AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is a purge-fic. I wrote it in 7 days, and
it has 28,000 words to its name. It's also a rather dark fic since I
feel very strongly about the topic content. Continuity is shot to hell - it's midway between comics
and animated. And if you want to know how it ends...read it! I promise
I do not do dark, depressing endings.
- tainted -
She felt tainted.
At her hip, the lasso branded her thigh with a scar nobody could see. She'd thought of taking it off, changing into civilian clothing and putting it in her bag where she wouldn't have to feel it searing her soul.
Then she'd decided that the burning in her soul would be better than remembering the last few hours.
She set down lightly in the still, guano-tinged air of the Batcave. Her senses told her it was crisper and colder than the Watchtower had been, but she didn't actually feel the cold.
Not against her skin, anyway.
His chair before the viewing screens was empty. She wasn't sure if she was thankful or disappointed.
"Miss Diana?" Alfred's voice echoed through the high, dark shadows of the cave. "I'm sorry. If Master Bruce had told me to expect you..."
"It's alright Alfred," she said quietly as she climbed the stairs. "He didn't know." Then again, knowing Bruce, maybe he did.
And if he had expected her, then what did that say about him? What did it say about her and Kal? Would they have been that obvious? Had there been a way they could have avoided this?
The lasso was a blistering flame, seeking out her self-deceptions and the pretty lies she wanted so desperately to believe - a sop to her pride, her courage, her strength.
In the guilt of what she'd done, pride, courage and strength were ash and dust in her mouth. The knowledge that she would have comfortably gone on with the self-deception if it were not for the lasso only scalded her more fiercely, brutal in its honesty, painful in its truth.
She had once been the goddess of truth. And sometimes the truth hurt.
Alfred came close enough to see her, to take in her state of body in a single glance - and, doubtless, her state of mind as well. Bruce had learned his insights into human minds from this man; and the student, while inspiring, was still no match for the one who'd taught him.
It was not Alfred's condemnation she feared.
It was not his condemnation she wanted.
"Master Bruce is out on his nocturnal activities. He will most likely be some time. Will you wait in the kitchen, or the sitting room?"
He expected her to choose the kitchen, but hid his surprise when she chose the sitting room, solitary and alone.
Her lasso burned.
He set her up in the sitting room, stoking the fire and waving away her assistance. And she shivered, although not from the cold she didn't feel, but from the heat of her guilt.
Alone in the room while Alfred got her a drink, she tried to shut her eyes, but could not cast out the images branded in her mind. She could not forget the way he had felt against her, smooth skin and powerful muscles. His mouth and hands on her body, sexual hunger, need and want, nipping them both cruelly.
She opened her eyes, gasping at the flare of the flames, at the burning truth of the lasso. Hephaestus' forging, with the brutal fire of the gods, seeking out lies and deceptions in her mind, and the awful truth of what they had done.
He was not free, and they had known it, even in the midst of passion. He had bound his life to another woman, sworn promises of exclusivity of body, even if he could not keep to exclusivity of heart. And she had been complicit in his fall, not stopping anything that had happened this evening in the aftermath of the fight.
Guilt had been easily put aside, then; the safe knowledge that the woman whose prior right to him would never know of this, that it was just once, that there was something between them that all the laws in the world or off couldn't surpass. It wasn't until she had reclothed herself that the lasso's scalding touch told her what she had pushed away.
Anything between them would be a lie until he was free.
Now, she felt tainted.
She had avoided his touch as she left, managing a smile that fooled neither of them. And she took the transporters to the Watchtower rather than flying home, her soul incandescent with the guilt of what they had done. Her hand had paused over the co-ordinates for the Batcave: she had not typed them in. Instead, she had chosen a setdown point outside of Gotham, and flown offshore before angling in towards the cave.
She didn't know why she'd chosen to come here, to him - why not go home as she'd initially intended?
Already, Diana knew that she would get no sympathy from him. There would be no comforting words, no kindness when he realised what she had done. He had made plain enough his concerns, voiced once in their presence, and left at that. He had made plain enough his distaste that anything had to be said at all.
And she had believed her friendship with Kal to be innocent.
Her soul, accustomed to courage, now cowered in fear. Was this what guilt did to you? Hollowed you out and made you empty, a shell of what you'd been?
The lasso's fire had never scorched in her soul like this before.
It was only an hour before he came home, and she sat there in an agony of body and spirit until he did, trying to search out why she'd come to him, afraid of the answers.
Bruce was expecting her when he came in. That much was obvious.
So, too, was the instant loathing that crawled across his features, unhidden by the mask, beyond even his powers of control.
It was all the response she gained from him before he said, "I see."
He asked for no details. It was plain he wanted none. But there was a kind of sadness in his voice, beneath the veneer of anger she could feel in him. "Why did you come here?"
She didn't know. She truly didn't. But she gathered the loops of the lasso in her fingers and tore it from her hip to hold it out to him. "It burned me." Like a child, bewildered, lost, far from home and with no way back. There were no lights in this forest, no trail of breadcrumbs, no fairytale ending.
Only the bleak, uncompromising planes of his face, handsome by firelight and the softened glow of the lamp. Her judge, jury, and executioner: the most demanding one she could find and the only one she trusted to give true judgement.
He looked from her to the lasso she held out, and the cords of his throat tightened. "You've just cheated on Lois, and the only reason you're sitting here is because the lasso of truth burned you?" His scorn burned her, flayed her alive, like Marsyas before Apollo's wrath. "Put it in your bag, Princess, if that's all that bothers you. Do what the rest of us mere mortals have to do with the ugly grey truth of our lives: push it to the back of your mind and keep your delusions."
Her fingers closed around the loops of cord in her hand, gripping it as though she could squash it with her strength. "My love for Kal is no delusion!"
"No. But your actions tonight were, however based in 'love'." He spat the word as though it were foul in his mouth, and pointed at the lasso. "You know it already if you've felt its truth."
No kindness in him. Not for the fallen.
"I..." The words halted in her mouth, stopped as though her throat had been filled with clay. The sob caught in her throat and she appealed to him. "Bruce..."
"Why did you come here?"
"Because you know what to do!" The lasso still held her in its grip of truth; bald and brutal, it tore through her. "Because I trust you. Because you know how to make this better." She shut her eyes against the merciless blue of his gaze and spared neither of them quarter. "Because I love you."
She felt his shudder, even with her eyes shut. It rippled through the air between them, like knives flung forth to embed in fragile flesh.
"Sorry, princess," he said. "I don't take cast-offs." She heard the slightest motion of his head, up and down as he surveyed her. "Especially fresh ones."
The insult pricked her. She didn't ask how he knew it was recent. Her eyes flashed open, "Did you spy on us?" Outrage flamed in her; bad enough to feel tainted over something that had been so pleasurable: worse to know that he had looked on, watched like a voyeur, and said and done nothing...
And what would saying or doing anything have changed?
There had been that one warning, that one observation, cold and plain before two he trusted to listen and heed. Two who dismissed his concerns and teased his paranoia - only to prove him right in the end.
He snorted with derision, "The two of you have been pushing boundaries the last few weeks, and now you sit in my house with guilt all over your face. And you think I've been spying on you?"
"Your paranoia is well-known."
"So is your 'love' for him." She could hear the inverted commas around the noun and flinched from it.
She had nowhere to go but retreat, and her pride wouldn't let her do that. Instead, she met his eyes cleanly, feeling them spear deep into her heart. "What happens now?"
His mouth twisted slightly. "'Don't ask anymore.'" It was a quote from somewhere - she couldn't quite place it and he gave her no time to do so. "Will it happen again before Lois is dead?"
He said it so coldly, so inhumanly, that she stared at him. His acceptance - his assurance - that she would someday go back to Kal was horrific; like discovering a worm in an apple. But the lasso compelled her answer as much as the lancing gaze that bored into her, taking her measure.
"No." Not because it had been bad, but because she could feel the wrongness inside her, leech-like, sucking her insides out. Such intimacy with Kal should never have felt tainted, and by taking what was not hers before it could be hers, she had made it so.
They had made it so.
She'd have done better to seduce Bruce. Assuming he would even have wanted her.
She shuddered. Never mind that she had been the one to come here, that it was her will that brought her here; her will, and the lasso that still hung, fiery in her grip.
"Then you and he deal with each other and take measures to ensure it doesn't happen again."
"It's not that easy."
"Or you don't want to make it that easy?" He shrugged. "I'm not asking you to go cold turkey on him, Princess." And there was an ugly note of mockery in his voice. "Just avoid situations that will get you into trouble. Stay out of temptation's way."
His mockery spurred her to retaliation: "As you avoid me?"
He kept himself like a priest, fastidious around her. Watched her, yes, but with the cool measure of a strategist, not the hot eyes of a lover. Sparred against her, yes, but with the coldly inhuman fire of his personal drive for betterment. And if his heart beat a little faster in her presence, so did the pulses of all men.
He spared neither of them in the one soul-searching, blue-fire glance that locked her eyes to his. "As I avoid you."
His acknowledgement angered her, spurred her to action. The coils of the lasso were dropped as she strode across the floor to him, full of thwarted desire, pricked pride, shame and guilt and the knowledge that this man she respected so highly currently loathed her with every cell in his body.
Diana pressed against him, gentle and coy, felt his muscles tense even further, writhing into knots along his shoulders and back. He did not try to escape her, or elude her touch, not even the hand that ran down his chest and stroked over his crotch. She felt him tremble as his flesh stirred and swelled beneath her touch, felt him quiver with the strain of holding knife-edged control over his body.
His hands did not reach for her, his head did not tilt down to her upraised face, and although the flesh beneath her hand yearned at her touch, the rest of him was stiff revulsion.
Bruce made one sound of protest or longing, and turned his face away from her. He turned aside, stepping out of her clutches with sweat across his brow and his teeth so tightly clenched, she could imagine the enamels melding into each other.
His leaving was like ice, miring her soul in cold guilt, even as the lasso had burned it earlier tonight with bright truth. "Bruce..."
He turned on her, and this time the fire in his eyes was desire, but even as she watched, he leashed it: master, not servant to its passions.
And she suddenly knew why she'd come here tonight. Why she'd sought this man out above anyone else in the world.
Because he knew what to do, yes; because she trusted him, loved him, even - although it was a fire she'd banked up in the back of her heart, preferring the blaze of Kal's inferno to the steady embers of Bruce's love, such as he gave it - but above and beyond all this: because he controlled himself.
Tonight, earlier tonight, had been a matter of control. The slow erosion of the barriers she had erected between herself and Kal, taken down over time, one by one as they flirted and laughed and played with what they knew was dangerous, but which excited them nevertheless.
Diana took a deep breath. Her emotions roiled within her, conflicting serpents that flared and struck, flared and struck, their constant tuggings poisoning her mind. "What happened tonight...earlier tonight... We lost control." It was blurted, like a confession, and she saw him force himself to listen. "We've been losing it for a while." The truth of that admission freed her soul, giving her enough to speak the truth in return. "I need..." Her voice broke. "Control. I need that back."
Or it will happen again. And again. And each time a little more of what is between us will be poisoned, until there's nothing left between us but wrongness.
He looked at her. Said nothing, but just watched her, studying her.
The silence was excruciating, but she endured it. She had spoken the truth: she needed what he could give her, what he could teach her. Somewhere, amidst the discipline of her body, she had somehow lost the discipline of her emotions - especially where Kal was concerned.
She needed it back.
Finally, he shifted and his voice was like a gavel echoing in the panelled room. "You can stay in one of the spare rooms tonight if you need to. Alfred will see you there. Or out." It was a dismissal, but also an acceptance of the truth of her words.
And in that acceptance was also agreement. She heard it, and knew that he knew she'd heard it.
He walked past her to the door of the sitting room, and she picked up the lasso and followed behind him.
If the old butler had heard what transpired between them, he was the soul of courtesy, merely suggesting that 'Miss Diana' follow him to her room.
She turned back to Bruce, and caught him on the edge of retreat to the sitting room. "It won't happen again, Bruce." Her throat clogged with guilt and grief and regret. She didn't even know if she referred to sleeping with Kal, or her clumsy attempt at seducing him.
The faintest hint of a smile flickered across his face. There was no amusement in it, merely a sardonic derision. "We'll see."
And again, she didn't know which event was being referred to.
In the silence of the room, she stripped from her garments, standing naked in the darkness, and bound her lasso around her waist. The feel of Kal's touch on her bare skin was a delight in tactile memory, but the taint of it remained in spirit.
What had she done?
She felt the first tear trickle down her cheek as she began seeking out the lies in her mind and her heart, hunting them down one by one.
And the lasso burned.