This used to be a funhouse, But now it’s full of evil clowns. It’s time to start the countdown, I’m gonna burn it down, down, down.“Funhouse,” P!nk
Bruce awoke with a start, aware that something was different about the darkness surrounding him. He could feel Blackjack still pressed against him, breathing deeply and calmly, but there was another presence in the room. Breath tickled the side of his neck, and a shiver of arousal raced through him as his eyes honed into the darkness around the bed, looking for what had disturbed his slumber.
“Good evening, Mr. Wayne,” a familiar voice echoed softly behind him, and Bruce looked over his shoulder and saw a shadowed figure sitting in a chair by the side of his bed. “I was so disappointed when you canceled your birthday festivities, but I can see why now. The Chosen One is beautiful even in his sleep.”
“Ducard,” he whispered, untangling Blackjack from him despite the moans of protest that fell from his sleep-stained lips. Bruce’s senses were instantly alert, taking in the rest of the room, and he was thankful to realize that Ducard appeared to be alone. “What are you doing here?”
“I came, at first, to wish you a pleasant birthday,” he replied, leaning forward, but still almost completely invisible in the darkness. “Now though that I see the fruits of my labor, I have a slightly different purpose.”
He could sense Ducard’s gaze resting on Blackjack, and he instantly became defensive, swearing to himself that despite his fondness for his old mentor, he would allow nothing and no one to harm Blackjack—and after his experiences with the League of Shadows before he returned to Gotham he knew that little good would come from a meeting with any of them. “What do you mean?” Bruce asked quietly, holding Ducard’s unseeing gaze.
“He is my greatest accomplishment,” Ducard said with a hint of pride, his outline leaning back until he was encased completely in shadows and hidden from view. Bruce could only see the hint of his knees in the almost complete darkness, but his heightened senses still allowed him to track Ducard’s every movement. “He never knew that the League of Shadows watched him, that we whispered in his ears at night, that we carefully crafted his conception so that he would be the most powerful he could possibly be. We planned for him for decades, Bruce,” he uttered in little more than a whisper, his voice shivering with a hint of passion. “Decades.”
Bruce sat silently, soaking up the information, and unwilling to interrupt Ducard when he was loquacious and reminiscing about his shadowed past. He knew so little of his beautiful Blackjack, of where he came from, and to find out that the League of Shadows somehow molded him… He pushed the thought from him, refusing to let himself be caught up in sentimentality when a dangerous and powerful man sat across from him.
“There were whispers in the night from England,” Ducard murmured, turning his head so that Bruce could see the outline of his nose, the curve of his lips that was so achingly familiar to him somehow. “A society was festering, destroying itself slowly in stagnation and hatred,” he growled angrily. “An evil was going to rise. It would only take the right circumstances, Bruce. Enough resentment, anger, enough of the elite listening to a honeyed tongue, and then a boy was born and we knew that it was only a matter of time before he gained what he needed. Now, normally, we would simply go in and destroy the carcass and rebuild from the ashes, but it was too important—too ancient—too sacred even to us. So we planned. We knew that an infusion of power was needed, and so a woman was carefully chosen, one whose bloodlines were forgotten, left to rot in common obscurity and yet with so much potential.”
Blackjack shifted on the bed, moving in his sleep closer to Bruce’s warmth and reaching out an arm until it was threaded around his waist from behind. Without taking his eyes from Ducard, Bruce reached down and entwined their fingers, smiling slightly when Blackjack snuggled even closer to him.
“It was risky,” Ducard seemed to confess, though Bruce realized that he was no longer speaking to him and lost in his own memories. “So much could go wrong, despite our books and careful planning. The child, if conceived, needed the lost talents from her mother and my strength, natural intelligence, and ability to lead. And then a child of R’as al Ghul was born—and she was more than I ever could have hoped for.”
Bruce turned his head fractionally, understanding the implications of the last sentence. Ducard was R’as al Ghul, the leader of the League of Shadows and the mastermind of the corrupt façade—and Bruce had killed his men and burnt down his house in the Tibetan mountains. A sense of horror washed through him, but he showed no outward sign, instead observing Ducard—R’as al Ghul—closely in the night.
“Everything was crafted from afar,” Ducard continued to murmur, a hand coming up and rubbing against his lips that were so like Blackjack’s, an exact copy of the lips that haunted Bruce’s dreams. “But Lily,” he said was pride, “was all she should be and so much more. She sensed us watching and when she was only thirteen she came to me, following the whispers of our existence, high into the snow-covered mountains, having convinced her mother and step-father that she was visiting friends for the summer holiday.”
His awareness peaked, and Bruce felt Blackjack come slowly awake behind him, his hand flexing in Bruce’s grasp, and his body becoming rigid as Ducard’s words swept through the darkened room. Bruce gently ran his thumb against the back of Blackjack’s knuckles, showing him that for now he was safe, and hoping that Blackjack would remain quiet and calm until Ducard had confessed his part in Blackjack’s life.
“I taught her everything I knew that summer,” Ducard whispered, a light glinting in his eyes despite the near darkness of the room. “She was a precocious child, so eager to learn, my Lily al Ghul. She sensed the darkness approaching England, the shadow that was infesting the minds of the young, and when the war began she came to me and asked me what she could do to destroy the infestation of wickedness and decadence.”
“And you told her,” Bruce reasoned quietly.
“Yes,” Ducard said proudly. “I told her she was born to infuse new blood into an old pureblood line, that she would bear the child that would end it all. We hadn’t decided whom she should marry until she was just seventeen years of age—whose blood was worthiest of my daughter—but the brat of the boy had been in love with her since they were children and she gladly did her duty, knowing that her precious child, my grandson, would carry on the League of Shadows’ plans to crush the evil in their midst.—I heard that you do not even know my grandson’s name, and yet still you defile his bed by lying in it.”
Blackjack’s hand clenched against Bruce’s abdomen almost painfully and pressed the crook of his nose against Bruce’s side.
“I don’t need to know. It doesn’t matter.”
“No, although there are many who would entrap him for the name he inherited from his father alone,” Ducard murmured. “He is the stuff of legends, my grandson. Titles even do not suit him, he is so beyond them.”
Silence fell between them and the two men watched each other carefully in the darkness, until finally Ducard spoke again.
“He was the light of my life when he was born, the son of my heart.” His eyes flickered toward Blackjack’s still frame on the bed in a mess of covers, and to Bruce’s eyes, Ducard seemed to smile at the sight. “The League of Shadows has sacked Rome, loaded trade ships with plague rats, burnt London to the ground, but that was nothing compared to what my grandson did when he was still a boy. I watched from afar as he was taken from his mother’s dead arms and placed with filth, gave him strength to persevere although he didn’t know I was watching and leaving him food in the cupboard he was locked into. I was forced to watch as I was kept away by a foolish old man who thought himself omnipotent and omnipresent. When that man made certain that my grandson would be killed, I was there, ensuring his life—and I had hoped that he would find his way to me when the dust of war had settled—but then he disappeared without even a whisper as to his whereabouts. I didn’t know if my grandson was dead or alive and yet I still searched, only for me to find him years later in your bed, Mr. Wayne. You have much more to answer for than I originally believed.” He leaned forward again, his face partially illuminated by the starlight shining through the windows.
Bruce remained quiet for several long moments, watching as the shadows played against Ducard’s face, which was so much like Blackjack’s. They had the same nose, the same high forehead although Blackjack’s was marred with a scar.
“It is not my place to reveal his secrets,” Bruce finally stated, his eyes flashing. “He has had enough betrayal in his life from the little I know of him.”
A hint of a smile flashed in Ducard’s eyes and he sat back imperiously. “Well, you always were a man of honor despite your predilection to burn down people’s houses.”
“You wanted me to execute a man outside of justice.”
“We are justice,” Ducard argued patiently, his voice rising majestically. “We are the watchers of this world. My grandson could tell you that, and I heard the most exciting rumor of a man being smothered to death and a missing patient who never existed in this stinking hell—an associate of mine with loose morals who was aiding me in our work here in Gotham.”
Bruce’s jaw clenched at the description of Crane; the monster who had imprisoned and raped Blackjack was Ducard’s associate—had been working with him to destroy the evil of Gotham itself, which had been so dear to Bruce’s parents, which Bruce had sworn to protect as Batman. What little pity and sympathy he felt for Ducard instantly vanished in hatred at the thought that the man hadn’t looked closer into Crane’s affairs, hadn’t seen the misery being caused to his own grandson while he plotted divine judgment from his own mortal hand safely in the winter mountains thousands of miles away.
“You smothered him to death in vengeance, did you not? Whatever did you do with the patient, Mr. Wayne?” A flash of light erupted from Ducard’s hand and Blackjack started at the harmless firecracker and sat up hurriedly, his hand reaching beneath the pillow but coming away empty before Bruce could fully understand what was occurring.
“I believe you are looking for this,” Ducard said quietly and held out a long box, his eyes betraying no surprise that Blackjack was now awake, as if he had known all along. “I found it years ago when I searched for you, and always keep it on me in case I should find you.”
Bruce began to block Ducard when Blackjack’s tentative hand reached out and grasped the thin package, pulling it to his chest. Ducard leaned sideways and a lamp was flicked on, flooding the room with light and Ducard’s form came into full relief. The man was sitting regally in a comfortable armchair that had been placed directly beside the bed so that Bruce could read or work while Blackjack recovered.
A rustle brought his attention back to Blackjack who had shuffled forward to the edge of the bed right beside Bruce, and he removed a thin piece of wood that was crafted with a strange handle. A smile flitted across Blackjack’s face and he glanced up to Ducard, who was looking at him with pride. “Only the best and most ruthless for an al Ghul.”
“Too many have died for the Deathstick,” Blackjack countered, his dull green eyes flashing with the hint of a past conviction.
“And more certainly will, I’d imagine,” Ducard replied pragmatically. “But you will not be one of them.” His eyes turned to Bruce again. “You didn’t answer my question. Why do you defile my grandson’s bed as he sleeps?”
“I have not touched him,” Bruce assured the man stonily, knowing exactly what he was capable of. He doubted Ducard was alone and he would do everything to protect Blackjack although he knew from the glint of pride and possessiveness in Ducard’s dark green eyes that he would never harm his grandchild.
“No, but you are planning to. I thought little of it when I read the headlines of your impending engagement, only to find you wrapped around Dusan al Ghul in the night. I certainly hope for your sake that you are not using him to discard him once you become engaged to a socialite. I had intended to burn down your house as you had burnt down mine, but that punishment would be too generous if such were the case.”
“Dusan al Ghul,” Blackjack murmured, his eyes flashing and looking up at Ducard.
“It is what I called you before your mother was taken from us,” Ducard said lightly. “Although you were named for me officially back in England—Henri Ducard,” he elaborated at the questioning look in Blackjack’s eyes.
Blackjack shivered and his eyes glazed over briefly, and Bruce immediately wrapped a strong arm around him. “My head,” he murmured as he sagged down, and Bruce laid him down gently, reaching for a glass of water, his heightened senses paying attention to any sound behind him that betrayed Ducard’s movements.
“I know,” Bruce murmured, seeing the sweat that was breaking out on Blackjack’s forehead. “I know it’s hard.” He carefully brought the glass of water to Blackjack’s lips when a silent shift of air alerted him that something had change. Tossing the glass harmlessly to the other side of the bed, he turned quickly and met the blow with his arm.
He was barely aware as three shadows entered the room and began attacking him, and the smell of smoke tickled his senses.
“Give me my grandson,” Ducard commanded as he grappled with Bruce by the side of the bed, Bruce warding off the attacks of all four of his opponents by standing guard over Blackjack’s bedside.
Growling, Bruce continued to fight, a well-placed kick incapacitating one of the faceless ninjas as he slammed against the wall and fell to the floor, unmoving. He broke another’s nose, snapping it between two of his knuckles with a satisfying crack, and twisting it until the man was on the floor, blood gushing into his brain from the broken cartilage.
“Get Dusan,” Ducard ordered as the room heated and smoke began to flood in through the open door.
Grabbing a syringe from an open drawer, Bruce slashed out at the shadow as it reached for Blackjack, determined to keep him safe not only from the fire that threatened their lives but the League of Shadows—even if his mother and grandfather were members. A trail of blood opened up on the man’s neck and, with a lunge, Bruce pushed the needle into his neck and injected the anti-psychotic, knowing that such a large dose would flood the system. A moment later and the man fell and went into convulsions leaving only Ducard, who had stilled, Blackjack’s shaking hand pointing the Deathstick against his throat.
“Don’t tempt me,” Blackjack whispered dangerously, his eyes dark with pain although lucid.
Picking up the bedside lamp and yanking it from the wall, Bruce hit Ducard on the back of his head and watched as he slumped to the ground.
Blackjack’s hand fell, shaking, and Bruce rushed toward him, picking him up in one smooth movement and running toward the door. Smoke billowed up the stairs from below and Bruce only paused when he saw Alfred hurrying up the stairs, shouting for him to get out.
Flames licked the walls as Bruce rushed toward the hidden panel that led to the underground cave, thankful when Alfred hurried up behind him and pushed it open. He could hear rushing behind them and Ducard’s voice shouting, but he ignored it, grimly satisfied that at least he hadn’t murdered Blackjack’s grandfather whatever his unknowing sins against his own blood. A moment later and Bruce and Alfred were running through the passageway, Blackjack’s arms curled around Bruce’s neck as he coughed against his shoulder, the tip of the Deathstick pressed into the side of Bruce’s arm.
“The League of Shadows was here,” Bruce hastily explained as they finally reached the batcave and he set Blackjack down in one of the few chairs. “They’re planning to destroy Gotham, probably tonight.” He marched over to the armory and began stripping down to his underclothes and putting on his batsuit, determined to stop whatever it was that Ra’s al Gul—Ducard—had planned.
Alfred, however, wasn’t listening and when Bruce glanced over a moment later, saw him bent over Blackjack’s shivering form. “He needs to get to a hospital,” Alfred called worriedly, and a moment later Bruce was beside him, running his hand down Blackjack’s face, whose breathing was irregular and rasping. His lips were burnt, causing Bruce to shiver in fear. Alfred’s fingers rested on Blackjack’s hand and carefully opened them, pulling the piece of carved wood from them and setting it aside reverently, as if he knew what it was.
“My God,” Bruce swore, leaning down and kissing Blackjack’s lips for the first time before turning away again. “Put him in the tumbler. I’ll be there in a moment.” He latched on his boots and then his gloves and, taking his helmet in his hand, shoved it over his head until he was completely transformed. “I’ll get him there quickly,” he promised Alfred as he slipped into the driver’s seat, his eyes straying to Blackjack in worry.
“Take care of him, Master Wayne,” Alfred ordered commandingly, shocking Bruce as he looked at his butler.
“I will,” he promised as he gunned the engines.
Less than a second later, he was accelerating to top speeds, determined to get to Gotham General as quickly as possible. Despite the impending danger of Gotham’s attack and the revelation that Crane and his hallucinogenic drugs were connected to the League of Shadows, his mind strayed to Blackjack and his origins.
His jaw clenched. It didn’t matter, he told himself, whether he was Blackjack or Dusan al Ghul, or Henry Ducard. His blood still burned at the thought of him being injured, at the sound of his labored breathing that clawed at his heart as he stepped on the accelerator and weaved his way through late night traffic.
“What’s happening?” Blackjack asked and then was wracked by a series of coughs as he tried to suck in the air around him. “Bruce?”
“Don’t talk,” Bruce soothed as he came up to the exit for the hospital. “You’re safe.” The tumbler screeched as it passed another car that was exiting.
It was long after three in the morning as Bruce pulled up to the Emergency Room, his adrenaline pumping through his veins as he launched himself out of the vehicle and lifted Blackjack’s shivering and coughing form into his arms.
He barely looked at the people staring at him when he stormed into the lobby and called out for assistance, setting Blackjack down on the first empty cot. Blackjack grabbed his armored hand, wincing at the feel of cool metal against his sweaty palm, and gazed up into Bruce’s eyes, recognition in them.
“What happened?” a doctor asked as he rushed forward and took Blackjack’s pulse.
“Wayne Manor is burning to the ground,” Bruce intoned in a low voice, disguising his identity.
Blackjack looked up at him shocked at the change of voice and took in the mask quickly with his eyes as sweat formed on his brow. “Grandfather,” Blackjack murmured before coughing again, his eyes watering.
The doctor frowned and shouted orders at the nurse.
“I think he got out,” Bruce said darkly, his eyes flashing at the relief that shone through his dulled green eyes.
Another shiver ran through Blackjack and he collapsed onto the cot, shaking as his eyes went glassy from withdrawal.
“My god,” a nurse said, taking his vitals quickly and turning him onto the side. “Who is he?”
“Wayne’s fiancé,” Bruce growled possessively to the shock of those around him.
Blackjack turned to him, his eyes still glazed and yet understanding shot through his pain filled gaze. He moaned in pain and clasped Bruce’s hand, pulling it upward toward him, and Bruce couldn’t bear to tear it away from him.
“I need to go,” he said as gently as he could in his deep voice that was now grating on his own ears. “I need to stop your grandfather.”
Green eyes flashed, and Blackjack’s grasp tightened as another shiver washed over him. ‘Who?’ his lips asked silent, and Bruce nodded in understanding.
“He’s the leader of the League of Shadows. They seek to fight what they perceive as corruption, but they feel no compassion. They used you to do it somehow.”
Tears filled Blackjack’s eyes and he nodded.
“Wayne will be here soon,” he promised and carefully plied Blackjack’s fingers away from his own. “You’ll wake up and he will be here, and you will be safe.” He yearned to lean down and press a kiss against Blackjack’s lips, to let him know that he would return and that his confusion would be gone in the morning when he was given another dose of his medication, but he knew he couldn’t, not as Batman. He had already stolen their first kiss and he would only take what was willingly given from now on.
“What else is wrong with him?” the doctor asked, risking Bruce’s wrath as Batman when there was finally a lull in the conversation.
“Detox,” he replied darkly. “I’m sure Wayne will have all the information as soon as he gets everyone out of the manor.” It would explain why he wasn’t there as Bruce at that moment, given the public obsession with his escapades through society and his recently announced romance and intention to marry. He wondered just how long it would take for a nurse to slip away and call the tabloids with the information that he was actually engaged to a man.
He hoped that Blackjack was in a mellower mood when he found out and not suffering the affects of his withdrawal at the time. That could be potentially explosive.
“We need to get this man into the ward and clear his lungs,” a young doctor said and Bruce backed away, his eyes never leaving Blackjack’s form as a doctor barked orders and Blackjack’s cot was wheeled away. A nurse lagged behind, taking out a clipboard, ready to ask Bruce questions despite the fact that he was clearly the Batman, but he turned and, after a lingering glance toward the doors where Blackjack had disappeared, he fled.
“Hey!” the nurse called after him, but Bruce didn’t pay attention, worried about Blackjack’s reaction when he was told the next morning that all the doctors knew was that he was engaged to Bruce Wayne, when he wasn’t receptive to the idea given his reaction earlier that day.
The shadows enveloped him as he strode back to the tumbler and slid in it, ignoring the camera crews that had assembled and were filming the front doors and were swarming his vehicle. It hadn’t taken them as long as he initially thought it would, after all, he thought with a grimace.
A moment later he was tearing toward Gotham, his mind set on protecting the city and the place where he hoped Blackjack would call home with him. Whatever the outcome of the night, he would make sure that Ducard—and the League of Shadows—could never hurt Blackjack ever again.