Summary: Set in the years before the graphic novel "Kingdom Come." As a final test before taking over his grandfather's empire, Ibn al Xu'ffasch, the Son of the Bat, develops a new version of his father's Protocols to take down the Justice League. Meanwhile, an intra-League romance is rekindled, but will that relationship distract Batman from the nefarious plans of someone who is stronger, smarter, and better than himself? (BM/WW)
Author's note: Kingdom Come is an amazing graphic novel by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, which details a vision of the future where metahumans are no longer the protectors of humanity.
This will be my attempt to explain what takes place between now and Kingdom Come—how and why the JLA goes from world saviors to disgraced retirees. This tale was inspired by two undercurrents in the comic, stories which were hinted at but never told: Ibn (son of the Bat) versus his father, and the tension between Batman and Wonder Woman (shippers rejoice).
There may be a few continuity issues due to changes in the DC universe since Kingdom Come was written, but I will make every attempt to keep things plausible.
I hope you enjoy.
"Know your enemy, know yourself: a hundred battles, a hundred won." -Sun Tzu
He had watched the tapes of the Batman over and over again, memorized them, could instantly recall the subtle shifts in balance and posture that accompanied each attack routine.
"Here, you see," Lady Shiva would say, "His left foot. You see?"
He would peer at the screen, but perfect eyesight was no help in determining what it was she wanted him to find.
"Bun dan ((idiot))," she would say when he found no answer, cuffing him on the head or neck. She would not raise her voice nor give any hint of her strike; one moment she would be pointing at the screen and the next he was recoiling in pain.
A cuff from Shiva could break concrete, and it hurt, but he had learned long ago to suffer in silence. The premier member of the League of Assassins took her pride seriously.
"His left foot," she would say in that same, almost bored, tone. "He shifts from heel to toe before he kicks." She would rewind the tape and play it, over and over again, until suddenly everything would fall into place and he could see it, recognize that subtle change in balance which meant the figure was about to snap his right leg out in a roundhouse kick.
The shift was miniscule, recognizable by perhaps a dozen people in the world...and now by him. Once he saw it, it was burned into his mind for good. Left-heel-to-toe-means-right-roundhouse-kick.
They would move on to the next tape.
Prologue: What Comes at Night
At night the memories came.
They were never pleasant. Sometimes the dreams would force him awake, thrashing and soaked in sweat. Other nights he would merely awake chilled to the bone, shivering uncontrollably despite the warm desert air.
Tonight, he watched as the daggers flew toward him.
His eyes were squeezed shut as he tried to stop hyperventilating. Be calm. Easy breaths. Breathing too hard meant too much movement which meant the knives would hit—
That train of thought was cut off with the first thud of a sharpened blade. It sank hilt-deep into the wooden platform. He was bound against the table while several of Grandfather's warriors hurled their weapons at him. Grandfather himself stood nearby, an imposing figure with arms crossed and emerald cloak fluttering in the night breeze.
The next knife landed less than an inch from his neck, shaving off a lock of hair. He winced and opened an eye to see where it had hit, but instantly regretted doing so: another dozen knives were flying toward him. His eyes slammed shut.
The wood reverberated with each thud. Don't look at them-- can't see them--won't feel them--don't look at them—don't look at them—don't—
Cold steel kissed his cheek as a dagger buried itself next to his face. He shuddered and the twitch of his head made the next knife slice into his ear. Unable to help himself, he cried out.
A wizened but incredibly strong hand seized his arm and jerked him away from the platform.
"Silence!" hissed Ra's Al Ghul.
Terror pounded at his heart. "Re--release me, grandfather--please--! I'm sorry I broke my vow of silence! Give me another chance! I—"
His breath cut off as his body was twisted to face his grandfather's blackened, demonic eyes. He couldn't hold back a whimper at that terrifying stare.
"You are the product of a most perfect union," Ra's snarled. "Your father was the western world's Dark Knight; your mother, my daughter and finest soldier. As their only son, you are the heir to my empire, but that is a bequeathment I swear I shall neverallow you...until such time as your courage measures a tenth of theirs."
And then the dreaded words: "Bury his fear."
"NO! PLEASE!" he screamed, as he was hurled into the pit.
He staggered up, sobbing, as the men loomed above him. The first shower of dirt hit him on his exposed back.
"Please..." he begged. He raised a pitiful arm to protect himself.
The warriors were merciless, and he tasted his first mouthful of earth as they began filling the hole. Their shovels flashed in the moonlight, light which slowly but inexorably disappeared as the pit was filled in and he was buried alive.
Darkness threatened from all directions as the weight above him grew heavier. His mouth was filled with the bitter mix of blood and sweat and soil. His pounding heart threatened to burst from his chest.
It was deathly quiet. Then something in his mind snapped and he screamed, screamed endlessly into the ground, screamed and filled his mouth with more dirt but he didn't care, screamed because he was suffocating but he didn't care he was buried alive he was going to die he--
--sat up with a start, gasping.
Something moved by his side. Reflexively, his fist cocked and prepared to drive into its target.
"What is it?" came a woman's murmur. The familiar voice, though clouded with sleep and deceptively gentle, brought him to his senses.
He took a deep, shuddering breath and stared down at his body. It was draped with a bedsheet made of the finest silk and the color of ivory. Not the blackness of the pit. He was in his own bed. Safe. Not in the pit.
"Little bat?" the voice asked sleepily.
He touched her hair to convince himself that he was truly awake. "Nothing. A bad dream." His fingers brushed against her jaw. "I apologize for waking you."
"Mmm. Go back to sleep." A few moments later, her even breathing indicated that she had taken her own advice.
He remained seated, pulling his knees into his chest and hunching over them. If he closed his eyes again he would be back in the pit, suffocating under the earth. If he closed his eyes he would be buried again.
At night the memories came, and with them came fear.
So he stayed as he was and stared into the darkness...
"Kill him," Ra's said
Ibn stared wide eyed at the kneeling figure. The slave had been blindfolded but obviously heard Grandfather's words, as he began shaking and muttering under his breath.
"To rule effectively, you must not fear death. Neither to receive it, nor to deal it. The Lazarus Pits will solve the first problem, but the second can be conquered only through experience." Ra's gestured to the dagger on the table. "Kill him."
He didn't move.
"Ibn," Grandfather's voice grew dangerous. "If you are afraid, you will be buried."
His mouth grew dry and his hand shook as he reached for the dagger. The ceremonial hilt was carved into the likeness of a serpent, with twin rubies set into its eyes. The blade was heavy in his small hands.
"Now, plunge the knife into his heart." Ra's voice was cold.
The blindfolded victim began to wail.
"Silence!" Ra's ordered. Ubu, ever present at his master's side, stomped forward and kicked the kneeling man in the chest. The slave gave a strangled cry and toppled over.
The dagger slipped from trembling fingers and clattered to the ground. He froze, heard the beginnings of a snarl from behind him--
"NO!" he screamed. He seized the dagger and lunged.
He did not remember striking, did not remember the first hot splash against his face, did not remember the feel of flesh and muscle yielding to steel and might.
When his vision cleared, he saw nothing but red. His hands shook at the realization that the warmth drenching his body was blood.
"Control yourself!" Ra's snapped. He realized that he was still screaming.
Slowly, painfully, gasping and retching, he managed to stop. His hands were still slick with red, and he knew that the blood would never come off, that it would cling to him forever...
He started awake, then closed his eyes and forced his panicked breathing to slow. He was still sitting on the bed.
"Why these dreams again?" he muttered angrily, once he had regained a semblance of calm.
He rose and made his way to the bathroom. Once inside, he bent over the sink and splashed water on his face, then took a deep, shuddering breath.
He looked up and saw himself in the mirror. A young, handsome face on a muscled frame stared back. Aside from the scars, his body was honed well beyond perfection—Grandfather had seen to that. But his mind...
The mirror did not show the depths to which his mind had been plunged.
A hint of red caught the edge of his vision. His eyes widened as he saw the splash of blood on his forearm, where the brown skin was stained crimson. He turned the water up the highest it would go and began scrubbing furiously.
He had been at it for ten minutes when he felt a presence behind him.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
He stopped his desperate cleaning and stared at his hands. There was nothing on them.
"I—nothing, I just woke—"
"Do not lie, little bat." Her voice was amused.
He stared into the sink. "The dreams," he admitted.
A hand ran down his tense back, another his chest. They were gentle, a surprising contrast to their usual strength. "Dreams are of little consequence in the waking world. Come back to bed."
Head still bowed, he didn't move. "They are not just dreams. They are memories."
She made a dismissive noise in her throat. "Memories come from the past. What you have now is the present, and the future. The past cannot harm you. You are too strong for it."
He shook his head. "I am not ready for this."
Her hands kneaded his shoulders, working to unlock the granite in his muscles. "You are ready for anything, little bat. After all, I am the one who trained you. You might question your own abilities, but you will never question mine. Yes?"
He admitted to himself that it was true.
"Now, come back to bed." She turned and sauntered off.
He sighed, shut off the water, and obediently followed her out of the room.
At night the memories came.
"I love you...as a lifelong friend, a confidant, and ally, but I'm not willing to risk that to see if there's more. Are you?"
The words ran through his mind again and again. He fired a jumpline at the overhanging ledge. A faint clank and sudden loss of tension told him the hooks were firmly in place. He stepped off the high-rise and plummeted twenty stories through the air as the cable lengthened. The line reached its full extension and began to retract, swinging him onto the next building.
As the Batman he had performed these actions a thousand times, but tonight his limbs were heavier than usual. Quiet nights were the worst—slow and plodding, with no action to lose himself in and only his thoughts to keep him company.
"Are you?" she had asked him. Instead of responding, he had flashed a foolish grin and said nothing. Idiot.
Of course, what could he have said? She had turned him down, and what they had together—whatever they had had together—was no more. Couldn't be any more. She had made that decision and he had been afraid to challenge it.
Was he, then, destined to be alone?
He grimaced from his perch alongside a stone gargoyle. Such thoughts were distracting from the patrol. He fired another jumpline and swung off the roof, determined to stop recalling what had happened.
That resolve lasted until he reached the next building.
"You really want to know?" she had asked, referring to her vision of them in J'onn's transconsciousness articulator. She had entered the Martian's machine to confront her subconscious about a possible relationship, and emerged to greet him with those newfound visions. "It was terrible." She had smiled.
Her eyes had been twinkling.
He could not help it: she was an Amazon princess and a goddess, beautiful and stubborn, graceful and deadly, as bright and truthful as he was dark and secretive. How could he help from falling for her? And how could he blame her for rejecting him?
At night the memories came, and with them came regret.
But he took solace in a single thought, as he continued his trek through the darkness of the city. It was an image hidden deep in the recesses of his heart, but one that he would never forget.
Her eyes had been twinkling...