It's been six days, he thinks, since they took him. Four since he was supposed to meet Gordon, three since they gave him food and one since he was last given any water.

The quiet feeling of triumph that had sustained him the first few days at managing to convince them that the priest's collar was authentically his has since faded away to nothing.

He really isn't anything other than incredibly fucking thirsty. His gut cramps, his arms are on fire, his wrists have been zap-strapped together behind his back for the better part of three hours.

The change, when it comes, is hard to process. He is lifted onto his knees by his throbbing arms and he screams. It's muffled by the hood they keep over his head, but not nearly enough. There’s a yank, and suddenly the world is bright white with light.

And he knows, he knows that this is a trick that they will use to break him, but that doesn’t stop him leaning forwards at the touch of plastic to his lips. For the cool water against his mouth as the bottle tips up.

There are people around him. He tries to count how many, tries to shift so he's kneeling on the stone floor, ready to spring if he has to rather than half slumped to one side, but then water is sliding down his parched throat and he feels so very, pathetically grateful he forgets to think. One sip, two sips, and it pulls away. He knows he'd make himself sick of he drank more but he leans forward and chases it all the same, and is stopped by one big, broad hand curling right around his throat, halting him in his tracks.

John looks up, and sees the mask first, and has to work physically to make himself look past it, to meet Bane's eyes. They’re blurry and dark, and he can't make out the colour but he thinks he can read something there, maybe surprise.

"Thank you." He says, clears his throat. "And go fuck yourself."

And then someone kicks him in the stomach. He'd thought (stupidly) that nothing could hurt more than the hunger; he'd been wrong. He doubles over, empty stomach heaving painfully, and feels himself collide with Bane's legs, shoulder against the man's knee. Bane wasn't the one who kicked him, then, he's standing rooted as any tree. John lifts himself up gradually, wheezing badly. He looks up at the angry looking man to the side of them, the one who'd delivered the blow. Then back at their leader.

"Is this what you’re doing now? Killing children and kidnapping clergy?"

That scores a hit. Bane's eyes narrow, and John has a frantic moment to wonder if succeeding in irritating him is actually succeeding at all, but the answer, at least, is helpful.

"Your children are well. They are being watched over by my men, and no harm will be permitted to come to them. They are safer this way than the would be even with you, Father."

"Don't call me father." He corrects. The good Catholic boy in him won't let him keep going with that. "It's just Blake. You give me your word they're unharmed?"

He won't believe a word of it, but the priest would ask, would trust, and he hates himself for feeling relieved when Bane nods, for buying it. Someone is behind him, and he doesn't realize there's a knife until the strap holding his wrists is cut. His arms fall forward suddenly and Blake bites back a sharp scream of pain as the tortured muscles shift. It dies in his throat, unuttered, and when he looks up this time, he knows it isn't his imagination; Bane looks impressed. And very still, somehow, like a man luring a bird inyo his hand. He makes the comparison, steels himself, and demands;

"You can do what you want to me, I'm not going to do a fucking thing to help you."

And then he passes out before Bane can kill him, feeling faintly triumphant and still so hungry.


He comes to with an IV in his arm and a feeling like cotton in his head that suggests drugs. He pulls the needle out right away, and is already sitting up, feet sliding out of the bed, when he hears the voice.

"How's your faith these days, Father?"

John licks his lips. Starving, but no longer ravenous, still thirsty. He goes to speak and his voice is raw, and he thinks of feeding tubes and drugs and feels briskly, personally violated. His eyes narrow and he readies himself to yell.

"Don't." Bane cuts him off, voice like iron, no room for disobedience. John's jaw clicks shut and he swears, for a sickening moment, he sees Bane's eyes glitter. He tucks that thought away, and stays quiet as the man steps out of the shadows, approaching him with another bottle of water in his hands. This time, John reaches out and grabs it from him before it can be held up to his mouth again. He can still feel the heavy brand of those fingers, whether they touched him last time he was conscious (how many days has it been now?) and doesn't know what to think.

So, he reverts. Does what he can't afford to do, now that he is the kind of man who is trying to save the world and doesn't believe in coincidence. John goes civilian, he talks without thinking;

"The children?"

It's an easy first thing to ask, and it's the absolute right tactic, the logical, cop-part of his brain tells him a second later, when Bane's hand releases the water to him without hesitation, nodding in what looks like unconscious approval. It's a good question for John-the-priest to ask, and it seems to make Bane's eyes soften from iron down to a something more approaching flint.

The relief is short lived.

"I don't know, Father. How is Commissioner Gordon?"

His heart stops in his chest. He swallows, and shakes his head slightly. Bane reaches into the pocket of his sheepskin coat and holds out to him a small bag of almonds. John feels his mouth try to water.

He has to think fast.

"If you think you’re going to get me to betray one of my parishioners, or the sanctity of the confessional, for anything, you’re going to be very disappointed." It's easy to tremble. The hunger is back, he doesn’t have to force the lie onto his face while he looks Bane in the eye. His eyes stay on the almonds.

They're pocketed again. The reprieve is over, he looks up at him and then down again at his wrists, which are bruised badly and chafed bloody in other places. He tries to guess from the scabbing there how long he’s been unconscious.

"I understand your reticence to violate the rules of your faith." Bane answers, with his strange accent and an even stranger sort of respect in his voice. "But if your life depended on it?"

Throat closing, nothing to do with the hunger now, John shakes his head. How's your faith these days? In reality, John has been lapsed for years, remembers his rosary by rote, and not with any particular devotion

He's praying now. Is faintly aware that that makes him a bit of a fairweather fan.

"I'm sorry, but you would have to kill me."

The problem is, of course that Bane looks absolutely, entirely willing to do that. Or worse;

"And the flock of orphans, priest? Will I have to kill them too?"

He doesn't think. (It's a slippery slope, give once and then you’re out of control and wild, apparently.) He flies at Bane’s face, grabbing at the respirator, trying to get his fingers into it, to unhinge-

His skin only just brushes metal when he’s batted aside like so much tissue paper, redirected with more skill than force. Bane uses his own momentum against him and sends him flying, with a cool skill that terrifies John because it doesn't begin to tap in to the strength the man obviously has at his disposal. He’s not just stronger than him, he’s better than him.

He hits the floor and rolls, and is stunned for a moment. Tries to scramble away when he hears Bane stepping after him, bares his teeth and feels a second, tangible slam of adrenaline as those hands near his throat once more. One grabs him, cruelly, by the nape of his neck and drags him up onto his knees like a ragdoll again. The other brushes right along his jugular, then he feels a jerking sensation.

It takes a second to register what has happened. Bane has pulled the white whatever-the-fuck out of his collar. He curses himself for not asking Reilly what the technical term would be, and then curses again when Bane's grip shifts to his hair, pulling hard enough that his eyes water.

In any context but this, he'd enjoy it. But right now, it isn't hard to let himself tremble from the hunger and exhaustion and rush of it. Isn't hard to let his eyes continue to well and burn with impotent frustration. Bane taps the rectangle of white against the mask, like a normal person might run it over their mouth, and John feels like nothing more than prey.

"I believe you, that you'd die for them, but the rules of this faith? Your church leaders grow fat while your orphans stay lean. Would you really hold this canon in higher regard than you would them? What did he tell you, in your confessional? I'm half tempted to believe it wasn't a thing, father, but I must be sure."

John pushes himself the rest of the way up off his knees, and lets Bane read the battle between pain and relief in his face. Yes, let him think the rules, that he doesn’t want to spill the truth, but that there was nothing. Let him think it pointless. Let him lose interest.

"I'm sorry. I don't- know."

Bane’s hand gives away, and he falls back to his knees on the floor, the uniform black pants already stained with eight or nine kinds of grime and grit. The room eases, he sees Bane's posture change, like he has used his greatest weapon and decided that Blake is still standing, and he could cry in relief. There's something else there, though, something about the cock of his hip when Blake gives in, violates his apparent beliefs, breaks the seal of the confessional. He can't put a finger on it, but Bane responds when he caves. And that is almost too frightening to contemplate, but is also something he can use.

For the first time in his captivity, John begs;

"Please. I really need to get back to them. Taking physical care of a child is only half of what they need."

"If that." Bane agrees, almost tiredly, and John's head lifts in surprise at the tone, not sure how to, or what that even. His thought process shorts out again when the bag of almonds lands in his lap. He's staring at them again, he knows, and this time isn’t glad for it, wishes he could drag his eyes away, because Bane is laughing softly at him, and saying. "Brave, for a priest. We have other arrangements we might make, you and I- what was it you asked to be called, father?"

"Blake." He says, numbly, hands lifting to pick up the nuts. It would be pointless for Bane to poison him now, he thinks, when he could snap his spine in a split second. The trembling, he's alarmed to notice, has started again, or kept up, and this time when he tries to stop it, he finds he can't.

"Someone will bring you home." Bane agrees, quietly, turning to go. "But will send for you again soon, and you would regret it if you did not heed me, Blake. It would be an opportunity you would be sorry to lose."

He's gone before John manages to look up, and he's deposited back on the doorstep of the orphanage, to the enthusiastic yells and hugs of the boys, before his head clears enough for him to wonder what the hell that meant.


He isn't really given time to wonder. Things turn into bit of a whirl after that. He moves a few boxes of his belongings into the orphanage under the cover of night. This means saying goodbye, temporarily, to his apartment, so he packs up every single memento he thinks it'd be suspicious not to have, and the really good bottle of scotch he got for his last promotion. Alcohol isn't one of the supplies being brought in across the bridge. It's already worth twice it's weight in food, and should stock up the emergency pantry, which is becoming dangerously depleted.

He's helped Father Reilly with getting food for the last few weeks. They have paperwork for all the boys, but wait in line for hours upon hours, sometimes the whole day. One or two of the boys always have to be there with them to help carry, too. And with the heat shutting on and off, with so many hungry stomachs, growing boys with hollow legs, things are bad and getting worse as the weather gets colder. Everyone is hungry, and sometimes the trucks run out before the lines are gone. He'll go scavenging again later tonight, in fact, see about trading some of the six pack from the bottom of his fridge for anything non-perishable.

But most importantly, there's meeting with Gordon. Getting somewhere unobserved is damn near impossible, but he's pretty sure they manage it. John is smuggled out of the orphanage in a bag of linen and Gordon hops in the trunk of someone else’s car, then they meet in the sealed attic of an empty building.

"We don’t have long." Is the first thing out of Gordon’s mouth, anyways, and John nods in agreement. It's stuffy and hot up here, unventilated, safer for their purposes but agonizing to sit in when you’re already in a cold sweat.

It's an old spy trick, Gordon tells him, develop layers of defenses, decide what you'll try to hide first, decide what you'll try to hide behind that, and with each layer peeled back, try to make them think it is the last. Bury inside of yourself and try to forget the most secret parts.

"And normally, I would say hope for rescue, but I think we've been afforded quite the opportunity here." Gordon's hands, aged seeming all of a sudden, rub together and John finds himself shaken by how similar the phrasing is. "Whatever Bane wants from you, as he observes you, so shall you have a chance to watch him. The difference between the two of you is that you know exactly what he is, John, and he doesn't have a measure of you in the slightest."

John is privately sure that he doesn't have the faintest idea of what Bane is, but knows better than to say so.

Gordon has launched into a list of sordid facts, many of them verifiable, many of them merely likely, and a few completely unimaginable ones about everything in his own life, from the untimely death of Harvey Dent, to his family history, to sexual indiscretions to a few brief years of alcoholism and a flask, then later a bottle in the desk at work. It's a rapidfire barrage, the sort of thing a beloved priest might learn over years, each story softened by emotion, remorse, an explanation, a foundation of mutual trust and respect. If he had learned them all that way, it might have been forgivable. The sort of things John could have lived a lifetime without ever having known about the man he’d dreamed of one day becoming, living up to, making proud.

If they had even been friends, had had a relationship premised on anything other than hero worship, it might have been easily forgiven. But by the time he leaves the building, collar turned up against the cold night air, hands jammed into his pockets, he doesn’t quite know what to think about anything, any more.

Gordon's words are with him on the walk. Keep his interest. Feed him tidbits slowly. Play him. You said he was watching you, do whatever you must to keep it that way, and watch him back. I hate to ask this of you, John, but so many lives depend on it.

That's what keeps him from fighting as the bag comes down over his head from behind, and he's thrown bodily into the back of a vehicle he didn't so much as hear coming up behind him. His head hits side paneling and he does struggle a little then, but coarse hands move him until he's lying ineffectually on his back, hands zap strapped in front of him this time, pinned down across the laps of mercenaries and rocked to and fro slightly with every turn they take. Left, right, left left- they’re shaking his sense of direction deliberately, he decides, and lets himself lose track, preparing himself instead for what is to come.

Bane. The hardest part will be working out how to get a read on him. Most of the normal emotional cues John is trained to look for are in the face, and with the mask obscuring such a large portion of that, combined with what is very probably a different cultural background and a healthy dose of total fucking insanity because he is threatening to blow up everything, his standard social cues are going to be pretty much shot to hell. Even reading emotion in his voice will be challenging, with the added layer of metallic synthesis.

But he has his eyes. He has body language. John will have to make do with those, and see what translates.

First and foremost that will be working out what Bane actually wants from him. It might have been as simple as letting him go and following him right to Gordon; if that's the case, then he’s already led him straight to him, and they're fucked.

It might be he's worked out the ruse, and is bringing him back to skin him and turn him into an inside lining for that coat.

He suspects, though, and has no evidence for this other than an intrinsic, in-his-gut, cop thing, that it isn’t either of those things. This is a game, and the stakes may be high for him personally, but something about Bane's posture had suggested that they were low for him, that he was getting enjoyment out of Blake's anguish, but that he was ultimately quite unconcerned about the outcome. That doesn't fit with what John has seen so far when it comes to his interactions with Gordon. It doesn't really seem to fit with Bane's way of killing, either; the nuclear physicist went down with a utilitarian pop, though that might have been more as a counterpoint to the grandiose devastation of the destroyed football field. It had been perfect. Poetic. Dramatic.

Speaking of dramatics, he's being lifted again, dragged somewhere dark. He can hear water running, smell mildew and condensation in the air, and taste humidity even through the bag. It's cold, it feels dark, and his feet skid on the slick floor as he tries to help his captors walk him. He's thrown down hard onto a chair.

Footsteps leave, and John is alone to wait. He turns to his thoughts once more.

He isn't here to be killed, and he isn’t here on account of Gordon. He’s being played with, caught and released. It emphasizes, first and foremost, Bane's power over him. He'd ordered him to return when summoned, and instead snatched him up without a choice. That means something.

They'd done it in a way that was deliberately disorienting; why? What difference did it make if he knew the location of the giant with his finger on the big red button? It wasn't as if he, a lone priest, could come back here and steal it and beat him up. There wasn't a person in the city who could stand a chance walking in to the heart of the militia group. So if the roundabout journey and the mask wasn’t for their benefit, that meant it was for his. They goal was to get him disoriented, make him feel afraid and upset, and probably to remind him quite deliberately of the unpleasantness of his captivity.

The room is silent, except for the steady dripping sounds around them. He estimates he's been sitting here five, maybe six minutes, when it occurs to him suddenly, in a burst of clarity… he'd heard their steps leave, and started waiting for the sound of someone coming in, the door opening behind him.

Clear as he can, behind the bag, he says;

"Hello, Bane."

And though he never did quite hear those footsteps come close to him, which scares him down to his bones because a man of that size shouldn't be able to move like that, the sack is suddenly lifted off his head. There's no blinding white light this time, he hasn't been inside of it that long. Just a quick blink to see through the light gloom, and a moment to turn his neck way up to look at the towering form above him.

"Blake." Says Bane, looking at him like a child might a dog who's done a new trick. "How pleased I am that you could join me."

Of all the things he was expecting, it was not this. The mercenary pulls out a knife, but only cuts the ties off John’s wrists, leaving him to rub circulation back into his poor hands, try to smooth the places where the scabs had been ripped off by the plastic.

Once that's done with, he moves away, and John's eyes adjust to the gloom enough that he can see his surroundings. It might be a warehouse or factory, something abandoned and old. The water runoff is from something on the roof. Many of the windows are broken, and all of them are black with grime. Something in the industrial district, maybe one of the old meat packing places. He notices the bricklay and tries to compare it to some of the other buildings he knows, but it could be anything made in the thirties through to about the seventies. All he has is a neighbourhood.

Bane drags his attention back by sitting heavily, in a chair exactly like the one John is currently deposited in. There's only a foot or two between them. If he reached out his foot, he could brush the other man’s leg. His skin prickles.

The restraints are gone, he knows that that, too, is to make a point. Even if he tried to run, what chance could he possibly stand?

"I have a question for you, Father." Forestalling any complaints about the address and the capitalization John can just hear in his voice, by raising his hand, Bane continues; "This is a religious matter, the title is appropriate in this case. How would you, with your background lending you some authority on the matter, define evil?"

So yes, of all the things he was expecting, it was absolutely, definitely not this. The question stuns him thoroughly, almost thoroughly enough not to notice the way Bane's pupils dilate while he reels.


"Evil." He remembers a thousand definitions, evil is Satan, is sin, is homosexuality, is murder, is child abuse, is people who talk in movie theatres. He's a priest, he should talk about angels. Bane is watching him, cat and mouse again. "Is a violation of balance."

He shocks his captor into rearing back, slightly, and presses his advantage, expanding on his answer.

"No one owes their life to making everyone else happy. But there is a balance, and we all live within it. Whatever we do to make ourselves happy, to make ourselves complete, to bring ourselves pleasure, if we do that in such a way that the unhappiness or misery we cause others outweighs the peace we ourselves have gained, then we slip towards evil."

He may be thinking of Gordon's instructions there, and may have tipped his hand a little too much. Bane’s eyebrows draw together, a line pinches his forehead, and John is so busy cataloguing it he barely catches the answer to his philosophical tirade.

"That's surprisingly distinct from what I typically hear from others like you. Capitalists, not Catholics." He corrects, when he sees John’s expression start to furl.

He isn't sure why, but he's fairly sure that neither word describe the kind of person Bane is actually thinking about. Capitalism isn’t really his enemy here. John thinks if he had to fill in the blank, he might guess he meant 'soft.'

Nothing about the mercenary is that. There's about a mile of him, and all of it is metal, muscle, and leather, high-tech barbarian with pulsing skin. John's whole body is pins and needles. He can’t answer that accusation, so he starts to ramble again.

"Murder, for example, is the ultimate evil, because it takes the entire being of another, sacrificed for our own whims or betterment or pleasure. In some cases, it may be justified; a murder in self defense rarely brings pleasure, and it would be in and of itself stopping that balanced from being tipped."

"But tell me, what do you think about responsibility? What duty do each of us have to look after others? Isn't there something inherently evil in sitting by while your fellow man suffers?"

Bane challenges him again, and John's throat has dried up completely. He tries to speak again, and just manages to cough. When he looks up again, Bane has moved, silent as can be, and is approaching again with water for him.

This is rapidly becoming familiar, being handed water by this man. This is the first time he really notices how his fingers seem to dwarf the bottle. His heart is jackhammering in his chest, and when he unscrews the bottle cap, he drops the lid. It rolls across the grungy floor, circles in on itself for five long seconds, and finally lands. John watches it while he feels Bane watching him.

"We've already talked about what you would do to save the life of your orphans." Fuck. He looks up sharply, spilling some of the water as his hands jerk, and Bane makes a soothing noise through the mask. Like an adult to a small child. "I won't hurt them. Not specifically. What I'm more interested in is how far you would go if their lives were not directly at stake. What would you suffer, for, say- weekly deliveries of rations to you there, rather than having to wait in the line at the army trucks with the rest of the city?"

Although he’d been listening closely before, he's hanging on his every word now, sucking a deep breath in between his teeth. He remembers all too clearly what it's like to lie in the dark wanting only to eat. That isn't an accident, but he isn't sure which came first; that treatment, or this lure.

"What," he's going to hyperventilate, "would it take?"

It'll be secrets. He's sure of it. Full bellies for all the lies (they couldn't possibly be true, he's decided, because he needs someone to be the person who he's sitting here for, and for the sake of his sanity if that means making a false idol out of Gordon then that is what he’ll do) that he was told this afternoon. He can do that. He needs to play reluctant a little more, but he can start to give, start to talk, get more secrets out of Gordon and get the kids through this siege without them ever having to know what it's like to want to try to chew up the corner store receipt paper in your pocket. But Bane doesn't demand his secrets.

It's terrifying, watching his muscles move as he stands, like watching a mountain come to life. John’s mouth drops open in surprise as he comes in close, and Bane takes quick advantage, reaching forward and pressing his index and forefinger against John’s bottom lip, and then inwards. They force their way between his teeth, into his mouth, still slack with the shock of the intrusion. The fingernails scrape against the roof of his mouth, then the pads of the fingers flatten against his tongue.

Bane tastes like motor grease with raw ginger, and John retches and yanks back a second too late, ripping away from the invasion. The touch has already pressed him so far back that to lean further away ends with him upending his char, landing him on his side on the hard floor. He scrambles onto his hands and knees, and can’t lift his head to face him, flushed scarlet from sudden shame and a heat he can't put words to.

The man (right now the uncharitable side of him hesitates to call him that) above him is laughing.

This is getting a lot more complicated.


He says no.

Actually, he climbs to his feet and tries to roundhouse kick Bane in the head, and is once more swatted aside like a bug, while the tall man laughs in delight at finding a puppet who dances so prettily. Bruised and sore and radiating hostility, he storms out. Held up against the tranquil menace of the mercenary, he feels a little like a cat sulking about being tossed into a bath.

The walk back to the orphanage is two hours. He sees neither hide nor hair of Bane, or any of his men. By the time he gets there it's snowing softly. He isn’t going to do it. He'll tell Gordon that Bane had wanted his location, and had lost interest when John played dumb.

That morning, he packs his little box of mementos back up, and eyes the scotch bottle longingly, and then goes to help Reilly (still dressed carefully in jeans and a t-shirt) with the food for the week. He'll wonder, later, if it's really coincidence, but while they're gone a man with a knife breaks in and takes the flour from last week, and a lot of the apples as well, as many as he can carry.

He'd said no…

The oldest of the boys in the orphanage, the one left in charge, had tried to stop him, and gotten a black eye and a stabbed arm for his troubles. He’d sobbed, a tough, teenaged boy who probably hadn't cried in years, about disappointing his family, letting it happen, and now everyone was going to starve.

The priest might have caved then, but John had been half-convinced that it wasn’t coincidence, that Bane had sent the man to them somehow, so he’d held on. Begged, borrowed, bummed from neighbours.

And then the cut gets infected, and no one can find antibiotics, every single drugstore has been stripped down to bare bones, the hospitals are a nightmare of the infected, and John just reaches a point where he knows that pride is a luxury he can’t afford.

What's funny about it, he decides as he cracks the scotch bottle open, is that technically he’d been at incredibly high risk for going into prostitution, oh, ten years or so ago. Every single demographic factor he could think of was pointing him in that direction, and he'd steadfastly refused, or rather, managed to avoid it through sheer, pigheaded luck. Now, a grown man who generally considers himself not someone to be fucked with, here he is. John pours himself a few generous thumbfulls, drains the glass fast, and then walks out into the street to find someone to take him to Bane.

He's driven to him this time with his eyes open and his hands unbound, but somehow it's a hundred times harder to think. The trip passes in a blur and he's clenching his hands hard at his sides by the time they get there, teeth gritted so hard his jaw feels like it’s creaking. He can barely open his mouth by the time he makes it into the room at the back of the warehouse.

Bane, at least, has the good grace to look surprised to see him, although not much. He tries not to think too much about that.

"Antibiotics." He bites out, terse and low. "Other medical treatment as we need it. Add that in to the food supplies and you can have- you can- you have a deal."

"You have my word." Bane answers, straightening up from the table covered in papers. John can hear Gordon screaming at him to get closer to him, cross and meet him half way to try to get a glance at what he's looking at. He stays rooted to the spot, mouth closed tight again, taste of motor oil still somewhere on the back of his tongue.

It occurs to him, for a wild, stupid moment, that Bane is striding towards him to kiss him, before he recalls that the man as good as doesn't have a mouth, and then their bodies connect.

It's a little like being caught in a hurricane. He's standing one moment, then he's out on the floor. There's no pain in the fall, Bane supports him on the way down. The collar is the first thing stripped off him once more, and then his pants. Bane doesn't try to take him, not the first time, just strips his own pants down, a pragmatic just-far-enough, and thrusts against him. He air goes out of him the first time, the second jerk catches him on the inhale, and just when he’s sure he’s going to suffocate and looks up at him in terror, Bane grabs his hand and pulls it-

The first time is ugly and fast and frightening, but mercifully brief and thank God, non-penetrative. His hand drags over hot skin, he feels scar tissue and just weight, and realizes Bane could rip him to shreds if he wished. They lock eyes, and John remembers old feminist sensitivity training and the tired woman explaining that it isn't about sex, it's about power. Bane ruts against him until he swears his bones creak, until he's a mess of bruises, until quite suddenly there's nothing any more. No one is touching him, he’s sprawled on the floor in a daze.

"Roll over, Blake."

Is it still part of the first time? It might be the second time. First and a half, he thinks hysterically, as Bane reaches down and lifts him from a sprawl, up onto his hands and knees, and knocks his thighs apart. John is terrified again, but all the comes is the warm pressure of those hands sliding up his thighs. They brush, and just linger, holding steady on his skin, keeping him from flying apart.

It goes on interminably. John thinks Bane might be inspecting him, like some animal he's considering for purchase, before he realizes that Bane is waiting for something. John's head lifts up, he looks over his shoulder at him, face still angry red.

"This isn't something permitted those of your faith." Bane says, the minute he makes eye contact, and John’s head falls, flush darkening a little more. His eyes are impossible to meet. Even the anger, he thinks isn’t going to be enough to sustain what is fast becoming an outright defiant stillness.

It doesn't have to, it turns out. Bane's finger presses against him. Unlike the time it forced into his mouth, there is no scrape of a fingernail. It takes him a while to work out why, but first, it's lubricated generously with… something, not lube, maybe come, and second, he still has his gloves on. The texture of the invasion is alien, unlike anything he’s ever experienced before. Not the first time he's been fingered, but the first time it's been this blunt, this insistent, this filthy. He wonders what else Bane does in that leather.

His dick gives a single, traitorous twitch, and Bane laughs in a way that makes his body burn. This time he does give in and try to lunge, but an arm has him around the waist and he’s being lifted up, carried across the room, and bent face first over that desk. One hand settles on the back of his throat, holding him down by it so hard he nearly chokes. The other slips that finger back inside him.

Just at the exact moment where John decides he can live with it, Bane finds his prostate and his finger curls. Stars dance white in front of John’s eyes, and the hand on the back of his neck shifts so it’s grabbing his hair. His hips give a slow, unconscious roll, and then when that's rewarded with more rubbing, a quick, dirty jerk back against him.

The man holding Gotham hostage to his insane plans. John Blake is fucking himself on his fingers.

"I'll have your pain and your pleasure both," he's promising now, bent down with his weight over Blake's back, forcing him to hold still for the now frightening pressure inside of him. The finger curls in such a way he’s momentarily scared it will fishhook through his body. The pressure runs like fire under his skin, hot and painful, and he lets out a sound like a low sob.

The rushed inhale of breath is distinct, harmonic, through the mouthpiece. He isn't sure if Bane came before or is just hard again now, but suddenly his erection is between John's legs, rubbing a hot, slow drag against him in counterpoint to his finger, which is now sort of fluttering, each jerk so fast that his breath never quite has a chance to come back.
"The line between the two fades, you know, when either sensation is heightened. Am I hurting you now? You aren’t precisely sure. You want it to stop, but you’re writhing into me. Where is that defiance now? Have I robbed you of it along with your dignity?"

Oh God, oh fuck, the pressure is back, Bane's finger is still, crushing, and John sobs in earnest. His hips are pinned too well to do more than twitch, but once, twice, and then he's fucked, tears and snot on the papers in front of him.

"I have, but you’re finding that you like it. Now, priest, finish now."

Although his body no longer seems to be obeying his own commands, it certainly is listening to Bane's. He comes instantly, harder than he ever has in his life, and it seems to go on for ever. Each time he feels this pulse will be the last, that finger rolls back against his prostate, forces one last contraction of his muscles out of him, until he'’s dry and still twitching, soft rasps escaping the back of his throat, complaining at the sheer intensity of it.

"I wonder if I can…" Bane has started to muse, but John is spared from knowing what he's planning on trying next. The stress of the day catches up with his barely healed body, and he knows a split second before his eyes roll back in his head that it’s about to happen.

John passes out cold, sprawled out on the papers he was supposed to work so hard to get a look at, and now has rent shreds into with his fingernails.



He might have said no the next time, too, if it hadn't been absolutely worth it. He wakes up fully dressed but for the collar. Bane kept that, he imagines, and he's a little glad not to have to put it on again.

After what happened earlier, it feels wrong in so many ways.

John would never have gotten up the courage to do it again, if it weren't for the fact that he woke up, safe and sound in his little bed at the orphanage, feeling bruised and worn. But it's what he hears that does it.

The boys are downstairs, and they're laughing. And there's a warm bowl of broth waiting next to him on the bedside table, and a hot cup of tea. Father Reilly is there, just past the meal, and for a few long seconds John finds himself totally unable to look him in the eye.

He doesn't know what to say, but either way, the priest speaks first.

"They ordered the boys to take better care of you. Said that if you were going to be sparring with Bane, you needed three meals a day and that your persisting in not eating since your return was intolerable."

He has no answer for that, so reaches for the tea, but his contribution isn’t really needed. Reilly continues, a nervous wreck. The man is meant for parenting, not for times of crisis. It’s a good thing, really, John will be staying here now.

"Sparring? Really? I'd think he’d just wipe the floor with you. From the looks of things he did. But whatever it is, it's working."

It's working. He sets into the soup ravenously, and for the first time since they first took him, he feels properly full.

It's at that moment he knows that whatever Bane wants, if it is within his power to give he will do so. That resolve is still burning a fire in him when the call comes three days later, when the men with their guns and stony faces arrive to take him off into the night. Reilly looks at him like a farmer saying goodbye to a sacrificial lamb, and John wonders if he really doesn't know, or if he's just not letting himself realize.

This time, when he's thrown into the empty room, it's in the back of an abandoned office building. There's a small cot.

Bane's men are too well-trained to leer, but it gets his back up all the same, and by the time the terrorist steps in, half an hour or so later, John has worked himself up into an ire. Hot headed, they'd used to call him, but Bane seems to sense that he's spoiling for a fight.

His hands lift up, close on either side of something under his jacket. Blake has seen enough footage of him to suspect it’s some kind of metal and leather plating, and to know that he only holds his arms like that when he’s gearing up to something.

He also knows he would lose, so he forces himself to swallow, to smile that smile that the angry young boy never quite learned, but that he has perfect now.

It knocks Bane off his stride. His eyes widen, his hands lower, and John is pleased to have confirmed that that definitely is a sign of aggression. It makes him feel marginally less like he's standing next to a bomb about to go off. (He wonders where the one circling the city is now, imagines it hitting a rogue pothole, incinerating them all, saving him from whatever is about to happen.)

"How is your boy? The injured one?" Bane asks, and John doesn't know if that's a threat or olive branch, but for the sake of his skin he takes it as the first and smiles his real smile. That is a genuinely encouraging thing to think about.

"He's recovering well. The red has gone down, he's over the fever. They say he's going to be all right."

While he speaks, Bane is pulling off his jacket. John's voice dries at the end of the sentence, reacting to his broad, exposed shoulders.

"Good." His monster agrees, stepping towards him, apparently displeased with the buttons on John's black shirt today, because this time he reaches for it, grabs at the collar, and rends. Thread rips, buttons scatter, and John’s whole body goes numb with shock. Then something catches back up and he realizes he wants him.

"Oh fuck," he says, distantly, as Bane shoves him back down onto the cot, into an untidy sprawl, and flicks out a knife. Why that doesn't make his erection go away he doesn't know, but somehow it doesn't, and all Bane does with it is reach for his feet and slice, of all things, his shoelaces, like it's easier for him to undo them with violence than bother with fiddly knots. John doesn't know why, considering the impossible grace he moves with.

The fact that he might be impatient to get down to his skin is terrifying and good.

"Your question for the day," Bane is telling him, "is this. Your morality theory, where evil is simply an imbalance in an equation. What happens when the stakes get high? If I told you that you must kill one man, and that I would let your orphans live, would you do it?"

Blake's shoes are tossed over the edge of the bed. His socks pulled down with steady fingers. Bane reaches down, takes one foot and presses his thumb in under the arch, seeking a pressure point that makes him squirm to get away, but feels amazing once released, like a knot of tension has been cut in him, as simply as Bane did away with his shoelaces.

"Blake." Chiding, chiding, what did he- oh.

"It would depend. No. Yes. I mean, I would do it, but it may not really be right."

Oh. His shirt is being pushed off his shoulders, and his pants are off too. They never got completely naked last time, either of them, and now John is underneath him without a stitch on him. Bane is still in his pants, his boots, his strange vest and that mask, leaning forwards on the mattress, weight propped up on one arm, suspended over him in that strangely delicate way that John is still sure should be physically impossible for a man of his size.

"Fair, then. Widen the scale. If you had the chance to kill one hundred men and women in order to save a million, would you press that button?"

John shudders. The conversation is better than ice water on the stirrings of arousal he’d been feeling when Bane first came in. If the man notices how unresponsive he is, he doesn’t seem to care.

"I'm not a moron. I know where you're going with this, and you're not going to trap me into saying what you're doing is right in any way."

Bold words, for someone in his position, which Bane highlights without a single word. The knife simply shifts, point pressing up under his jaw, so that if he speaks again he'll slice himself open. All there is to do is arch his head back at the pressure, until his throat is completely bare.

There's that arousal again. His own, and Bane's as well; he feels the man shift, his hips drop close, his breathing turn deep and even. The mask is soundless to breathe through, but the thin connector points that cross his mouth like fangs pick up a subtle vibration. John's knee rests against his ribs, he feels the in and out, and watches them change orientation. Catalogues that for further use. Forgets what he's thinking as the knife gives a tiny, gentle little scrape.

"This may cost fifteen million, but it will save the world. The fire cleanses." Bane promises him, and then the knife pulls away. It drops onto the side table next to them and John can breathe again.

That is, until Bane reaches down to his own hips, and pulls his pants downwards, baring scarred thighs and the beginnings of an erection that promises to be truly impressive. John is confronted, for a moment, with the stark reality of having to take that inside him.

He's had sex before, obviously, isn't some terrified straight boy worried about his so called anal virginity. But he knows that if they don't prepare, if they don't get lubricant, if Bane is at all rough then this has the potential to seriously hurt him.

"Lube and condoms?" He asks, choked, looking up to meet his eyes after he notices he's been staring just too, too long.

Bane's eyebrows pull closer together in consternation, and he tilts his head in confusion. It takes a second for John to realize why. That probably sounded more like something he would say than his character. Caught out, he flushes, and stammers.

"I wasn't born a priest, you know."

This seems to be good enough for Bane, who moves for his discarded coat. He has a small pillow-pack of lubricant, but no condom, it seems, and for a second John thinks he’ll insist, but then he realizes that right, he doesn't get to insist on anything here, and anyways, he's got maybe three more months until he's dead, if he's that lucky.

So really, what does it matter anyways? Bane's fingers, slick already in the time it's taken him to come to this conclusion, press against him. The gloves are off this time, and his nails are short and look clean, and the first finger presses in slowly. John breathes through his nose, head tossing to one side on the cot (no pillows, utilitarian and bare, it occurs to him that no one ever thought they were here for sleeping) and survives it. There's no search for pleasure this time, just a few long seconds before Bane adds another finger. The effort today is to stretch him.

The fingers pump in and out. Scissor. Work, and work, and the looser they try to get him the tighter John finds himself coiling. What was curious warmth before is just fear now, sour and painful. He looks up to meet his eyes, expecting either disinterest or displeasure.

What he does not expect to see is soft curiosity, as though Bane is trying to read him as much in return as John had been him. He wonders how obvious it is, if his deception is spelled out all over his face the way Bane's fanaticism shows up in the twitch under his jaw.

"Sorry." He finds himself saying. It's a ridiculous thing to apologize for. But all the same. "Sorry, it’s been a long time, and you're- terrifying, actually."

Anyone else might be offended. Bane smiles behind the mask, he knows this for sure though he can't quite name what gives it away, and curls his fingers like he did last time, seeking his prostate out and rewarding him with a jagged little flash of pleasure, so beautifully measured and controlled it actually scares him. But in the good way, again. He finds himself. He's a fucking cop, he can do this.

"I. Probably remember more about how to suck someone."

That is the right thing to say. Bane's body drops, onto him, over him, rubbing close with a possessive growl that comes out through the mouthpiece like the engine of a good car and does just, confusing things to him. And then, just when John is about ready to wrap his legs up around him, Bane is off of him, sitting up, and pulling John physically onto his hands and knees, dragging his hips around, pushing his head into Bane's lap. Bossy.


It's also been a long time since he sucked cock, so he takes a second to get reacquainted with the idea, wrapping a hand around the base of the shaft, thumb pressing in just below the head. His tongue flicks out to taste the bead of precome, half convinced that it won't be- but no, in this respect, Bane is very, very human.

While he makes his first few tentative attempts, listening and feeling for the places that are particularly sensitive, for the amount of pressure and stimulation that provoke shudders, twitches or gasps, Bane works his fingers back inside of him, stimulating him again rather than just working at opening him up, distracting him bad enough that he slips down too far right on the onset and makes himself cough. His eyes water. He pulls back, and gives him a dirty look that he’s surprised to get away with, but maybe considering the timing he has some leeway.

So John goes down on him like he's asking for redemption, and Bane is silent until the very moment he comes.

He is probably not going to put that in his report to Gordon.



Two weeks in, and John has nothing to show for himself but a nasty cramping thigh muscle (over-extended when they’d thrown his leg over Bane's shoulder) and a very nice portrait of a psychopath. But no real information, just a collection of insights that he's sure won’t be remotely helpful, no way to talk to Gordon for advice about where to poke and no idea what’s going to become of him.

Their moral debates have become both more and less heated. Their voices are calmer, but Bane presses him now, ruthlessly, with question upon question while John squirms under his clever touch and makes a pleading mess of himself. Since the first time that happened, Bane has never let him get away with not begging.

God help him, he likes it.

By week three, Bane is sending for him more nights than not, though it seems he can't always make good on the invitation. He'd learned it was optional the night Christopher went non-verbal, the night John snapped no to the men with the car and stayed up with the boy instead, talking quietly to him until his words had gradually come back, until he'd fallen tearfully to sleep. He’d gone back the next day, and faced a mildly arched eyebrow and no real repercussions.

Because sometimes, in return, he comes to where Bane wants him and sits for an hour, sometimes two or three. Once for five hours, until a man with sharp eyes had roused him from his light sleep and led him back to the car, without a word. When he does stay, though, things are always the same. Bane devours him, destroys him, fingers and touches him until he screams and begs, takes angrily of his mouth or hands or just rubbing between John's legs, in violent control of both their pleasure. Bane doesn’t try to fuck him again.

"Not yet." He tells him, the first time John finds himself even thinking about asking about it, prophetic words that send a little shudder of fear through him. He's starting to like the fear.

He walks out one of the nights Bane doesn't send someone to come knocking, moves until he’s sure he's slipped his tails, goes down a back staircase, up a front one, around three blind corners and over a fire escape and finally, finally makes it to Gordon.

The man seems to have aged ten years in the three weeks he’s been gone. John apparently doesn't look much better, considering the look Gordon gives him. He gets taken by the elbow, brought past the other cops sitting around the place, and to a back bedroom. Gordon sits him down firmly, then vanishes, and returns with a piping hot cup of coffee. Sugar, no cream, because who the hell has cream these days? John nearly burns his tongue on it, getting it down too quick. It's the first coffee he's had in God knows how long.

Gordon waits. Is going to make him start. He recognizes the technique from witness interrogation, knows he’s being treated as a textbook trauma victim, and looks up at him, bright and angry.

"I'm holding it together."

Which would probably sound more credible if he weren't randomly yelling at the commissioner, whose eyebrows are lifting gently towards his hairline. John calms himself down, scrubs a hand through his hair, and closes his eyes.

"Or else, I thought I was." Now he sounds like the tired, old man. "But he just doesn’t give me anything. I mean, I didn't think he would, but there hasn’t been- I don't have a location, I don’t have a date, I don't have a strategy. He's too self-contained to gloat. I can't ask questions without looking suspicious. This is pointless."

"Have you ever done any undercover work before, Blake?" Gordon asks, quietly. When he shakes his head, he presses on. "Then you’re doing remarkably well, with no preparation and under very bad circumstances. No one could ask for more, detective."

The words are enough that it's easy to forgive him all the foibles and failures he'd confessed to their make-believe priest. He looks at him for a moment, and understands better. How he could lie to do the right thing (Bane sometimes touches his hair afterwards, fingers pushing at it like they're curious, and John is a fine candidate to learn on.) How he could compromise his every ethic to keep the people he cared about safe (the difference between them is that Gordon self-destructed slowly, never spread his legs, asking silently for more.) He doesn't think any amount of police training for undercover operations could help him now.

"Just slow down. Drink your coffee. Think about what you do talk to him about, and tell me your impressions of the man." He makes it sound like a simple conversation, easy and calm, and even though he knows better, for John it somehow sort of works. He manages one more sip of his coffee, then starts.

"We're missing something crucial." It comes out, all in a rush. "He's grandiose, but he actually isn't unhinged. This isn't like the Joker. His dogma has this ferocious internal consistency to it, and when he's with me he's challenging, constantly interrogating, like he’s waterproofing his theories against my faith. Reilly has to give me bible study at night so I don't slip up more than I already have."

He scrubs a hand through his hair.

"But that's the problem. We've been treating him like a madman, so we've been ignoring the holes in his logic. That's a mistake. The holes are red flags, the meaning of them is in understanding the surrounding terrain. It's like you said." Gordon shakes his head, John expands. "Looking for patterns. Like this whole situation."

He means Gotham as a whole, doesn't need to explain that to him.

"He really does believe in the blight of the rich, but that impression extends down through pretty much all of society. The whole city is corrupt, as far as he sees it, and if he could remake the world, he would. At least, that's what he's presenting to his troops. They want to burn down… pretty much all of modernity, I suppose, and have this ethos of anti-capitalism. But they simultaneously are disdainful of predatory relationships like the one between the rich and the poor, and are also incredibly scornful of a society that nurtures the weak, see no problem with the state of the streets right now. Usually you'd expect one or the other, either an intense individualism or a violent bent of communalism, but with him it's neither. The macro-level goal is completely inarticulate, especially considering he’s going to burn it all down."

Gordon is staring at him, half way between admiring and the same 'seen any giant alligators' question he got at the beginning when he was looking into the sewers before anyone else does.

He knows he's right, he pushes on;

"So I don’t think it's about either of those things, or any of it. This feels… personal. Like it comes down to one or two specific players, like a point is being made. But that doesn't quite make sense yet completely, so I don't want to speculate until I know exactly what I'm looking at, or I'll miss something crucial."

He drains the rest of his coffee, composing himself after what feels like an outburst. Gordon, bless him, is still calm, and looking at him with faith now, belief and pride, which at least makes one of them. His old hand touches John’'s elbow, a show of silent support, and it gets the last secret out of him.

"This is my gut." Not real. Not anything. Just the way Bane looks, sometimes, the questions he asks.

"I think he might be someone's father."

Among the things he notices about other people, though he barely bothers to watch anyone but Bane these days, is that when Gordon thinks he has a lead he tucks his hands into his pockets, as though physically restraining himself from reaching ahead into the future, dragging the conclusion of every thread close, burning the world down around him. He also smiles when he hunts.

John leaves feeling proud of his badge once more.


Tonight is one of the nights he waits for Bane. He's sitting on a bit of scaffolding in the warehouse where the mercenaries are staying, watching them mill about together as the evening slips by. Ferociously disciplined though they may be out in the streets, together at night they're raucous and friendly, like any group of men (boys, some of them) who live and eat and fight together. If he closes his eyes and tries to tune out the strangeness of the language, it almost sounds like the station.

Physically, he can even see the similarities. The place used to be some sort of factory, maybe for sewing, or other small manufacturing. There's a main floor where the men eat, sleep and discuss fanaticism. There's a small office above it, with shuttered glass windows, where their overseer sits, the same place the men who'd run the factory in the thirties would have sat and watched their crew. John wonders if the irony of holing up in a monument to consumerism is lost on Bane.

Dinner is over, and they're in a circle now, sparring and laughing, and learning from one another. One crows hard, all bravado, as another man goes down with a heavy clunk. There's a scuffle. He's pinned. Hands scramble, more voices join in the cheering.

Every single one of these men know that they'll be dead in months, and they're all right with it. They do it for belief, for faith, for Bane and his charisma and strength and certainty, existing under his wing so completely that certain death doesn't shake them. They're young, some of them younger than him.

The one who has just won the fight is about his age, bare chested and long haired, straightening up with another laugh and cocky challenge. Although they all speak careful English in public, amongst themselves there are a few languages he hears tossed around, like they began as a ragtag bunch and have grown slowly. Even so, John doesn't need to speak the language to know what he's saying.

Who's next?

Without thinking, John jumps down off his scaffolding, and makes his way towards the circle. The voices dull, and then are silent, and the mercenary looks at him with bright, wary eyes. Shoulders part, and he's allowed to step into the ring.

He gives him a sheepish smile, a one shouldered shrug, waits for the slight incline of one shoulder in return, and then when he has his acceptance, he flies at him. Connecting, getting a leg behind his, palm to the sternum and bringing him down and they're both on the mats with a resounding crash that leads to a howl of shock and amusement from the crowd and a good natured bellow from the man he's just dropped.

He loses quickly, ends up pinned to the ground with his arms in a lock, laughing and kicking to tap out, but none of them will forget he brought the man down. They release, and then in another moment of silent communication, are on each other again. This time, John fights harder, uses a joint lock, a pressure point, gets on top of him and takes a sharp knee to the side, falls away with a grunt. He lunges in again, they flip, roll, John comes out on top and then realizes that everything has gone echoingly silent. The man who had been fighting so desperately underneath him is suddenly limp.

Looking up is unnecessary, but he does it anyways, and yes, there's Bane watching him from the staircase leading up to the overseer's office he's called his own. The men scatter, like children caught with red hands, and John can't climb off his uncomfortable opponent quickly enough for the man.

Bane's boots echo like thunder on the metal steps. John starts to pick himself up, but stays on his knees on the mat as they approach. His step is heavy. To John, who knows him now, he sounds incredibly tired.

"I was born in darkness." Bane tells him, stepping closer, starting quietly to circle him. "In a land far, far away from here. When I was freed, I begun to learn the world for the first time, already a man. It felt to me a mess of decadence, a struggling cacophony of cultures in ugly competition with one another, a thousand years of references whose stories I barely knew."

He takes one last step in, and with this one, his hands lift up to their position, curled on either side of his armour. John's brain decides is too close, and he is off his knees, crouching, no longer quite supine to his will but rather waiting for him to spring. Bane's eye darken in amusement and lust, and John feels his body answer.

"Even so, a stranger to your land and mores and faiths, I am fairly confident in saying that you, with your diverse bag of skills and your penchant for violence and definitions of good and evil, and that mouth- you are a terrible priest."

This comes out half in amusement, half in total, bewildered seriousness, and John can't help it. He bursts into astonished laughter.

Bane huffs, takes him by the nape of the neck, and leads him upstairs.


The sparring stays on Bane's mind, apparently, and John would be worried about that, except that apparently the mercenary is dwelling on it in entirely safe ways. For a given definition of safe.

He arches his eyebrows incredulously, as Bane steps back and spreads his arms peacefully. He always talks to people like they're children when he wants them to swallow something unpalatable.

"I'll even count to ten. Go."

John doesn’t wait to be told twice. He takes off into the back of the meat packing plant at a frantic run, leaving the sound of mechanical laughter, and eventually the volume of the numbers, far behind him.

He makes it about sixty seconds after that, before Bane is on him, with a rumbled "Too easy." Descending like a nightmare out of the dark, leaving with a push and shove and crash. And then John is shirtless, and has a scratch on his shoulder so deep it's bleeding. Bane isn't playing.

John runs harder, starting to feel himself panic. Still, with all his energy, with all his might, even with all of his fear, he doesn’t stand a chance.

Bane leads him on a dizzy, terrifying dance through the darkened rooms, shoving here, crashing there, pushing him hard up against the wall and holding him there with his whole body, rubbing against him until John is gasping and hard, and then vanishing again like a spectre, leaving him to scramble once more for anywhere that might hold the illusion of safety.

There's nowhere. A hand snatches his ankle as he climbs the metal stairs, toppling him and saving him a bad crash down when he hits a broad chest. This aids in muffling John's half scream against his chest, before Bane shakes and then throws him- playfully, like a dog might shake a toy. John screams again, tries to protect his head and neck as he falls, and rolls onto his back, eyes opening up to try to see him in the half dark.

"Don't be frightened." Bane tells him, the most terrifying thing he's ever heard, but then the broad body is over his, protecting him from the monsters that lurk in the dark, and John wraps his naked arms and legs around him, and feels him press close, and beyond the giddy gratefulness and haze of adrenaline, thinks nothing at all.

What he doesn't know, what Bane will explain later, is that there is a chemical art to fear, and an art to masochism too. If you understand the way endorphins are released, and the time it takes adrenaline to replenish itself, you can drive a man mad inside of a week. He has John for an hour that night, and while it may not be enough to break him, it certainly is more than enough for Bane's purposes.

Every concern is gone. The pain isn't even pain any more, his mind is alive with endorphins and his heart is beating so fast he thinks it'll come out of his chest, and when Bane presses against him, John says what he’s been wanting to for days, filters demolished.

"Fuck me."

Bane makes noises like he's breaking when he wants, and right now John can't stand the pain of not having him for a single more second, not for the suffering it’ll cause either of them. It's different this time, the slick pressure of his fingers, there’s no fear, or if it is it just contributes to everything else he's feeling, heightens each sensation while he shudders and twitches and jerks underneath him.

When Bane finally presses in, after this long preparing (not just tonight, but for weeks, he'll realize later, Bane has been getting him quietly ready for this) John's body welcomes him greedily. Every second he pulls out is anguish, every thrust back in rips out a ragged cry of relief.

He wants to own him like this, within himself, until the end of the world.

"Bane! Oh God, oh please, I need." He hears himself, distantly, like a late night blue movie except for the panic, and the strange promises in return that make no sense in any language.

The world shifts. He wouldn't have been able to tell you what position they were in until they aren't any more, until the press of concrete against his back is gone, until he's shuddering against Bane's chest, pressing forward into the furnace of him, letting those hands pull at his hips, move him, use him. His muscles are already burning, his lungs are still on fire from the run, but with Bane moving him, there isn’t the option to stop. Or to think.

No thought at all. He sinks his teeth in hard to the broad expanse of shoulder, another dreamed-of-but-not-done, and when his teeth sink deep into corded muscle and he tastes blood, he's rewarded with a howl take makes every hair on his skin stand on end. Then he's pushed possessively back down onto his back again, so Bane can just hold him still while he fucks. He's close, so close he can taste it, about to get there, but the motions lose their rhythm when Bane comes. John's hips keep trying to grind down onto him, he counts each stuttering pulse, heat inside him like a fever. It isn't enough. He's still wild.

But it isn't long, not with John still whimpering and pleading, biting at his sated partner before Bane loses patience and rears up, like an annoyed animal, finally goaded into a reaction.

He slaps John across the face, hard enough he sees stars, but almost painfully restrained in force for Bane and that's all it takes. Too shocked to even scream, he comes all over himself.

Bane lets John hold on to him for hours, before the shaking stops, his senses full of nothing but the mechanical purr of that voice, coaxing him along.

"Breathe, overcome, live. Breathe, overcome, you will live. Breathe."

The question of the day had been plaintive, asked outside of the packing plant, with the sun shining down on them.

"Blake, do you believe in unconditional love?"

"Yes. Of course."

"Of course?"

"Of course. There are boys in the home I'll always love, no matter what happens. There are boys in there I have. When you age out, things aren't always easy. You've seen enough of me," they've had a stammered conversation now, about the orphanage, about his life before finding the cloth, living as an orphan, making do, "to know that that place demands things of you. Some of us learn to fight to survive, but some of us learn to fight to hurt. I had a few big brothers released from Blackgate when you cracked it."

"True. But if one of your children came to you and said 'Blake, I have bathed in the blood of a thousand infants,'" the hypotheticals are more outlandish, these days, since they rattle him less and the sex after the ludicrous ones is better, "would you love them still?"

There had been a long pause. John had concluded.

"I would love them, but I would also probably be concerned."

He finally pins down, now, on the warehouse floor, teeth chattering, what the note in Bane's laughter at his answer had been.

The mercenary now knows fear. The unshakable faith is, perhaps, shakable. He has to report to Gordon.

Instead, John sits up in the still weak and blind, but moving as soon as his body is ready to hold him, and kisses the small rectangle of skin to the side of the respirator, the only square visible on his cheek. He flicks out his tongue, tastes the small spot, so close to his mouth and metal, and Bane's arms furl tight around him in the dark.


Then, it all starts to go wrong. It starts with a special ops team sneaking off the food truck into a small room of police officers. John butts heads with the leader, and has a very clear moment of realization. This is a man who is going to get people killed.

Bane is ten times smarter than him. But when Gordon asks, he takes them to see Lucius Fox and Miranda Tate, because his position in the police force is tenuous enough. People look at him now. Conversations hush when he walks in to the room.

"There's too much of a risk of your being tortured for information." Gordon explains, quietly, after a night of a particularly hollow silence. He comes to the apartment infrequently after that, and generally not unless summoned. That happens less and less these days too.

Because it's as if they all have blanket permission not to listen to him any more. Where Gordon used to stand up for him, had once offered him a promotion for an attitude like that, he now watches on quietly. The task of taking the mainland agents to meet the people who really know what’s going on is cheap work, appeasement for his ego. Once they get there, Blake is inevitably relegated to the sidelines as the captain talks to Tate and Fox, discussing the fate of the world and the bomb being held over their heads. He adds his unwelcome voice;

"Bane's revolution is a sham. He's watching Gotham rearrange its deckchairs while the whole ship's going down. Your appeasement plan might not be as practical as you thought."

Then, the world explodes.

He cuts it so close that he actually hears Bane's voice before he gets himself and Miranda into the stairwell. Blake stays a moment later than he should, and watches through the glass as the man he'd let- well, as Bane leans forwards and crushes the captain with his boot and one hand, snuffs his life out as easily as he could John's, at any moment.

Miranda's hand is in the pocket of his coat, dragging at him, getting him to come, and it isn’t until he's ten full city blocks away and they aren't leaning on each other, that she finally speaks.

"That man is dead." Her voice sounds haunted, quiet, calmer than he'd expect, maybe, but perhaps not, considering that she's probably seen far worse these last few months. "They're all dead. And poor Lucius, he’s been taken."

"It'll be all right." He promises her, quietly, and she turns a look of scorn and anger on him that makes him realize, abruptly, that he's condescending. "No, ma'am, I'm sorry, it really won't be. Not for sure. But-" The chalk is in his pocket, ever present. He draws it out and sketches one of his crooked little bats on the corner of the nearest building. "-there's still hope out there."

"You put your faith in an absent murderer?" Miranda asks, wide eyed and horrified and very reasonable. "Your vigilante has been of no help to us so far. Why are you so sure he will begin now?"

He shrugs. Faith is irrational like that. The chalk goes back into his pocket, and that is the moment that he feels a spasm of terror and realizes his badge is gone. Miranda watches him with undisguised interest, then and he doesn't know why but he thinks of Bane. Then again, he always thinks of Bane these days.

Her eyes shine as they say quiet goodbyes. She promises to see him again, and he barely hears the words out of her lovely mouth that knows men would melt for.

Bane sends for him that night, and he goes to him, shaking. It's too much, now, with so many near misses. His luck will run out, the charm will break. He comes in, walks so slowly that someone shoves him this time, the first drag-into-his-presence that he’s had to undergo in a very long time.

The mercenary sets on him, with the wild, oblivious joy of the triumphant. The bodies of dead soldiers sway off the bridge in the wind, and John feels alone, for once, like he can walk neither side of this war.


"As Gotham reshapes itself, under the control of the masses, so too shall the world come to see and fear, to envy the new shape the city takes." Bane lies, and John brushes past it.

"And if the bomb goes off? If this perpetual wasteland is not sustainable, and the ship goes down?"</i>

"Then it is a fire that shall still reshape the world. Your country will see the inadequacy of its' leaders, know the failures of the rich, feel the fire of all the souls in this great city withering away, and know their own vulnerability. Financially crippled, emotionally stunted, the country furls." He answers, and there it is, the glimpse of the expert tactician, the genius who could have pulled this off. "Gotham City is corrupt, from the rafters to the very last rat, and when it is razed to the ground the world shall know that such decadence, such sin, cannot be sustained."

"I'm pretty reasonably sure that the four year old we took in this week is not a corrupt rat." John points out, voice very flat.

"Perhaps." Bane agrees. They're making progress, John's point makes him sound " tiny bit perturbed. Very young children are hard for him. ”But when infection seeps through a wound you must cauterize up to the very clean edges. It is evil, even by the standards of your balance, but it is necessary. The pain will pass, and when the lights have gone out behind that child's eyes, the world can begin anew."

"There are better ways to have a revolution." John snaps, voice climbing tense, the usual reaction to the topic of children in the conversation. "In the real world, we treat infection with antibiotics rather than a hot poker."

"Yes. But you have had your chance. How many revolutionary movements has your country had in the last fifty years? Your society is in throes, trying to change, with splintered sects of feminists, vegans, pacifists, proselytizing a change to the system from within it, willingly bound by shackles they never bother to try to slip. I'm merely handing them a key, knowing you are incapable of true, meaningful change from within, while you inflict your decadence not only on yourselves but on the rest of the planet." His voice is entrancing, melodic, it spins and lifts and falls and John finds himself caught up.

"I would gladly leave your people to this pit, except that you are not self-contained. Each day, the world suffers more. Your country signs inadequate environmental protocols, and then ignores them completely. We are on the brink of an environmental catastrophe that will change the face of the planet more thoroughly than the destruction of one little island could ever hope to." One little island. The wording snaps him out of his trance, which Bane seems to see, voice turning soothing. "By your own divine equation, one life for ten, you'd think it wrong but do it if you were looking on. By my reckoning, this corner of the world for the rest of it. Why should you be allowed to tip the balance in your hypothetical, but I sit with my hands shackled merely because I have the foresight to see scope?

"I know that I am evil. The cleansing fire would have to be. But nonetheless, I must."

"No." Blake tells him. "No, it's still different."

Bane looks, for a moment, like he's about to roll his eyes at John's unwillingness to see. He just shifts out from under him, though, depositing John gently in the sheets and sliding out of the bed, unable to stand the stillness any longer, agitated on some level by the debate. John pulls the sheet over his lap as he sits up, watching Bane's naked body as he pokes through drawers. He makes an unconscious sound of regret in his throat as the mercenary reaches out for clothes, pausing the man, who looks sharply up at him.

John holds out an arm for him to come back to bed.

"The difference is that in the hypothetical, you know that the parameters are absolute. If I shot my one man, the results would be definite. In this case, you’re relying on a political theory so abstract, so vague, that you have no hope of knowing whether you're right or not. You don't even intend to live it out, you're going to burn up in the flames when that bomb goes up and just… just heave the rest of the world into the abyss."

The approach has been tentative, as though unwilling to expose himself to John's recrimination, but now Bane is back at the edge of the bed, small computer in hand, sinking down onto it when John pats the space next to him, sitting up against the headboard. John curls up at his side, exhausted, but content when he feels the warm, heavy curl of Bane's arm around his body.

The casual possessiveness in the gesture makes him think back to the question of unconditional love.

He doesn't think for a second that Bane loves him, but he does think about that conversation in particular, and the potential of fatherhood, and his peculiar ideologies. And what he has learned today. There is no doubt in John's mind, from the silence now, that Bane would rather live.

"So you're a big believer in taking care of orphans." He ticks off on one finger. Bane nods, absently, more focused on his work. "But not with money. Or with any discernible infrastructure."

"Yes," answers Bane, stylus flying over a tablet that John thinks he’s seen Bruce Wayne use before. He probably stole it from him when he raided the armory. He rolls over in bed.

"What if the people turn out not to want to take care of orphans when they don’t have infrastructure?" Pointing out the obvious hole in his logic, though he wonders if the old adage is true, and it might be a mistake to talk politics in bed. Though they aren’t exactly a married couple. Bane is still sitting up, against the headboard, sprawled against his broad legs, moving restlessly, a counterpoint to Bane's stillness.

"Would you like to go back home?" Bane asks, patiently, and John shakes his head, sinking back, resolving to be more quiet. It lasts three minutes.

"This is a transparently stupid plan." The stylus sets down, with a tiny bit of frustrated force. John looks up at him. "It is."

"You have an extraordinary amount of leeway, compared to most." Bane tells him, looking down at him, icily. "Do you really care to test where it ends?"

But he isn't even close to snapping, though he is trying very hard to pretend to be. John grins at him and pushes himself up onto his hands and knees, over him.

"Well, if it's a test."

They know how to push each other just right, now. Bane's eyes do the thing where they go dark, jagged, and he leans off of the bed. John leans over to follow his reach with his gaze, and finally gets it. A look at the computer screen.

-proceeding as you had hoped. Remain vigilant and safe, my-

And then Bane is back on the bed with him, a few yards of rope in his hands, reaching for John’s arms. John turns for him, immediately, eagerly even, and lets him bind wrist to wrist, elbow to elbow, until the stretched pulls at his shoulders and his arms are utterly immobile.

He rides him like that, fighting for balance desperately, fighting for focus, while Bane keeps his hands over his head, refusing to help him. Without leverage, without the use of his arms, all John can do is rock using painfully widespread thighs, use his legs to raise and lower and twist himself desperately. He hears metal creak; Bane has dented the metal at the head of their flimsy bedframe.

Still on top of him, when his legs fail, he leans down and catalogues every scar on Bane's broad chest that he can reach, tracing out each one with his tongue while Bane’s hips twitch helplessly and his grip on the headboard rends, the rod buckles. John feels soaring pride, at doing this to him.

He leaves to walk home just before dawn, thanking Barsad with a laugh, but dismissing the offer with a shake of his head. The words from the tablet, put firmly out of his mind for the sake of the sex (or by the power of it, if he's being honest with himself) replay over and over again now.

It's confirmation of the fatherhood theory (or at least, of guardianship) as John sees it, but there’s something about it that interests him far, far more. The first sentence and all it implies.

He knows they don't chaperone his walk home anymore, so he goes straight to Gordon, pounds on his door to be let in, and is brought in and sat down, wrapped in a warm blanket, pressed with tea and cooked spaghetti and every other scrap of comfort they can find in the house.

"He's working for someone." John tells him, wild, pushing away hands that force tea on him. "Bane isn't pulling the strings. He's a believer, he's even a mastermind, maybe, but there is someone bigger than him behind this."

"Blake." Gordon says. He tries to push the tea away as it's put in his hands again. "John. You need to go look in the mirror, and perhaps freshen up. The others will be up soon, wash your face."

He doesn't understand until he sees himself. The faintly yellowed cheek from the last time Bane slapped him (even seeing it is enough to make something burning coil up in the pit of his stomach and settle in.) The dusty fingerprints all up and down his throat, the nasty rope burn on his wrists, over his one visible collarbone, the missing buttons on his shirt, chapped lips and tearstained eyelashes. He looks at himself critically in the mirror, and decides that Gordon would never, ever guess by the sight of him that John screams for more.

"Sorry." He says, when he comes back out, shirt fixed up, sleeves rolled down past his wrists, collar done up to the highest button, face clean. It isn't quite enough- but Gordon is waiting with a scarf to wrap around his throat, and a kind expression that makes John’s soul ache.

"If you need to stop, no one would think any the less of you." The commissioner says fiercely, immediately, "If I thought you would listen I would order you to cease myself."

But there's a fairly significant 'if' on that sentence, and he's not wrong about it. John shrugs.

"In for a penny, in for a pound. Isn't that how the saying goes?" When no protest comes, he continues, terse with a tiny bit of disappointment. He'd wanted more shock, he supposes, imagined Gordon screaming and railing on his behalf. "It isn't as bad as it looks, and frankly, we don't have time for this. We have how many days left?"

Too few, is the answer.

"It's been worth it. I’ve finally got something we can use!"

"Got what we can use?" Asks the sibilant, accented voice of Miranda Tate, as she comes in the front door. John isn't sure how he'd missed her arriving, but her presence isn't enough to deter him from insisting again, turning to look at Gordon.

"Bane is not the person behind this. He's taking orders from someone he feels he owes protection to. And what's more, he’s questioning this guys' authority. He loves him, but there are cracks there. If I go back there, I know I can chisel one open, Gordon, I swear to God."

Miranda Tate goes stock still, face completely, utterly blank. John’s mind goes what? She asks, a quiet, infuriatied, hiss;

"You sent someone in to Bane without telling me, commissioner?"

But Gordon is speaking again, dragging his attention back.

"Even if this is true, John, we must consider the reality of the situation, not the intangibles." The commissioner insists, and John's teeth grit in frustration. He barely recognizes this man, so broken down by the realities that he won't chase a good, old fashioned theory any more. Follow his gut.

"Commissioner, the poor boy is obviously- traumatized." Miranda cuts in, in her smooth, cultured voice, all anger apparently smoothed away, like it never was to begin with. She moves to come stand beside him, all up against him in one sinuous brush that John supposes is meant to be comforting, but just makes him shudder. He steps away from her as fast as he can, sinking back into the couch, leaving her standing with her hands in her pockets, impressively unruffled considering the rather blatant rejection of her attention. She rallies, nobly. "We must proceed as planned today. It is most important that we locate this truck, and then devote ourselves to his concerns afterwards."

It's too reasonable for Gordon to object to, and too reasonable for John not to object to.

"We don't have time." He tells her, aware as the words come out that his credibility vanishes with his hold on his temper. Her eyebrows arch, her lips purse, and Gordon takes him by the elbow, intoning politely;

"Detective, I'll walk you home."

"It isn't safe." He reminds him, shaking his arm free. He knows when he's lost. "I'll do it myself. You two do your truck thing, I'll just. I'll go get some sleep."

This seems to strike both of them as a good idea, but turns out not to be something he has in his future. Because John Blake finally does make it back to the orphanage but not until early that afternoon, because he's on foot. He'd planned to bribe someone to give him a lift, or pay the exorbitant fee people charge for cabs these days- a ride that might very well might see you shake down and robbed blind- he'd discovered his wallet missing, and started what was going to be a miserable walk, after the long, mostly sleepless night.

His wallet isn't the only thing that's missing. When he makes it inside, far later than he’d expected, he’s so tired it takes him a long few seconds to realize.

The orphanage is silent as the grave, devoid of all signs of life. All bodies, all voices, all laughter, all the boys, all gone.


He'd thought his days of commandeering vehicles for emergency situations were long past, but John grabs the police issue rifle off the back desk, runs out into the street, and stops a Saab with an angry yell. There's no polite 'I'm a police officer, sir' this time, he just helps the man out of the drivers' seat with an angry yell, tells him to wait here, he'll be back, and then drives until he comes on one of the men he recognizes. Scarf, hair; the one he'd wrestled, more than a month ago now.

John pulls up in front of him with a scream of rubber on cement, leans over throws the car doors open, and snarls;

"Get in the fucking car and take me to him."

Obedient little bunch, Bane's men, when you know the right tone. He scrambles, apparently absolutely stunned. They don't underestimate him quite so readily any longer, but when he gets the location for the night out of him with stammered directions, John takes great pleasure in how his eyes widen when he snarls.

"Buckle up."

He's blowing the doors off this car if he has to.

He makes a twenty minute drive in a quarter the time it should take, using every trick the high speed driving courses at the academy had taught him, taking each corner sharp enough that makes the seasoned mercenary at his side go grey. They brake with another scream of protesting machinery, and John abandons him in the car, despite the yell at his back as he moves into the main room, gun raised. He checks the corners.

Bane is sitting at a desk in the centre of the room, speaking to a few bent heads, and John cocks the rifle, lifts it to his shoulder, and points. The room goes deathly silent, and all eyes are suddenly on him.

"Where the fuck are the kids?" He asks, voice like ice, at the end of his rope and then far beyond, too, and totally prepared to shoot Bane between the eyes if he doesn't get answers, right this second.

Realization dawns on Bane's face, wiping away the stunned expression, and he makes a gesture. Ever single person in the room melts slowly away. John plants his back to the wall, and keeps the gun up, uncompromising, not permitting himself to shake.

"Soldiers came for them this morning." He says, hands lifting, placatingly, when John takes three steps forward, not sure if he's going to shoot him or club him to death with the thing or… be incredibly stupid and get too close, risk being disarmed. He freezes, braces his stance, enough distance between them that he could shoot him if he had to. Bane continues. "Not my soldiers, yours. Two can use the trick of smuggling bodies in and out of food trucks. The morning rations came in, and the boys of your orphanage were sent out. As was, I was told, the father who ran the orphanage."

Oh. Oh. Bane's mild voice breaks through the haze, and John lowers the gun, watching him, searching his expression for signs of deception, irritation.

"Where did a priest learn how to shoot? Do you even know how to use that?" He asks, and something about the affront in his tone cuts through the numbness settling around John just enough that he thumbs it back so there's no risk of a stray misfire, lowers the gun to the floor, and slides it away. Then finds himself sitting, doubled over his knees, breathing shallowly. Bane is watching him like he's a time bomb about to go off. He looks exactly like Gordon did this morning.

"My father," he hasn't said this yet, hasn't told anyone other than Bruce Wayne in years, and that had been a calculated bid, this rips out of him, jagged, like glass coming up just as bad as it went down, "was shot in front of me. When I was very young. If I had known how to fight then, I might have- I could have. Saved them."

He doesn't know who them is. Doesn’t know why he's saying this. Doesn’t expect Bane to be crouching in front of him. The man moves like a cat, but somehow John gets the impression that he walked slowly, this time, that he just somehow missed it. He scrubs a hand over his eyes.

"I thought- I don't know what I thought."

"You thought I'd taken them from you." Bane supplies, not seeming offended in the least by the grave prediction. He never seems to be, when John thinks the worst about him. "As a culmination of this game. I apologize for the fright, let me assure you it was quite the opposite of what I had intended."

John can hear his voice as it was in the warehouse. Breathe, overcome, live. He looks up at him, it occurs to him;

"You just. And I just."

"Almost shot me in the head." Bane agrees, brow furrowing again. "Your aim was adequate but your hands were trembling badly. You will be a menace to everyone, including yourself, until you sleep. But first, tell me, if you are here, who was the man they took into their trucks this morning?"

Oh. The lie comes easily on top of all the others, so fluent he barely has to think. He flushes, 'caught,' layers within layers. Let him peel back one, leave another.

"I never heard Commissioner Gordon's confession. I'm just Father Reilly's assistant. He's old, he's never… when Barsad and the others came for him I let them think I was the only priest. I took his place. He's the one on the papers as running the orphanage. I'll take over from him, one day."

He'd expected some reaction from this, but for a moment there's nothing. Just a total, shocked stillness. It reminds him of something, his tired brain won’t supply what, or who. Still hands tucking into coat pockets- except Bane's hands are reaching for him, taking him, lifting him up like a child.

"Good men always torture themselves more elegantly than any evil could hope to." Bane muses, as he carries him towards the back bedroom, where John knows there will be a cot waiting for them. He lets out a ragged breath and leans into the safety of his chest. The children are safe. He’s safe. (Not really, but it feels like it.) Bane sets him down on the cot, with quiet regret. "You were supposed to be on that truck, father. There can’t be another."

"I know." He agrees, quietly, and reaches for Bane's jacket, shaky hands working at the buttons. "I'm not going to leave Gotham alive any more than you are."

That makes the mercenary pause, staring down at him, as though unsure of what he knows. But John knows that Bane has a tremendous ability to not hear what he doesn’t really want to. Just like John is getting good at not seeing the opportunities in front of him, the bared, unprotected slope of his throat in his sleep, the centre of his back when they walk together during the days, and John's awareness of the pressure of the glock tucked in the small of his back.

"I wish I had found you when you were younger. You would have been a soldier to be reckoned with." Bane tells him, as John's eyes start, unbidden, to close.

"That's funny." He murmurs back. "When I was little, all I ever wanted was to be Batman."

He only half rouses again when Bane carries him out to the car, deposits him carefully in the passengers seat, and orders the bewildered man John and basically commandeered to drive. He comes to again, half way there, and gives him directions not to the orphanage, but to an intersection eight blocks from his old, own apartment. Waits until the car is out of sight, and then lets himself vanish again, coming up the old place through his parking garage.

Someone has broken the door down in the months he’s been gone. The place was cheap enough that no one has squatted, but every scrap of food in the cupboards is gone, and the tv and one of the lamps. John really can’t bring himself to care. Bane would call them trappings of a decadent society.

He falls into bed and sleeps for hours, vanished from the world and pathetically grateful, dreaming of children watching a bomb go off from a distance, without fear.


Three days pass before he sees Bane again, and maybe the mercenary isn't the only one who has a talent for not noticing what he doesn't want to. John walks into the warehouse without fear, not remarking upon the fact that no one else is there. It isn't unusual for these places to be quiet. Bane likes to be discreet, John tends to be loud. Muffling him into the pillows or with his fingers is fine and good most of the time, but every once in a while the bigger man takes him somewhere he can really scream.

He feels better. Rested. Gordon and Miranda had successfully marked the truck, then parted ways. John hadn’t had to see her again over the last couple of days, has no idea where she’d slipped off to, doesn't much care as long as she isn't there to make the hair on the back of his neck stand up.

He just feels glad to be back, so when Bane brings out something new, more rope, a hundred feet spread over four or five pieces, rather than five feet just for his hands, he strips for him without complaint.

The harness around his chest pins his arms behind his back, hands locked on his own elbows, trapped into a neat square around his back. Two loops run over his upper arms, rope connecting them, pinning him securely. Bane secures a rope to the flat line running down the back of the TK harness, then tosses the other end up over an exposed beam a few feet above them, catching it deftly.

He murmurs, while he secures him off;

"In the league, they used to train us like this. We'd tie one another up until the fear, hunger, or thirst set in. Escape, or die. Dislocate bone, destroy sinew, learn to adapt your body however is needed." He explains, and John hurts for him for a moment, reaching out with all he has, a leg, to run a bare foot up the side of Bane's leg. His toes brush leather, then the utilitarian pants with all of their pockets.

But Bane, still holding one end of the rope, yanks it hard, jerking John backwards, up onto both feet and then further, until the tips of his toes scrabble at the ground.

"If they trained police officers like that," Bane intones softly, "you might stand a chance at getting away from me now."

He yanks again, and John's feet and the world both go out from under him. He's still off the ground when Bane reaches out, takes his elbow, and gives him a powerful spin. Despair sits in, the world is a swirl, it's over, and it will never be like it was, ever again.

When his momentum finally stops, he begins to wind slowly back in the other direction, stomach turning in on itself, eyes swimming. When he slows to a halt, he opens his mouth to protest, and then as though the bottom hadn't already fallen out of his world enough, he sees it.

His wallet, and his missing badge. Either one without the other might stand him a chance. Johnathan Blake, the name on the badge, could be anyone. Bane doesn't know for sure if Blake is a first or last name, after all. But held up next to the photo ID in his wallet, there's no escaping it.

Bane is thumbing through his cards now, with the badge abandoned on the chair next to him.

"Twenty six. I hardly remember having been that young." For all that he sounds gently musing, John isn't fooled for a second. The little plastic cards look incongruously tiny in Bane’s hands, as though his old life, his credit-debit-frequent-flyer-points life better belonged in a doll house.

"And a detective already. How very ambitious, Robin Johnathan Blake." He reads, off one of the older cards, an outdated thing from social security. Credit card, more current. "John Blake. Do your real acquaintances call you John? Johnathan? Johnny?"

"John." He answers, at last, and a snarl twists the parts of Bane's face he can see above the mask. This is a look he hasn't seen on him before. Cold, hard fury. John clears his throat, finds his feet, straightens up and lets himself face him like a man who isn't covered in his bruises might. "And thanks."

Oh God, Bane is lifting himself up, moving forwards, with John's badge in his hand. He sheds his shirt, black today, the nice one he wears when he’s going to be meeting with someone, and John doesn't have time to wonder more than that before he's bare chested, in front of him, scarred and wildly menacing. And, most of all, no longer his.

His broad hand reaches up, grabs John's jaw, and he violently wedges the badge flat between his teeth.

"Drop this and I'll have your fingers." He informs the trapped detective. "In deference to our relationship, I shall allow you to choose either which ones I take first, or how many you lose, but not both."

John's teeth are already out, thanks to the leather between them, but he bares them a little more anyway, and Bane gives his cheek a pat. And then delivers a driving blow into his woefully vulnerable stomach.

There's nothing to do but double over, wrenching his shoulders terribly, sinking his teeth in to the badge for dear life when every bone in his body is telling him to open his jaw, to scream. A sound comes out, but the leather muffles it. The real challenge, though, is right afterwards. Badly winded, he can't get enough air back in around the badge, holding on desperately with his teeth, not letting himself let go. It's a trick of his mind. He's not dying. He's not going to suffocate. He's getting air. (Breathe, overcome, live.)

His head lifts back up, eyes burning, and Bane is right in front of him, still radiating such a tangible malice and hostility that John rocks back against the rope. The 'live' part of that mantra seems less likely by the second.

"At least tell me this much." Why does he sound heartbroken? "Where have you stood in all of this?"

John doesn't know how to answer that, and can't even try with a mouth full of an ultimatum like this. He glowers.

Bane backhands him, with enough force that he jerks over hard, would fall but for the rope. The badge rips out of his mouth, tearing his bottom lip as it goes. He feels blood trickle from a split in the skin.

"Tell me the true extent of my failure." Bane's voice is still quiet. "How deeply did I let my enemy into my bed? Where have you stood?"

It clicks. The badge is gone. John wets his lips, draws a breath, and answers him.

"You're asking me to tell you I’m a no one. Just a cop." He observes, tongue reaching out to touch the corner of his mouth again. "Just a man. Just a fuck. Is that it?"

The room is very quiet. The rope creaks, and suddenly John has enough ammunition to take Bane apart from the inside out, and has him at his fingertips, just like the terrorist has been doing to him for months. That's all it takes.

"I was there, the night you shot the commissioner. I tried to get them to go down the tunnels after him and when they wouldn't listen, I rushed to the drainage shunt and got him out before he dead. I dragged him to the hospital, still breathing."

Bane's hand comes up, resting against his cheek. John can tell he's contemplating breaking, or ripping off, his jaw. He knows it would be easy. He saw photos of Daggett's corpse. He presses on, while he still can.

"I was in the cop car, chasing your bike. The one you couldn't shake. I had you right till the moment the bat man came in, I was so close I could read the registration tags, and I'd have had you if my fucking idiot of a superior hadn't decided to turn us around onto Bruce Wayne."

The name. Bane is surprised he knows it. He hits there, still lashing out;

"I was the one who got him into this fight. I went to him and I told him you were in the tunnels. If I couldn't get you myself I was getting someone who would. I killed two of your men, shot them as they were pouring concrete. First two people I’d ever killed. I saw the chemicals and I sounded the alarm. A handful of cops made it out of the tunnels, my doing. I was following construction plans for weeks before you flicked the switch. I just wish I'd been a bit louder. I got Gordon out of the hospital minutes after the coup, while the roads were still shaking, so you couldn’t get o him. I've kept him hidden, me, almost this entire time."

It feels good. So good. To face him with everything he has.

"I have watched you. I see you, and you never even knew my name." It makes no sense, that the bitterness in his tone turns to sorrow with those words. He leans into the hand on his face, likely to be the last thing he ever feels. "You. It was like you decided before you even got here that no one in Gotham could ever be worth seeing. Whatever you need, I guess, to rationalize…"

And then, finally, Bane stops him. His hand curls around the rope, lifts, and drops him suddenly. John screams. His arms seem to slide between numbness and fire. But he presses on, gasping.

"…that no one who came from a place like this could ever be hard, no one could ever be dangerous, and fuck you, I've been on my own since I was six. Think about that, and these streets, and how many times you fucked me with your knife handle and then left it sitting out on the table within arms reach of me afterwards."

There's so much more he wants to say, but Bane has had enough. He’s moving again. John loses sight of him, and then the building is disorientingly, devastatingly, dark as pitch. All John hears is the rasp of his own angry breathing, and then he feels the press of the badge at his mouth again. Bidden, he opens, and reflects ruefully on just how well trained he is. The leather is damp with spit, picking up dirt from the floor.

"You're right."

Bane's voice comes from high above him. John always forgets how tall he is until they stand just like this.

"I did choose not to see. I have a weakness, I suppose, or two. Light occasionally blinds me. But you will find, Johnathan, that there is very little to worry about in that respect now. Your light has gone out. Now, you face me on my terms."

The texture of the silence changes, and John hears the intimately familiar sound of a knife coming unsheathed. This time, the anticipation is far from pleasant.

The first cut hurts more than he remembers it ever hurting. But then, Bane had only ever really turned the blade on him when he was out of his mind with lust, barely able to lie still enough for the gentle little nicks to be safe. This time, the sharp curve drags a dull, hot slash along his bottom rib, and John yells against his makeshift gag, eyes closing tight, face coming flushed. Something about it is familiar.

"That's right, John. For all you may be hardened, you really have never known true pain. Without the pleasant distraction of pleasure, without the promise of a healer’s hands or salvation. You can't imagine what it's like, to be held down and knifed. You may not be the symbol of hope I had longed to tarnish, but I still know more than enough to make you break. If you think we are so very much alike, perhaps you would care to suffer the wounds."

That's right. That's where he knows the line of the cut from. Bane has one like it, deeper, a little more jagged. He tries to remember his body, for a hint to where he’s about to go next. Remembers the nights he spent, exploring him with shy fingertips, while Bane lay still like a patient hound under the attention of a smaller creature.

There's one higher up on his ribs, and that's where Bane goes next, tip of the blade pressing a shallow scratch. On the mercenary, it was a genuine stab. John feels the pain, and feels intensely grateful, and whines for him.

Bane keeps going, until John's whole body is a seething mess of scratches, each throbbing where they’re exposed to air. He’s sobbing around the badge, head hanging. The knife clinks as Bane sets it down in the dark. Breathe, overcome, live.

He might have made it through with the badge the entire way, but for what Bane did next. The man steps forwards, puts an arm around John's hips and lifts him up, tipping him so his head hangs over his shoulder, cradling him in close, ropes and all. The shock of the adjustment, the pressure of skin on his cuts, the relief of sagging against his familiar strength, and he surrenders.

"Bane." He says, without thinking, as the badge falls, and thinks he hears a pregnant pause in the dark. "I'm sorry I had to disappoint you."

"You have no idea what you have cost me." Bane answers him, in a whisper that won't carry further than John's ear. "Over you, I lost the respect and trust of the only person who has ever mattered. And now I have..."

"No time to win it back." John agrees, chin in the familiar spot between neck and shoulder, breathing in deeply. "You know I had to do it."

Just like John knows what has to come next. Bane sets him back down, swinging into the ropes, and his arms and cuts burn anew. His eyes are starting to adjust to the dark, but just barely. He senses, more than anything, Bane going for his wallet again. He comes back with it, and something else. John can’t quite tell what.

"Open." He says, like he has a hundred times before, and John obeys, lips parting wide. Then something forces his jaw wider, agonizing. Pressure between his teeth.

It's the driver's license. Bane has forced it, standing, into his mouth, holding his jaw in a painful stretch. He wants to pushes it back out with his tongue, but catches the shine of the blade in the dark and doesn't dare disobey. His nose is running from the tears, and his breath comes out loud and anguished, and then Bane's hand is on his hip, holding him steady. The wet blade of the knife presses against his cheek.

"Do you remember the Joker? You would have been too young to be on the force at that time, but surely you've seen his face."

Oh God. The blade presses against the corner of his mouth, and John hears himself make a high, fluttering no in the back of his throat, trying to see Bane’s face in the dark. No, no, no-

"It’s called a Glasgow smile. Kuchisake-onna, the ghost with the slit mouthed grin given to her by a jealous lover. Chelsea grin."

He wants to go a million directions, all at once, but ends up crushing forwards, head lowering, pushing himself against Bane's chest. The card distorts his answer to a wail, and the mercenary's hand forces his head back. He will be no escape.

He'd thought he was resolved to whatever Bane could do, but he's trying to kick him now, knees slamming at him ineffectually, only succeeding in jerking himself in the rope.

"Don't act like that. You never really trusted me. Now I understand why. You see your own treachery reflected back at you." He can't speak. Can't complain. Can't move when the knife reaches up, and slips intimately into his mouth.

It jerks. The other cuts of the blade felt like nothing compared to this. Bane's hand moves in two easy jerks, dragging the knife outwards, pivoting it in his grip, and slashing backwards again, pain slicing along the inside of his cheek and then out again. It hurts. It hurts worse than anything he’s ever felt in his life. He feels like there should be more blood, for a second, until it fills his mouth in a salty, copper rush, and he wants to scream, but he knows that will make any tearing worse.

Breathe. Overcome. Except he can't breathe, his mouth is full of spit and blood and Bane’s hand holds his head back. It's sliding down his throat. John coughs, helplessly, and it hurts so much he thinks he'll black out. Bane tips his head forwards, and the rest of the mess of it slides down his chin, down onto the cold floor.

He hears a sound in the dark he doesn't understand, an unfamiliar metal clink and shift behind him. One of Bane’s big hands presses over his eyes, as the man circles back around him, startling John so badly a sound rips out of him, his cheek draws back, oh God he's going to die, he's screaming as loud as he can, ragged, right from the soul.

Bane makes a sound like he's the one whose flesh has been ripped open, anguished and unbearably human, and John doesn't understand why until he feels it. Warm and soft, brushing along his cheek, soothing the burn down.

Bane's ruined mouth is bare on his skin.

It lasts three seconds, maybe, but the entire world stops, dissolves into a surreal split second of peace for the feeling of Bane's tongue, pocked and scarred, along the pain of his cheek.

His very intact cheek. Rational thought filters back in, his head tries to jerk, and Bane withdraws, fumbles for a few seconds, and then drops his hand. John looks over in time to see the mask just falling back into place, the scarred man fastening the clamps that keep it tight.

"Rubbing alcohol on the blade." Bane tells him, voice calm and even, nothing of the wild swoop and varied intonations that John usually expects from him. It explains why it had hurt like his flesh was being ripped open. The card is torn out of his mouth, pocketed, and he gets a chance to tongue at his cheek. There’s a nasty cut on the inside of it, starting at the corner of his mouth and working its way back, and the taste of blood and salt and chemical. But it'll heal in a week or two.

His face is very much intact.

"I’m sorry." He says again, not for mercy, not for any reason other than that he needs to. "I'm sorry, I never meant for it to-"

More blood slides down his chin. He can't continue. Mutilated, no, but badly hurt all the same. Bane’s knife slits the rope holding him up. John falls, and Bane catches him deftly, dropping him just slowly enough onto the concrete floor, in a pool of dirt and his own blood.

It could have been so much worse.

"If I see you again before the end," Bane intones, still with flattened affect, like the anger has bled out of him, "I will kill you without hesitation."

Four slashes and then his arms are free and then Bane drops the knife next to him, to give him a chance to get out of what’s left of the tattered restraints,

"I know." John answers, panting for breath, tears starting fresh. Before, this would be the part where Bane touched him quietly and made him drink water until the aftershocks passed. His boots echo heavy all the way out the warehouse door.


There are many differences between John Blake and Bruce Wayne. One of them is purely generational. The action heroes of Bruce Wayne's day swoop in and blow the bad guy out of the water. To John Blake, though, ever fallen villain is an end-scene jump scare waiting to happen, and has been since the day he first say Friday the 13th, nine years old. He remembers watching Zombieland with his now-dead partner one night over beer and pizza; fucking double tap.

Bruce Wayne, cowboy that he is, sees Bane go flying and runs. And John, who has no bus of children to see over a bridge, is right in the thick of things, and sees Bruce and Selena Kyle when they bolt.

He can't fight, either. His right arm has a nerve compression injury, from jumping and crashing into the ropes. His shooting hand is useless, and he’s a menace to friend and foe both. So he drops his tire iron and sneaks in to the courthouse, over the wreckage and past the bodies, and there, in the back of it all, is Bane, breathing shallow and bleeding all over everything.

He has a choice to make. The badge is in his pocket, carefully rescued off the warehouse floor. It says he should go out there, help fight down the screaming crowds of inmates, stand behind Gordon and hope his career recovers from the whispers about him, get a new partner and go back to existing within the dominant moral order.

Bane is regaining a sort of consciousness, but he'll bleed out in another few minutes, if John lets him.

In the end, the decision isn't half as hard as it is hard getting Bane's half-insensate mass into the back of his (commandeered) jeep, but from there, on the off chance that they aren't blown sky high in the next few minutes, he knows exactly where to take him. The only place in the city that is, without a doubt, totally abandoned.

They are both orphans, technically, after all, so it's only appropriate.




Bane wakes to a small room, linoleum and a cracked ceiling, and the quiet buzz and movement of doctors. There’s an IV line in his arm, and cuffs on is wrists, and he feels nothing more than purposeless, and hollowed with grief.

The handcuffs, he imagines, are more for the doctor's sense of security than any real danger from him. Bane knows he could rip through them like paper, even with the horse tranquilizer they're pouring desperately into his blood, but why would he bother? The world hasn't ended, but his world has. Talia, he knows, will be dead, either killed in the fight or bloated and ugly in her prison cell from one of the capsules she keeps sewn into her clothes.

He had failed her. He failed her years ago, he's come to understand now, when he let her think revenge should burn under the skin like fire, let her grow up wedded to the idea of the flame.

The world will go on. The revolution is stunted. There is nothing left to fight for. Every single one of his loyal men will be killing themselves now, if not captured, no intention of going on without him. He is only contemplating how he will arrange to join them, when he hears a voice in the door that cuts through his soul like a knife.

"-sure you understand the need for absolute discretion, doctor. If word got out that he were alive, to anyone, anyone, the entire country would be under the threat of another nuclear strike. I'm not talking Gotham, I'm talking the entire continent. And I will personally see to it with all my powers and all of the might of the defense board behind me that you are court martialled and publicly declared a terrorist yourself if I hear you so much as breathe a word of this to anyone, of any rank, no matter what they say. No matter how we test you. No wife, no therapist, no bartender, no police, no lower branches of the military. You never came here, you never treated him. Do we understand one another?"

John Blake lies so beautifully. It really takes hearing him do it to someone else to get an appreciation of the full effect.

Bane keeps his eyes closed, but when Blake walks in, speaking right away, as though he knows without a doubt he's awake.

"It's nighttime, and we have to move you. They're telling me you're stable, but this is going to hurt, I'm sorry." Hand on his wrists, undoing the cuffs, and another behind his shoulder. Bane pushes himself upright as he's bidden, letting his eyes open at last.

Blake. His eyes are bright and tired, skin pale, hair brushed, right arm hanging limp in a sling. He's in a suit and tie, something Bane has never seen before, wants to rip to pieces just for having the temerity to be so formal and come so near his violent, bloody man. The scratch Bane on the corner of his mouth looks dark and angry against his pallor.

"Don't look at me like that, I've come from a funeral." He says, with the intuition that Bane likes so much. His body is on fire, as he tries to push out of the bed, leaning on Blake heavily, to his eternal shame.

"Where," he asks, when he can breathe again, once Blake has him in the passengers side of the car, "could you possibly take me that I would not be instantly recognized, with this body and this face?"

Blake, no, John, starts the car and looks over at him with a wry little smile that twists the cut on his mouth beautifully.

"Funny story, but I've actually inherited a cave. And on a mildly related note, I need someone to train me in martial arts."

Perhaps, Bane thinks, grabbing unconsciously at the grip on the door as John begins to drive, fast, he will find a new purpose after all.



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