Likeness to God
Talia al Ghul. Her given name. The name that she carries like a scar.
It's the one she keeps hidden, stolen away in the cavern behind her heart. The others, they were never a part of her, only smoke screens, distractions from her true form. She wore them like war paint. Proudly, with gusto. Miranda she vanished behind, like a suffocating mask. In legends, she was merely 'the child' – not a girl, not a boy, hardly even human, just a shadow in that dark prison where she left her soul behind. They talk of her as if she is a giant amongst them, grappling and overcoming a feat that no grown man could ever conquer. No one remembers the small, trembling creature who hid beneath the robes of her protector.
Her father would have been proud to see her now. She never knew him, she would never know him, but his legends she knows through and through. Every piece of his mythology she could recite by heart. The stories they told of Ra's Al Ghul in the prison, the leader of the League of Shadows. When she found him, he was not the great titan they spoke of - merely a broken replica of the hero she had built up in her head.
They fashioned for themselves the comfortable roles of mentor and protégé, slipping easily into the casts they were made for. Father never came easily for her. The name master slid off her tongue like silk, and she bowed before him, raised him high on the pedestal where not even she could see him, burning bright like a northern star. He guided her, carved a path from the dark shapelessness of her past, but never was he father. And she asked for no more than that.
It was always him - her dear friend that she loved.
Her mother is dead. They carry her body away, bruised, bones crumbling like dust beneath the split skin. She watches the blood pool in the cracks of brown clay. Like new scarlet blossoms opening in the sun.
There is the rush of numbness. She doesn't feel anything. Just the idea settling in, somewhere in the back of her head, but it hasn't reached her heart. Silently, she stays behind as they drag away what is left. Not a whisper escapes her. Not a whimper, not a cry.
In the confusion, one of the prisoners reaches for her, tries to grab hold of her in that sea of bodies. Waves of hands, crusted with blood. The riptides of legs that pull her under, try to crush her in their violent current. There is no escape. She stands there and, without a word, she gives in. Surrenders without a sound. She doesn't fight when those fingers pierce her thin shoulders like the edge a blade.
There is a moment of blinding pain. It radiates throughout her entire body, a sensation that swells until there is no more room for it in her, and she releases a blood curdling scream. Her attempts to defend herself are weak at best. She hasn't eaten in days. The grief of losing her mother, the only warm, breathing haven she'd ever known, is gone. She couldn't crawl into her softness anymore, lose herself in the balm of her mother's slow, rhythmic heartbeat, a song thrumming low in the cavern of her ribcage as she pressed her ear against it. She's gone. So easily, so quickly, she'd slipped through her fingers. No amount of fighting or praying or screaming could bring her back.
The pain stops so suddenly. Cut off, a clean, blunted end that must feel like death. Everything spins for a moment in that brief instant of falling under. Where it is black and cold and she doesn't feel the stickiness of burgeoning grief any longer. She is free. This is it – the end, her death. She will see her mother soon.
The sound hums overhead. Low and sweet. It's not her mother's voice. When she remembers, there's a moment where the pain returns, and the deep ripping sensation of a broken heart echoes through her bones. She trembles in the wake of it.
Talk to me, little one. Talk to me.
The words are so heavy. Her throat caves in around them, too fragile, too undone to carry the weight. She chokes. "My mother…my mother, she is dead."
I know, niñita…don't think of it now. Go to sleep. Rest now, and know I will avenge her.
The warmth that cocoons her is not like her mother's. The body not yielding, its skin stretching around her like wings. She leans into the stomach that feels like concrete, hard like stone, and her tears engrave wet tendrils into the pale skin. The only comfort is a strong, resounding heartbeat. A pulse that lures her back into sleep. It's too piercing, too thunderous a sound to be her mother's hushed song.
But it's familiar. Like a balm.
Her mother's murderer is thrown before her on his knees. There is nothing remarkable about him. Nothing that should tempt fate to choose him as the thief that took her mother's life. The same dark eyes as the rest of the faceless prisoners; they are depthless, a stagnant shade of brown. Only the fear separates him from the rest of the crowding horde. It swells in his frail body like a climbing fire. Blooms like a sun all its own.
Rising up like a tower of flesh, her rescuer grabs hold of the murderer's neck. So easily he could snap it, end everything in one swift demonstration of true reckoning. But he waits. Waits for her.
The murderer pleads for mercy in broken, pleading Spanish, spiritless mantras that inspire no mercy in her rotting heart. Clawing, scratching nails leave crescent-shape wounds in the colossal hands. He tries desperately to save his own life, salvage what remains of such pathetic existence for himself. But he has forfeited it. The moment he killed her mother was the moment his life no longer belonged to him – but to her.
She meets the giant's eyes. "I want to do it."
And he holds the writhing shoulders in a vice grip until it is all over.
In her dreams, he morphs outside of his body. The bones crumble in her fingers like ashes. The flesh melts away and envelops her, coating her like a second skin. Even the eyes seem to burn out, blue like the hope she traces in the sky always above her, out of reach, brushing up against her palms. Blue like the water. In dreams, they fade, losing their likeness to the heavens.
He becomes everything.
The water in her cup and the extra bread in her pocket that he gives to her.
And when she stretches her hand out to try to seize that yawning blue canvas above her.
She knows she is touching him too.
In the early evening, he takes her to the safest place he can find. Always far from the others, the ones who steal bread and search for blood-filled sacks of skin to stick their nervous blades into. In his arms, she feels safe. Ferocity thrums deep in his blood. No one can touch them, no one can seek them out in their haven made of gloom. They are alone in this world. They might as well be, with them strewn across the ground in a tangle of heat and limbs, his back flush against it, her little frame pushed tight against him, so close she could melt into his side. Like an extension of him. A tiny, breathing rib outside its cage of flesh. They are never separate beings, roaming half complete, half alive. Always one. It is the only way she knows now.
He is nothing like her mother's sweet humming life, soft like the earth. He is made of stone. His breath is thick and heavy like mortar and his voice like peeling thunder. There is nothing soft about him. But she has forgotten the softness. The gentleness of her mother's sloping body.
Pequeñita…he always calls to her as he unravels in sleep.
Salvador…she whispers back.
For years they lived as one. He stole food for her, went hungry when there was not enough bread to share. She held him in her heart, next to the hope she brushed against in the night – like her hands held up to the sky.
In this life, there is no room for innocence. She grows in his image, hard and unyielding, but thin like barbed wire and just as cruel. Without a thought, she runs a peaceful man through for his bread, giving it away to her salvador when he is weak with hunger. He teaches her the violence she will need to survive. How to make a man bleed. How to make him cry for mercy. It rips the guilt from her soul, seam by seam, until it hangs by a thread. There is no need for it here. Only the strong, the merciless, survive.
Still, there is the hope. The others pray. They sing. Those without some form of escape wither away, blind to the light as they suffer in darkness. She holds on to her patch of sky. So close, yet so far. Someday, she knows, she will find a way. Taste that sky. Taste that hope as it bursts from its shell and becomes truth.
For now, there is only the taste of bread.
And the balm of her breathing stone haven.
One morning, after bread is thrown down into the pit, she watches as a young man winds a rope around his middle. There is hard determination in his eyes. They awaken with the hope she holds within her as the sunlight spills across his face.
His voice rumbles softly behind her. "He will try to take the leap. They always do. Try, that is. But they always fall."
"Why do they fall?"
He watches, the blue of his eyes glinting as they follow every move the man makes. There is a faint blush of jealousy – she can see it, though he tries to push it down.
"They are not strong enough."
"Am I strong enough?"
A rueful smile. "Of course, my pequeñita. You are stronger than any man I know."
He splits their ration of bread in two. Always his half is smaller.
She remembers the fear in her mother's murderer.
How it flourished, more radiant than the sun.
And she wonders – looking up at that sky beyond the pit.
If she could take her hope.
And make it burn like that too.
She wakes to shouting. It resonates across the pit, rising up out of it in a cloud of voices, a storm of sound. She doesn't feel the arm like stone around her. She looks up and sees his outline, standing at the threshold of their haven. Every inch of him is coiled like a spring.
"What is it? What is that noise?"
He doesn't turn around. "Nothing, pequeñita. Just a fight over a scrap of moldy bread. Go back to sleep."
His body eclipses the light. It is so easy, falling back into sleep.
When she wakes again, it is to the sensation of being thrown into the air.
Hands grasp her. Fingers scrape and dig and puncture her skin. She screams out for her protector. Her dearest friend.
He finds her in the swarm, tearing her out of a blood-drenched grasp. That man falls as a blade rips his guts from his body.
Away from the commotion, he sets her down, for just a moment – it is all they have. "Are you all right? You aren't hurt? Let me see you – turn around."
"I'm fine. I'm okay." She runs her fingers along a gash, leaking red. "You're hurt."
"It's nothing, niñita…Listen to me. Listen close."
She strains to hear the low thunder of his voice over the screaming nearby. Blood coats both of them. They're covered in it, the hot, sultry scent of it buried deep in the back of their heads like an old, putrid memory.
"You have to take the leap."
"But you said -"
"I know what I said. But they're not you, little dove. You can make it. You can take the leap."
"What if I fall?"
She never hears his voice again.
Only the cold, mechanical drone filtering through his mask.
When they find him, after she has guided her father back to the pit, he is in ruins. Blood stains the cloth wrapped around his head. He is in so much pain he doesn't recognize her as she curls around his shoulder, murmurs in his ear.
"Salvador, do you hear me? Speak to me, dear friend."
He stares at her, unseeing. There is a film of grey over his eyes. They are colorless, no longer the shade of her hope, of that endless stretch of sky above her. She holds his broken face in her hands.
"Please, don't let go. I will find my father. He can help you."
She takes her father to him, shows him the one who saved her from the darkness of the pit. He shakes his head, somber as he takes in the sight of the torn creature before him.
"He is lost, Talia. There is nothing I can do for him now except end his pain."
She stands in front of him – guards him as, all her life, he had done for her.
Her father recognizes the pall of defiance as it descends over her, thick and oppressive as a veil of smoke. "Why do you care so much? Why does such a worthless life mean so much to you?"
Years spent building up her callus have made her cold. To her, death had always been a specter of comfort. He lifted their loosened souls, delivered them from the pit they could never escape in life. If things had been different, if there had never been any question of leaving that place, she would have let him go. Gently took his life from him so that the specter would come, lift him up, and she would have given him away to the light. But now - she couldn't even think of letting him leave her now.
Beneath the shield of ice, she feels it – a spark of warmth. His warmth. The one that had sheltered her all these years. She had saved it knowing she would never see him again.
"If it weren't for this man – I wouldn't be alive."
author's notes: this is the unedited first draft version. i'm also considering writing a part two. enjoy! hope you like. :)
disclaimer - i don't own talia or bane. they belong to DC comics.