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Untitled
The Dark Knight Rises
Talia/Bane if you squint, I guess
R for violence and reference to murder

Notes: this is the other piece that I wrote for [livejournal.com profile] tdkr_kink. The prompt was: 'Bane/Talia; I just want to see that scene when they first see each other again after Ra's al Ghul frees Bane from the pit.'  Like a champ, I managed to touch on that scene only tangentially, and turned the rest of the fic into a dumping ground for my Talia backstory. as with everything I write for ficathon memes, this is unbeta'd and unrevised--so you can anticipate a joyride full of pacing disasters and possible typos.



i.

Her father doesn't recognize her when the robed men drop her in a pile at his feet.

And for all that she dares to raise her head, to stare at him, she doesn't recognize him either.

He meets her gaze with eyes the color of clearwater blue (the glassy color of the sky, she remembers, before the sun rose to its zenith and baked the firmament to azure chalk, the earth to rusted red) and whatever he might feel towards her is imperceptible, his face as elegantly cold as rock. He asks: what is her crime? One of the robed men answers: theft, battery and murder--and she thinks of the small old man, whose bones felt frailer even than her own, and the waterskin he'd carried.

She had killed him with a stolen blade and his blood spilled red and hot and salty out of him, all over her hands. I was thirsty, she thinks now, and wonders if this man before her has ever known thirst, or fear, or desperation.

It seems unlikely.

Those eyes like glass, they consider her, and a very long time transpires. Thrust there on her hands and knees, her skinny arms tremble. She is so tired.

"How old are you, child?" asks this man that she doesn't recognize, and all at once, she realizes that she doesn't know. Has never known. There are no ages in the pit. There is nothing in the pit except the dying and the dead.

"How old are you?" he asks again, and there is an edge in his voice this time.

She understands the threat in that.

She gets to her feet. She tells him:

"I don't have an age. No one counts the days where I come from."

The man considers her. "Where do you come from?"

"The darkness."

This intrigues him. He tells his men to stand down, step back. He wants to talk to this little girl who killed a man, who claims to come from darkness.

Later, when she tells him her mother's name, those clearwater eyes go wide. He touches her cheek, repeats what she just said to him, and the little girl born in darkness, she doesn't understand.

.o.

She doesn't see him for seven sunsets after that. The robed men bring her to a room with a window and a cot and a glowing hearth. There are meals. There is a quiet man who dresses her in soft cotton.

On the seventh sunset, the quiet man comes to tell her she's been summoned. She's wanted for dinner.

He leads and she follows. Lightly. The shadows in the hall grow longer with each footfall. Her heart flutters in her chest, and nervousness coils in her gut. Itching. She wants to ask the quiet man if he'll stay with her, wants to confess that she doesn't want to be left alone--but her mouth is dry and all words have deserted her.

They walk in silence.

They arrive, halting at the threshold of a modest room, not much larger than her own. He waits for her at a low table, a steaming meal laid out for them. The fire in the hearth casts his face in long, orange light. He watches her and his gaze feels cold as ice.

Abruptly she recalls words imparted to her once, in the dark, in the pit, after her mother fell to the howling men: Don't let them know you're afraid. Her protector whispering into her close-cropped hair. They can't ever know that you're afraid.

She stands a little straighter.

"Please, sit."

She does. The quiet man goes.

They sit in silence. She struggles not to devour her food in a rush, fights against the screaming power of experience, the conditioning that tells her: eat or you will starve. Take it, or it will be taken from you. Slowly, slowly, she brings bits of food to her lips. Even her cautious chewing seems cacophonous.

His dinner untouched, he studies her. At length, he asks:

"How did you escape?"

She looks at him through her eyelashes. "I climbed."

He watches her put food in her mouth. "You climbed?"

"Yes."

"Do most men climb from that prison?"

"No. Some try, though."

"And?"

"They always fall."

"But not you."

She studies her plate. The room is vast and silent, all around them. "But not me."

"Talia."

Her small hand curls into a fist. She looks at him.

"Your mother--" he starts, the words catching on nothing. He exhales through his nose. "Do you understand who I am?"

"You're my father." It's strange to say--father. An alien syllabic shape, uncurling in her mouth. She can speak it, but the word lacks any weight or meaning.

"Your father," he agrees. "That I am. As such, I have an obligation to you."

She doesn't say anything to that.

Her mother used to tell her stories about her father--she remembers. Whispers in the darkness, to help her sleep. A mercenary; a dazzling man, born of the sunlight and the desert sand. A man full to brimming with life.

But no matter what her mother said, Talia could never picture any man so wonderful. After all, she was born in a pit and only knew a world acrawl with the condemned. So when her mother spoke, she fell asleep imagining figures spun from glass and liquid light, flying across the pit’s jagged fragment of azure sky.

The man before her cannot fly, though, and neither does he brim with life. Her father is cold and sharp and bloodless. The thin edge of a killing blade.

"You will learn our way, Talia," he tells her. "You are my daughter."

She doesn't say anything to that, either. He takes her silence for agreement.



ii.

Her father's temple unfolds for her. The robed men teach her, train her, guide her--and all the while her father watches. Waits. For what, she doesn't know.

Here, in her father's place, they teach her about focus. Precision. They make her meditate on fear, on hope, on love, on rage. Great distractions, they would have her believe. Human flaws. A danger to her aptitude.

She knows better.

There is a well of darkness, sunk deep inside her chest--a depth of fear and rage and immeasurable hatred. When she meditates, she finds her center in that yawning abyss. In her mind, she stands face-to-face with terror and with monstrous rage and lets it wash over her in an electric storm. Roaring men and rattling bars. Crude weapons and vicious hands. Her feral mother, dragged down fighting, and amidst the cacophony of howls, the sound of her protector's heartbeat.

Horror shaped her, and love saved her. The pit and all it manifests are inextricably a part of her. She is not like the quiet men, the robed men, or her father.

When she closes her eyes to meditate, the abyss quakes, and the red earth roars, and those vast depths swallow up the men, her mother, and her protector all the same--and she finds calmness in the cataclysm.




iii.

She grows. The skinny child becomes something else, tall and lean and pale-eyed, like her father. On the cusp of womanhood, she dresses no differently from all the other men--soft robes of grey or black or brown. She keeps her hair shorn short. She is as unremarkable as any of them.

It's only when she disrobes, to bathe or change, that she's surprised by her own body.

One night, not for the first time, she lies alone on her cot, exploring the geography of her own figure with a focused curiosity. In silence, with her robes fallen open, she palms her small breasts, sweeps her hands over the dip and swell of her waist and hips. She is as hard as any of the men, if slimmer. Her muscles bunch and rope and relax with grace, and she can spar with the best of them--but she knows that she is different too.

She thumbs the wells on the inside of her hipbones. Her fingertips brush the dark thatch of her pubic hair. The night is cool against her belly.

No one treats her differently. None of the men--least of all her father--look at her askance. She is an equal member of the League, regardless of her sex, but still, she knows. Just as the pit has given her difference, so too does this.

On a long exhale, she closes her eyes.

She remembers her protector, and she wonders what he would think of her, could he see her now.

Something knots up in her chest. In the stillness of the night, she hears a heartbeat that isn't hers, and dark, red lightning skitters through her, lighting her up from gut to groin.

She thinks of her protector, and slips her fingers between her legs.




iv.

They stand face to face over a table of her father’s maps and she taps a finger against the red wasteland that was once the only world she knew.

"I want to go back."

Her father surveys her with those impassive eyes. "To the pit."

"Yes." She stands straight, her chin thrust out a little.

"Why?"

"To settle a debt. Someone there once cared for me very much, and without him, I would never have been able to climb to freedom."

"Are you asking my permission?"

She thinks about this. "No. I thought I owed you the courtesy of telling you, before I took my leave."

"And you anticipate being able to save this man all by yourself?"

"I was trained well."

Her father exhales, heavily, his mouth gone thin. "This man--he might be dead."

"Then I want to know if he is."

He shakes his head. Not at her, not at anything. It's a helpless gesture and that cold light goes out of her father's eyes. For an instant, he looks years older than his age, and so much frailer.

"Love is a dangerous thing, Talia."

She stiffens at that. "I never said I was in love."

Her father nods. "We don't have to say things to make them true." Before she can retort, he waves his hand in a shapeless gesture. "Go, if you must. But you won't go alone--senseless risks are usually worthless, also. I'll accompany you, and we'll select others."

There is a moment of quiet. He doesn't look at her, but rather, past her. She says thank you, and he nods.

In silence, she leaves.

.o.

The journey is a long one, and her father is quiet for most of it.

Mountains give way to plains, and plains to desert. When they start to see tall sandstone spires glinting in the sun, she knows they are close.

The heat is vicious, but familiar. The sand blows up in gusts, and she welcomes the sting of it against her cheeks, the thin skin of her hands. She tries to imagine her father here, eons ago, sun-dark and fierce and in love with her mother. She can't. Her father is as joyless as ever, and though he exudes a presence of coiled menace, there is nothing so unbridled about him as to be called fierce. He is a man come from nowhere. This place isn't his.

They reach the rim of the pit on the dusky edges of sunset. Above them, stars fill the sky in a dazzling spray, and a rising moon turns red sand to blue and silver. The other men hobble their horses and unload their grapples, but Talia only stands at the edge of the pit, looking down into the darkness.

Something expands inside her chest. She has come home.

.o.

They descend in silence, land on quiet feet. Even so, there are always men watching that yawning rim, yearning for freedom. Their arrival doesn't go unnoticed.

A melee breaks out. Talia doesn't know if these were the men who slaughtered her mother and swarmed over her only friend, but she takes some small pleasure in killing them anyway. Their blood sprays black in the darkness. Each one of them, they drop like heavy sacks, making wet sounds against the rock.

Other men watch from their cells, their bright eyes sunken deep into cavernous sockets. Breathless, she scrubs sweat from her brow and squints in the dimness. Several of her company light flares in a hissing shower of sparks. The men in the cells recoil from the light, huddled in filthy, rotting rags.

Muscle memory leads her to the cell that was once his, the one adjacent to a long-imprisoned doctor, who spoke in quiet, broken sentences. The cell door stands open. Within, a man sits against the wall, so hidden by his rags that she can only see his eyes watching her, fever bright in the flarelight.

Her father stands beside her. "Talia," is all that he says as she takes one tentative step closer.

The sound of her name draws some response out of the man. He jerks back, as though to crawl away from her, but he has nowhere to go, already backed up against the wall. His hand trembles and one leg gives out, as though he can't quite support himself, and he slumps again, shivering in the darkness.

She takes a step closer.

"My friend," she breathes.

He shakes his head so violently that she's fears he's seizing. A garbled rush of broken sounds issue from behind the tattered cloth wrapped around his mouth, his nose. His hands shake harder and she doesn't understand.

"It's me," she says, opening her palms. "Talia."

He shakes his head again, such a jerky motion that he smacks the back of his skull against the stone wall. The sound of it thuds through her chest and she feels cold all over. Beside her, her father says:

"Come, Talia. This isn't him."

His voice has a distant quality, as though he's speaking to her from very far away, and through water. She doesn't move. The man against the wall only shivers, his eyes brimming. All around the cell, the flares glimmer--a gauntlet of sacramental candles. Her father takes hold of her elbow.

And a rough voice issues from the dimness:

"He doesn't want you to see his face."

She and her father both look to the man in the next cell. Hairless but for the white scruff on his jaw, he watches them solemnly.

"What?" she says, quietly.

The old man gestures to his own face. "He's ruined. He doesn't want you to see. Or he might not—perhaps he’s just afraid. He's mad with the pain, most days." He studies her. "But he is the man you seek." When she doesn't say anything, the old man continues: "I remember you. The child. He nearly died for you."

Her stomach flutters. She looks back to the shivering man shored up against the rock. He's still making a sound; a low, long moan, like a dying dog. Aside from that, though, everything is quiet.

She pulls her arm from her father's grasp. As she goes to him, her footsteps echo through the pit in small, short punctuations. Weakly, he scrabbles at the earth again, trying to escape in jerky, haphazard motions. She kneels before him.

"My friend," she whispers. "I came back for you."

He has stopped moaning. He only watches her, now, like a wide-eyed, delirious animal. Even in the dimness, she can see that he's crying.

"I've missed you," she promises him. "Please--let me help you." And she extends an open hand. An offering. "I won't do anything you don't want done."

He looks from her face to her palm and back again. The silence draws out between them and time dilates. The line of flares outside the cell glimmer like fairy lights, or close-calling stars. The cool air smells of limestone, mildew, and human filth.

Still, he makes no move towards her, shuddering and shivering against the rock. A mute rejection.

She feels something dark, ragged, and red rifting through her chest. Curling her fingers into her palm, she gets to her feet. Her face is hot. And then--

"Talia."

She barely hears him, barely understands the sound to be her name, but it's enough to make her look. He extends one large, tremulous hand. When she takes it in both her own, she folds his knuckles against her stomach and doesn't let go until, somewhere in the darkness, her father orders his men to come in, to gather up her friend, and to bear him up, out of the darkness, to safety.

.o.

They deliver him into medical care. Her father's league has men all over the world, among them, doctors trained in her father's way. An infirmary housed in a place of worship and discipline.

When they sedate him and carry him off to be undressed and prepped for the first of many surgeries and examinations, she doesn't ask to watch. She remembers the old man in the darkness.

He doesn't want you to see his face.

Instead, she waits. She wanders the temple grounds and pavilions. Her father has retreated from her and she doesn't see him, or her friend, for days.

At length, someone--a doctor, maybe--tells her about nerve damage, chronic pain, facial injuries and maladroit attempts to tend to it all. Her friend will live, but his will be a life of agony and disfigurement. She can only nod.

"You can see him, if you like," the doctor tells her.

"Of course." A hot breeze stirs the hem of her loose trousers.

He leads her to a spacious room with a sprawling bed. Her friend lies hooked up to monitors and snaking IVs. It’s a strange contrast: the machinations of modernity here in this place that feels immeasurably old.

When they enter, he turns his head to look at them. White bandages bind up his face, but she can see his eyes.

"He may drift off," the doctor warns. "We've given him some very powerful painkillers."

She nods, going quietly, cautiously to the bed. He isn't shaking anymore. Tenderly, she touches the back of his hand. His eyes flutter.

"My friend," she murmurs, the words catching in her throat.

She is not a woman given to crying--even now, she doesn't sense any threatening tears. Instead, she feels overwhelmingly angry. It's a horrible anger, vast, and blistering, and without focus. There is no one man that she can blame for this, no revenge for her to exact. Vaguely, she thinks she's going to be sick

Over her shoulder, she asks: "Is there no way to ease his suffering?"

The doctor hesitates. "There are ways, I'm sure. He'd need something to dull the pain at all times."

"But there are ways?"

"It's not inconceivable."

She draws her thumbs over her friend's rough knuckles. His shallow breaths rattle in the stillness of the room.

"Do it," she instructs.

"I--"

"If you can't, then find someone who can."

She can feel the doctor’s eyes on her, wary and incredulous. She turns to face him in full, gazing at him with cold disinterest--a look she's seen her father wear more than once.

"Do I have to repeat myself?"

"No, but--"

"Did my father order you to care for this man, or not?"

"He did."

"Then go. And don't come back until you've devised some way to do exactly that."

The doctor stumbles out and she turns back to her friend to find that he's drifted off into a drug-induced sleep. Lacing her fingers through his, she pulls his hand up to kiss it, her mouth pressed long to the calloused texture of his skin.

"I've missed you," she murmurs.

He sleeps through it all. With tender care, she sets his hand back down and crawls into the bed, tucking herself up beside him. She falls asleep like that, nestled near him, the sound of his heartbeat lulling her into darkness.

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