The Arkham breakout had taken its toll on the Narrows, and most of the population had left after the inmates virtually took over the place at least until the police went to take it back. It is a timely undertaking to remake the Narrows into one island sized asylum. Crane's drugs had gotten around or some had the 'misfortune' to receive unnaturally high doses, especially this one junkie who is carrying a loaded revolver on him when Batman shows up to take him in for connections to Crane's alter ego Scarecrow. The chase descends into the sewers, and the effect of the drugs is kicking in turning the junkie into someone suffering from something far worse than a bad trip. His fear is made manifest to him by having a 'supernatural apparition' pursuing him.
"Stay away from me! Stay away!" he screams repeatedly.
He fires wildly though one bullet manages to pierce the Kevlar armor. The junkie flees as Batman reels from the gunshot wound. His blood leaks out all over the sewer walkway. He tears the fabric from the bullet entry point to his waistline. The blood is still trickling as he fingers around inside to pluck the bullet out. He grits his teeth yet no matter how many times he does this, it is painful every time, a nerve shock reminder of his mortality. He pulls a flat circular disk from his belt then he taps it. It expands and glows before he presses it on the wound, it steams, he groans again, the bleeding stops, but there is still internal damage plus the blood loss.
It is a long way back to street level yet along the way he'll remember someone else he met in his travels around the world before finally taking up the mantle. She seems to echo what he would become after leaving her yet she had given him more than just a litany to go by, more than the words "I work through pain." Some time ago he went to India in search of the Fakirs after his experience with the tribal tensions in Africa.
As his climb towards the surface continues, he reaches to the next wooden beam except it snaps and he plunges downward breaking every previous beam he had used on the way up. He roughly lands on the pipes below before crashing through a weakened section of a brick wall into the room below. He climbs out holding onto the injured side of his body. His gaze is met by a rat yet the expression on the sewer rat's face reminds him of a mongoose he had seen fight a snake during his time in India while in his pursuit of training himself to martial arts peak level of performance.
However this whole arrangement had a more specific purpose in mind yet in the past as he watches the fight between the two creatures he sees the crowd betting on both, for victory and defeat.
It is typical for the mongoose to lose to the snake yet not always.
"They don't always win you know."
"More often they lose from what I understand."
The fatal bite ends the fight.
"So when do I get started with the fakirs?"
"Um, you don't. Ever."
"But they've made me wait months for this opportunity."
"They will not train you."
"Why? Is it a question of money? Because if it is—"
"No, Mr. Wayne. They are not concerned with your money. Or anyone's, for that matter."
"Then what is it?"
"Honesty, Mr. Wayne. The fakirs said you were not honest with them. You are not looking for enlightenment or truth."
He sees the fakir that Arman had spoken to look his way, the stare only lasts seconds, but clearly there is a mix in the man's expression. He retreats behind the curtain to join the older man.
"This is what they said."
One of the organizers takes away the mongoose corpse, where it died is a puddle of blood that had come from the fatal neck wound.
"Perhaps… there is another who possesses knowledge you seek."
This alternate grasps his interest.
"Not a fakir, but she may be able to help you."
The room is dark, and the only illumination is from a solitary window. Her hair is dark as night, her expression is indescribable as she conceals much of her emotions yet there is a binding sadness that bleeds through. She is making what appears to be hot tea using a filter to separate the liquid from the grounded elements. Bruce sits directly across from her with his sunglasses still covering his eyes. Her gaze is downward yet the intensity of her dark brown eyes is inescapable, only slight bangs are noticeable from under the hood, and once she finishes pouring she looks up to her visitors, a man known to her as Arman and of course Bruce.
"Why should I want to train you?" queries Cassandra.
"Because after agreeing they would, the fakirs would not, Cassandra," responds Arman.
"What made them change their minds?" asks Cassandra.
"I don't know," answers Bruce.
The two hid much in their voices, neither admitting what they suspect to be so about many things and specifically on this occasion with the fakirs. Arman gestures to Bruce, Bruce like her does not look directly up, and her expression is one of hesitation not unlike his though only they could see that being what they are in this life.
"And what is it that you seek to do?" requests Cassandra.
He removes the sunglasses, sets them down on the table, and in a clearly honest voice answers her.
"I'm looking for a way… to deal with my pain."
She would help if that is possible to do between the two of them.
His mind drifts back to his long walk through the sewer to the nearest exit from his current position.
"Alfred. Alfred, can you hear me?" says Batman into the comlink in his cowl.
"Always, sir," responds Alfred in his formal tone.
"I'm making my way out. I need you to follow my coordinates, meet me up top."
"I'll be there."
"I've lost a lot of blood."
"I'll bring some along."
It is difficult to continue yet he must get out, this is not the place to die in Gotham, there is no place to die in Gotham, but somehow people always do like his parents in that alleyway. His mind drifts back to Cassandra's interpretation of pain.
Their initial discussions have much bearing on pains and the wounds from the pain as well as how to deal with it, what were methods they had both found out about growing up. Her experience in this village made her a hard woman and she had been marked though he does not know this yet, but he suspects there is more to her especially as it is forbidden for girls to learn Bhusara. He would ask yet he holds back on his curiosity, for the right moment, if there is such a thing.
"Pain exists in two forms: Exterior, that which is caused by forces we can't control... and interior which we can. Both, though can be managed through will."
"I know, I've researched the techniques. Breathing control, hypnosis."
"What of the spiritual nature? Have you researched that as well?"
There is a pause before Cassandra realizes why pain holds such a grip on his life. His mind is an open one, she sees this, but his heart is a hardened one, like her own at times. His disclosure of his past or more specifically his parents' murder made it clear to her what had a part in the genesis of his pain and why it follows him everywhere as well as why the fakirs said no to him. They were afraid of him, he had intensity of being, and the pain is always in conflict with his mind and his spirit. She decides to tell him what she had concluded from his back story.
"The interior is something you deny."
"No. It's something that I manage."
He tells himself that, but they both know he does not always believe it. She walks over and stands on hot coals. Bruce asks another rhetoric question of a kind to her yet she'll answer him, she wants to believe she can help him because for once someone is not entirely using her for something of a gain or hounding her for a game of let us mess with the 'witch' of the village.
"Does that hurt, Cassandra?"
"It feels like being caught in the rain. An annoyance."
"Does it scar?"
"Bruce…what pain doesn't?"
He realizes it is silly question, of course it hurts yet her answer is unexpected to him. However after a time it made sense to him. She had him 'dead' to rights about pain and so he would let her do what she could and he would attempt to meet her halfway at least.
The recall fades as he climb up the ladder slides yet just as easily his thoughts shift back into the memory of her lesson about working through pain.
"Pain can't be overcome."
"No, but it can be put in its place."
"That place is where pain can work for you."
There are several sharp needle shaped objects protruding from her forearms and so he'll discover how that works among other things she will attempt to replicate for him to duplicate for himself. He presses the assumption that he can make pain work for him except she refutes that idea, for pain is not an instrument, it is a process.
"Pain doesn't work for you. You work through pain."
He conducts and performs all that she teaches him even how to lie on a bed of needles and to walk over hot coal. His ability to pick up anything is not astounding to her, he is a quick learner, but he still has much to learn, this is always clear to her.
"Bruce, after all these months, haven't you learned?"
He sits in the shade one afternoon as she is working in her garden nearby picking out herbs. A cow is munching the grass nearby, a butterfly flaps by, and finally Bruce decides to ask her the question she had been expecting for months. His sense of caution is finally taken down by his insatiable curiosity.
"How did you-?"
"Ah, the question that has hung in the air since you arrived. My knowledge was gained through deceit. I came to the fakirs seeking enlightenment, masquerading as a boy. I have no doubt they saw me for what I really was… but they agreed to show me the path."
Her tale is at first bold, daring, and one of promise aside from pretending to be a boy to learn Bhusara. She believes her training with them had been instrumental yet she suspects they were messing around with her mind with expectations that she would driven to quit eventually. She however like Bruce is relentless, immovable, and so she would always succeed at all their 'tests' or games.
"So I would fail. It became a game for them. But I didn't fail. And after many years, they tired of their little game… cast me out and I was exposed. They said I had tricked them. I was branded a witch."
She remembers the day she is sent away by her father with the bare minimal necessary to survive on her own. It felt terrible, unlike Bruce, her family is alive, yet will not let her remain with them because of the fakirs' story about her tricking them.
"My family turned their back to me, as I had caused them great shame."
She is made pariah.
"In the village, I am either feared or hated, take your pick."
Her training with the fakirs is linked to a taboo, to a dishonor to her family, but she tries to persuade her father otherwise. However the family sends her away. Village children stone her, she bleeds easily, and so as she grows older in solitude, the harassment never ends yet she will not abandon the village entirely. He'll ask the obvious questions and she'll give the predictable answers yet in reality they are neither obvious nor predictable.
"Why don't you leave?"
"Why? Because this is where I belong. In your life… isn't there such a place?"
At this point, he could finally answer her reflection of his question about why she stays within range of the village. He had done the same with Gotham even though many are afraid of him, despise him as Batman yet as Bruce Wayne, he is a public figure, too inept in appearance to be much of a threat. He collapses into a pile trash beneath a drainage grate. As his hands however slide into the trash, there is a disturbing familiar feel to what both his hands find there. In his grip are discarded guns. In fact the whole gutter is full of guns.
His mind slips back again to the night where local boys had come to abuse and taunt Cassandra as men in the village had done for years. It is not new to her, it is just another game, but for Bruce he feels a compulsion to defend her.
"We wanna talk to you!"
"Yes, come on out, traitor!"
He looks in her direction, she stands close to the door, and she is in her night clothes.
He says her name. She looks to him.
"It is nothing, Bruce."
She has done this before, she knows what they are doing, but Bruce's attitude towards them going after her is provoking him towards acting against them.
"Sounds like an angry nothing."
"Just boys playing at being men. Remember, I'm hated?"
She looks half certain and half worried, certain about them yet worries about Bruce getting involved in this. His heart is in the right place, but he does not understand like she does about them, at least not yet anyway.
He refuses to allow her to go out there alone yet she will as she must face them.
"Please, it's nothing."
She insists on handling it alone yet he feels he must come to her aid.
Outside, the boys are carrying weapons or blunt objects.
"You shame yourself acting this way."
"Shame? You're the betrayer. Teaching an outsider what is not his to know."
"The ways of Bhusara are open to everyone. You do well to abide by them."
The taller boy standing next to the one with the ponytail sharply taps a wooden stick to her forehead. Her forehead bleeds.
"Now leave before your mothers see you."
He aims to strike her again yet someone catches his arm. It is Bruce who pulls him away from her then finds himself facing all of the adolescent boys alone. When the one with the stick smashes it again Bruce's skull, it does not hurt him. Another with a mustache smashes a glass bottle against the back of his head yet again nothing. The three of them pull daggers, he spits out blood, and the one in front tries to slash him except he flips over the two behind him. He puts himself between them and Cassandra.
The first one he disarms and flips over to the ground. The second is sent flying backwards while spewing something from his mouth. The one on the ground tries to slash his ankle yet again he flips leaving his back to two of the others. He fights them off with ease and speed. Another with a dagger keeps slashing away and hitting nothing, but air. Cassandra stands back eyes closed, certain she failed to rid him of violence as a defense against pain, He slugs the one doing the slashing and so the other younger boys simply flee the scene as the older boys are all knocked out.
"Cassandra, are you--?"
It is only then he realizes she is not there now. Once back inside, the candles are lit and she drops his bag before him.
"You need to leave."
"What? I just saved you from-"
He recoils in confusion as she and he do not share cultural interpretations about handling this situation aside from personal views on the subject.
"Nothing, Bruce. Like the fakirs they would have grown tired of their game. They would have left on their own. You, though, must be sent away. It's time. You have learned what you have wanted to, haven't you?"
He answers in a somber yet calm tone.
"Yes, I have."
He takes his bag and heads out her door for what seems the last time.
She is sadder than usual as she watches him leave, she thought she could do something right for someone in her life, but of course she had come so close with him until tonight.
"You shouldn't thank me Bruce. I have failed you. You came asking for help in dealing with your pain. But your pain is beyond my abilities. Perhaps yours as well. For your pain is leading you down a path you desire."
He did not hear all of it yet in time he grasps why she told him to go.
Alfred uses the tumbler's grappler to pry the grate off and as the older man reaches down there stands Batman with an armful of guns.
"Give me your hand sir!" calls Alfred.
"I can't," he answers.
He simply stands there in the gutter until he puts all the guns in a box.
Alfred conducts the transfusion and they drive back to the underground garage where he had been keeping all the Batman related items including the computer system, the files, the Bat suits, and of course the Tumbler aka the Batmobile. He wonders what happen to her after he left though he also thinks going back to see her might not be the thing to do considering what made for the parting of ways in the first place. He knows he made a mistake that night by not trusting what she had said all along about persecutors and persecuted, about being something of an outcast to a people who need you for causes unclear to them yet will turn on you when it suits them. However in the end, they'll tire and change their tune for awhile, all one can do is wait it out.
He wonders did the pain have a part in the genesis of Batman and the answer is yes it had a hand it yet all he can do now is direct the pain against those that are ravaging Gotham for it is where he belongs, where he can do what he can while always remembering to work through pain.
A/N 1: Working Through Pain is one of my two favorite segments in the anthology, the other is Deadshot. Both deal with what many call the genesis elements of Batman. Pain and Guns. Most of the dialogue is lifted from the actual segment though I insert what I think they might be thinking between the words or response to other things happening.
A/N 2: Cassandra owned me on the eyes and the facial expression alone yet what really stuck it to me was when she responds to Bruce's question about scars. Also the music in Working Through Pain suits it so well, that I purposely watch it for the music and for their conversations.