A/N: On the "Ask the Squishykins" tumblr, Twinings and I are currently offering ourselves up for two full weeks of filling fic prompts for our readers, varying in length from a hundred to a thousand-plus words. The project has been dubbed the Free For All Fic For All—or FFAFFA for short. This is one of those stories—and this is the boilerplate author's note you'll see on all of 'em. The current round of FFAFFA runs until July 15th, so if you want a custom fic written to any particular specifications, drop by and ask for it!
Prompt: The prompts are spoilery, so I've saved them for the end.
Notes: With this fic more than most, my interpretation of the characters involved are an extrapolation based on various canon sources. I kept what I like and discarded what I don't in an effort to make them as three dimensional as possible. Yay!
Perfect for the man who has everything!
Talia al Ghul stared at the sign that was lying, lips pursed into a thin, grim line. She set the travel alarm clock back on the counter. Even if it was diamond encrusted, her father certainly had no use for it, and though he had a taste for the finer things, he hated this very kind of waste. Precious gems should be treated as though they're precious, she thought to herself as she slunk away, stepping over an unconscious night watchman, not like garish 'upgrades.'
She moved on to the next counter, careful to avoid the security system's cameras in the darkness of Rosendale's department store, and spared another sign—Show him how much you care!—a careless look. Colognes? Really? How utterly useless to a man like Ra's al Ghul. He had been alive long enough to have smelled all the most exotic flowers from around the globe—some now extinct—she doubted very much that things as common as sandalwood and myrrh would impress him.
Besides, all the perfumes of Arabia would not sweeten his hands… she thought with a bitter half-smile, drifting away from the jewelry and cosmetics counters into the women's department. It was only because of a passing fancy that she looked at the dresses there at all. Talia had long been provided with a seamstress of her own to make garments to her specifications—or, to be more accurate, to her father's specifications—but her eye still roamed the floor, catching on a sundress here, hanging on a formal gown there. All designer, all very, very expensive, and all very inappropriate for a woman such as the daughter of the Demon's Head.
Talia passed a mirror and pointedly paid no attention to her clothes—black, tight, created for stealth and ease of movement, but little else. She brushed the hair from her eyes and looked at her own reflection for a moment longer than Ra's would have allowed, because vanity is unbecoming in even so beautiful a daughter as mine. In that stolen second, she envisioned color around her face, dared to think of crimson and navy and emerald green and fabrics that were not limited to silk and leather…
And as quickly as the fantasy had come, she let it go, continuing on her way through the department store. She passed a mannequin—strawberry blonde in a green evening gown—that wobbled on its base as though someone had been touching it and then let go. Talia was immediately on her guard, ready for a fight, but nothing came out of the dark. She stood frozen in place for five minutes, muscles tense, and nothing happened.
Somewhat relieved but not entirely convinced that she had nothing to worry about, she continued on her way, remaining vigilant and wary of her surroundings with every step. If it is the Detective, spying on me, let him spy, she thought, I have not stolen anything.
She smiled to herself a little more than she would have allowed in daylight and amended, Yet.
Talia drifted past the shoe department and into men's clothes. She wove her way lazily through aisle after aisle of suits worth several thousand dollars, silk ties with price tags in the hundreds and belts made from all manner of unusual animals that were probably nearing endangerment.
It was then that she heard it.
The dagger at her hip was suddenly in her hand. Her gun remained in its holster. Too many guards still walked the floor; she would dispatch with anyone who did not belong with the blade. Lead with the hip, follow through, if from the left, a roundhouse kick, if from the right… she ran scenarios silently, creeping toward the sounds on feet so quiet a cat would have felt jealousy. It sounded like…
She crept a little faster, past suit jackets and ties, past a clerk's counter and ducked into the entryway of the area where the dressing rooms were. Talia heard muttering that sounded suspiciously like cursing. Her eyes narrowed, partly with suspicion, partly with curiosity as she approached, taking steps that could be measured in mere inches instead of feet. She opened each dressing room door as she passed it, careful to remain silent as she did so, until she reached the last door.
She kicked it in, her dagger drawn and poised to strike.
Inside the overlarge dressing room, she found a lizard the size of a man, struggling to pull on a pair of pants.
For a split second, her brain went offline as it tried to process what her eyes were seeing. Before she came to Gotham, her father insisted that she read the Detective's files. She knew this…thing…as a high level criminal, not a petty thief of pants.
"You," she hissed. "Beast. What are you doing here?"
His hands still clutching the waistband of his pants, the lizard man said, "I could ask you the same thing, cher."
"Je ne suis pas votre cher," she hissed. He seemed surprised by this.
"Fille courageuse." He showed his teeth in what must have been, for him, a smile. "J'aime que les."
"I do not care what you like." She still didn't lower the dagger. "You still have not answered my question."
"I'm shopping, belle dame," he tried to button his pants and failed, "I can hardly shop here in the daytime, no?"
Defeated, he dropped the pants and Talia made a point to look only at his face. She had to fight the urge to look away entirely, as it was the proper thing to do, but she knew that course of action to be too dangerous. Even proper decorum must come after tactical advantage, the voice of her father reminded her from the distant past of her training.
She took a few breaths and sheathed her dagger, but kept her hand on the hilt. Talia still did not look away from the monster's eyes. "You are trying on the wrong size."
"No," he said flatly. "Really?"
She looked at the pile of pants he had yet to try on. She didn't rifle through them, just looked. Swift as a cobra strike, her hand darted into the fabric and drew out a navy blue pair of pants, which she threw at his feet. He seemed reluctant to pick them up.
"I will not stab you," she said, "on my honor, I swear it."
"That might make me feel better if your hand weren't on a dagger, ange."
"I am not here to make you feel better."
"A fair point." He scooped up the pants, keeping one eye on her knife, and slipped them on. They fit. "What are you here for?"
"I am…" she said haltingly. "I too cannot shop in the daytime so well."
He peered at her curiously. "Vampire?"
"No! I…" She looked away from his eyes for a moment and then remembered herself; his conversational manner had already coaxed her into revealing too much. "It is no business of yours."
"Ah, if you won't tell me your story, then I make one up for you," he said.
"You will do nothing of the sort."
He tapped his temple with a claw. "Can't tell a man not to do what's already done."
"I am leaving," she said sternly. "Do not follow me, beast."
"Do not follow me…Croc." Talia backed out of the dressing room, careful not to expose her back, and started down the hallway. Once she was safely back out in the men's department, she wove through the racks of clothes as quickly as she could without tripping any of the alarms.
At the sound of jangling keys, she ducked behind one of the many mirrored pillars in the store and prepared to fight. Another night watchman was on the prowl. His flashlight shone on the floor, cleaving the darkness by her foot in half. She readied herself to jump at him but stopped when a large green hand burst from the shadows and grabbed him, smashing his head into the nearest clothing rack. The guard lost consciousness on impact and crumpled to the floor.
"I think in my story, you are a captive princess," Croc said, materializing out of the darkness as if by magic. "A princess who outwitted the palace guards and slipped away in the night."
Her face did not betray how close to the truth he had come. "What do you want?"
"You helped me," he gestured toward the pants she'd given him, "so, I help you find whatever you're lookin' for."
"You selected those. They were in your pile of clothes. You would have found them on your own eventually."
"But not so quickly, eh?"
"That is a ridiculously small debt to want to repay. And I do not require your help."
"It is my debt to choose to repay. It is…" he seemed to choose his next words carefully, "…a matter of honor."
He fixed his yellow eyes on hers intently. "Now, what you lookin' for, cher?"
She hesitated. For a full minute, she hesitated, unable to make the words come. When they finally did, they were halting and awkward. "I…I am looking for…that is to say, my father…"
"I don't think they sell those here," he said with what she presumed were raised brows.
"A gift," she spat out, furious at her own inability to overcome her embarrassment. "I am looking for a gift for my father."
"What sort of man is he?"
Talia did not answer. Her eyes burned bright with the refusal to reveal any more about herself than was already out.
"There is more story coming to me," Croc said, reaching his hands in front of himself like a seer in a trance. "I think he is the mad, tyrannical warlord king."
"Do not speak of him in such a manner."
Croc placed his hands over his eyes. "No, it's too late, this story—it writes itself."
Talia stared at him, unamused.
"I think when I get home," he peeped through his fingers at her, "I write it all down and make the bestseller list, no?"
She folded her arms over her chest and scowled. He dropped his hands.
"Are you really so hard hearted, ange?"
"Yes." Not a single muscle twitched in her face to reveal the truth to the contrary.
He should probably have sighed with exasperation, but he didn't. Instead, he said, "I think sporting goods, cher," and then grabbed her hand.
Croc was flat on his back counting stars with her boot on his throat and her gun pointed at his head before his fingers could even close around hers.
"Perhaps…not sporting goods."
"You will not touch me without permission."
Grudgingly, she removed her boot.
Twenty minutes later, Talia idly turned a champagne glass in her hands in the housewares department, doing her best to pretend her companion did not exist.
Even here, nothing jumped out at her as being appropriate for her father. The linens were too coarse or synthetic; the crystal was all inferior to what he kept from the Victorian era. Talia placed the glass back on the shelf where she found it and scanned the second floor of Rosendale's. In the distance, she saw the bedding department, closer to her, chairs and couches were scattered over the floor, and nearer still were dining tables, made up with place settings that Ra's would have scorned for being extravagant without having any actual worth.
Curiously, another strawberry blonde dummy in a green dress—virtually identical to the one she'd seen in the women's department—sat at one table, opposite some sort of diving suit that had clearly been left there for restocking in the nearby sporting goods department. At first, Talia had thought she saw it move, but after watching for awhile, she realized it was nothing but a trick of the darkness.
She was beginning to despair that she would never find anything for her father and would—not for the first time—prove herself to be a disappointment to him. Croc was of little help, and she tired of him anyway, so it was with little regret that she slipped away while he was otherwise occupied with…something. She didn't care to know what.
With enviable skill, she made it to the escalator silently, and lept over the gate that blocked it from being used with the agility and grace of a gymnast.
Croc was waiting for her at the bottom. "We playin' hide and seek, cher?" He tapped her shoulder, too quick for her to grab. "You're it."
She struck at him and missed as he melted into the shadows, a rumbling chuckle erupting from his chest.
"I am not playing."
"Or maybe you can't catch me, ange."
The insult was too much. No one spoke to her that way, or touched her without asking, or…or… Without thinking, she darted after him.
For such a large creature, he moved with impressive speed and stealth. Talia slipped in and out of the inbetween spaces of the shadows, avoiding the path of every security camera, and every alarm's electric eye. From the corner of her eye, she saw him trundle up the escalator stairs, taking them in great long strides, three at a time. She followed, taking refuge in the inkiest parts of darkness along the way, careful to remain as invisible as her father taught her to be.
It was in bedding that she finally caught up with him, as he climbed across a California king. Talia all but flew out of the pitch black, and pinned him to the mattress. She should have been panting with the effort, but Talia made a great show of keeping her breathing slow and regulated. I told you not to touch me, she intended to say, but the words never made it past her lips.
"My turn," he announced, grabbing at her.
She somersaulted away from him as his hand closed around the air that was where she had been a split second before. In the moment it took to break into a sprint, she forgot why she had been chasing him in the first place, thinking only of the immediate: slipping away from her pursuer. Adrenaline coursed through her veins with the challenge. Her father's men, though good trainers in the abstract, never dared to be so physical with the daughter of the Demon's Head, no matter how much they claimed the opposite to be true. They held back. They only pushed her as far as they knew she could easily go, no further than that. The lizard did not give quarter any more than the Detective did.
There, in the department store, they traded the role of predator and prey more times than she could count for what felt like a very tense and active ten minutes. Only when the very faintest rays of dawn broke through the second floor windows during her last turn did she realize they'd been…playing…for hours. Talia searched for him for as long as she dared, but realized too late that he was long gone. Not only did she not get her revenge, but he had…won.
Talia finally allowed herself some labored breathing, and sat for a moment on the balcony's edge, overlooking the first floor of Rosendale's. Again, she noticed another strawberry blonde mannequin in a green dress, this one standing beside a strange diving suit identical to the one she'd seen in housewares. It made more sense that it was in sporting goods, but she began to wonder if perhaps the store could only afford one model of dummy.
Wiping the sweat from her brow, Talia slipped from the ledge and landed below in a crouch. She disappeared from the store moments before the first employees entered and left no trace that she'd ever been there, except two groggy night watchmen with minor concussions who were later fired for drinking on the job.
In the Gotham penthouse of Ra's al Ghul, dinner was the formal affair it always was. Talia wore the dress he chose for her—silk, black, minimally adorned—and did not kiss him on the cheek before she sat down. She unfolded her napkin, placed it gracefully in her lap and reached for her fork; her every movement measured and perfect, as it was supposed to be.
"Happy father's day, father."
Ra's swirled his snifter of cognac, but did not react beyond that. "Is that today?"
Talia chewed her bite of salad very slowly, counting the number of times her teeth met, just as she was supposed to.
"Yes," he said, more to himself than to her, "I suppose it must be today. Why else would you be out…shopping for gifts last night?"
Her fork didn't clatter on the plate when she set it down. Because it would have been improper for it to do so. Of course he knew. Of course he did.
"I will not begrudge you a playmate, my dear," Ra's said in an even tone, taking a sip from the snifter, "but neither will I stand for secrecy and defiance."
Talia picked up her water glass and took the most ladylike of sips. "No, father."
"I…was unable to find a gift for you," she said quietly, her words coming out less elegantly than she wanted.
"Mmm. That is unsurprising." He set his cognac down and pushed his chair back from the table. His plate sat untouched. "See to it that does not go to waste, Ubu. Give it to the dogs.."
"Yes, master," his attendant said with a deep bow.
Ra's dropped his napkin on the table and stood. He seemed to consider for a moment and then, he touched Talia's shoulder. "In any event, I am…pleased that you had a pleasant evening, gift or no gift."
She did not let her pleasure at this show and fixed her eyes on the table in front of her as he kissed her on the top of the head. "See that you do not make a habit of it."
Prompts: Talia goes father's day shopping; Killer Croc goes shopping; More Sexy!Cajun!Croc; Croc has to talk his way out of a sticky situation; something Croc. Also, not a prompt, but there was totally bonus Preston Payne Clayface in this. Did you spot him?