Disclaimer: I don't own any of the DC characters in this story, but I do own the plot and any faceless people who pop up here and there... they're sad little beings, those nameless people...

A/N: Yes, I am alive, and yes, I should be put to death for starting another story when there's one already up here. But you know what? Never Let You Go is officially on hiatus until I figure out what the fuck I was planning on doing with it in the first place...

Okay, so this is an AU... -gasp- But don't worry, I'll fill you in on any confusing things, since there are different cultures and etiquette present here, along with my fucking insanity... it's kinda bumpy right now, but it gets better, I promise!

Anyway, on with the disappointment...

Ashes of Paradise

Chapter 1 : Sand and Stone

General Slade Wilson had never cared for the desert. It was much too hot for his tastes and the sun seared his skin. The sand made it grueling to walk and the tiny grains streamed into his boots, crunching between his toes and irritating his skin. There never seemed to be a cloud in the sky to block out the blazing sun for even a split second, and telling one direction from another was nearly impossible.

Slade broke from his irritated mumbling and looked up at the palace that loomed before him, and he felt relief bubble up in his chest. Sweat dripped down his brow as he ushered his crew onward, his faithful adviser and friend William Wintergreen striding briskly at his side.

As the group of Americans approached the gates of the magnificent palace, a few tan-skinned men hurried towards them, and Wintergreen waved and shouted what Slade assumed was a greeting in their native tongue. The guards pushed the gates open and allowed them in, leading them across the landing and into the building.

The cool air of the shady palace was a welcome relief after spending nearly a week traveling across the sun-parched expanse of the Gotham desert. His men had complained the whole way about the sun, and it had taken the better portion of Slade's self-control to keep from slaughtering them, seeing as how he could not simply extinguish the fiery star on demand. They were warriors, dressed in thick leather and heavy armor, and the already sweat-inducing heat had nearly killed them all and made them a tasty snack for the buzzards.

The men were escorted to the rooms they would be staying in while negotiations took place, and William joined Slade in his chambers when he had finished unpacking and changed into a clean tunic and trousers. The two men seated themselves in the lounge area of the large, open-floor chambers.

"There will be a feast held in our names later this evening," Wintergreen said, crossing his legs and smoothing his hair back. "As I have told you many, many times..." he fixed the one-eyed man with a pointed stare, "some of our customs are unfamiliar or even disrespectful here, so you must remain watchful."

"We've already discussed this and established that you are to assist me with translations and proper social behavior," Slade said flippantly, waving an uncaring hand, and Wintergreen glared at him with narrow, scolding eyes. He was used to the man's sometimes pompous attitude, but it would cause nothing but trouble with people who did not know him and were of a completely different culture.

"That's one of the things I'm talking about..." he mumbled under his breath, rolling his eyes while Slade continued.

"I have not studied their lifestyle and culture as you have, so I will be relying on you."

"Well, with all due respect, sir, you seem to struggle with listening during our lessons," Wintergreen smirked.

"Yes, well, I will listen," Slade snorted. "Just this once."

William barked out a laugh.

"Really though, Slade," the man said, turning serious. "Etiquette is very important here, so you must be extremely careful. Something as mundane as eating with the wrong hand could be taken as an insult."

"What is wrong with these people?" Slade groaned, tipping his head back.

"Slade..." Wintergreen scolded, rolling his eyes and wondering why he must always be the mature one in such situations. "Please, I am trying to help you and keep you from insulting the man that will be one of our greatest assets."

"Fine," Slade said, locking their gazes, his single eye leveled. "What do I need to know?"

Just as Wintergreen opened his mouth to speak, the wooden double-doors of the room opened and a servant poked her head in. She spoke briefly, and Wintergreen nodded his head and replied before standing as the woman vanished, closing the door softly behind her.

"Looks like we don't have time for another lesson," he said, signaling for Slade to follow him. "It's time for dinner. Let's hope you paid enough attention to my previous teachings to make it through this meal alive."

It turned out that Slade had not paid enough attention.

When the two men were led into the dining room, Slade had made to sit, but Wintergreen grabbed his arm and scolded him.

"You don't choose your seat," he said, pulling him back. "You wait for the host to seat you."

When they were shown to their seats and given plates of rich fruits and meats, Slade lifted a forkful of the meat to his lips, chewing slowly before turning to his companion.

"Do they not have salt here?"

"It's considered rude to add salt to your meal," William informed him, munching on a piece of juicy mango. "It's an insult to the host."

Slade found himself growing increasingly tense throughout the meal, especially when he was scolded by a knowledgeable Wintergreen. He had made to turn down a second helping when his plate was clean, but Wintergreen informed him that it was a sincere compliment to accept another helping, so he had.

"Leave of bit of food on your plate when you're done," the man said. "That way they don't keep filling it up for you."

Slade nodded dumbly and followed Wintergreen's directions. He felt stupid and out of place, something that he hated, but he couldn't exactly do anything about it at this moment. He was even further demoted when he felt pride in himself when William informed him that it was indeed correct to eat with the right hand. Oh, what a clever man he is.

"I'll try harder to listen to you during lessons, I promise," Slade murmured lowly when the plates were taken away and the two were led into what appeared to be a lounge.

Groups of people were scattered about, gathered around small tables and seated on plush, beautifully embroidered pillows. They spoke and laughed, but Slade was unable to catch much more than a few simple words here and there since he only knew the bare basics of their language.

They were escorted by two servants, one male and one female, to a table that sat at the back of the room on a slightly raised platform. A tall, heavily-muscled man was seated there, along with a few others. His raven hair was cropped short, his eyes an almost black shade of blue, and he was dressed in long, thin robes.

"That is Bruce Wayne," Wintergreen told him. "The ruler of this land."

"Ah, William, how wonderful it is to see you again," Bruce spoke in fluent English as he stood to greet his guests. They clasped their hands in a loose hold and leaned forward to kiss one another's cheeks. "And General Wilson, I presume."

"Shake his hand and hold eye contact," William whispered in his ear. "But don't kiss his cheeks. That's a greeting reserved for friends, not acquaintances. Remember to smile."

Slade did as he was told, shaking the man's hand and smiling a smile that he hoped was inviting as he maintained eye contact. He was tired and overwhelmed with the rather strict and unfamiliar etiquette, and he wasn't sure if he had it in him to give off a friendly vibe.

"Please, sit." Bruce gestured to the pillows before him, and the two Americans seated themselves across from the broad male. "I am pleased to have you here," he said. "Your gifts are very much appreciated, William. Fine taste, as always."

"Oh, please," Wintergreen smiled, "it's but a formality among friends."

Slade tried to pay attention to the two men as they talked, but he found his eye straying to the rest of the room. His attention was drawn mainly to the divine tapestry that was strung behind Bruce's table. It was woven beautifully with delicate, flowing designs that swept across the surface. It's many colors was a stark contrast to the off-white stone that the palace of constructed of.

He sighed, quickly covering it as a cough in case that would also be considered disrespectful, and looked over at Wintergreen. The two men were engaged in an intense reminiscent conversation, having gone from English to Gotham's native tongue somewhere along the line.

"So negotiations will be held later this week," Bruce concluded, and Slade nodded approvingly. "I will send a servant with correct times."

"Of course, thank you." Slade shook the man's hand again. "We greatly appreciate your time."


The men turned at the soft voice, and Slade's throat suddenly went completely dry when his eye landed on the owner. Standing in the doorway was the most ethereal creature he had ever laid eyes on. The boy was in his teens, though he was a bit on the small side. Delicate muscles were woven together under flawless alabaster skin that was unusual for such a sun-riddled climate. Also odd were the large azure eyes that were lined with thick lashes and seemed to be made from pools of Caribbean waters, a stark difference to the dark orbs that were common in the area. His hair was short and gave midnight a run for its money, falling across his forehead in shaggy wisps. He was dressed in short white robes that fell from his shoulders and was tied at the waist by thin gold chains, while his feet were bare.

"Ah, Robin," Bruce smiled at the boy, ushering him forward. "Come meet General Wilson."

"Hello, it is a pleasure to meet you," Robin said in perfect English, bowing deeply and gazing at them with wide, shining eyes. "William, how lovely it is to see you again!"

"And it is wonderful to see you also, little Robin," Wintergreen said with a warm smile, and he kissed the boy's pale cheeks as they shook hands. "My, how you've grown."

Robin blushed under the man's gaze, and he smiled widely. He turned and spoke briefly with his father in their native tongue, the sharp, heavy language sounding airy and musical when spoken from the boy's lips.

"Well, it is time to be going," Bruce said with a small smile. "I'm sure our guests are very tired and would like to rest. Come, Robin."

Bruce shook their hands one more time before turning and heading down the corridor to his chambers, four servants following obediently in his wake.

"Goodnight, William, General Wilson." Robin bowed slightly and smiled slyly at the white-haired man, blue eyes peering at him from under dark lashes before straightening and padding away.

Slade grinned stupidly, earning an elbow in the ribs from a disapproving Wintergreen. He scowled at his companion, but went back to grinning when he saw Robin look over his shoulder and wave his pretty fingers at him before he disappeared from view.

"You don't stare at the king's only son like he's some two-cent prostitute, Slade..." Wintergreen groaned, wondering how he had gotten stuck training this hopeless old dog. "That's just common courtesy in every culture."

Slade ignored him, instead opting to burn the picture of the beautiful boy into his memory.

The men didn't realize how exhausted they were until they were dismissed and hurried by servants to their chambers to rest. They bid each other goodnight, William heading to his own room across from Slade's. Slade happily entered his own quarters, closing the wooden doors firmly behind him.

He sighed and brushed his hair back with a hand before trudging over to the large canopy bed pressed against the wall between two carved windows. His clothes fell to floor like a trail of breadcrumbs along the way, and he slipped under the cream-colored sheets, the light cotton soft and cool against his tanned skin.

The white-haired American felt sleep cloud the edges of his vision, his mind overwhelmed with the past few weeks of travel and the struggles of fitting in with the new culture and etiquette of Gotham. His single dark eye slipped closed, and he cleared his thoughts in the hopes to fall asleep faster, as he felt he would need it for the coming days.

Slade was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, his dreams filled with sprawling stone palaces and exotic blue-eyed beauties.

A/N: So the dining rules and what not are actually based off Egyptian culture, since I felt that the desert kingdom of Gotham fit that best... even the whole 'eating the with the right hand' thing is true. Apparently in Egypt, there's not much you can actually do (in public) with your left hand. :/

Anyway, this failure at culturing the fandom aside... -dodges bullets- It's not terribly bad, right? I actually have a full outline for this one, so it won't end up on hiatus...

God this is short. -cough- The others will be longer.

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