"I'm coming too!"

Bane was already under-rested, hungry from lack of food due to a supposed famine above, and generally annoyed by the noise and chaos the recent shipment had just generated in the prison. He looked and scowled at Talia, unable to manage anything else. She was creeping up behind him now, the new mantle he'd made for her to cover her features unable to hide her eager smile.

"No!" he told her sharply in English, and pointed at her for emphasis. "Go back to bed. You know you aren't supposed to be up this early." She had only twenty minutes before her usual wake-up time, but Bane was feeling legalistic today, and he didn't want to keep her out of trouble as well as grab for what goods were still left, or listen to a hundred questions.

Talia stopped abruptly at the sharpness in his voice, but didn't to go back to her mat. "But…but I always get to go with you," she said.

"Not this time."

"But-"

Bane gave her his best strict look, the one he saved for when he was close to losing all patience with her. He was relieved to see her shrink back, clearly confused by his command but sufficiently wary about pushing him any further. There was a little spark of anger in her eyes, but she didn't act on it. For once. Instead her eyes wandered slowly to the cell door, longingly.

"I am very serious, Talia," he said. He hated having to explain himself-the drop had been made almost five minutes ago. The food and other supplies had to be running low. "The pit is at its hungriest today. If you were crushed underfoot, I would blame myself. And then I'd have to sacrifice all of our new food and medicine to make you better."

She simply glared at him. It almost worked, but he reminded himself that, for her own good, she could never win even one of these struggles. Bane had never had to physically discipline her, besides the occasional slap on the hand when she was an ignorant toddler, or the one time he'd had to tackle her before she wandered too far along a particularly high ledge. He was still amazed he hadn't sat or stepped on her at some point. While her mother had seemed to instinctively know how to hold a child, to cradle its head and pick it up without startling it, the process of being a guardian had been nothing but awkward and anxious-ridden trial and error for him.

Outside, the sound of arguing men grew loader. Someone was thrown to the ground.

"Now, quickly, tell me what you're going to do," Bane said. He didn't trust her to simply listen to him; he wanted to make her say it before he felt safe leaving her.

"I'llstayhere," she muttered at last, after holding out a few moments longer just to spite him.

"What?" he prompted.

"II said I'll stay," she repeated a little more loudly with a sniff; as if she were doing him a favor.

Bane delivered one last hard look in her direction. Talia returned it with almost total fearlessness. She also looked sad and remarkably hurt, but he was used to those kinds of guilt-trips.

"I'll be back soon enough," he told her. He stepped out of the cell and made a show of locking the door, which only seemed to anger her even further. "Go back to sleep and the time will pass quicker."

"Mmm," she said as she stared at her mat.

Bane cursed the start to the day. For some reason, probably just to make his morning unpleasant, the supplies lowered into the pit had come far earlier than usual. If he hadn't had the child he would have rushed out almost immediately and beat down whoever got in his way or tried to hold him back. Now the crowd was thick around the half-broken crates that had been carelessly lowered down. Men were loading their arms with soft fruit or stale bread, tearing apart the few bags of grain, and, in one special case, breaking one of the jars of water over someone's head.

"Bane, Bane!" one of the lesser inmates whispered at his elbow. The man had the nickname Rex. And Rex looked conspiratorial. Bane caught his eyes briefly, nodded, then made a show of pushing through the crowd and grabbing whatever his hands touched first. He shoulder-checked a few people for good measure and shoved his way out with one good armful. Rex saw him leave the rabble, pulled his hood a bit tighter, and gestured for Bane to follow him to his cell. Rex was one of the few who kept his cell open during the day. The only thing that separated him from the Pit was a ratty curtain.

He had a small cell at that, even by the Pit's standards, but Bane was one of the people who knew about the hole in the floor that he kept an old box lid and carpet over.

"Come, sit," Rex said as he motioned at a pillow on the floor. "Put your items in that basket, but pull out the snake first, I mean. I found in on the lower ledge. It died just for me, I think. Probably my reward for honoring all of Ramadan. I've got some cooking oil to fry him in tonight."

Bane crooked an eyebrow at Rex as he crossed his legs and sat. "Weren't you celebrating Lent not too long ago?"

"Well…yes. But no sense in letting a good show of faith go to waste, you know?"

"I don't," Bane huffed as Rex sat across from him. "Anyway, what do you want? Or rather, what do you have that's worth pulling me away from the first real food delivery in the past month?"

"I have some things I've been saving," Rex said. "I got some off the newer prisoners, and also from the smaller drops of food-I got there first last time, because I literally waited all night and early morning. And of course I thought of you, first, for all of your services for us here."

If he means killing off the trouble-makers, Bane thought. Aloud he said, "I don't need to hear your explanations. Show me what you have and I'll see if I want to bother with any of it."

Rex revealed the little pit he'd dug in the floor several years ago. There were a few jars, a cardboard box, and something bundled up so sloppily that Bane couldn't guess what was inside the wrappings.

Rex pulled out the cardboard box first. It was about the size of a book, and about as flat. Bane wondered if maybe there was a book in it. He carefully prevented any interest from showing on his face. He hadn't had anything new to read in a long time, apart from the occasional Lebanese newspaper or some rather random Zodiac literature that he'd read strictly out of duty.

Rex opened the box and Bane caught the glint of steal for a moment as a knife's blade caught the sun. This time, he did fail to stop his hunger from showing. Rex caught it and held the box a little closer. "It's been used only once or twice, and it's a Grossman model. It's for the serious sportsmen, the hunters and fishers and so on; you can cut or skin just about anything with it. It's one of the best brands in America, maybe third or even second best."

Bane flashed him a look of annoyance. "I know. I've lived in America, fool."

"Oh...well. I guess you have the attitude for it, so I'll believe you."

"May I see it, then? I promise I won't shove it into your neck."

Rex tried to smile but couldn't pull it off completely. "It's good to know where your heart always is, Bane. Here-I trust you, if only because I know I'm secretly your best friend in this place."

Bane grabbed it out of the box and decided as soon as his fingers closed around the hard rubber hilt that he would be keeping it-even if he did have to kill Rex. No one would exactly miss him because he would try to please anybody, and therefore was annoying to everybody. The knife was definitely worth killing him. Probably, if he'd been outside, he could have gotten something better, but for the last few years he'd been storing homemade weapons in his cell.

"I thought," Rex began slowly, "that I could have that old lamp of yours, for the knife."

Bane didn't bother looking at him. "No."

"But for a brand-new-"

"You said it's been used."

"Well…it's essentially brand new…."

It was true, the blade wasn't that dull yet, aside from some rust he could sharpen off, but he wasn't parting with his oil lamp. He'd had it for four years. The best time in the prison to read was at night, and it provided him the means to do so. He could even collect the desert insects or other vermin with it when the food got especially low.

"I've got some Zodiac books," Bane told him. "You can hedge more bets with the universe with them. I believe one includes the Chinese Zodiac as well."

"And how am I going to read without a lamp?"

"Pray about it."

"You know, Bane, I could use the knife for myself and skip your offer. If I get attacked tonight, who's going to be afraid of a Zodiac book?"

"Many men here are afraid of books."

Rex scowled but acquiesced: "Fine, then, have it your way. As usual. But for the knife I need more than some books to read. What can you give me?"

Bane mentally flipped through his inventory. Lately, he didn't have much to part with-he was living for another now as well as himself, and couldn't sacrifice essentials whenever he wanted anymore.

However, thinking about Talia and the items he'd put away for them reminded him of something they could probably spare now.

"I have some canned meat I can part with," Bane said.

"Ohhh.?" Rex leaned forward slightly. "What kind of meat?"

Bane didn't want to say. The meat was just canned Spam, or some even more generic equivalent. He'd rather not pollute the deal until the knife was his. "I can't recall the name, but I ate some already and it was pretty good."

Rex suddenly looked doubtful. "What kind of meat, though? Beef? Sardines?"

"I told you, I can't remember. It taasted very hearty, uncooked, if you like that sort of thing."

"I'm suddenly finding it very hard to believe you. You're being too vague. You're never vague."

"I'm being vague because I don't know what to say about it. It's a generic meat product."

Rex's dim bulb got a little bit brighter. "Wait a second-are you trying to trade with Spam or something? Is that right?" Bane said nothing; but Rex smiled broadly. "Because I haven't had Spam in years," he said. "How many cans do you have stowed away?"

At this, Bane could only blink. It was all he could manage. "Ah. I have two cans of the st-meat."

The smile on Rex's face grew. "Very well, then. So that's…how many Zodiac books?"

"Three."

"And two cans of Spam?"

"Yes."

"If you can add in some oil-just a little bit of oil-I would be very grateful."

"I suppose I can. But I want the knife right now. You can pick up my items later."

Rex looked at the knife that was still in Bane's hand. He didn't even bother arguing about it. "All right, but I'm going to get the Spam and the books and oil right after I'm done with Jalil and Qazi. I want it ready for me when I show up."

"I won't cheat you."

"I know you won't, but everyone says they won't cheat me. And then sometimes they do."

"That's because you're a fool. You don't know who's off-limits and who isn't." Bane looked into the hole between them. "What else do you have?"

"Pretty soon, some Spam. But for right now I've got some olives-some really good Spanish olives, the kind without the pits, too-and some instant cream of wheat. In the bundle is something I don't know if you can afford."

"Oh? Is it worth four cans of Spam?" Bane asked drily.

Rex suddenly looked about, eyes glancing back and forth conspiratorially. "I've had a really hard time keeping it. It's really perishable down here. But I just looked at it about an hour ago and it's still fine."

"May I see?"

Rex unfolded it the bundle and revealed two chocolate bars.

Bane frowned. "That was...unnecessarily dramatic."

"Oh, stop pretending," Rex said with a grin. "You like chocolate. I know you do. I heard about it from Jalil. He said he saw you eating it once. Plus, you are something of a father now. The little boy might want some?"

"…It was actually some dried fruit I was eating, but I suppose I like chocolate." And, Bane thought, Talia probably would like some. One thing he was grateful for was that she wasn't a picky eater-he'd never searched hard to get her anything in particular, as long as it wasn't spoiled. She'd never had chocolate before though, and it could be a nice reward for (eventually) obeying him this morning.

Then again, it looked like milk chocolate, not the dark chocolate people traded in the prison from time to time. Bane suddenly had a premonition of Talia having her first sugar high and quashed it immediately. He'd just eat the chocolate after she went to bed and she'd never know.

"Just half a bar," he said. He gestured to the floor where he'd dropped his supplies. "You may take two things out of the perishables."

"Just two? This is real milk chocolate! It's Hershey's, Bane! See?"

"And this is a real knife I'm holding right now. See?"

Rex gave him an almost motherly look of disapproval. "Fine. If you want to exercise your power over me, then I'll take two. Let's see… the figs-ten figs count as one item, by the way-and then maybe that mango? The one that's not so…squishy?"

"If you insist." Bane gave him the satchel he carried and Rex deposited everything in it-save for the knife. Bane kept that under his belt, where anyone could see it if they got close enough.

"Don't forget my stuff!" Rex called out to him as he left. "I'll be there in a no more than an hour! I'm serious! I won't wait around for you like last time, and I don't care if you disembowel me."

Bane strode past the broken crates, now picked clean, one of which held a bloodied man in it. The man's face was still somewhat recognizable. Poor Qazi. But he probably deserved it, Bane figured. He didn't bother to tell Rex that his second guest probably wouldn't be dropping by today.

He took out the little key he'd fashioned for his cell and went inside, dropping his satchel in a corner and throwing a blanket over it. Then he lay down on his mat and looked at his knife. He couldn't help but stroke the blade. Even the rust couldn't obscure the smooth metallic shine, or the sleek steel. The ridges in the blade were very fine, too. You just couldn't get that kind of quality from prison blades. A part of him was looking forward to using it.

After a few minutes of self-indulgence he sat up to get Rex's things and wake Talia.

He looked over to Talia's spot and just had time to wonder why he couldn't hear her breathing in her sleep. He stared at her empty mat like a fool for several slow seconds. The blanket was there, and it almost looked like a small person, but a kick proved that it was empty. Bane scanned the whole cell with practiced quickness-he couldn't waste a moment if she wasn't here somewhere.

"Talia, come out now if you're here, or else," he said as loudly as he dared. She didn't, and he spun around to look at the lock on the door. He'd locked it on the way out, and unlocked it on the way in. Either she'd squeezed through the bars, or… He looked for his spare key. It was in its little matchbox under his mat.

Talia was devious, though. She'd finally done it-she'd finally gotten out. Bane realized, with more anger at himself than he could bear, that of course she would have gone off on her own eventually. It was inevitable. He should have taken her with him if only to avoid that. He'd forced her to stay behind out of convenience.

He rushed from the cell. There was no time for regrets now. He could blame himself after he scooped her up and never, never let go of her until he deemed things safe, or killed whoever was already thinking about eyeing her.

Rex was eating his figs when a little shadow poked its head into his cell. He looked up and instinctively drew the figs back. When he registered that it was Bane's "son" he relaxed slightly.

"Oh, hello, little…" What was the kid's name again? He thought about it and realized he didn't know. "…er, little thing. Is your big brutish father with you?"

The child shook its head. "No," came a squeak. Then it sniffled and walked into the cell.

Rex heard about a million alarm bells go off in his head. "He's not? Where is he?"

"I don't know. I'm by myself right now."

"He let you out by yourself?" Rex had never really cared about the child one way or the other, but he'd also never seen it alone after the death of its mother. Except that one day, anyway, when Bane had claimed the boy as his own; had wrapped the shivering little mass in his arms and carried it to his cell. It had been the only good thing Rex had ever seen him do.

"He just let you out?" Rex said.

The child nodded.

"Oh…oh, I see. Sure he did. Oh. No. I better go get him."

"No!" came a shrill protest. "I'm old enough to be by myself now!"

"Ha! Maybe, but not with me. I'm going to get beaten for this already, I can tell. Just by existing around you I've probably made him angrier. When he catches up with me he'll kill me, unless I go get him right now."

"Please," the child begged. "He never lets me do anything. He never lets me go anywhere. I want to explore, I want to do things on my own. But he always locks me up and tells me what to do."

"As the Americans say, 'You're preaching to the converted.' Now please excuse me, so I can go get him while I can still walk."

The child teared up as he pulled aside his curtain. Rex saw the tears and hesitated. "Oh, don't. Don't cry. Not until you're with him again. Please, he already hates me enough. If you cry he'll gut me."

She just cried harder. She made no noise, but the tears rolled down her face and soaked her mantle like a flood.

"You-you devious little… Please, please, I don't want him to have my head over this. Why are you crying, anyway? Be a man like your father!"

The tears just poured down more furiously. Rex caught the kid's eyes, then looked, really looked at what he could see of..of her face. He jumped back, swearing on everything he knew.

"I'm gone, I'm gone, this isn't my place anymore! You're a girl and he's going to kill me. I'm going to go make the jump again while I still have the chance!" He raced out. The jump, or Bane. Only one thing offered him the barest chance for survival and he as going to take it.

Talia sniffed into her sleeve. She'd wanted him to stay. Rex was a nice man, if weird. Bane traded things with him sometimes and once Bane let her trade, not speak, but point at what she wanted and what she could part with for it. Afterward Bane had laughed and called her a little dupe, but she'd had fun trading anyway. What she'd wanted was to spend some time with Rex, maybe trade some more things, but now even he was running off.

She wondered if he'd tell Bane. And she wondered if she should go back home now, while she had the chance. Maybe Bane hadn't noticed she was gone yet. She could probably keep her escape a secret-she'd kept the little key she'd made a secret, for almost a week now. It had been hanging from her neck, under her clothing, and Bane had never noticed.

A part of her had liked that-she'd liked the deception as it progressed each day. There was something freeing about finding out that Bane could be tricked, and that he didn't know everything. He was always lecturing her and reading things she didn't understand, and winning at wrestling, and treating her like a daughter but never letting her call him father, and being just unfair about whatever he wanted; but her key-she had kept that from him. And the key had worked, too. She'd been too scared to try, until this morning. But it worked just like Bane's keys worked, and she'd barely forced the lock as she'd opened it. Talia had even closed and locked the door behind her. The whole thing proved how smart and responsible she really was.

She stood up and peaked around the curtain. She didn't see Rex or Bane anywhere. If she was going to make a run for it, now was the time. She prayed that Allah wouldn't let Bane know. She hadn't meant anything wrong. Maybe she'd carefully ask Bane what Allah thought about sneaking around but not doing anything wrong when she was back, and Bane came back, and she was sure no one knew what she'd done.

She quickly skimmed the wall to the next level, as she'd learned to Bane's horror a few months ago, and peeked into their cell. She was relieved to see that it was still empty. I did it, and he's no wiser, she thought. Another accomplishment. Maybe she could do this often. Talia re-locked the door and curled up on her mat. She had no problem going to sleep now.

Bane wanted desperately to call the girl's name, but he didn't dare let the secret out; and he didn't dare let anyone see how much her disappearance had affected him. He couldn't hide his frustration and anger completely, but anyone he passed as he circled the pit and surreptitiously looked through doors took him as no more agitated than usual.

A scurrying sound caught his attention as he came back to the central area. Rex was scrabbling around near the ropes, muttering wildly, running back and firth, throwing rocks at the wall. Occasionally he'd start to tie a rope around his waist. Then he'd think better of it and cast the rope aside.

Bane could spot the look of the guilty a mile away. Within moments he was almost on top of the man. Rex yelped and quickly ran behind one of the crates, putting it between them. Then he saw the dead inside and jumped back.

"It was Qazi it was Qazi it was Qazi!" he said.

Bane shoved the crate aside with one kick and ran against him. Rex broke their momentum as they hit the wall.

"Oh, please, she just peaked in and I got right out, I swear on my mother's grave!" he yelled. "Please, please, I didn't do anything, as soon as a I saw her I was gone, I, please, if you just go look you can go get her!"

"Shut up!" Bane hissed. Rex nearly fainted as he got up close and personal with his former blade. "Shut up, you fool, or I'll stab this in your throat." As it was, Bane pressed the flat of the blade under his eye.

"I didn't know he was a she," Rex whimpered as loudly as he dared. Instinctively, Bane leaned in to hear him, but his rage wasn't mollified. "A-and I didn't do anything! She-it-the child just came into my cell. I ran out right away! I'm a swindler but I don't hurt children!. You have to believe me!"

"Where is she?" Bane hissed.

"I left her in my cell."

"With Jalil coming? With anybody able to walk in as they please?" Bane slammed the man's head hard against the wall. "I'm going to kill you anyway!"

"I won't tell anyone! I won't! Please believe me!"

"You'd tell someone if they offered you a deal." Bane pulled him away from the wall and shoved him forward. "Let's go. I don't want to make any more of a scene. Walk slowly to your cell. I'll throw a blanket over the child's head and kill you there."

"But…I did nothing…" Bane kicked him and Rex started walking. He looked around for help, but those watching were too smart-or too interested-to interfere. Bane always did what he wanted. Rex had stood idly by once as Bane beat one man to death by stomping his head into the floor. Now he expected mercy?

"At least let me pray," he pleaded when they reached his door. "And please, if only so you don't frighten the child, make it qui-"

At her mention Bane shoved him the rest of the way into the cell. Rex landed on the floor and scrambled to the far wall, like a dog.

Bane quickly looked around the room. Talia wasn't anywhere.

"M-maybe she went home," Rex said. "I told her she should go home, in fact."

Bane hit the wall closest to him and Rex shrank down against the floor.

"You stay here," Bane hissed at him. "Stay here unit l get back. If you try to run away, I'll kill you." He'd probably kill him anyway. But he had to make sure Talia was alright first.

Rex was invoking the Christian God as Bane left.

Lukewarm fool, Bane thought. The closer to his cell door he got, however, the more quickly his rage left him .He missed it immediately. He tried to feel anger towards Talia. That worked a bit. Then he was at the door and suddenly the anger turned to fear, and preemptive guilt. If she were lying there hurt, or not there at all…

He peered in and saw a blissfully sleeping form; no signs of attack on her person. He switched gears yet again and the rage came back full-force. He almost attempted to yank the door off its hinges but resisted at the last moment.

I cannot go in there like this, he thought. He paced in front of the door like a caged lion. I'fI do, I will kill her. I'll yell, and lose control of myself, and hit her too hard. I can't go in there, scare her and- Oh, but she deserved it. She had mocked him. No one could condemn him for punishing her with a small slap-

Bane pulled away from the bars. He had to think, he had to consider his actions before he did anything. It wasn't wise to do anything without thinking first.

He clenched his fists and took several deep, shuddering breaths. He wanted to hit something, if not her.

Rex was still waiting, if he knew what was good for him. Rex would be a suitable target for his wrath. And when Bane had disposed of him-after making sure he alone knew Talia's secret-then Bane would approach Talia and decide how to convey to her the exact amount of wrong she had done today. After all, a man was about to die.

When Bane stormed in, Rex had just started to think he wouldn't come back. The curtain swept aside and the sudden burst of light hit his eyes. Then everything was dim again. He crawled against the back wall and tried to hold his bladder.

"I…I…hope she's well?" Rex ventured.

Bane merely stood over him like a meaty statue. Rex was torn between making eye contact and keeping his head down; half-convinced that Bane would go away if he didn't acknowledged him, yet afraid to keep his eyes averted. For several protected moments, everything was quiet. Bane 's silhouette loomed perfectly still above him.

"Does anyone else know?" Bane asked finally.

"No, no one," Rex said. "I was alone. I was eating my figs. I told you, I went away when she came in."

"Right away?" Bane asked doubtfully. "Yet you know she's female? Do you expect me to believe that?"

Rex shook his head. "No, but it wasn't my fault. I tried to get her to leave, she started to cry-she wanted to stay. I don't know why she wanted to stay. I realized, as I saw her crying, how much like a girl she looked. And then I ran. I was afraid of what you'd think, if you found me with her like that."

"You were right to be afraid. I just wonder if you were afraid enough."

Rex saw a tear fall on the carpet and realized that he'd probably been crying for some time. "Please, I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't harm her, and I didn't kick her out, did I? I let her stay. I let her stay instead of throwing her out, out there."

Bane didn't move, and Rex dared to glance up at him.

"Why did she come here, of all places?" Bane asked after a moment. "I looked in all of her favorite places first. Why here?"

"I don't know. You've brought her here a few times. Maybe she was looking for you. I wish I could answer your questions. But maybe she could tell you better."

Bane just stood there. Rex realized he wasn't going to live after all. Then he saw the man's boots come closer and prepared himself to leave the world. He'd stopped crying when Bane grabbed him by the scruff of his neck and sat him up. As the man's shocking green eyes lowered to meet his own, Rex said, "You know, since I'm about to die, I want to say: I never liked you, Bane. I don't know what you did to end up in this place, but you deserve it here. The Pit was made for monsters like you." It was signing his own death warrant, but after years of obeisance, it felt good, to say that.

Bane continued to look at him. His green eyes narrowed. Rex closed his. He wasn't going to hold eye contact while he died. Then Bane released him.

"Wh-what are you doing?" Rex asked. When Bane didn't answer, he looked up and saw the man just sort of shrug, as if it were all suddenly some misunderstanding.

"I find actually believe you," Bane said. "I merely wanted to impress upon you the severity of the situation-and that I can kill you, if you do not do as I ask, and continue to do so, for as long as either of us are here."

"What do you want me to do? Keep my mouth shut? You don't even need to ask for that!"

"I know. But I do have another task for you."

Rex agreed, before he even knew what it was. When Bane was done telling him what he wanted, he didn't dare question why.

When Talia woke up Bane was sitting next to her. He was eating something.

"Good morning, dear one," he said. "You slept in so late it's almost noon."

She squinted at the food. "What is that?"

"It's chocolate. Here." He broke off a piece and gave it to her. "Since you submitted and were so obedient this morning."

She popped it into her mouth without testing it first, but it tasted good.

"It's so sweet! I really like it!"

He broke off another, larger piece for her. As she ate it Bane watched her quietly. He looked odd.

"What it is?" she asked.

"Nothing," he said. "I'm just very tired. It was a very eventful day."

"What happened?"

"There was a crazy man, running around. He beat up Rex."

Talia gasped.

"Yes. But I think he's gone now. Hopefully he won't come back. You must be on your best behavior, Talia, do you understand?"

Talia nodded quickly. She'd just seen Rex. Apparently he hadn't said anything, but now he was beat up? She held out her arms and Bane pulled her into his lap. "I-I'm scared…" she said.

Bane stroked her head. "Don't be. If you are good, nothing will happened to you. I'm just glad I always know where you are. If someone had gotten to you, I'd never be able to forgive myself."

Talia trembled against him. "I-I'm sorry. I'll be good." She curled in a little tighter on herself, so he couldn't feel the key hanging from her neck.

"What are you sorry for?"

"I'm..sorry for not obeying right away this morning."

"Is that all you're sorry for?"

"…yes. That's all."

"I see…. Apology accepted." He kissed her head, something he didn't do much, but it made her feel better. He didn't know. She was safe. Only now she definitely wasn't going to go out without him, if someone that made Bane upset was about.

Talia felt better after being held for a while, but Bane almost seemed to be shivering. It was strange. And he stared off into space every few minutes.

"What are you thinking about?" she asked.

"It's a grown-up matter. Do you want more chocolate?"

She nodded. He gave her another piece, then laid her down. "I'm sorry again," she said.

"I know you are, cara mia. I know," he said tiredly. "Now let me sleep."

"O-okay." She watched him roll away from her, onto his side. When she could hear him breathing, she ran to her own mat and put her key under it, throwing a bit of sand over it for good measure. Then she went back to his mat.

He didn't wake when she curled against his back.

[tbc