Ra's gets in a fight with Batman, or rather, his ninjas do. He is in Gotham as well, overseeing, watching from afar. He expects things to be fairly routine, he doesn't really expect to win, but keeping Bruce on his toes is an enjoyable pastime.
However, the normal flow of events is interrupted when one of his ninjas brings him a child. A small boy, practically a waif, dressed in good quality rain gear and carrying a camera, he is conscious in the ninjas arms, watching everything around him, not letting a single detail escape him.
Ra's looks at the small child who is placed before him, who could not be older than seven, and maybe as young as six, and wonders.
“Who are you, child?” he asks, and the boy just stares at him with dark blue eyes, the colour of pure sapphire or perhaps the deep parts of the sea.
“My name is Timothy,” the boy says.
“And how old are you, Timothy?”
“I am eight.”
Ra's blinks slowly. He had thought the boy much younger, considering his size. But his speech was very clear, and he sat very still. “Why were you watching the Bat, Timothy?”
“Batman and Robin are heros,” he says, leaning forward just the slightest bit. This is something Timothy loves, Ra's can see.
“They are, yes. And do you know who I am?” Ra's asks.
Timothy thinks for a minute. “From what I understand, you command the assassins that attack Batman sometimes. Are you a villain?”
Ra's smiles, letting it become something slow and menacing. “I am.” But the child doesn't even blink.
“Are you going to kill me?” Tim asks. “The Batman will not pay ransom for me, or sacrifice trade Robin for me. He doesn't even know I exist.”
“No, child,” Ra's says. “I am not going to kill you. I am not enough of a monster to murder a helpless child.”
In response, Tim shifts so that he is standing in a half-decent martial arts stance. “I would not go without a fight,” he says.
“I like you, Timothy. But now you should run home to your parents.”
Tim relaxes his stance and looks up at Ra's with his huge blue eyes. “My parents are in Turkey,” he says, entirely matter-of-fact. “They are not due back for another three weeks, and my nanny does not like me, because I am smarter than she is, and I scare her.”
Ra's looks at the boy then, and the boy looks back, and all of this strikes him as profoundly wrong. This is one of the most stunning beings Ra's has ever seen in his long life, brilliantly intelligent, beautiful in a way he had never thought possible and oh so very sweet, and yet this boy, Timothy, is completely alone in the world. Even to the point where he stalks Batman. It sickens Ra's, and he is all of a sudden determined not to let it go on. “You will come with me tonight when I leave,” Ra's says. “You will return to my home in Israel, and you will live by my side.”
Tim frowns. “I do have a life here. My parents will probably not look very hard, but I do not think I can just vanish.”
“I have my ways. Now, will you do it, or shall I force you?”
“No,” Tim says, “I'll come with you. Just...” He looks down. “I don't want to become a weapon, and if that is your purpose, I will fight you for my freedom.”
“I would not turn a creature such as you into a mindless warrior for my cause,” Ra's replies. “And even if I wanted too, I doubt that I could. You are too strong already for that.” It occurs to Ra's that Tim is far too old for such small bones as he has, and that once he is grown he will be as ancient as Ra's is, deep in his heart.
Tim nods. “Thank you. I will go with you, then.”
And with that, it is settled.
Ra's teaches Tim everything. Teaches him how to ride, to act, to fight. Teaches him art, and music, and poetry, and teaches him how to smile without meaning it. He also teaches Tim how to smile and mean it with the absolute fullness of his heart, because that is something Tim has never known. Ra's tells Tim his deepest secrets, about the Lazarus Pits and about Talia, who Tim does not meet for a long time. He tells Tim about what life was like when he was a king in the very dawn of his long days upon the earth, and of meeting gods and monsters and men. Ra's tells Tim that of all those he has met and loved and lost and conquered, the humans have been the most terrifying. Because a god, he says, believes himself eternally steeped in light, and a monster has never known the balance of its own darkness. A man knows light and dark, and embraces both, and that is where strength comes from.
When Tim meets Talia, he is surprised how much she is at once like her father and utterly different from him. The first time he sees her she is just returned from a venture, and she is covered in blood. He is standing in a shadowed corner of the entry hall, practicing being unseen by all those who pass by, and she strides in like a queen, drenched in the scarlet life of those who would challenge her. “Damian,” is what she says, and one of the young maidservants that Tim has seen attending Ra's hurries from a side-door, a small child held close to her body. The child- a boy, Tim can see, perhaps two years old- is handed over to Talia, who takes him with hands that still have blood caked under the nails, and hugs him close.
“Ummi!” he crows in childish Arabic, and Tim watches, surprised, as this powerful woman holds him as warmly as any mother he has ever seen holding their child does. Somewhere deep in the part of Tim's mind that is still a child, he wishes for that too.
Talia smiles at her boy, at Damian, and she says, “Were you good while I was away?”
The boy nods.
Her smiles widens. “And the tutors have begun to teach you the value of silence.”
Damian nods again, and suddenly Tim is angry. Because no child should be taught silence. Not like he was.
“Are you having fun?”
“Yes!” Damian says, in Arabic. “I hide, and if the tutors hear my noise, they find me!”
“That is correct,” says Talia, gently, and she starts to make her way up the stairs. Tim loses the thread of the conversation, his Arabic not good enough to follow once the language is muffled by distance. He stands very still for a while longer, determined not to be seen, but his mind is busy, mulling over what he had heard.
Damian, clearly Talia's son, was growing up an assassin. That did not mean that Tim would not protect him, even from Ra's, if it came to it. Every child deserved to have someone, someone to be a friend in a harsh world, who never asked anything of him. Tim had not had that, but Damian would not go without. That much Tim was decided on.
Tim does not call Ra's father, or grandfather, nor does he call Talia mother. But he calls Damian brother, and he is sad when the younger boy leaves the castle to train with other masters. Tim remains behind, and to comfort him Ra's gives him a lavish gift, and then teaches him how to use it.
It is a knife, a stunning item that is long and slim, and tucks neatly against one of Tim's pale thighs when it is not in use. Ra's teaches Tim how to kill with it before his target even realizes he is there, and then sends him out to terrorize the ninjas. Tim is small and silent and stealthy, and soon, with his training, he becomes something of a gauntlet for the newest recruits to the League of Shadows. Any ninja unskilled enough to be unable to detect his presence or react within the space of an instant finds themselves cut and bleeding from small knife wounds, again and again, places closely enough to vital areas that should Tim be trying, they would be dead.
In those days, some trainees lose their nerve and flee, and the League is better for it.
When Tim turns ten, Talia begins to teach him the woman's arts. How to dance, and decorate his skin with henna, and how to beguile with words and false promises and flirtations. Tim learns how to wear clothing that is as lovely as he is, and how to use his body to draw attention and lower the guards of lesser men. He is young still, she says, and makes him promise that he will not go to anyone's bed until he is entirely ready. And because Tim knows what rape is, he agrees, and learns from her the ways to prevent wandering hands and forced touch.
Tim is stunning, even at such a young age, moon-faced and pale, and he moves with the grace of a dancer and the lightness of a bird on the wing. His limbs are delicate, and his fingers flittering and lovely, and very few who catch his deep-sea blue eyes are able to look away before Tim does. His black hair begins to grow out, hanging long enough that he can tie it back into a short ponytail, leaving out his bangs to frame his face.
When he is still learning, Tim neglects the coloured silks and linens in his wardrobe in order to favour black. Most days he wears the simple clothes in which he practices fighting, and acrobatics, and marksmanship, both with a bow and with a gun, and dance. But once Talia takes him under her wing, he begins to wear bright colours for the first time in his life. Bright red is his favourite, and he loves the baggy silk pants he owns, with the thick belt that comes high on his waist. Often, he will wear those and nothing else, instead allowing Talia to paint his shoulders and chest with henna. He also finds favour in white linen shirts, loose and undecorated, that show only the slightest bit of skin at his collar, and in western style tunics, dyed in all colours of the rainbow and embroidered with beads at the waist and hems. And he loves wraps, long sheaths of cloths that he can twine around his body, sometimes wrapping long, sheer scarves around his waist or over his shoulders, sometimes even veiling his face. More than anything, though, Tim loves jewelry, circlets in gold and silver, bangles of tiger's eye and garnet, slave bracelets studded with opal and quartz. Earrings, pendants, hairpins, all of them shining gems against the canvas of his skin.
He becomes an enchanting butterfly in Ra's' household, a rumour among courtiers and warriors both. He will sometimes sit at Ra's' side, or in his lap, and whisper in his ear as the lord holds his court, a strange a pretty thing that many do not understand. Those who know him only as the shining gem in Ra's' crown call him the Hummingbird, who hovers and whispers and glitters and distracts. He flitters through consciousnesses, untouchable by all, and no one knows him. Some strangers assume that he is a woman, a sweet girl caught in Ra's' web, or a boy who is a slave, bought for pleasure. Tim knows that he is neither, and when he leans against his lord's chest, being fed sweet grapes by one of the most powerful men in the world, he feels like a prince.
In the night, when all the lights of the court have gone out, all the pretty, useless people have taken their troubles and gone home, Tim becomes something else entirely. He becomes an al Ghul, a shadow even in darkness, the one that the League calls the Blackbird. He is a shade, something dark and deadly, and no one knows this part of him either, because rather than showing so much that they see nothing, he simply tucks away every part of himself that is anything, and becomes the waif that he was before Ra's found him, an empty child searching endlessly for something to fill the gaps in his heart.
He is more of a complete person now, and it makes Tim happy to know that of himself. And Ra's calls that complete person the Nightingale. Tim is Ra's' Nightingale, singing sweet, sad song, inspiring and bringing light and joy and something new into his heart and his house. That whole happiness consumes them all, and for a year, nothing changes.
And then, something does. Everything does.