Ablution

Aug. 7th, 2012 10:25 pm
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[personal profile] cold_clarity
The Dark Knight Rises
Bane/Talia
R

Written for the prompt "Five baths/showers/washings they've shared over the years, from the platonic to the non-platonic, from the primitive to the luxurious (not necessarily in that order)" over at [livejournal.com profile] tdkr_kink.

Warnings: description of physical injuries, some slightly explicit sexuality, character death.  also, this is probably really overflowing with spoilers for the movie. so maybe don't read on if you don't want to ruin the cinematic experience for yourself.

Notes: this is so aggressively unbeta'd I don't even know what to tell you about it. I just went for 'five times' and only loosely attempted to stitch together a coherent narrative? as such, there's a massive jump in time between the first three parts and I apologize for the jumbled-ness of it all. what can I say? the spirit moved me and this is what I get when I don't try to write things slowly or with any intention of revising them.



i.

The night after her mother dies, she cries herself into exhaustion. In the darkness of his cell, he cradles her to his chest until her tears subside, her hiccoughing sobs giving way to silence. She's fallen asleep, he realizes, when he glances down to the figure slumped in his arms--and suddenly he feels very strange.

He doesn't know what to do with a child. Hardly more than a child himself--sixteen and condemned to a life in the pit--he is acutely aware of his complete ineptitude in this arena. Before the pit he knew a world of sultry women and smirking men. He knew street corners and thievery. He knew about seduction. Nothing in that life equipped him to look after children.

But the little girl in his arms shudders in her fitful sleep and curls her hand into a fist against his shirt. Looking at her, he knows that just as surely as he saved her from the mob, so too will he look after her now.

Tender, he lays her down. Settles down beside her. Folding his arms around her, he falls asleep like that, the shivering child tucked against his chest.

The next morning, it's raining. A fine and shredding precipitation, it slicks up the rock and collects in pools along the pitted walkways. He wakes to find the child huddled in the corner of his cell, watching him with somber, pale eyes.

When he sits up, she doesn't move except to fold further into herself. She doesn't look afraid so much as wary, coiled like a cornered animal.

He raises his hands. "It's all right," he tells her, and immediately feels ridiculous for saying so.

Of course it's not all right. There is nothing right about this place, or about the life she's had to endure, thrust here unfairly. Holding her gaze, he tries again:

"I won't hurt you."

She doesn't move. Her eyes are huge in her small face. She is filthy and tearstained.

He gets to his feet and backs away, keeping his hands in her line of sight. To the cell door. By the bars, a bowl sits, glistening from the spray of the rain. He has long regarded it as a cruel joke. All the prisoners have them; bowls forever empty. Constant reminders of their own starvation. He has seen men bludgeon each other to death with the bowls though, or break them to make blades out of the heavy wooden shards. And so, he kept his, knowing that if he didn't, someone else might use it as a weapon against him.

Now, he bends to pick it up and set it out directly into the rainfall. He waits, watching it, and the child watches him. When the bowl is nearly full of rainwater, he takes it back to her. She flinches away.

"I won't hurt you," he says again, kneeling. "I promise."

Silence, still. Her eyes follow him as he tears at the hem of his ragged robes. The water burbles, silvery, when he dips the strip of cloth into it. Tentative, he holds the dripping cotton out to her.

"Can I?"

She stares at him.

"It'll help," he says. "Not much, but--"

She nods. Something stutters in his chest. Slowly, slowly, he reaches for her; takes her small, pointed chin in hand. With the cloth, he dabs away streaks of dirt and crusted salt. The rainwater is cool. Throughout, the child keeps very still, her gaze never wavering. Between them, there is nothing but the quiet patter of rain on rock.

When he's done, he drops the cloth into the bowl and sits back on his heels. Though her face is only marginally cleaner, it seems worth the effort. She stays huddled in her corner for the better part of the day, but when he settles down to sleep, she edges close to him again. Nudges at his hands.

"I'm cold," she murmurs.

And so he wraps her in an embrace, rubbing her back until she drifts off to sleep.






ii.

She is seventeen when they rescue him from the pit.  Seventeen, and wholly unprepared for the horror that's been visited upon him in her absence.

In the infirmary, he's so delirious from the pain, and later from the drugs, that he can't even bathe by himself. And so, she takes the task up as her own--a small measure of thanks, perhaps, for all that he gave up for her.  In flagrant disregard for her father's disapproval, she walks with him as orderlies half-guide and half-carry him to the infirmary's hot-spring baths.

The pools smell of salt and sulphur. When they arrive, the orderlies slip him out of his robe, and the sight of him arrests her heart. He's so thin she could count his ribs, if she wanted to, and the ridges of his spine. He shivers against a gentle breeze and she wants nothing more than to take him in her arms, as he once did for her.

Instead, she peels off her own robes. Undressed down to her underthings, she steps into the bath, the steam curling up around her.

The orderlies help him into the water, passing him to her, and, after a moment, she supports his weight in full. He feels like nothing, shuddering against her. Gently, she settles them both down. Leaning against the wall of the bath, she wraps one arm around him and holds his back to her chest, her legs cradling him. His head lolls back against her shoulder.

She holds out her free hand. One of the orderlies passes her a soaped up washcloth. She massages slow, gentle circles across his chest and collarbone. The water sloshes quietly around them. He looks at her, but he doesn't seem to see her.

"Talia…" His voice is hoarse, the sound of her name, garbled.

"Shh," she murmurs, gently scrubbing over one shoulder.

He doesn't heed her. "Talia--" he starts again, but his breath hitches and whatever else he meant to say terminates in a low groan.

The vibration of it rumbles through her chest, her clavicle pressed to his back. The surgeons promised her he'd live, but it's hard to believe it in this moment. She can feel all the juts and angles and rigid lines of his bones, can feel the way his breath rattles in his chest. He trembles in her arms, helpless, and it's all she can do to ignore the gnarled tightness in her gut; the creeping, unrelenting sense of fear.

"Shh," she says again, and kisses his temple. His skin is damp and warm from the steam. "It's all right. It's all right."

He makes another sound of protest, but it fades quickly. His eyes drift shut. She studies him and considers that this is the first time she's seen his face uncovered and unbandaged. Scars rift across his cheeks and his jaw, bloodless white and puckering, radiating out from his devastated mouth in ragged multitudes. She imagines vicious hands and unforgiving stone, prying his mouth open and tearing flesh, shattering teeth. Leaving a ragged ruin where musculature once wove itself into fine precision; bloody foam in the place of nature's sublime engineering.

There are sutures, too. Long and swollen, seaming up his skin in the places where the surgeons cut away knots of keloid scar tissue or made incisions to start the long process of reconstructing his shattered jaw. The tracts glisten in the bath, covered over with gel and butterfly bandages.

She is transfixed. All this for her. Like a sacrificial offering, this path of ruin laid out in her name; flesh given over so that she might live. Somehow, the realization sets her fear to rest. He endured this for her and did not die.

In her gut, the knot unwinds, replaced now by a gentle fluttering.

"I have to move you," she murmurs.

He hmm's his assent, his eyes opening again. She shifts her hold on him so as to better reach what of him she hasn't yet washed. Sweeps the cloth over his back. In the valley between his shoulder blades. Up the column of his neck. He sighs, and she watches his back expand and contract.

By the time she reaches down to wash his legs, to scrub gently and unabashedly at the juncture between his thigh and groin, she thinks he's drifted off to sleep. A new heat, slow-seeping and deep-reaching, unfurls in her belly. Setting the cloth out of the bath, she sets to ladling fresh water over the places where soapsuds still cling to him in glistening trails. The water runs in rivulets over his skin.

At last, she pulls him back to her, and she finds that his eyes are open and unfocused and running with tears. She doesn't know if it's something she did or if it's the pain or if it's something else entirely. She doesn't ask.

His head tips back again, into the well of her shoulder, and they stay like that; her watching him and him watching the sky, crying without making a sound.





iii.

She's growing her hair.

Talia al Ghul might have kept her hair cropped short, but Miranda Tate is a different woman. Even so, he can tell that it irritates her, that she's not used to it. It's down to her shoulders now, folding around her neck in dark curls, and she's forever brushing it out of her face or frowning in frustration when it falls in her eyes.

He likes it, though. It isn't better than her short hair, but it's different. It lends her a very particular air, and subsequently, he finds himself enchanted. She catches him watching her from time to time and smiles thinly behind the fall of her dark tresses. Knowing.

One night, she lets him help her wash it. In the house they've acquired for her--acquired for Miranda Tate--she straddles him in the master bath, eyes heavy-lidded as he moves his fingers over her scalp in gentle circles, massaging. They've washed out the sudsy remains of shampoo already; he does this now just because he knows she likes it. Because he can feel the way she relaxes under his touch. Because he knows without a doubt that there is very little he wouldn't do for the privilege and the pleasure of touching her.

When his hands travel to the back of her head, she tips her head forward and her hair comes down around them both, like a veil.

He's bigger than her, to be sure, but like this, he feels all-consumed. Her legs around his hips, her hands resting on his on his shoulders. When she breathes, her breasts brush his chest and, not for the first time, he wishes he were rid of his mask so that he could put his mouth to hers, to feel as full of her has he feels enveloped by her.

Instead, he guides his fingers over the back of her neck. Works at the knots there, and at the tension in her shoulders. She studies his face and puts one damp hand against the steel strapped over his cheek. Draws her thumb along the ridge of his cheekbone. He meets her gaze and for a long time they don't say anything. Her hair drips and the water ripples, punctuating the silence.

And then, she leans down to press her mouth to his neck, to seek out his pulse. As if, by reflex, his breath grows more shallow. She kisses gently, at first, mouthing, and sucking, and licking at his skin. With her hips, she finds an undulant rhythm, steady and purposeful, and her teeth press harder into his neck. He hisses, his hands curling against the back of her neck.

Her dark hair drapes over his hands, snakes blackly over her shoulders. He sees it, even as his vision blurs, unfocusing with each roll of her hips.

She slips one hand down his chest, reaching for the length of him beneath the water. Slim fingers wrap around him and she thumbs his slit and his breath hitches.

Her mouth at the shell of his ear.

"What do you want?" she whispers.

It's all he can do to find breath enough to answer:

"You."







iv.

The men siphon water from a main to make showers for themselves, down here in Gotham's underbelly. They are resourceful. Water streams from ceiling installations into dim, hard stalls that remind her acutely of the cells in the pit, albeit smaller.

It's here that she comes to bathe, the night after she fucks Bruce Wayne on the floor of his repossessed manor. Here, because she can't stand the thought of lingering there. Here, because Miranda Tate's home is no more her own than Wayne Manor. Here, because once she sheds her clothes, she is Talia al Ghul again, and nothing more.

Icily, the water rushes over her, clear and roaring, and she shivers and scrubs at her body with a smoothed down stone until her skin turns pink and raw in places. Stinging in the streaming cold.

He finds her there, naked beneath the frigid fall, abrading herself in an effort to erase the feel of Bruce Wayne's fingertips.

When he says her name and the sound of it echoes off the stall's rough stone, she starts. The water beats down on her. Her feet and her fingers have gone numb with the cold. She turns to face him, naked and shuddering, and her eyes are bright with feverish ferocity. Her act may have been Bruce's punishment, but it brings her no pleasure at all.

"He's gone," Bane says, not bothering with preamble. She knows, already, that he means Bruce.

"Where?"

"Prison."

Her hair clings to her skull. She blows water from her lips. She supposes that, were she any other woman, the knowledge would make her feel better. Revenge exacted for her father's murder, first in lies, and later by force. But she isn't any other woman, and revenge was never what she wanted. The fact that all this was carried out so easily only proves what she's known to be true all along: Bruce Wayne is nothing but a listless boy, lonely, and melancholy, and romantic, and so very, very stupid.

And in spite of all that, she hopes for vindication. She asks: "What did you do to him?"

"I hurt him."

"Very much?"

"Yes."

She studies the man looming there, just out of her reach, and unwaveringly solemn. She imagines his hands on Bruce's neck, imagines Bruce crumpling like a ragdoll. It helps no more than the water, or the thought that he got precisely what he deserved. The memory of him lingers, and she thinks that no man has the right to ever be this unforgettable.

She stands in the shower spray, slowly growing number.

"Talia." Bane watches her, his eyes alight with a concern that she neither wants nor can she bare to face.

She folds her arms around herself. The water is so cold it burns.

"Go," she tells him, because she knows he won't contest her.

And go he does, leaving her with the cold and the dark and the ghost of a man that she only wants to forget.







v.

At the end of everything, the last memory left to her isn't of Bruce after all.

Pinned between a shattered steering wheel and the crushing weight of the entirety of an armor-plated truck, she watches the world turn to liquid color before her eyes. Distantly, something hurts, and all that ever comprised her, all her heat, her power, her passion, and her pain, bleeds out onto the industrial steel flooring.

She is cold all over, and then numb, and then abruptly very warm.

Weightless.

Her father is dead. And she, the heir to all the League, stands in the hillside cemetery and her feet become the grass and she contemplates the stone put on the earth in place of the body that they never found.

She isn't crying. There is no tragedy in his death, except that it heralded failure.

Someone told her that the man who killed him had been a student of her father's; misguided and weak. She wonders how someone weak could have killed the man she thought to have been comprised only of bitter steel.

Overhead, the sky is racing.

The grass grows over the cold stone and she tells herself that where her father failed, she will succeed.

She is barefoot and when she looks away from the lie of a resting place, the grass recedes. The path away from her dead father is sharp and cold and by the time she gets to where she's going, her feet are black and blue and bloody. The hurt of it comes up through her legs like shoots of fire; against the strange and monochrome world, the pain is vibrant. She is alive.

In the place where she is going, her friend, her protector, and the only man deserving of her love, he's already there. Waiting. And the sky isn't racing anymore.

He sees her feet, a mark of the prodigal child returned; a blood price paid for the mantle that she must take up. The clouds break. The sky is huge and blue and infinite. He makes her sit on the edge of a low stone wall and she thinks, vaguely, that this has happened before.

He brings a basin full of water, cold and clear and dazzling bright, and washes one foot first, and then the other. Her blood clouds in the basin. She knows that she has seen those curls before; once, somewhere else. A place not quite the same as this.

He asks her if she's sad and she tells him no. He wraps her damp feet in bandages. The china sky is ringing.

I have a duty, she says to him, and he looks at her and waits.

Somewhere in the distance, her father's league is restless.

Gotham, she tells him, will burn.
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