Disclaimer: Not Mine. The end. Original characters are mine.
Knowledge of the Batman: The Animated Series from the early 90's as well as 'The Sandman' graphic novels is useful to understanding this. Indulgent use of my original characters. The "bad guy" is spoiled here also.
Comments are always welcome.
If I Should Die Before I Wake
By, Nicole Silverwolf
"Death most resembles a prophet who is without honor in his own land or a poet who is a stranger among his people."
-Kahlil Gibran, "The Voice of the Poet"
"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."
-Dylan Thomas, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good NightThe explosion, more than ten miles up the slope shook the tiny village to its foundation. The men and women prayed that only a few minor avalanches would be the result but prepared their homes for the inevitable rock slides and snow that would follow. Children excitedly watched the cloud of smoke rise, unaware of the temple that had been destroyed above, or of the danger to their homes.
Michael glanced up from where he sat near the edge of a sheer cliff with little interest. Who knew that doing a favor for Death would be so tedious? His partner sat further down the steep, narrow, and barely defined path. She had also glanced up at the explosion, but was already back to whatever she had been interrupted from.
It was beautiful up here, near to real wilderness. The cliff he sat against dropped for nearly a half mile in starkly carved stone. In the distance, they could see various snow capped mountains. And below, the ice fields of slowly moving glaciers cracked like thunder as they fell into the rivers that would eventually drain to the ocean. The wind was constant, clear and moved clouds at a fast pace. Birds wheeled by and they upon occasion could catch glimpses of goats dotting the lower regions, where the scarce grasses grew.
Despite the beauty they—had—been here for more than two days, which according to reports should have been when their charge arrived. Both he and his partner had other cases to attend to and the wait was grating on him.
Death had asked nicely however, as she always did, twirling the Ankh pendant in her hand idly. And he had owed her for a favor she had done him several millennia earlier. So when this case had arrived—little over a century ago—he had said yes. What he hadn't known at the time was that Ra's Al-Ghul was particularly adept at keeping himself alive far after he should have been dead.
Michael huffed as he went back to his contemplation of the landscape. It would be at least several hours before Bruce Wayne carried him down so they would have to wait again.
Rora glanced at him with a clear "what?" in her eyes at his huff.
"He's never been so late before. I'm almost becoming impatient." He replied cheekily and twirled the long white feather he perpetually had in his hand.
Exactly three hours later, two figures came struggling down the path.
Well, not exactly.
He was draped over another man, and as Rora saw them pass she pointed to the walking man, and then made a few quick signs.
"No. Not him. The guy draped over his body. C'mon." With that, they scrambled to their feet and followed unobserved down into the village proper. Michael was not surprised to find the young Wayne, no older than thirty at most, dragging himself into a shaman-healer's dwelling.
The gesture pretty much guaranteed that their charge would survive. Still, they would be required to put in an appearance and both settled outside the hut, facing its entrance to wait again. Wayne left after an hour or so, heading down towards civilization with a rather determined step. Both curiously watched him go since there was little else to do. The wind blew, and the Sherpa went about their daily tasks taking no notice of Death and his acquaintance.
Some time later, Michael finally rose and strode inside. Rora followed quietly, as unobtrusively as possible.
It was dim and warm inside, smelling sharply of dried herbs and incense. The floors were clean as could possibly be had, and everything was neatly placed and grouped on shelves, benches and other available surfaces. Sitting near the fire at the opposite end of the room was the wrinkled and aged face of the wise healer-shaman of the village. He was very old and quite spry but took no notice of the two young people who entered. Engrossed in whatever he was studying, he did not hear their near silent footfalls, nor notice when the injured man on the palette barely turned to face them.
Michael smiled warmly, in a way that spoke of a long and mostly antagonistic relationship that he equally respected and despised. Squatting as if stiff from a long day's work, his words were briskly theatric. Both parties were aware of how much of a ritual this had become over the last thirty or so meetings.
"Hello Mr. Al-Ghul...," and he paused slightly to smirk in a too wise manner, "Or would you prefer Mr. Ducard in this incarnation? You are running approximately two days late for our rendezvous. Were you aware of that?"
Rora was taken aback by the sheer terror the sight of her friend produced in the man prostate on the bed. Especially considering how unflappable he had seemed in the few days she had wandered and watched the workings of the temple several thousand feet further up. Her eyebrows furrowed and she made an effort to project peace. It didn't seem to calm him, only further antagonize and a glance at Michael confirmed that he had been prepared for the sight.
Michael's body posture spoke of annoyance at being able to relay the next few facts. "Don't worry. Despite the fact that you were gravely injured, will be sick for weeks, and are far from anything resembling a Lazarus pit, you are in no real danger of passing to this plane yet. Rest assured that our presence for the next day or so, is merely the formality you are so uncomfortably familiar with."
Realization dawned then, on a face aged both too much for a that of a man, and too little for the reality of the soul. He relaxed back against the makeshift bed, and it's thick wool covers in relief.
"Good." Ra's voice was viciously triumphant, which would have been laughable considering the state he was in. However his dark brown eyes were exhausted, and as he slipped back into something near sleep Michael simply rolled his eyes.
"Only you would find something like that a blessing," Michael bit off sadly.
Rora moved her hands rapidly, waving a hand to get his attention and then setting off a string of complicated gestures accompanied by body signals asking questions.
"He'll be up in a few hours or so. Hopefully more coherent too. I can handle the formal stuff then."
She repeated a few gestures.
"Well, he and I go back. I've been trying to get him to die...for a solid fifty years at least. He knows what it means when I show up. And he's terrified of it. Maybe I'll even get him to listen this time."
They sat back to back near the fire, Michael contemplating the ever-present feather in his hand, and the fire's smoldering coals. Rora focused on staying warm in the rapidly deepening night and then eventually to meditating.
Late into the evening, too early to be morning and too late to be truly the night before, Michael sensed eyes on him. Rora was asleep, stretched out on the floor, which was just as well. Technically a mortal wasn't supposed to be involved in these proceedings.
As was usual as well, Michael broke the ice first. "I find it funny, that you preached to that boy about facing your fears, and yet you've avoided your greatest fear for longer than almost any man or woman before you."
"You wouldn't understand," Ducard replied shortly. As the fever worsened, his connection to the tall black man who worked upon occasion as Death strengthened.
Conversationally, Michael turned to him, leaning back on wide hands, and propping his feet comfortably on the ground. The ever-present feather was balanced on his knee.
"It can't be that you fear you'll be forgotten. With or without you, that league you created will go on doing what it does. You've even trained a successor of sorts."
Al-Ghul's eyes darkened considerably at those words.
"He is nothing. He'll be crushed. By myself or by the futile task of trying to uplift and save a society that doesn't want either."
"Why? Because he didn't want to kill? Because he's an idealist? Because he didn't feel what you felt when offered the same opportunity?"
"I felt nothing." Was the sharp return.
"Ah," Michael replied sagely. "I'm pretty sure it's the exact opposite actually. You might forget that I am aware of what you did for a living in your first lifetime."
He hadn't had a long talk with the man in several deaths, and took the chance to press the issue further. In the past, the rush of the living world had shortened their conversations to perhaps a few moments at most. Doctors, medical advances, and a nearness to the pits had often rushed even the needed formalities.
Here though, healing would be slower, and time was finally on Michael's side.
A few minutes passed in uncomfortable silence. He could sense the dark eyes roaming over his new accommodations, and glance questioningly at the girl curled on a dirt floor with no mattress, blanket or anything.
In an unusual show of interest, Ra's posed the next question. Michael chose to ignore the obvious change of subject for what it was. If there was one thing that Ra's Al-Ghul was good at...it was avoidance.
"A good friend, and my partner so to speak. New of course, since we met sometime after your last run-in with me."
A crack of a smile, almost sinister, almost endearing lit his face. To anyone looking at him from outside their perspective, he was deep within the grip of delirium induced by fever. "Death has a partner?"
Michael almost laughed at that. "A mortal one at that. Unlike you, she's not particularly concerned with dying."
"I'm not concerned with dying," Al-Ghul asserted almost haughtily, though Michael could sense that it was only a half-true statement. "There is simply so much that I still have to do."
The reversal in mood was like a lightening strike, and Michael's face sobered into something that could be considered very dangerous.
"Committing one mass genocide wasn't enough?"
"I thought Death wasn't supposed to have an opinion on the actions of the people he collected," Ra's voice was part triumphant, part nervous. Though he always thought of his actions as noble, and needed to ensure a greater future for all; the angry implications of an angel's question stirred faint images of eternal suffering, fire and brimstone. Images that he still could not completely purge from his instincts.
"No," Michael confirmed shortly. "My judgment is not the one you should be worried about." He paused for a second to pick up the feather from his knee. "That doesn't mean I'm not entitled to my opinions."
"Pray tell then," Ra's persisted sarcastically, "what exactly is your opinion of me?"
If Michael's mood had been hostile a minute prior, it became suddenly plainly honest in the next. He stared at the feather, and quietly spoke.
"You are first and always a man. You loved your wife. You love your daughter. Wished you could have had more children. Contributed many good works to society once long ago. And yet you seek to bring a static balance to a world that constantly changes, through methods that simply eradicate. You see suffering all around you, and have forgotten how to see that despite that, people have found a way to survive, and at times to even be happy. And while you want others to know your pain, your sorrow, your anger...you can't deny that somewhere, you just want to save everyone from it as well. Even the ones who don't want it."
"You are terrified of Death because you think you know what will happen when you die. Somehow, you have already condemned yourself to the fires of hell. You're incapable of understanding that that might not be your fate."
At this, Michael caught his eye. "You are a good man even if you're very misguided. Who has done some terrible things. And in the end, I am not the person who gets to decide what that means, or how you are to be judged."
Al-Ghul stared at him, a bit startled by the unflinching tone that he spoke in. There was no apology in the comments, and he wondered briefly if Death knew this much about every person, or if he happened to be a special case.
"What makes you think I'll willingly die?" Al-Ghul challenged again. His tone, while harsh and as usual haughty, was a bit more subdued than not.
Michael stared him square in the eye before responding. "Make no mistake Mr. Al-Ghul, that if you think you have the power over life and death you really only have a means to manipulate it. Eventually, and I won't tell you where or when or how, you will die. And you will face judgment. This is a set fact."
In the last statement, came the assurance to back the words that the injured man could never truly effect. Michael definitely did not appear to be very human in that moment.
Dawn had approached while they spoke, and Michael sensed the fever's more deadly grip loosening as they often did with a night's rest. Fever would still grip the man, as would illness for at least another month; but the threat of death would be gone after this night. It was time for their meeting to end, and though he knew it would be pointless, he had to ask.
Ra's sensed it as well; perhaps he had become more adept at reading the younger looking man's body language.
"It's time for you to go, isn't it?" The words were not melancholy, nor regretful. Rather they were almost excited, if that was an emotion the man still entertained. Michael nodded once but didn't move to stand. He did turn to face him more completely, crossing his legs underneath him all while leaving the upturned feather balanced on a knee.
For a moment, he wondered at why Michael looked so disappointed. "You shouldn't be so happy about that Ra's," he said quietly.
His voice when he spoke again sounded even more formal and foreign than it had before. All traces of emotion were gone. "In this instant you stand before Death. At this crossroad, all souls that are in question are offered a choice. You, Ra's Al-Ghul, once philanthropist, once murderer, once ninja, once father, and always a man are now offered this choice. Will you accept Death?"
Ra's was clear, triumphant and thrilled in his response. "Never."
Michael nodded once solemnly. "Until next time then Mr. Al-Ghul."
The completion of this minor bit of ceremony meant that Michael began to blur slightly at the edges. Almost become out of focus. Bright brown eyes, ageless, and far wiser than they should have been remained when everything else had faded away. Without any ceremony those were suddenly gone as well. And the first day rays of dawn, could be seen dimly silhouetting the mountains in the distance.Owari
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Thanks for reading.