Prayer Flag

Summary: After the death of Ducard, he searches for an answer. Spoilers for Batman Begins.

Notes: For Falstaff, because she asked. Set in the movie - I have no idea what the original comic book canon is like.

"There is a word in Tibetan that describes what you are right now." A brilliant flash; the edge of the katana came close enough to nick the edge of his sleeve. Cloth burst into threads. Their tight-knit pattern was destroyed in a flick of steel, lost to the glacial winds.

"What's that?" Here, he was no one. Not the prince of a city, not the son of ghosts. Just a student; just a man.

"Lkugs pa." His mentor shifted his stance, changing forms as smoothly as a hawk wheeling on high winds.

"What does it mean?" One step, a brief pause, another step. It was the way the Sherpas walked up the mountains, and it was the way he kept his footing on the slick ice.

"It means stupid. But you won't be this way before long."

Anger rose in his gut and he lunged ahead, fighting for an opening, a point of weakness. Each breath of air hurt; a stab of pain went through his chest, either fatigue or the cold thin air, or both.

The older man did something, a swift motion that he almost couldn't see, and suddenly he was on his back, sliding on rough ice. The pain came a moment later, a jolt of sensation starting in his ribs, compressing into his spine. Gasping for breath, he tried getting back on his feet, but realized he couldn't.

"That's enough for today." Crystals of falling snow matted his eyelashes and above him, the sky was slate gray. A moment later, it was replaced by Ducard. A firm hand gripped his, pulling him up onto his feet.

And so it was.

Bruce had the dream many times this year. Many times he wondered why he didn't look more closely back then, why he didn't ask more questions when Ducard was still alive.

He wondered why it was that in his dreams, he could always see the tattered prayer flags reaching into the dark sky, like fields of thin corpses with broken fingers and torn hair, tearing at the mountainsides. Why the shadows of the glaciers fell blue on his master's weathered face. Why the memory was so clear…the stinging cold of the day he fell through the ice.

Logic wasn't enough to unravel the problem. There was more just than that.

So he went back to Tibet. He promised himself it wouldn't be long – just a few days to see if he could settle out his memories.

Alone, he made his trek. First, to the moraine where he had once searched for the thorny blue flower, stumbled along smooth displaced rocks until he found what he was looking for. Then, the village he passed where he had left Ducard to the care of the Sherpas. The room where he said a final farewell to the man he thought he knew, pressing dry lips to his mentor's pale forehead.

After a night spent in the room with the ghost of a memory, he went up the mountain to the bones of the monastery.

He found nothing there. Not for his memories, and not for himself.

Even the prayer flags he had put up on a high pass were gone. Ducard had actually laughed that day, calling him foolish as he climbed the sheer cliff, the palms of his hands wrapped in protective leather. Later, bleeding and sore, he had earned a cuff on the back of his head like a naughty boy, though he was sure Ducard was smiling behind his back.

But now, the prayers asking for the cessation of suffering to all sentient beings were lost forever to the knife-sharp winds.

The pattern had become unrecognizable.

So he wandered in the desert of ice, past razor-edged crevices, looking for the place where his spirit was tempered, sharpened, and reshaped by Ducard's hand.

It was almost completely gone, melted away by a high summer sun that was cold and thin, but warm enough to melt the frozen lake.

He sat by the glacial waters, staring at the shifting blue-green depths. Above, wispy clouds veiled the peak, but he imagined he could see the monastery from here. It was always a day's trek down to the lake to train, and he remembered the burn in his muscles as he made his way up after a week of training.

Seven days fighting, three days rest. It was a cycle he had lived and breathed; eaten and digested. It was a cycle that flowed through the course of an autumn, a winter, and a spring. Nothing but the bitterest of storms could keep them away from here.

Here, they needed no names.

Here, they were just two men, teacher and student.

Here, was the one place in years that he had been happy.

He blinked, a faint smile coming to his lips. It wasn't like him to become sentimental.

He whispered a prayer. But before the words could even come out, it was caught up by winds, extinguished like fire, and lost to the slate gray sky.