of their lives!"
"Even with the danger they're in? I'm sure they both appreciate your overwhelming concern for them," Dick shot back.
Slade Wilson roughly released Dick's shirt front and stood to go. "Despite what you may think of me, Grayson, I do care about my daughter. So much so, that if you let anything happen to her, I'll track you down and take it out of your ever-so-heroic hide. Just remember that, detective." Slade turned on his heel and left the diner without another word.
Dick shook his head again, fished a ten-dollar bill out of his pants pocket and left it on the table, along with his untouched breakfast. Solving this case was up to him now, and he had to get back to Blüdhaven before Rose lost patience and did something foolish. When it came to fulfilling threats, at least, Dick had no doubt that Deathstroke the Terminator was still a man of his word.
A Code of Honor: Chapter Three
Dick returned to his apartment to find Rose awake and eating cereal at his kitchen table, clearly agitated.
"Where have you been?" she asked. "Jeez, what happened to you?" She reached up to touch the gash on Dick's cheek, as he winced and pushed her hand away.
"I told you, investigating," he replied. "What's up with you?"
"Donna's called three times since I got up. She wouldn't tell me what's going on, but insists it's urgent."
Dick rubbed his eyes but immediately crossed to his communications console and punched in a code. Donna Troy was obviously standing by; her face filled the screen immediately.
"Dick, thank Hera!" she cried.
"What is it? Is it Kory?" Dick asked.
"No, she's fine. We brought in the Man-Bat he's in STAR Labs getting treatment. But Dick, while we were gone this morning, someone stormed the Tower!"
Dick's face went grim. "How bad?"
Donna smiled wryly. "Well, we've had worse. Only Argent and Damage were here; the rest of us were out on assignment. But someone breached the security system early this morning, and attacked Argent in her sleep."
"Is she hurt?"
"Kory flew her to the hospital as soon as we got back She's still unconscious, with a moderate concussion and some injuries to her face. Damage heard the struggle and was able to help, thank Chronus, but Dick, there were some very weird things going on."
"It was a single intruder, fully masked Damage never got a look at her face. But he could tell she was a woman, US accented voice. She seemed completely maniacal Damage says she was ranting the whole time demanding to know where the Teen Titans were."
"Sound like someone with a vendetta against Jupiter's group."
Donna shook her head. "She mentioned a few specific names. You, me and that's me-Wonder Girl, not me-Troia Kory, Gar, Victor and Raven. No one else on the current team, and she didn't even seem to know who Damage and Argent were."
Grant Emerson appeared at Donna's side. "There was that other name she mentioned, too, like she was looking for someone named Grays--"
"Never mind that part now, Damage," responded Donna, hastily. "I think Di-, uh, Nightwing has enough to go on, right?"
Nightwing nodded. "Keep me posted about Argent. Everything else secure there, for now?"
"For now. The mystery woman got away Victor and Jesse are searching the area but nothing so far. How did your uh, mission go, by the way?"
"I got what I needed, mostly. I think. I'll be in touch later. Nightwing out." Dick switched off the console and turned to face Rose.
"Kiddo, we gotta talk. Sit down."
Rose looked dismayed. "You're not going to let this stop you from helping me find my mom, are you?"
"Rose, it's not that simple--"
"C'mon, Dick, I was a Titan, remember? Titans headquarters gets attacked every other week! You can't tell me Donna and Roy can't handle one nutso lady out there on their own!"
"However nutso this lady may seem, Rose, she was savvy enough to breach the tower security system. This isn't some run-of-the-mill nutcase."
Rose scowled. "Fine! I'll go on my own, then!" she snapped, standing up and heading for the door. Dick stood up just as quickly, took her by the shoulders and shoved her back in her chair.
"Rose, shut your mouth for two minutes and listen to me. I mean it!" he ordered harshly, cutting off her further protests. Dick lowered his voice. "Kiddo, I know you're on edge now, but if you run off half-cocked you'll head straight into trouble, which won't do you or your mom any good. Listen to me, and I'll do what I can to help, I swear. Deal?"
Rose nodded sullenly.
"OK. Let's start with the evidence we have so far. This packet from Wintergreen. Rose, I'm fairly certain it's a fake."
"What?" she cried in disbelief. "How can you tell?"
"You raised the first doubt in my mind yourself, Rose, when you mentioned it would be safer to travel in cognito. You think Wintergreen and Pat Trayce wouldn't have considered the same thing, under the circumstances?"
"I guess, but--"
"Second, what would have been your response if Wintergreen had told you to hide out with the Titans while he was gone?"
"I'd have told him to forget about it!"
"Exactly. He wouldn't trust you to follow these orders any more than I would. That's why this whole thing doesn't ring true."
"But that necklace! It's my mom's, I know it!"
"I'm not saying it isn't, Rose. I'm not even saying it's impossible for your mother to still be alive. But if she is, I don't think she's being held by any Cambodian warlords. I think whoever has her, also kidnapped Wintergreen and Pat Trayce, and went to a lot of trouble to see that you were sent stateside, out of the way.
Rose was silent for a long moment as the reality of it all sank in. "OK, the letter's a little weird, but it could still be true," she said, finally. "We don't know for sure it's a forgery."
"I think we do, Rose. I have it on good authority that that's not Wintergreen's signature."
"It looked legit to me," remarked Rose.
"You haven't had as much experience as my other source, Rose. I went to see your father this morning."
"You what?" Rose erupted in pure fury.
"Look, I know how you feel about Slade Wilson, but he knows Wintergreen better than anyone! He could confirm in two minutes what I only suspected."
"How could you go to him?"
"Time is of the essence, Rose, you've pointed that out already! It could have taken me days to prove everything he--"
"He's an animal! An inhuman monster! If anyone did hurt Wintergreen, or Pat, or my mom, it was him!"
"Rose, that's not true and you know it. Believe it or not, we had quite a civilized chat."
"Oh? Is he why you show up here this morning with your cheek split open?!"
"OK, so the civil part came a little later! Point is, Rose, he had a chance to kill me, and he didn't. Believe me, if he was involved in this in any unsavory way, he would have."
"Oh, so that's supposed to make us trust him, after everything he's done?"
"Slade Wilson's a complicated man, Rose. But yeah, deep down, I do trust him."
"Well, I don't. And I never will!"
Dick smiled softly. "You don't have to. Point is, do you trust me?" Rose hesitated a bit, then nodded. "All right," Dick continued. "Then let's work together on who might be behind all this." Rose sighed heavily. "I know you're anxious to hit the street," Dick went on. "But, remember, ninety percent--"
"--of our success depends on arming ourselves with the right information before we head out there. Yeah, yeah, I remember."
"You know of anyone who has a vendetta against you and Wintergreen and Pat?"
"Other than Daddy Dearest?"
"Yeah, other than Daddy Dearest."
"The Ravanger, I guess. But he's in jail."
"Worth checking up on, though. Anyone else?"
Rose shook her head.
"This Vigilance agent who gave you the packet, is she someone you trust?"
"I don't know, I'd never met her before."
"Never? And you just took her at her word?"
"They get new agents all the time there!" Rose insisted. "And she showed me her ID, her security clearance, everything."
"Even so that's a lead worth following up on, too. Come over here." Dick motioned Rose towards his computer. "I'm going to introduce you to the lady I get ninety percent of my information from." He quickly logged on, and Oracle's face filled the screen.
"I've been wondering when you'd call, big guy," she smiled. "Here I am, up all night cracking codes for you and--"
"Oracle, I'd like you to meet Rose Wilson."
"Charmed, I'm sure," Barbara nodded. "What do you need?"
"Were some of those codes you cracked from Vigilance, Inc.?" Dick asked.
"My top priority. I can get any file you need," answered Oracle.
Rose winced. "Pat isn't going to be too happy to hear that," she remarked.
Dick squeezed her shoulder. "Oracle, I need any information you can give me on agent Diana Elkene."
"On it. You should know though, I checked into the records on Wade DeFarge, like you asked. Not good news."
Dick and Rose both stiffened. "What is it?" Dick asked.
"He escaped from prison, almost six weeks ago.."
"Damn!" Dick slammed his fist into the desk.
"No word on his whereabouts, though I'm running a check on a bunch of his former associates now," Oracle continued.
Rose's face darkened and she turned away, her eyes filling with tears. Dick swiftly gripped her shoulders, massaging them briskly.
"Wintergreen " she choked out. "He's the only family I have left. If the Ravanger's taken him, too--
"Rose, keep yourself together. If he's behind this, we'll find him. I promise you, we'll find him."
"Uh-oh," came Barbara's voice from the computer, in a tone Dick knew signalled more bad news.
"What is it?" he asked, turning back towards the screen.
"Diana Elkene. I can't find a record of her anywhere in the Vigilance, Inc. subfiles."
Rose wiped her eyes and returned to Dick's side. "She's an imposter?" she gasped, turning even paler. "No!"
"Looks that way, hon," answered Oracle, sympathetically. "I'll check into some other local databases, and see if I can find a record of her someplace. Back to you in a while?"
"Thanks, Oracle. Nightwing out." Dick turned to Rose and pulled her into a brotherly hug, as she sobbed into his shirtfront. "It's OK," he soothed her. "We'll work on it, together, and we'll find them. But you've got to try to calm down, OK?"
Rose nodded to let him know she was trying. "Wha-what next?" she asked, after she had composed herself a bit.
"We figure out who she is 'Diana Elkene' really is," he told her. "Can you tell me anything about her? What she looked like?"
"I don't remember much," said Rose. "I was paying more attention to what she was telling me. She was medium height, blonde, curly hair, I don't remember the eyes. She had kind of a raspy voice, and coughed a little, like maybe she had a cold."
"Or, she could be a smoker," Dick pointed out. "OK, that's a start. Now, check this out, it might help." Dick led Rose back to the computer and called up a program. "This is a graphics program that puts together composite sketches," he explained. "We need to try to get an accurate visual of her. You start with the general shape of the head, then move on to other features. You can try different ones, until you hit on something that looks like her. Here, try it." Dick tapped a few keys, and a menu of choices came up. Rose sat down and began to work.
"Great. Keep at it. I'll go over the letter again for clues."
The pair worked in silence for almost an hour. "I've got it, Dick," Rose said finally, and Dick got up to inspect her computer screen. Rose had assembled an entire face. "That's her," she insisted. "That's what she looked like. Do you recognize her?" Rose asked hopefully.
Dick shook his head, pressed "print" and they both waited for the color laser copy to appear.
"Pretty cool program," Rose remarked.
"Thanks. You know, your brother Joey designed it," Dick answered, patting her shoulder. Silence reigned for a few seconds, then Dick motioned Rose away from the keyboard.
"I'll send a copy to Victor and ask him to run it through the Titans database, to see if we can get a visual match. Same for Robin, at the Batcave computers. Then, I think the next step is to--"
He was interrupted by a buzz at the console.
"Nightwing?" it was Kory, uncharacteristically using his code name.
"What's up?" he asked the red-haired image on his vid-phone.
"I'm still at the STAR labs infirmary. Argent's awake, and she needs to talk to you."
"No, I don't!" came an insistent voice from offscreen.
"She's a little sensitive about how she looks right now," explained Kory.
"S'alright, tell her don't look so great myself," smiled Dick.
"C'mon, Argent, stop being so silly!" scolded Kory. "Excuse me." She disappeared from the screen, and there was a brief sound of some scuffling before the ivory-skinned girl appeared, most of her face shrouded in an elaborate floral scarf.
"Why, Argent!" Dick grinned, as he swiftly pulled out a pair of dark glasses and donned them "So lovely to see your eyebrows today. Going for the Islamic fundamentalist look, are you?"
"Very funny, 'Joe!' I don't want you to see me like this. The crazy lady like to clawed my face off!"
"I'm sorry, Argent, I really am. Donna says you didn't get a look at her?"
"No, Nightwing. It was dark, and she had a full mask on."
"Did she say anything when she attacked you?"
"Nothing that made sense. It's like she thought my face was a mask or something, she kept telling me to take it off. When I didn't, well, then she tried to. And she kept talking to someone who wasn't there someone she called 'Slate.'"
"Do you remember what she said, exactly?"
"'You won't have your girl, not with my boys gone,' or something like that. Like I said, she was over the edge Complete loony tunes, y'know. And a weird voice, like a Night Court bailiff or something."
"Thanks, Argent, that helps a lot. You rest up now, and tell Donna and Kory I said to look after you."
"I will, 'Joe.' And if you should, like, decide to send flowers or something, I'm allergic to violets "
"I'll keep that in mind. Later." Dick cut the connection and turned back to Rose, who was bristling a bit, almost as if she were jealous.
"So, she'll be all right, then?" she asked, impatiently. "Can we get back to our case now?"
"I don't think we ever left it, Rose," stated Dick, motioning her to sit down at the computer again as he picked the composite printout. "You see, whoever set this whole thing up expected you to be at Titans Tower last night. Then someone breaks in and attacks the only teenage girl in the place? That's not a coincidence."
"You think the mystery intruder was Diana Elkene?"
"Yes. And there's something else I'm suspicious of, as well. Look here." He called up Rose's sketch. "If I change this woman's hair, make it brunette and straighter, darken the eyes, then age her a few years " He tapped the space bar a few times and some fine wrinkles appeared around her eyes and mouth. Dick hit a few more keys and the picture shrank down to take up only the bottom half of the screen.
"I don't get it, what's the point of making her older?" asked Rose.
"To see if she matches this." Dick called up another mugshot from the Titans archive files, which appeared on the top screen. The resemblance was obvious.
"That's her!" Rose exclaimed. "Who is she?"
"A woman in a lot of pain. Argent may have heard it as 'Slate', but she was talking to Slade. Slade Wilson. Trying to even the score by robbing him of his only daughter, as she feels he robbed her of her boys."
"You mean it's Joey's mother? My father's ex?"
"That's exactly what I mean," Dick rubbed his forehead. "Stupid me, I should have caught it earlier. You see, 'Diana Elkene' is an anagram for 'Adeline Kane.'"
A Code of Honor: Chapter Four
There were times when Dick Grayson's methodical, fact-checking approach to crimefighting drove Rose Wilson crazy. This however, was not one of those times. Once "Diana Elkene" had been positively identified, Dick and the mysterious redhead known as Oracle launched themselves into a whirlwind of activity as they combed the global information networks looking for clues to her whereabouts, and information about where Wintergreen and Pat Trayce might have been taken. Rose found herself lost in the shuffle as she tried to keep up, her questions met with very atypical "Not now, I'll explain later"'s from Dick. About the only thing she managed to glean from the rapid-fire exchanges was that Diana Elkene had apparently had some sort of communication with Wade Defarge in prison, and travel records had shown a number of the Ravanger's former henchmen heading for a remote mountainous region of Asia in the last few week. The same country to which "Diana Elkene" had chartered a plane from New York, early that morning. Rose's blood ran could as Oracle pinpointed the location It was the same area where she had last fought her evil uncle. The same area where her mother was presumed to have died.
It wasn't until Nightwing and Winter Lily were en route there, themselves, on a borrowed WayneTech jet, that Rose emerged from the haze of bewilderment she had been in ever since she realized "Diana Elkene" had duped her. After reading through the files Dick had given her, she inquired, almost timidly, "Mind if I ask a few sort of dumb questions?"
"Go ahead." answered Dick, his eyes on the control panel.
"For starters, this file on Adeline Kane It lists her as "deceased." Not even 'presumed deceased.' How is it that she could--"
Dick sighed. "Well, you remember what Wintergreen told you about your father's little habit of returning from the dead? At least twice now, that we know of."
Rose nodded. "Wintergreen said it messed up his memory, though, and left him more whacked out than usual, for a while."
"Yeah, apparently, though from what I can tell he's mostly recovered on that front. In any case, Adeline got a blood transfusion from Slade once. It apparently transferred his healing power to her, as well. The last time your father fought the Ravanger, Adeline was shot between the eyes. But Oracle uncovered some internal email memos from the morgue where they took her apparently the body disappeared. Adeline Kane seems to be as hard to kill as your father."
"Immortality. Wow." Rose ran her fingers up and down the costume sleeves of her Winter Lily uniform. "These crazy genes that my father gave me Do you think I'm that way, too?"
Dick tightened his grip on the steering wheel. "I wouldn't test that hypothesis, Rose," he answered, his voice tight. "Your brother Joey sure as hell wasn't."
"Oh, yeah. Sorry, I forgot." Rose sat in silence for a few minutes. "So, 'Uncle Wade' I know about. Complete loon, hates everything my father stands for, we might have got along great if he hadn't tried to kill me. What's the deal with Adeline? She and Wade were never, like, an item or anything, were they?"
"Not as far as I know. Adeline Kane always had a hot temper she was never a woman to cross."
"Yeah, I read where she shot out Dad's eye, after he let Joey's throat get cut. Sounds like a pretty cool woman to me."
"She was, once. Joey loved her deeply, I know. And she was one of the best covert operatives that's ever been a mind like a steel trap. Searchers, Inc. was her brainchild, you realize."
"Yeah, I know. I guess that's why she was able to fake Vigilance, Inc, credentials so well."
"Not to mention breaking Wade DeFarge out of prison. You know, she was one of only a handful of people to ever figure out my identity."
"Well, now, that wasn't that big a challenge."
Dick shot her a quick glare, smiled briefly, then sobered. "I'm not sure whether it was Joey's death, on top of Grant's or the blood transfusion from your father, or both, but somewhere she went completely over the edge. She'll do anything to get revenge on Slade Wilson at this point; I guess that's why Wade Defarge became her natural ally. Unfortunately, she seemed to have zeroed in on you as a target."
Rose's brow wrinkled. "I don't get it She had me back at the house, on the ride to the airport. Why let me fly off to the States then look for me at Titans Tower?"
"You want my best guess? She seems to be a bit lost in the past expecting a Titans team just like the one Joey was on. I think she wanted all of us to know what she was doing. She may blame us for what happened to Joey, as much as Slade Wilson. Who knows, maybe she's right."
"There wasn't anything you could have done, Dick. If there'd been a way to save Joey, if you would have found it."
"Oh, so you're channeling Donna now?" smiled Dick.
"Gimme a break!" scowled Rose, and then she fell silent. "First the Ravanger, then Adeline Kane, now both," she sighed. "People trying to use me just to get back at my father. Don't they get it? I hate him as much as they do!"
"I'm afraid neither of them is what you would call rational at this point."
"And they have Wintergreen and Pat," sighed Rose. "And maybe my mother, if she's still alive. This is never going to end, is it?
"We'll find them, Rose. I'm zeroing in on the Ravanger's old hideout, now. According to the thermal scan, it's heated, meaning someone's there. We should be on the ground within an hour--"
"That's not what I meant! Deathstroke the Terminator has an enemies list a mile long! Hell, forget these two, Sarge Steel wanted to lock me up just because I'm ol' Termy's daughter, and I barely even knew him back then! I barely even know him now! It's not fair!"
Dick sighed. "No, Rose, it's not."
"Is it ever going to change, Dick? Ever?"
Dick glanced sideways at her, wishing like heck he could answer yes. But that would be a lie, and they both knew it. Dick settled for taking her hand in his and giving it a firm squeeze. "I know it's hard, Winter Lily, but you're going to have to try to focus on our mission here. Basic rescue 101, got it?"
Rose Wilson Worth set her mouth in a firm line and pulled her mask over her eyes. "Got it, Nightwing."
There were two armed guards on the perimeter of the Ravanger's old hideout. Nightwing took out one from a distance with his batarang, then motioned at the other with one hand.
"Our ticket inside," he whispered and Winter Lily nodded to let him know she understood. Nightwing sprang forward, drawing his attention and his gunfire, as Winter Lily slipped up behind him.
"Hey!" she yelled, meeting his gaze as he whirled upon her.
*Contact* Beneath her grey mask, Rose Wilson's pupils darkened to black as her body dematerialized, and her consciousness entered the body of the astonished guard.
Nightwing smiled, brushing the snow off his costume. "All in?" he asked his transformed partner.
"All in," responded Rose in the henchmen's gruff voice. "Let's go?"
"Just a sec," Nightwing swiftly bound the unconscious guard's hands behind him and checked his pockets for ID. "His name's Chen. "I-Huang Chen.. And you're ?"
Rose palmed her host's wallet. "Sam Jenkins." she reported.
"Good. Now stick close and you know what to do if we're spotted together."
The pair made their way to the HQ doors, where Rose activated a palmprint scanner to gain them admittance. Dick had hoped to split up and search the building for prisoners as soon as they were inside, but that plan was dashed before they were halfway down the hallway, when Adeline Kane stepped out to meet them.
"What is this?" she demanded.
Rose instantly shoved Dick forward, covering him with the guard's weapon. "Found this sneakin' around outside, ma'am," Rose replied. Dick stumbled ahead, rubbing the back of his neck as if dazed.
Adeline regarded him with utter contempt, and drew her own gun. "So the great Titans leader managed to trace me, sooner than I expected. Jenkins, he come alone?"
Rose stammered a bit. "Uh, no, there was this tall orange chick with him. Chen is tracking her. "
"Well, get out there and assist!" snapped Adeline. "These Titans tend to travel in packs and I want them all out of commission. Kill any of the rest you find; one live one's all I need. Come on, O brave leader!" she prodded Nightwing into a central room as she angrily motioned "Jenkins" out. Rose hesitated, but an almost imperceptible nod from Nightwing instructed her to play along. She headed down the hall as if leaving, then stopped and doubled back as soon as Dick and Adeline were out of sight.
In the inner room, Wade DeFarge was waiting for them. "Well, now what have we here?" he sneered. "My apologies, Addie It appears your little errand last night did scare something out if the woodwork. Any sign of Wilson, or his kid?"
"Not so far," replied Adeline, leveling her weapon at Nightwing. "All right, hero, where'd you stash the little bastard?"
"Adeline, if you're talking about Rose, surely you know I wouldn't tell you."
"Oh, you'll think differently in a few minutes, masky!" snarled the Ravanger, advancing on him.
"Back off, Wade," ordered Adeline. She stepped up to Nightwing and backhanded him squarely across the face, in a move eerily similar to the one she had ordered Jericho to make, the first time she and Dick had met. Dick tasted blood on his lip, but managed not to flinch. "I know this one's resolve. Torturing him will do us little good; he'd die before he told us how to get to Slade Wilson or his mutant brat. Perhaps he'd like to meet our other 'guests'." DeFarge glared, but nodded and left the room.
"Do you have two guests, or three, Addie?" asked Nightwing, keeping his voice deceptively calm. "Is Lillian Worth still alive? Or were you just hoping to torture Rose Wilson mentally as well as physically?"
"That's for me to know and you to find out, hero!" Adeline spat back. "I live for one purpose only these days killing Slade, would be too good for him, even if I thought I could! But he's going to watch his daughter die by my hand, just as he killed my boys! No one's going to stop me this time, Titan. Not you--"
"Not Wintergreen? Adeline, try to remember. You cared for him once, at least."
"I care for nobody now!" she snapped. "Slade Wilson stole every ray of love from my life the day he ran through my Joey with his sword!" She raised her weapon again. "Now, if you can deliver them both to me, I might be persuaded to let you and my other guests go."
Dick's heart sank as any hope that Adeline Kane might be capable of reason faded. He declined to answer, but just raised his chin defiantly, which earned him another slap. The Ravanger re-entered the room, with a woman slung over his shoulder, and dragging a groggy, older male by one arm before slinging them both to the floor. Wintergreen's face was swollen and bruised, while Pat had clearly been unconscious for some time.
"No!" came a brief but audible gasp from the doorway, which caught both Dick and Adeline's attention. Dick winced inwardly at the sight of "Jenkins" in the doorway, staring in abject horror at the sight of Wintergreen, the closest thing to a father Rose Wilson had ever known. He knew Rose found using her powers stressful, but he hadn't expected her to lose control so soon. This was pure inexperience showing through.
Adeline and DeFarge both looked on in bewilderment as "Jenkins" darted forward to take Wintergreen by his shoulders. "Whut'd you people do to him?" he demanded, his voice cracking as Rose, within him, broke into tears.
"Jenkins, what the hell are you--" shouted DeFarge, but Adeline interrupted.
"It's a trick!" she cried, aiming her gun and firing at her unfortunate henchman. Only Nightwing's swift kick to her wrist deflected the gun barrel and the bullets and allowed Rose, in Jenkins' body, to roll out of the way.
Rose remembered to slam the henchman's' head soundly against the tiled floor before she vacated his body, so he was moderately stunned when he recovered control. Rose rolled to her feet, snapping her quarterstaff together in the process, as the Ravanger, armed with a knife, leapt at her, slashing. Rose brought up her staff with a quick slam to her uncle's midsection, followed but three rapid slams to his face and neck and two to his kneecaps, which sent him sprawling to the floor, unconscious and bleeding.
Nightwing, in the meantime, was engaging Adeline, who was proving that her regeneration ordeal had not affected the memory of her hand-to-hand combat skills.
"Eye contact!" she shouted at Wade, between strikes. "Don't make eye contact!" Of course, Dick thought, she trained Joey in the use of his powers. It's only natural that she'd recognize Rose's.
Even worse, the blood transfusion had clearly enhanced Adeline's reflexes as well as her regenerative powers; Dick found her an opponent easily on Lady Shiva's level. Nightwing was so intent on holding his own against her, while at the same time trying to stay aware of Rose and how she was faring, that he didn't hear Jenkins get to his feet.
The burly henchman delivered a kick to the back of Nightwing's head that sent him reeling forward, stunned. Jenkins pounced on him and the two men grappled as Jenkins drew his own knife, rolled on top of Nightwing and raised his hand high, ready to plunge the blade into his opponent's chest.
"NOOOOO!" came Rose's scream, which Dick thought would be the last sound he ever heard.
Then, a massive explosion rocked the room and plaster and wood fragments rained from the ceiling as Dick's blurred vision strained to make out the image of a familiar figure in blue and orange, swooping down overhead. Deathstroke the Terminator was carrying his familiar fiery staff, and dispatched Jenkins with a single blast. Slade Wilson landed square on his feet and whirled to face his daughter and ex-wife.
Adeline Kane reacted just as quickly, snatching up the Ravanger's knife and pouncing upon Rose from behind, pressing the glinting blade to her throat.
"Not another move, either of you!" she ordered Deathstroke, pressing the glinting blade to the girl's throat.
"Addie," Slade said evenly, removing his mask. "It's me you want. Let her go and I'm all yours."
"It's too late for that, Slade!" snapped Adeline. "Killing you would never be enough for me now. You're going to watch your daughter die!" She pressed the knife even closer, drawing a few drops of blood from Rose's throat.
"Addie," Slade spoke again, his voice even softer. "This is the last thing in the world Joey would have wanted."
Adeline Kane hesitated a microsecond, which gave Slade and Rose Wilson the time they needed. Rose's terrified eyes met her father's, and in an instant she knew what the answer was.
*Contact* Rose Wilson dissolved in Adeline's grip and entered the mind of the father she so despised.
Slade Wilson knew he had only one chance, too, as he felt control of himself being wrenched away.
"God forgive me," he said in a voice, inaudible to anyone but Rose as he raised his staff, and, with his last conscious act, unleashed a fiery blast at his ex-wife. Adeline Kane was knocked backwards, into a wall, and her lifeless body slumped to the floor.
Barely a second later, Rose vacated her father's body and materialized next to him, still bleeding from her neck wound. Nightwing was just now recovering enough to get to his feet, and swiftly rushed to her side, peeling off his gloves to help stop the bleeding. Her jugular vein was nicked, but thankfully not severed.
Deathstroke, in the meantime, had rushed to Wintergreen and Pat.
"I-I'm all right," gasped Wintergreen weakly, as he tried to sit up. "Pat?"
Slade checked her pulse. "She's alive," he confirmed. "Grayson, can you call for some medical help?"
"Not so fast, brother dear," came a groggy voice from the corner. The Ravanger had regained consciousness, and managed to snag Jenkins' weapon, which he fired at the Terminator. Deathstroke dodged with lightening-fast reflexes, and the bullet struck the gas heating unit on the far side of the room, which instantly exploded in a massive fireball.
Nightwing and Rose were closest to the blast and were knocked flat by the explosion, but quickly got to their feet.
"Out, that way!" shouted Dick, activating his night lenses in the hopes that they would provide some protection against the blinding smoke. Still supporting Rose, he hustled for the hallway.
Slade Wilson pulled Wintergreen to his feet and slung Pat Trayce over his shoulder. Immobilized thanks to his two shattered kneecaps, the Ravanger could only laugh insanely as he fired blindly into the chaos.
As they reached the door, Rose tried to look over her shoulder, but Nightwing pushed her ahead of him until they were a safe distance away from the burning building. They both turned around to see Deathstroke emerge from the inferno, holding two people over his shoulders, Pat and Adeline, while Wintergreen stumbled behind him. He laid both of them down in the snow beside Nightwing and Winter Lily, then gazed back that the inferno. It was obvious no one else could be alive inside.
"Help me get them out of here," requested Nightwing. Deathstroke the Terminator shook his head.
"You take care of them, Grayson. Take care of them all. I don't want any loose ends, not this time." He turned and disappeared back into the burning building.
"Nooooo!" cried Nightwing and Winter Lily in unison, but to no avail. Seconds later, the roof collapsed, and there was nothing but fire.
The local authorities identified three bodies in the smoldering ruins: Wade DeFarge, Samuel Jenkins and a third male, presumed to be Slade Wilson. His meta-gene had the power to regenerate his body, of course, but the badly burnt cadaver did not even contain enough salvageable DNA to make a positive ID. Cremation, the authorities agreed, would be redundant at this point. The decision as to what to do with the remains fell to Rose Wilson Worth, his next of kin. After consultation with Dick and the rest of the Titans, she decided a private burial, in Titan's cemetery, in the plot adjoining his son Joseph's, would be the most fitting tribute.
A Code of Honor: Epilogue
Two weeks later
It took Dick Grayson three days of aerial and infrared searching to locate Lillian Worth's Jeep in the remote ravine, then the better part of a day to rappel down to it. He was mildly startled to find someone there ahead of him, though his surprise faded quickly when he recognized the searcher.
"Slade." he said, removing his Nightwing mask.
"I might have known you'd be the one to show up, here," growled the mercenary, somewhat bitterly. "Is Rose with you?"
Dick shook his head. "I'm here on my own. I didn't want to tell her unless I got some real news. But I figured if Wade DeFarge could find the wreckage, so could I. Is--?"
"Lili's body is inside," confirmed Slade. "I was planning for an anonymous trapper to make a report to the authorities, unless you'd like the credit."
"'Anonymous trapper' sounds good enough for me," quipped Dick.
"So, you don't seem too surprised to see me," Wilson shot back. "Who else suspects I'm not dead?"
"My sources tracked at least three of Ravanger's henchmen to this location. Rose and I encountered only two. So it didn't seem completely out of the realm of possibility that the body could have been someone else's. And I took the precaution of checking the remains with a metal detector. No trace of your electronic eye. But I didn't share my suspicions with anyone. I figured with all the publicity surrounding Deathstroke the Terminator's death, you could set the record straight if you wanted to."
"And as you might have guessed, I don't want to. How's Addie?"
"She recovered, as you suspected she might. Near-total amnesia this time, along with the psychosis."
"That's probably a blessing. She wouldn't want to remember what she tried to do. Is she being cared for?"
"Batman recommended the best place he knew of; a country estate outside Gotham. I'd never been there myself, but he and Robin visit frequently, to see a friend of theirs. The doctors assure me she's getting the best possible treatment."
"They have quite an innovative art therapy program," Dick continued, with a small smile. "Adeline is apparently a rather talented painter."
Slade raised his eyebrows. "Well, I knew Joey had to get his talent from somewhere."
"So, why, Slade?" asked Dick, soberly. "Wintergreen would want to know the truth. So would Pat. Even Rose would, at this point. She understands now. You may not have been able to save Joey, as a child, or as an adult, but you saved your daughter, and me, too, for that matter."
"Your appreciation is noted, Grayson.. But it has to be this way, for all their sakes, Rose especially. Wade may be dead, and Addie may be no threat any more, but there will come others. Hell, if the military or anyone else figures out what a blood transfusion from me can do Well, let's just say, I'm tired of being hunted, and having my loved ones pay the price. And if the world thinks I'm dead, I won't be. And they'll be safe, from any threat I pose."
"But these are people who care about you--"
"Dammit, Grayson, I know that! But they're people that deserve a small measure of peace, after all they've suffered. You risked your neck to come here today and get Rose proof positive that her mother is dead. That's what will bring her peace, Grayson, knowing for sure that her mother is dead. Believing that I am too will do the same thing for her. Don't take that from her, Grayson. Let things remain as they are. Please."
Dick was silent for a long moment, then nodded agreement as he extended a hand to his old enemy. Slade Wilson gave it a rather begrudging shake.
"So not a word to anyone. Not even Wintergreen."
"Agreed." Dick answered.
"Good," responded Wilson, as he turned to go. "Best of luck in the 'Haven, Nightwing, you'll need it." he said gruffly. He took a few steps away, then paused and turned around. "And keep your trap shut or I'll hunt you down and take it out of your ever-so-heroic hide." Slade Wilson turned and disappeared into the snowy wilderness.
Nightwing stood in silence for a long moment before gathering his own climbing gear together. "You are truly a man of honor, Slade Wilson," he said finally, but of course, no one heard.
All characters are DC Comics