A/N: On the "Ask the Squishykins" tumblr, Twinings and I are currently offering ourselves up for two full weeks of filling fic prompts for our readers, varying in length from a hundred to a thousand-plus words. The project has been dubbed the Free For All Fic For All—or FFAFFA for short. This is one of those stories—and this is the boilerplate author's note you'll see on all of 'em. The current round of FFAFFA runs until July 15th, so if you want a custom fic written to any particular specifications, drop by and ask for it!
Prompt: Talia makes daddy proud.
There is sand between her toes. Absently, she flexes them and watches the fine granules abandon her skin, scattering on the finely polished marble floor of her father's study.
Talia's shoulder is dislocated; with her good arm, she keeps it immobile, her hand clutching the elbow to offer the most support. She licks her lips, mindful of how chapped they are from being in the sun of the Quraci desert. Her governess will be more upset about the damage to her face than having to set the arm. It would make her smile if her father were not looking so dire.
Ra's al Ghul stands with his back to her, his hand resting on the top of his leather captain's chair, staring at the portrait of his daughter that hangs above the mantle of a fireplace he never uses.
"I commissioned this painting three years ago," he says slowly, "do you remember?"
She says nothing, but yes, she remembers. She remembers an entire week of afternoons sitting perfectly still, wearing a becoming but uncomfortable dress and sitting in an equally becoming but uncomfortable chair. Remembers barely breathing for hours on end, hoping that if she happened to sneeze, she wouldn't startle the artist and send him into hysterics—the way she had when she dared to scratch her nose in the first hour of her sitting.
Of course she remembers.
"I commissioned this painting," he repeats, "so that the image of my only daughter would be as…durable…as myself. So that I could remember you always at your very best."
Talia tries very hard not to hear the intimation that she peaked at nine years old.
Ra's turns to look at her and she feels the need to hide behind her mussed hair. "And here you are, come to me in tatters."
A desire to smooth the front of her skirt, torn and shredded along the hem, rises from self consciousness, but she doesn't dare stop supporting her arm. "Father, I—"
He raises a hand. Talia falls silent.
"I should have saved myself the expense," he says of the painting, turning away from her again. Then, more to himself than to her, "I suppose I'll donate it to a museum. It would be a shame for the last thing Anton Beauchene ever painted to rot away in a warehouse in the middle of the desert."
She swallows, forcing down the lump in her throat.
"You know how much I hate waste, my dear."
A clock ticks somewhere for an agonizing fifteen seconds. Talia knows because she counts them.
"Yes." With a sigh, he turns his back to the fireplace and looks at her head on for the first time since she was ushered into the room. "Which brings us to your conduct."
If at all possible, Talia shrinks a little more.
"My men spent two days searching for you in the desert, daughter. Manpower that could have been better utilized elsewhere."
"You have disgraced the League of Assassins by slipping past the best of my guards and somehow avoiding them longer than any fugitive from my organization ever has—"
"I am sorry—"
"—and you have willfully disobeyed me from the moment we arrived in Qurac."
"I only wanted to explore the caves—"
"You could have been killed." His voice is cool. Detached. Ra's doesn't snap angrily, the way another father might, or explode. That makes it all the worse. His disappointment weighs heavily on her shoulders.
Tears spring to Talia's eyes, but she blinks them away. Such things are beneath the daughter of the Demon's Head. She closes her eyes and bows her head with shame. "It will not happen again."
A gentle hand cups her chin and turns her face up to look at him. "No. It will not. Look at me, Talia."
She does. Despite her best efforts, a single tear escapes, leaving a trail on her cheek. Her father's eyes are inscrutable.
"If you had asked me, I would have sent you to the caves with a full compliment of guards," he says to her. "Talia, do I not indulge you?"
She closes her eyes again for a moment, steeling herself. "I did not want to be indulged, or guarded. I wanted…" A challenge. Solitude. Freedom. A dozen words come unbidden, none of them spoken, all of them hanging in the air.
"I see," he says, brushing an errant strand of hair from her eyes, and she believes he actually does. "Slipping past my best men was an impressive feat, daughter. Even in the face of your defiance, in that I am proud of you."
Elation washes over her, so thick she could drown in it. She barely feels the dislocation anymore.
He continues firmly, "But you must know, that defiance is no small thing. The cost was minimal, this time, but it will not always be so. Because you acted rashly, the guards you evaded will spend the next few months being trained more rigorously than ever. Some may not survive." He does not look away from her eyes for a moment. "Our actions ripple ever outward into the lives of others; it is why they must all be considered and weighed carefully before we take them."
Though she does listen, even this can't temper Talia's unbridled joy at his approval. "I understand."
"As I knew you would." The hand on her chin makes it way to her good shoulder and gives a little squeeze. "Ubu will see to your injuries."
"Thank you, father." She smiles at him more brightly than the pain in her shoulder should allow.
He nods. "You are dismissed."
She bows her head and begins to cross the room.
"Talia—" she stops in the doorway and turns to look at him. "Have the governess leave your clothes unmended."
"I will have another portrait painted, to replace the old one," he says thoughtfully. "I think I should like to remember you just as you are now."
Her heart feels warm. "Yes, father."