It was dark.
It was dark, and the stars were out.
At the moment, Talia lay huddled in his lap, relying on his body for additional warmth. Bane's arms were commissioned around her, and the folds of his sleeves successfully buried her lower half in the fabric and protected her from the night. She kept him warm too, despite her size. Their distribution of heat was perfect, especially after a lot of times sitting together, looking out from the ledge near their cell as the cold desert air swept down on top of them.
In addition to keeping him warmer than he would have been on his own, Talia also kept him preoccupied in the late hours when there were no more books to read, or food to eat, or when even his beloved exercise and strength/conditioning became too pointless and routine. He'd never known how idle, how numb in his mind, he had become in the last few years before she entered his care. Sometimes, guiltily, he found himself grateful that she'd been born in this pit, to keep him from complete senselessness. He tried not to think that way.
Children were never boring. Hyper-active and hyper-attentive, loud, clumsy, and boiling over with a dozen conflicting emotions on a daily basis, yes, indeed; but they were never boring. Even now, when she was quiet, Talia was still demanding things of him in Arabic, prattling away as they gazed up from the pit at the stars. He'd hoped for a peaceful night of star-gazing, but peaceful nights never lasted long.
"I want to touch one," she whined to him. "Won't you lift me up so I can touch one?"
Bane peered at her little hand stretched out as far as it could toward the sky. Staring at it, and adopting the mind of a child, he could see the illusion that the stars really were just out of reach.
"Little one," he said with much-learned patience, "if I lifted you up as high as the moon, you wouldn't be able to touch even one star. They're millions of miles away."
"But-" she squirmed and reached out farther, half-falling out of his lap in the process. Talia was willful, prideful, and determined-she also hated to be told no about anything. "But…Bane…!" She said his name in English, grating it into a whine.
"Talia," he said warningly. She paused, and he scooped her up and pulled her back against him. Less firmly he continued, "I would if I could, little one. I would let you take as many stars as you wanted-if I could."He held her a little tighter, but she just mewled and squirmed like a cat that wanted to explore past its bounds.
"Lift me up or let me go!"
Bane was distressed to see tears in her eyes; they threatened to spill out at any moment as she fiercely stared him down. Through Talia he'd learned that children often expected the impossible, and demanded things that no guardian, slave or free, could give. A few weeks ago she'd been angry with him because she hadn't known him when he was a little boy. No amount of explaining could convince her that he wasn't at fault for the difference in their ages. "Dear one, you hadn't been born yet," had been dismissed as irrelevant. He'd wound up being her enemy for a good part of the day.
When it came to children, and their illogical fantasies, there was only one thing a mature-minded person could do, or so Bane had learned in the last few years.
So though he knew he was being almost cruel, and that he was going to smash her newest dream to pieces like all the others he smashed, he said, "All right. Your wish is my command." He lifted her as high as he could into the air. Talia squeaked with victory and eagerly strained her hands toward the sky. Unsurprisingly, she continued to reach for several minutes, long after it became apparent that she wouldn't get her way. She was the most stubborn four-year-old he'd ever known. Finally, though, she accepted the lie in her perception for what it was. The tears flowed freely as she said, "Put me down." He obeyed. She sobbed into his chest and, her face muffled against the fabric of his robe, babbled things he couldn't distinguish. He patted her head briefly but nothing calmed Talia down when she felt like venting one of her moods.
It almost hurt, to see her grow up a little more; to see another layer of innocence shed and gone.
For most children, failing to touch the sky wouldn't have been so tragic. But most children were a little closer to the stars than Talia.