Standard Disclaimer: I do not own Batman, nor any characters therein. I am not doing this for profit, just my own personal amusement.
Characters: Talia al Ghul, Damian Wayne, Damian's Clone-bro. Apologies if Damian seems a little OOC, but he's supposed to be in his early twenties to his clone's ten or eleven.
He has always, in a way, known his brother.
The first time he saw him was in surveillance footage. He'd watched, enthralled, as the figure, first in the Robin suit and then in subdued blue and black, moved gracefully across the screen, a poet of precision violence and restrained lethality.
When he'd asked who this man was, his mother said, "He's you, my darling. Another you, a failure. I had such plans for him… and he proved a disappointment."
"Shall I kill him for you, mother?" he'd asked. "Will that make you feel better?"
His mother had smiled then, her hand resting on his head in a rare gesture of affection, and indicated the screen. "That time will come soon enough. Study him well, my darling, and never forget that he is your enemy, a traitor to the House of al Ghul."
"And what am I, mother?" he had asked.
"A work in progress, my dear boy. When you kill him, you will be perfection worthy of my love."
After that, he'd watched every recording he could get his hands on, over and over, until he had memorized them and could see where his brother's training with the League of Assassins ended and the tutelage of the outsiders began its corruption. Here was the influence of the red bird in his inefficient tactics and there was the influence of the aerialist in the graceful, too-showy artistry of his movements through the urban jungle. The greatest ruination of all was his brother's absolute refusal to kill his defeated foes, all that he might better fit into the shadow of the Great Detective, and his brother seemed to be unfathomably content with this.
How could his brother stand being so hindered, his skills squandered and wasted, and be alright with what he's become?
It boggled the mind.
But, as his mother reminded him, his brother was a failure, a corrupted and flawed weapon that had warped in the last fire meant to forge it and become unusable. He, on the other hand, was no such thing. He was better than his flawed brother and he would prove it. He trained until he knew each move and each way his brother would react, until he felt like he knew his mind. Every weakness and every exploitable ally, each kick and strike and flip – he practiced countering and shutting them all down. Soon, he'd be ready. Then he'd kill his traitor brother and he would become perfect and his mother would be so proud.
On the screen, his brother was smaller, distant and intangible. It was almost impossible to see his face clearly and, the few times he had, the expressions were varied, but largely suggestive of a man guarded but content. The civilian photographs showed a young man, confident and assured, that sailed through his social circles with the inborn grace of an aristocrat and an air of apathy designed to turn away those who might look closer.
It was different seeing his traitor brother in person.
He did not like the way the traitor dropped down onto the rooftop with an easy, rolling grace that suggested he didn't find them at all threatening. He did not like the way the traitor looked at him or the strange, condescending smile that graced his lips. And he definitely did not like seeing this on a mirror of his own face as it would surely come to look like in the years to come.
"Mother, so good to see you again," the traitor drawled, lip curling in a lazy sneer. "I was beginning to think you'd forgotten all about me."
Mother said nothing. She only frowned in obvious displeasure. Had they been back at the base and were this one of her subordinates back talking her, she would have put them in a full body cast. Now, she did not move. It was unlike her.
"And this must be my replacement," the traitor concluded, sounding amused. "I see he's finally out of diapers, though he's not much to look at, is he?"
He ground his teeth and glared at him in naked hatred. He was better than the traitor could ever be. How dare he judge him!
"Tell me, mother, what brings you and the brat to my city?" the traitor asked. He then smiled cruelly: "No, wait. Don't tell me – you want him to kill me and my brothers and, through him, lay claim to my father's vast financial empire. Really, mother, this is getting old. Don't you have anything better to do with your time, like… a hobby? Knitting perhaps? I hear it's popular with old hags like you."
He put his hand on his sword and shifted his feet, preparing to attack, but was stopped by his mother's hand.
"No," she said.
"But, mother, he insulted you," he pointed out, unwilling to relax into a neutral stance. His eyes never left the traitor clad in black and blue.
She shook her head. "Not now. It is not the time and we have business elsewhere."
"I can take him, mother," he said.
"No," she repeated in a tone that said it was not up for debate.
The traitor gave him a condescending smile and made a shooing motion with one hand. "That's right. Listen to your mother and run along home before you really get hurt, mama's boy."
The traitor had just dismissed him. Dismissed him, like some idiot civilian child. Him! That weak, pathetic traitor didn't even think he was any threat to him at all, just a nuisance suited for little other than hiding behind their mother.
He ground his teeth together in pure rage and his grip on his sword turned to iron. He could see his mother's muscles tensing as she realized what he was going to do, but he was faster and he bellowed in rage as he launched towards his traitorous brother, who smiled in welcome.
"No! Stop this instant!" Mother shouted, reaching for him.
You are not ready hangs unspoken.
But he was. He was ready. He could feel it even as he drove the still-grinning traitor backwards, matching and anticipating each move with his own. And soon… soon he'd be perfect. Then mother would see he was worthy and she would love him.
Why was that bastard traitor still wearing that infuriating grin?
The traitor avoided his next swing and artfully flipped backwards across the divide between this rooftop and the one neighboring it. He landed lightly, the neighboring roof lower than the one they had been on, and spread his arms in a strange, too-showy invitation. The grin, if anything, had gotten wider still.
Come and get me.
He would wipe that grin off his brother's traitorous face. Permanently.
He leaped, dropping down onto the lower rooftop easily, and drew his sword up into a ready stance. The traitor's right hand twitched – next move, batarang – and he charged, closing the distance between the two of them to render the projectile harmless. But there was no projectile and his traitor brother had already moved into a fluid block, aiming at separating him from his sword. The block smoothly transitioned into a hold and he twisted into the movements, intending to use his smaller size to slip the hold.
There was the dull, heavy whump of explosives going off, thick grey smoke rushing up around them, and then everything beneath them crumbled. For a moment, they were both floating on the displaced air and then gravity kicked in with vicious aplomb, sucking them down with the rubble. Instinctively, he clung to the traitor, knowing that the next move would be the grappling line, and he was right. He waited until they slowed a little before he pivoted at the waist and slashed the line, relishing the barely perceptible twitch of his traitorous brother's eye as they began to free fall once more and the way his mouth curled into a sneer.
His own eyes widened a fraction as the traitor hurled him away from him. On instinct, he twisted himself around midair and clumsily landed, his foot slipping on the uneven rubble. He then watched as his brother dropped out of a tight somersault and landed expertly.
"Now, now, that wasn't nice, baby bro," the traitor said, smiling. He wagged a finger at him. "I might get the impression you want to kill me."
"I do, idiot," he snarled, drawing up his sword, and charged, leaping into the air as soon as he got enough momentum. He swung the sword down, but it only caught the traitor's armguard and he hadn't hit hard enough to break the bone below. He planted both feet on the traitor's chest, intending to springboard away from the inevitable grab that would follow his thwarted strike.
He did not expect the arm that had been blocking his sword to drop like a brick onto his upper thighs, nor did he expect the hand that was supposed to be reaching to grab him to instead be the other arm snaking right behind his knees and yanking vice-tight. It caught him momentarily off guard, causing him to lose his balance and his grip on the sword. He went for the traitor's ankles, but shortly found himself being tossed head over heels away from the traitor. He tucked into a roll, quickly pulling himself back up, and hissed as his upper thighs protested. They were likely bruised to the bone.
"For shame, baby bro," the traitor made a tsk-tsk sound. "Killing me isn't very brotherly at all."
"Don't call me that, you traitor!" he shouted, charging again. He sprang for a kick to the head and used the blocking grab that stopped it to spin into a second, stronger kick. Again, it was blocked, and he bounced off, back flipping into a crouch on the ground. He grinned, charging a third time, and this time, his punch combo slipped through the hole in his brother's defenses that was where a lethal strike should have been. He pressed the attack, getting several more hits in those weak spots, and laughed.
"What's so funny, mini-me?" the traitor asked, kneeing him in the kidneys.
He was sent skidding backwards, reeling, and it took a second to stop wheezing long enough to grin back at him. "You're so weak, it's pathetic. You shame our mother's blood!"
"Oh, what a tragedy," his traitorous brother said, the tone suggesting he really found nothing tragic about it in the slightest, and punched him in the face.
He blocked, gritting his teeth, and hissed, "I've studied your moves. You're always holding back, even now!" Then, he pressed his retaliation, a flurry of kicks and punches, and punctuated them with his words: "You refuse to do everything that is necessary to win! But I don't! Unlike you, I'm perfect, and it's my right to kill you, traitor!"
"I remember how the League works, thank you," the traitor responded, blocking the attacks almost automatically. "But for one who has studied all my moves, you still fail to understand me."
There was a click and then smoke exploded up from the ground, obscuring them. He coughed, stilling immediately, and waited, listening. A flick of his wrists and he had his throwing knives ready.
"You will never be able to win, you know," the traitor said.
The voice was coming from somewhere to his left. He whirled in place, flinging a knife towards the sound. It struck metal.
"Oh, you can try and try, but in the end, you'll be just as much a failure in mother's eyes as I am, baby brother."
This time, it was to the right. He growled, flinging another knife, and shouted, "You're wrong! I will not fail! I will be perfect!"
Again, there was the clink of metal on metal. It was frustrating, but at least the smoke was starting to clear.
"You assume that because I don't kill I'm weak or unable to do all that is necessary to win," the traitor paused. "And you'd be wrong on both counts."
He narrowed his eyes, turning again, and tossed two more knives into the thinning smoke.
"What are you trying to hit?" the traitor asked – behind him!
He could not turn fast enough. The traitor's backhand caught him right across the face, practically lifting him off the ground, and he swore he could see stars as he landed roughly on his feet. He tried to swing around for a kick, but the traitor was there to catch it.
"Fact is, baby bro, I don't need to kill you to win," the traitor said coolly and brought an arm down on his already bruised thigh sharply.
He howled in pain and rage, feeling the bone crack.
"See, I understand how our mother works," the traitor continued, shoving him back on to the ground and stepping away. "I bet she told you that you wouldn't be worthy of her love until you killed me, right? She does that, you know – makes promises like that to keep you loyal. At one point, I would have murdered all my older brothers just to get a single hug from her, but eventually I got wise."
He glared at him in hatred and discreetly tried to bring his hand around to grab the second stash of throwing knives he had on him. The traitor stabbed his toes down toward the ground, bounced one of the fallen knives into the air, and gave it a good spinning kick. The knife shot through the air, imbedding itself blade first in his shoulder. He hissed through clenched teeth.
"Not so fast, bucko," the traitor said, wagging his finger again. He then took a few steps back and pulled a grappling gun out of his utility belt, adjusting the dial.
"Why don't you finish me?" he hissed, his numb fingers clasping the hidden pocket of knives, and silently prayed his traitorous brother would come closer.
"I don't have to," the traitor smiled, smugly. "I've already won."
He stared at him in confusion and anger. "What?"
"I told you before: I don't need to kill you in order to win," the traitor said with a cruel smile. "Killing's easy. A child could do it. It takes a lot more skill to keep your enemy alive and move them into your trap. And, I have to say, I'm glad you're just as hotheaded as I was back then. It made it so much easier."
He went still, schooling his face into a careful blank.
"And now I'm going to let you in on a little secret, baby bro," the traitor continued. "Our mother has room in her heart to love only one thing – perfection. If you're lucky and she hasn't already abandoned you or started growing your replacement, she'll be there to patch you up when you finally crawl out of this hole but you'll never be the same in her eyes ever again. You've failed and she will never forget it. To her, you will always be less than perfect."
His eyes widened sharply and he stared at the traitor in horrified realization.
"Nice playing with you, baby bro," the traitor said smugly, firing his grappling gun towards the roof and then quickly scrambling up the line.
Alone, he leaned forward, his eyes stinging with moisture.
Now, he understood his brother.
AN: I'm leaving the ending open precisely because it doesn't matter what happens - the seed of doubt is now thoroughly planted in his clone's mind, so Damian wins no matter what.
Be a worthy opponent to the house of al Ghul, indeed.