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Behind the Mask

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John’s vision swam as the building corridors passed by him in a flash. His head lolled and he winced as a spike of pain shot through him when he tried to shake his daze off. He could feel warm wetness trickle down his neck and under the collar of his shirt and knew he was bleeding where he had been hit across the back of the head with a gun. John tried to raise a hand to touch hesitantly at the wound, wondering how bad it was, but that was when he realized he couldn’t move his arms much.

 

There were two men dragging him backwards through the halls, which would explain why the corridors had been moving around him. They had him hooked under his arms and paid little mind when John groaned each time his back and legs dragged against stone stairs. A third man was trailing behind them, gun lowered but prepared. John didn’t know where he was being taken or why he hadn’t been killed yet, but he doubted he was heading anywhere good.

 

John tried to wiggle out of his captors’ hold and got another whack for his trouble, sending his vision spinning again. He choked on vomit that crawled up his throat at the dizzying pain but swallowed it again, grimacing and gagging. John had no chance to think too much on this, or to attempt another escape since his captors were shouldering open a door and dropping him on the floor.

 

He groaned and blinked away the dark spots that were dancing on his vision from when his head had come into quick contact with the floor. He heard footsteps and then the door closing and then silence. John lay there for a few minutes, knowing he wasn’t safe but unable to find the motivation to move. Just breathing hurt his bruised ribs; turning his head to take in the room around him made him gag with more pain.

 

John knew he wasn’t alone in the room, but he couldn’t understand why he was being left unbothered on the floor. He could hear the other man’s breath, loud and mechanical. He knew that sound; sounds filtered through a mask of metal. Bane. It sent a wave of panic through him, gave him the push to struggle into a kneeling position. But then his knees buckled and his cheek was against the itchy carpet again as he tried to breathe normally.

 

“There is no rush,” Bane told him from across the room, watching John fight his dizziness. John shivered at Bane’s words and didn’t comment. From anyone else those words would be comforting; they would tell him to take his time because he was safe. From Bane, it was just a reminder that John couldn’t escape, that he could do nothing to save himself so there was no point in rushing to his end. The sooner he stood, the sooner he would fight, and the sooner he would die.

 

Still, John was not one to lie down and die without a fight. He grit his teeth and took deep, steadying breaths until his vision cleared and the pain in the back of his head had turned to a dull throb. He rolled to his side, and then onto his hands and knees. He stayed there for a moment, aware of the unrushed breathing across the room. John felt chills run up and down his spine like a current of electricity; he could feel Bane’s eyes on him and still didn’t know why he was being left mostly alone. But he knew it couldn’t last forever.

 

Feeling more stable, John finally pulled himself to his feet. Spots of darkness danced over his eyes warningly before fading to his peripheral vision. John wobbled and then stabilized, his body remembering how to work with gravity to keep him in place. He brushed his hand across his hip, taking note of his missing gun with another swell of panic. Then he lifted his eyes and there he was.

 

Bane.

 

Seated in a large armchair, Bane was watching him. Each twitch of John’s body, each muscle being stretched out, he saw Bane’s steely eyes watch him. Bane had a long coat on despite the fact that the room was warm, and he remained in his battle armour. The mask was also in place, as always, mechanizing Bane’s breathing. John noted that Bane didn’t look very uncomfortable at having John here in the room with him, though John knew that he probably didn’t appear to be much of a threat to the monstrous man.

 

Since Bane didn’t seem to be in a rush to say or do anything, John took an extra few seconds to take in his surroundings. Judging by the queen size bed with ugly floral print on the duvet, the mostly-bare desk and floor and the distinct lack of personal possessions, John assumed they were in some hotel. Nothing fancy but not a motel either; he remembered being dragged up more flights of stairs than a motel would have. Still, it wasn’t exactly the most lavish of rooms.

 

“No penthouse for the new leader of Gotham?” John asked, snarky. He knew he was being foolish rather than brave by talking to Bane that way, but he knew it wouldn’t make much difference either way now.

 

Bane considered him from across the room, still seated. “I have no taste for luxury,” Bane told him, finally standing from the chair. John heard the chair groan, reminding John of Bane’s bulk that he knew was all powerful, deadly muscle. He felt the instinctual need to step back and get his back against a wall when Bane began taking slow, calculated steps toward him, but John would not hide or run from this. He would stand his ground.

 

“So, who might you be?” John remained silent and still as Bane stepped up to him until they were almost toe to toe. Bane was huge, towering over him and massive. John could see his muscles tense and flex with breath and movement, could practically hear the fabric of Bane’s outfit groan at the strain. John remained still when Bane slid a hand into his jacket and pulled out his badge and identity. “John Blake.”

 

Detective Blake,” John corrected proudly, eyes hard as he watched Bane look over his things. He did his best not to let his body shake too noticeably.

 

“Detective,” Bane repeated, sounding surprised and proud. “You keep your title even though you know we cut down cops in this city now.”

 

“I will not hide who I am,” John stated as strongly as he could, his voice even. “Nor will I forsake what I believe in just because I’m scared.”

 

“You admit you are scared of me,” Bane raised an eyebrow, lifting his gaze from the badge to look back at John.

 

“It would be foolish of me not to be scared,” John swallowed, prayed for courage, and then reached out to take his badge and identification back. He tucked his ID into his pocket and clipped his badge back on the inside pocket of his jacket. He didn’t know if they would ever find his body when this was over, but he wanted the badge with him when this ended.

 

Bane curled his fingers into a ball around thin air, taking note of his empty hand. Then he dropped his hand to his side, fingers loose. Bane didn’t seem like he was preparing to attack John, but he remained standing uncomfortably close in John’s personal space. “I’ve heard things about you, Detective Blake,” Bane informed him, unhurried in his speech. John figured Bane had no reason to feel rushed; he was not the one in immediate danger. “Did you know? I’ve been told you’re causing significant trouble for some of my men.”

 

John schooled his face into neutrality, hiding away from his acknowledgement of the danger he was in, ignoring the sickening drop his stomach made at Bane’s words. If Bane already knew about John’s involvement and interference, then there wasn’t much more Blake could do to preserve his life. “That was the plan.”

 

A rough finger brushed along John’s jaw and John jerked back in surprise. He winced when he felt his headache flare up again but he remained standing. Bane had not moved and now there were a few feet of space between them. “Bravery suits you well, Detective,” Bane said roughly. “Foolishness does not.”

 

“I don’t see how lying will save me now,” John admitted, brushing his hand over his jaw in an attempt to wipe away the tingling sensation Bane’s finger had left on his skin.

 

“You are too quick to presume,” Bane warned him, taking one step closer to John and pausing again. “I have heard of some of your activities around this city and I commend you on avoiding capture this long,” Bane tilted his head slightly as a show of admission. “And I admire your will to fight for what you believe in.”

 

John gave a nervous burst of laughter before falling quickly silent, his heart beating a little faster with fear. “Thanks,” he said hesitantly, not able to read Bane well enough to tell if he was being mocked. “I can’t say I return the admiration,” he added. At this point he wanted Bane to hit him, to end him; this perpetual state of fear – never knowing when Bane would finally tire of him – had John desperate for some sort of conclusion.

 

Bane’s laugh was harsh through the mask, sounding sharp and vicious. “No, I’m sure you wouldn’t,” Bane said. It was hard to tell with the mask covering his lips, but John thought he might even see some amusement in Bane’s eyes. “But then, it would be hard to admire me if you do not understand me,” Bane admitted, turning away to walk back to his large chair at the desk.

 

John was left wavering in place, his hands clutched at his sides. His chest was tight with fright and he couldn’t breathe properly. “What are you going to do with me?” he forced out, his throat tight.

 

Bane continued walking at his easy pace until he reached the desk and sat down. In the few seconds Bane’s back had been turned, John and been able to take in a few more details about his enemy. Bane was not a lumbering oaf; he had weight and force behind his body but he knew how to hold it and use it; he had a deadly grace to his movements. John was also able to notice a peculiar line of raised scar tissue across the base of his head and neck.

 

“Do with you?” Bane echoed him, finally settling down in his chair and turning back to watch John.

 

Their eyes held across the room and John fidgeted with the cuff of his jacket. “Can I leave?”

 

Bane glanced to the door and then back at John. “If you wish.”

 

John took a step toward the door and then paused, always keeping his eyes on Bane. The other man didn’t move from the chair; merely followed him with his gaze. “You won’t stop me?”

 

“I won’t stop you,” Bane stated, “because I know something else will.”

 

John took another three steps toward the door. His hand brushed the cold metal of the door handle, feeling the design etched into the metal. “And what would stop me from leaving?”

 

Bane considered him. “The fact that as soon as you leave this room, you leave my protection.”

 

“Your protection,” John snorted, disbelieving. Was this man insane?

 

“When you are in here, you are mine.” Bane’s words made John shudder. “When you leave, my men will do with you what they please.”

 

“Kill me,” John clarified.

 

“Perhaps,” Bane shrugged. “But I could see them wanting you for other things. You are a pretty one.”

 

John flushed with anger and embarrassment. But he let go of the door handle and took a step back; he could hear footsteps in the hall outside and even though he didn’t trust Bane, he trusted his warning. The sensation of being caged, options slipping away from him at every passing second, was threatening to overwhelm him. John forced himself to keep his thoughts clear even though exhaustion was pulling at him from being attacked, from sneaking around the city for the last three months and trying to avoid ending up in a situation just like this.

 

Light from the windows and balcony behind him caught John’s eye and he began to back towards it. Bane continued to sit, undisturbed. “So, what?” he asked, still confused by Bane’s calm attitude. “I just stay here until you decide to kill me?”

 

“I never said I was going to kill you,” Bane told him. He must have seen John’s look of disbelief because he continued. “I like you, Detective Blake,” Bane said. “I like men who fight for what they believe in and do not give in when faced with adversity, even when they know they cannot match that adversity. I think you deserve a chance to live through this time of turmoil.”

 

“And you think I’ll be safest here?” John raised a skeptical eyebrow.

 

“You don’t?” Bane mirrored him.

 

“You could kill me,” John said, certain of his words. Oddly though, the longer he talked to Bane, even when they were discussing Bane’s ability to kill him, John felt calmer. Perhaps it was a mistaken belief, but John thought that if Bane was going to kill him, he would have done it already.

 

“I could,” Bane nodded. “But I won’t.”

 

“Out of the goodness of your heart, I’m sure,” John sneered.

 

“Of course not.” John could definitely see a smile in those eyes. “It will certainly make my tasks easier to complete with you out of the picture.”

 

John’s body heated with anger again at Bane’s hint that John would simply abandon his men and his city to save his own life. He strode across the remaining space between him and the windows and pulled open the door. Chilled, late autumn wind swept into the room, biting at him through his jacket. “I could jump,” John warned Bane, straddling the threshold between warm carpet and cold concrete.

 

Bane raised a hand in offering. “Be my guest. I think you are overestimating my interest in saving you.”

 

John clenched his jaw tightly enough that his bones ached. “Don’t mock me! I could do it.”

 

“I believe you,” Bane laughed, a rusted sound. “I do not doubt your conviction. I doubt your willingness to leave this city to ashes.”

 

John sent Bane one final glare and closed the balcony door, stepping right up to the edge. His bare hands wound around the railing, skin burning with cold from the metal frame. He looked down to the street below, taking in the wreckage and ruin of his home, of the streets he was supposed to protect. He knew immediately that Bane was right; he couldn’t abandon his city to this man. But the acknowledgement that Bane knew him well enough to make that assumption infuriated John enough to keep him out in the cold long past the point where he was shivering.

 

At some point he pried his fingers from the rail, flexed his hands slowly to get blood flowing again, and stepped back into the hotel room. He found Bane still seated in his chair, a book open in his lap. Bane turned a page slowly and didn’t look up at John’s entrance. John stood by the door for a few minutes, watching Bane as the room’s heat soaked back into his bones.

 

How odd it felt to stand in the same room as Bane – a man he had feared and hated since he first heard about him – and be completely ignored. John wasn’t sure whether to feel miffed or relieved. He had spent so much time, risked so much to fight this man and undermine his plans, and Bane truly didn’t even see him as a threat. Bane cared so little for John’s ability to intervene that he was sitting there, lazily spread, and reading a book without even glancing up.

 

John reminded himself that he should be grateful; not for Bane’s mercy, but for this opportunity. If Bane wanted to make the mistake of underestimating John, then let him. John wasn’t going to be the one to inform him otherwise. This gave John the chance to learn more about Bane – what he was like, what his plans were – and remain at least moderately safe. He wasn’t sure now how he would manage to escape, but he was certain that with time he would figure out a way. Whether he learned the guards’ routines or found another means of escape, he would live long enough to gain information on Bane and make it back to Commissioner Gordon. Maybe what he learned would even help Batman take Bane down; John continued to hope desperately that Batman would come back, that he wasn’t dead and the city wasn’t alone in this.

 

He rubbed the back of his neck, wondering what he should do first, and he grimaced when his nails caught drying blood. “Do you have a first-aid kit?” he asked. Everything felt so surreal as Bane motioned back toward another door, one that led to the washroom, and turned another page of his book.

 

The detective headed into the washroom and locked the door behind him. Then he laughed harshly at the sight of the pathetic door lock, as if that tiny piece of bendable metal and spring could stop a force like Bane from reaching him. John brushed his fingers over the door handle and then slid to the tile, trying to take deep breaths. This wasn’t what he was expecting from Bane at all. The masked man was said to be fiercely intelligent and terrifyingly strong, but everyone had always remained focused on his strength. Whenever John had had a nightmare about meeting his end at the hands of Bane, he had imagined the horrifying moment of being physically overwhelmed and beaten down.

 

Instead, John found himself Bane’s prisoner without a show of strength. Bane didn’t even have to display his strength, even though it was visibly obvious as soon as you saw him. Bane’s intelligence was what the police force should have been worried about, because Bane had been able to weave John into a trap that would keep him from leaving without a single chain or binding. Bane had flawlessly found a way to make John keep himself contained in this hotel room with this masked monster.

 

It took a long time for John to stop shaking, to finally come to terms with the fact that he was going to be living with Bane for some unknown amount of time. He had to go about life knowing that at any time Bane could change his mind and kill him. John also had to continue on with the knowledge that Bane would continue ravaging the city and John would be sitting away in a hotel room, doing next to nothing.

 

A perpetual state of fear and frustration, that’s what John had to look forward to.

 

It only made sense to take things as they came though, so John eventually stripped down. There was some blood on the back of his collar and jacket but everything was salvageable. He winced when he stepped under the shower’s hot spray, his wound stinging as the hot water cleaned it. But the water made him feel a little looser and calmer, and John was grateful for it by the time he was stepping out of the shower and towelling himself dry.

 

It was difficult to clean and bandage the wound on the back of his head, but he did the best he could. At that point the majority of his energy had faded from his limbs and it was all John could do to pull his clothing back on. He kept his jacket off, not needing it inside, but took it out of the washroom to hang up in the closet. Bane was still reading his book, now to the golden light of a table lamp since the sun had begun to set. This time Bane looked up at him though, taking him in. “How bad is it?”

 

“A scratch,” John brushed him off. Truthfully, he hadn’t been able to really see to get an idea of how much damage had been done. But he assumed that he would be unconscious if it was very serious. And the bleeding had already stopped again, so it couldn’t be that deep. Bane seemed uninterested in pursuing the topic and said nothing. “So you really want me to stay here with you,” John reiterated, feeling suddenly awkward standing there, redressed in bloody clothes with his hair freshly washed.

 

“Do you think that I am joking?” Bane questioned him curiously.

 

Yes, John wanted to say. I think you’re joking and you’re going to strangle me as soon as I sleep just to teach me a lesson for getting into this sort of situation. Instead, John shrugged. “Where am I supposed to sleep then?”

 

Bane seemed to be growing tired of his questions. “The bed, the chair, the floor. It makes no difference to me.” And with that said, Bane stood from the desk and disappeared into the washroom. John remained standing where he was, again overcome by the bizarreness of the whole situation as he heard Bane turn the shower on.

 

John was completely alone in the room. He could escape if he wanted to; he didn’t even think Bane cared enough to hunt him down if he left. John walked quickly to the door and pressed his ear against the wood, listening for voices. He didn’t hear anyone outside the room and he wondered if Bane had been bluffing, hoping John’s fear would keep him from attempting an escape. The water was still running and John had time, so he turned the handle as quietly as he could and pulled the door inward just enough to peek out.

 

A man with a gun slung over one arm was leaning on the wall opposite the room, eyes fixed on the door. John jumped when he saw the man, startled to see him since he hadn’t heard any breathing or fidgeting; the guard must have been standing perfectly still. The man across the hall fixed his gaze on John and grinned a predatory smile. “Going somewhere?”

 

John slammed the door closed and locked it with shaking fingers, fumbling with the chain even though he couldn’t hear any movement outside the room. He backed away from the door and out of the line of fire, just in case the man decided to send a few warning bullets through the door. Nothing pursued him though, leaving him alone again with Bane. He knew the situation was dire when he felt safer in this little hotel room with Bane just on the other side of the door, rather than out in the hallway or the city.

 

He decided that he would have to take time learning the guards’ routines before he attempted an escape. For now he condemned himself to sharing a room with the masked monster and hoped that Bane really had no intention of killing him in his sleep. The thought of lying down and leaving himself vulnerable to Bane just put John more on edge so he wandered around the room to snoop while he had the opportunity. There was a pile of books stacked on the desk, some new and others old and worn away. The topics were so varied – history, philosophy, adventure – that John wondered if Bane had just gone around and collected all the books left behind in the hotel by fleeing occupants when he took over the city.

 

Curiously, John also found a teddy bear settled against one of the book stacks. It looked a little worse for wear with a few tears along one ear and one eye hanging on loose thread, but it also looked well loved. John reached out for it, wondering why Bane had something like this in his room, but he jerked his hand back when he heard the shower’s spray turn off. Not wanting to be caught snooping and wanting to avoid pissing Bane off while John was still recovering from his earlier attack, John stepped away from the desk.

 

He surveyed the room critically, finally feeling sleep tug at his mind. The chair in the corner that Bane had implied as a sleeping option didn’t look very appealing; John assumed Bane had switched the desk chair for the more comfortable armchair for reading in, and had shoved the plastic chair in the corner and out of the way. The floor looked even less appealing, especially since John knew how rough the carpet was.

 

Bane had said the bed was an option, but that seemed like a stupid choice. After all, John was sure Bane would be planning to sleep there. But John decided that if he was going to be a prisoner and captive to Bane, a man who could kill him at any time and yet was choosing not to, he was going to be as comfortable in his stay as possible. It wouldn’t be good to outwardly infuriate Bane and John would have to keep an eye on Bane at all times to ensure he didn’t lead Bane to change his mind about keeping John alive. But for now he was tired and if Bane was going to keep him alive either way, he might as well take the bed.

 

John pulled off his tie and vest and socks but left his pants and shirt on. He wished he had more clothing and wondered if Bane expected him to wear the same clothes for as long as he remained trapped here. He was tired now though, and it was enough for him to roll up his sleeves and slip under the blankets. He could hear Bane moving around in the bathroom, footfalls heavy but not without purpose. John briefly wondered how he could sleep so close to a vicious killer, if his body would ever calm enough. But before he even heard Bane pull open the door, John was asleep.

 

#

 

John woke up unable to breathe.

 

For a brief second he thought he was having a nightmare and he willed himself to wake up. But then the burning of his lungs grew more insistent and he realized he was actually suffocating. There was nothing wrapped around his neck but his face was pressed against the mattress and pillows, his nose at an awkward angle against the sheets. John grunted and tried to move and free his mouth and nose, and that was when he finally clued in to the weight above him.

 

He could feel a heavy bulk on his lower back, effectively pinning him against the mattress. John kicked up with his foot and hit bare skin, but the hit didn’t seem to deter his attacker at all. Big, rough fingers were pressing down at the base of his skull, keeping his head immobile. As his lungs screamed and his vision began to swim, his panic grew. He threw out his arms and came into contact with a thigh. He tried to hit the man above him despite the awkward angle and then resorted to digging his nails in even though fabric barred most of his damage.

 

Bane’s breathing was above him, calm and slow despite John’s fight. A sound like static hissed above him and he realized it was Bane hushing him, trying to lull him in a false state of calm. John fought with a viciousness that only came from someone desperate but still it was not enough to knock Bane off. Hopelessness overwhelmed him and he felt tears prickle his eyes. How stupid had he been to assume Bane would let him live? He should have taken his chances with the guard. Now it was too late.

 

John felt a finger skim down the cut on the back of his head, then a searing burn and liquid on his neck again. His cry of pain was muffled by the sheets, his nails digging deeper. The pain helped him remain focused for another few seconds despite the lack of oxygen, giving him enough consciousness to feel something cool and soothing pressed against his cut next; it felt like a bandage.

 

It took him an extra second to realize that after the patch had been pressed against the back of his head, the hand in his hair had withdrawn. When the realization hit him, John turned his head to the side and gasped for air, filling his lungs hurriedly until he almost felt sick on oxygen. He tried to get up but still found Bane’s weight on his back. John gave another cry, this one of pure anger, and began to fight anew even before his lungs and brain had recovered from the deprivation.

 

He reached forward and clutched at the edge of the mattress, trying to slide himself away from Bane. As soon as he realized that wasn’t going to work he swung his arms back again, searching for anything he could lay a punch to. He hit thighs and a taut stomach and winced each time; Bane’s muscles felt like rocks; but he didn’t stop. It took Bane catching John’s arms and pinned his wrists over his head with one hand to stop his attack, and even then John continued to kick up against Bane’s back. He would feel satisfied if he managed to leave even a single bruise on the larger man’s body.

 

Out of nowhere John felt Bane’s free hand slide under his shirt and rest against his lower back. John froze and swallowed; never before had he realized how incredibly delicate his spine was until he felt Bane’s potential weight press against it. Bane didn’t press hard though. It was with a shiver that John felt one finger trace up the length of his spine under his shirt, pause, and trail back down. Suddenly he was very aware of the fact that Bane had him pinned to a bed.

 

“Bane--!” he choked on his fear and the twisting sensation in his stomach.

 

“You have such fight in you,” Bane whispered, though it was hard to tell through the mask. “Never let anyone extinguish that fire.”

 

“Let me go,” John demanded, sounding braver than he felt. Bane either hadn’t been paying attention to his words or didn’t care because he didn’t withdraw. His whole large hand spread across John’s skin this time, palm warm, fingers soothing in their roughness. John clenched his eyes closed, his wrists flexing and pulling uselessly at Bane’s grip. He told himself it shouldn’t feel good. He told himself it didn’t matter even if it did. “I don’t want this,” he whispered.

 

The hand on his back paused and then withdrew. John would have laughed at the awkwardness as Bane tugged his shirt back down into place, but he didn’t want to piss Bane off. Another few, long seconds passed between them and then Bane pulled away fully, removing his body’s weight from the detective’s. John tried to breathe normally and quell his thoughts of Bane’s weight and heat. Shame filled him and weighed him down; what would the others say if they knew that he – even if only for a second – had felt a pleasant thrill from Bane being above him?

 

A nervous habit, John ran his fingers through his hair as he watched Bane roll across the rest of the bed and stand up. His fingers caught on some sort of gauzy bandage and he froze. “What did you do?”

 

Bane glanced over at him before continuing to the closet to pull out some clothes. John took note of the fact that Bane was still in cargo pants but was shirtless. He also noticed that the other side of the bed was mussed, though John couldn’t find a way to fully comprehend the fact that he had slept beside Bane in bed. The clock read 5:07 now; Bane must not sleep much. The detective didn’t get much chance to take in more details about Bane before his shirt was pulled on, quickly followed by his armour.

 

“I fixed you up,” Bane explained, sitting down to tug on his boots next. “You did a poor job.”

 

“How is that any concern of yours?” Bane didn’t even bother to shrug. John grew angrier at Bane’s nonchalance. “You nearly suffocated me,” he accused. This time Bane did shrug, but he said nothing else. “Where are you going?” he sat up in bed when he saw Bane heading toward the door.

 

“Why would I tell you that?” Bane asked curiously, pausing and turning to watch the smaller man on the bed.

 

John sat up straighter in bed. “Because I want to know.”

 

Bane walked toward him slowly and sat down on the edge of the bed. John had to lean back to keep from falling forward when the mattress sagged under the bigger man’s weight. He felt fingers that shouldn’t be becoming familiar brush against his jaw again, an echo of Bane’s caress yesterday. “Who do you think you are?”

 

“Someone you chose to save,” he set his jaw and held his head high, unwilling to pull away scared again.

 

Bane traced his jaw one last time and John didn’t like the weird blend of calm and nerves that set his body alight with adrenaline. “You can join me.”

 

John slapped Bane’s hand away, eyes dark. “I will never join you,” he snarled.

 

Bane laughed and stood from the bed; the mattress rose quickly, nearly toppling John. “I hold no false belief that you will join my side in this fight.”

 

“You’re not trying to convert me to your side?” John raised an eyebrow, still wondering why Bane was really keeping him alive and around.

 

A head shake, another amused smile in those steely eyes. “No, Detective. That is not how I think this will end.” That spurred a million more questions but before John could even open his mouth, Bane continued. “I merely meant that you are welcome to join me on my outing today. Nothing of importance will happen and it will save you from growing antsy and mistakenly taking armed guards while you are without weapon.”

 

John could have stayed and tried to fight his way out while Bane was away, but he knew his enemy was correct about the guards. He also could have simply remained in bed and slept, knowing his wounded head would probably benefit from a little extra rest. But John pulled himself from bed and pulled on the rest of his clothes from yesterday quickly, conscious of the fact that Bane was standing by the door, watching him and waiting.

 

Although he had hoped he would learn a few things about the terror of Gotham City on the ‘outing’, Bane had not been lying when he said nothing eventful would happen. He supposed it made sense; why would Bane drag his prisoner to a meeting of bad guys where they discussed their next attack on the city? Even if John was a captive it would be stupid to let him know anything vital, and Bane was anything but stupid.

 

It wasn’t a complete failure though, in John’s mind. Even though he didn’t gain any information regarding Bane’s plans, and no opportunity arose for his escape in a crowd, John learned a little bit more about his enemy from behind enemy lines. Early on Bane told him to hide his badge unless he wanted to get skinned in the street, and John had been intelligent enough to take that recommendation seriously. Once that was dealt with, the detective became just one random in a crowd. He was able to enter parts of the city notorious for gunning down cops that approached. He still stood out by Bane’s side, a few people sending him questioning looks – no doubt wondering who the kid was next to the madman – but no one dared approach them.

 

It made him feel a little indignant; people on the street should give him respect and distance because of his badge and because of what he fought for, not for standing beside Bane. However, even though John knew he still had to be wary of Bane – knew he didn’t understand the man nearly well enough to feel safe with him – it was admittedly relieving knowing no one would attack him as he walked down the street. For the first time in months – longer even, since he had always patrolled the streets knowing some brazen criminal might try to shoot a cop – John felt mildly at ease.

 

They visited the courts first; a new experience for John since police only stepped in there now when they were being tried. He found it interesting to see that Bane hung back in the room, leaning lazily against a marble column and watching the proceedings without any apparent inclination of taking part. John had always assumed Bane would have a dictator personality, wanting to be involved in every aspect of his so-called revolution. Seeing the masked man remain in the crowd, watching curiously but remaining silent, made John want to ask an endless string of questions. He wanted to know more. He wanted to understand this man, his captor.

 

They watched a few trials, rich businessmen and police walked by in a parade. At one point John saw a few people he recognized from the police station being led at gunpoint into the middle of the room. He didn’t know them by name but he recognized their faces; they were brothers in arms. John took a step forward and felt his path barred by Bane’s arm, held out to press him back. “I thought I had a choice in when I left your protection,” John hissed, watching the officers as their trial began.

 

“You’ll do no one any good dead,” Bane leaned down to whisper in his ear, the metallic sound of his voice covered by the crowd.

 

Bane’s arm was still against John, blocking him, forcing him to pause. “Why do you care?” the detective growled, his eyes finally sliding to Bane’s. What he saw in those expressive gray eyes confused him; aggravation and turmoil. Did Bane even know why he was saving John? Did he even understand this?

 

Bane’s arm fell away, his eyes narrowing. “Walk if today is the day you wish to die.”

 

John felt ashamed, but he only wavered before falling still. Today was not the day he wanted to die. He didn’t want to abandon his city, his friends. Although a part of him felt that he should be standing there with his fellow police officers, he knew he could benefit the city a lot more if he stayed alive, gained intelligence, and waited for his opportunity to escape. These men would die, and many others would quickly follow, but stepping into the line of fire with them wouldn’t accomplish anything.

 

After a long moment – one that felt frozen in time even though people from the crowd were screaming around him and the judge was yelling out Death – Bane’s arm swept around John, engulfing him and sweeping him away from the courtroom without a word spoken between them. It was as the heavy wooden doors fell shut behind them and the late autumn air tugged at their coats that John heard the cops’ deaths. Three shots in quick succession.

 

Bang.

 

Bang.

 

Bang.

 

John’s eyes slid closed. It was only Bane’s insistent hand on the centre of his back, steering him, that got John away from those courts. Bane didn’t say anything and John couldn’t think of anything he wanted to say; his throat was dry and rough from the cold air and his horror. He told himself that interfering would not have accomplished anything other than drawing another bullet, but he couldn’t help feeling that he had abandoned those men.

 

He watched his feet against the pavement as they walked, looking up only occasionally to take in the city before looking away again. He was too weak to see his city broken and torn down so soon; he couldn’t remember the last time his heart hadn’t ached in his chest. John didn’t know where Bane was leading him, didn’t really care. The detective walked the streets at Bane’s side with numb limbs and a sluggish heart.

 

A flash of white caught his attention out of the corner of his eye and John jerked to a stop. Bane continued on a few paces ahead before pausing and turning back to watch him, the sidewalk empty except for them. John wasn’t paying much attention to his captor though; instead he was stepping closer to the brick wall and kneeling down. His fingers brushed over brick, white chalk smearing and sticking to his fingers. Still, the image of a bat remained on the wall for anyone to see if they just took the time to look.

 

John looked over to Bane and then up to the sky, taking note of the sun inching higher and burning off the overhanging clouds. Then he turned back to the Batman sign, wondering who had etched this symbol of hope, how long ago. Heavy footsteps approached and John looked up; Bane looked like a mountain towering above him. Bane’s eyes were on him, but he couldn’t read his expression behind his mask. “You really believe in him.”

 

The younger man turned back to the chalk drawing and smiled. He recognized the condescension in his enemy’s voice, Bane looking down on him in more ways than one. But John didn’t mind. He felt something reminiscent and familiar building up inside him like a flame, overtaking him with energy and purpose. He wasn’t alone in this fight, and even though he had never envisioned himself ending up in this position as Bane’s prisoner, he would make the best of a bad situation.

 

“I do,” he proclaimed proudly, uncaring of any punishment he may receive for his statement. “I believe in him. He will help us save our city.”

 

“What if he doesn’t return?” Bane proposed.

 

“He will.”

 

“But if he doesn’t,” Bane pressed. He sounded genuinely interested in John’s answer.

 

John was nodding his head, feeling more self-assured with every passing second. “If he doesn’t return then we’ll just have to save our city ourselves. But we will,” he stood in a rush, holding Bane’s gaze strongly. “We’ll take back our city.”

 

Bane didn’t refute him. He merely stared at John, reading him more closely than the detective really felt comfortable with. But he wasn’t going to back down from this; he was going to make Bane understand. “Perhaps,” the masked man finally relented and to John’s surprise, the words didn’t sound entirely mocking.

 

“You don’t sound very upset at the prospect,” he pressed, keeping pace with the larger man when Bane began walking down the sidewalk again. He shivered and pulled his jacket a little tighter around him as the wind picked up, glancing up to watch Bane as he attempted to read what was behind the mask.

 

“What matters to me is the game,” Bane confessed, turning his collar up against the cold, harsh wind but otherwise showing no discomfort from the cold. “As long as the victors deserve their victory, I will bow in the end.”

 

“Even if you are not the victor,” John clarified, eyebrows raised. He felt that every time he tried to understand Bane a little better, he became even more submerged in confusion and questions.

 

Bane glanced over at him and John could hear the smirk. “I never said I wouldn’t be the victor.”

 

Something about his words felt like a promise and John felt a shiver pass through his bones. He wasn’t quite sure what to say in response; didn’t want to goad Bane or even consider what the city would be like if left to the man’s control. They both remained silent as they walked down the street, but John didn’t bother hiding his smile every time they passed another Batman drawing etched onto a door or wall. He knew Bane saw both the symbols and his smile, but he didn’t comment.

 

To his surprise, Bane actually took him around the city to pick up a few essentials. There were no security guards or cashiers in any of the stores they stepped into, and even though everything looked picked over, John was able to find enough sets of comfortable clothes that fit to last him. He knew he could have gone back to his flat on the eastern edge of the city but he didn’t really see the point. John didn’t think it would be a really intelligent idea to take Bane to his home and allow the man to learn more about him from his personal possessions and beyond that, as long as his clothes fit him and kept him warm in the approaching winter, he didn’t think it was necessary to wander the streets in his usual suits. It would just draw attention.

 

After that Bane took him to an underground seller to find a suitable coat since the store had been fully picked bare of coats with the dropping temperatures. It took a few minutes until John found a coat he liked and that fit him properly, but Bane didn’t seem particularly rushed and John wasn’t above inconveniencing the man simply to cause his enemy strife. He watched Bane pull a few batteries from his pocket and set them on the table for the man overlooking the coats with a shotgun in his lap, and John decided not to comment as he pulled on his new coat and headed back outside.

 

He thought of requesting a stop for books, wondering if he could raid a bookstore or a library for something to keep himself occupied in his captivity. In the end he decided to remain silent though; he was more interested in reading the sorts of books Bane spent his time with. To John, book choice was always a very telling aspect of a reader’s personality. Although nothing was guaranteed, he hoped he might learn something new about his enemy from sharing the same literature. The detective did, however, slip into an abandoned crafts store and pick up a few notebooks with blank pages and as many pencils as he could find that hadn’t been stolen and burned by those most desperate for heat.

 

By the time they returned to the shabby-looking hotel, John realized he was starving. His stomach was making embarrassing noises that he knew Bane must hear even though he didn’t acknowledge it. John trailed along behind Bane back to his room, maintaining a clear barrier of space between himself and the guards that watched his movements like vultures.

 

For a brief moment uncertainty passed through him again; he had left those three cops to die and he was following behind Bane like a lost puppy. What was he doing? He should make a run for it. If he dropped everything and ran now, he had a fair chance of reaching the far stairwell before the guards caught up with him. Maybe Bane would even let him go, growing weary of his new prisoner.

 

The hotel door was left open but Bane was gone from view, disappearing further into the room. John stopped and hesitated, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. The door remained open and welcoming on his left but he was staring ahead down the long expanse of hall, taking note of the exit sign, calculating. How fast could he run? How quick would the guards be to respond? How accurate was their aim? Would they fumble? Would he fumble?

 

“Detective Blake,” Bane’s voice echoed off the plain walls and John jumped about a foot in the air. “The time for decisions is now.” John’s heart began to race, his palms sweaty around the bags of clothes and notebooks and pencils he was holding. Throw the bags behind him, sprint, dive for the stairwell door as soon as he heard a gun cocking. He could do it. He could. “I suggest you make the right one.”

 

Bane’s voice distracted John from his thoughts again, just in time for him to notice the fact that Bane was closing the hotel room door on him. Slowly. Giving him just enough time to second-guess himself, to writhe in this state of fatal unknowns and uncertainty. His ears picked up on the subtle sound of flesh sliding over metal, of a bullet settling in a shifted gun. He didn’t even have to turn to know the guards were watching him, crowding in around him.

 

Out of time, John dashed forward and slid through the gap of space in the doorframe.

 

The door clicked closed behind him, right as he heard one of the guards crash against the door, having lunged for him before realizing what John’s choice would be.

 

John dropped his bags to the carpet and raised a hand to his chest; feeling his heart beat calmed him, even though it was thrumming with pent up energy and fear. He noticed Bane watching him and John forced a look of defiance on his face. “Perhaps you are not as foolish as I took you for,” Bane offered thoughtfully before turning and walking away from him, leaving John alone to listen to the guards curse the loss of their prey before the hunt had even begun.

 

#

 

Living with Bane was a peculiar experience.

 

He learned quickly that Bane was a quiet man. The majority of their days were spent in silence in the little hotel room, but it didn’t feel stifling. Most of the time John didn’t have the courage to ask the questions plaguing him, assuming Bane wouldn’t be very pleased at being questioned, and Bane rarely started conversation. At first the detective had assumed this was simply because Bane didn’t want to divulge any sensitive information to him, but when he began to see the masked man interact with his guards and others, he recognized that Bane liked to listen more than talk.

 

The majority of the time they spent together in the room, they sat in opposite corners. Bane would sit at his desk and read his books, or work out. John found the work-out routine to be very distracting; he never seemed able to look away when Bane did sit-ups, push-ups and everything else under the sun. It was terrifying and intriguing to watch those huge muscles flex and move, taking note of the sculpture of such a massive, powerful being. He knew Bane was likely aware of his wandering eyes but John didn’t stop and Bane didn’t remark on it.

 

John spent his time reading Bane’s books, sneaking them away to his corner of the room whenever he got the chance. He knew Bane was meticulous enough to notice his stacks of books shifting, and it wasn’t like John was taking great measures to hide the books from view; it was obvious they were Bane’s since John didn’t have many personal possessions to call his own. Again though, Bane never commented as they both worked slowly through the stacks of books. John liked to read the book Bane just finished and wonder what his captor had been thinking while reading, what scenes and characters stood out to him. He never asked the questions, but he always had an endless supply in the back of his mind.

 

They never ate together, which John found to be one of the weirdest things. He had never realized before how much he took for granted the fact that eating was a regular routine for everyone; suddenly seeing someone for the majority of your day, every day, and never seeing them eat or drink just seemed bizarre. It wasn’t even that they didn’t have enough food; there was a closet full of food and a tiny fridge in the room for the more perishable materials. It wasn’t the most exciting variety but it was enough to keep John full and strong, so he wasn’t about to complain.

 

It was replenished weekly and there was enough for two – although not much extra – but Bane always left with his food and came back empty-handed. Curious, John tried to follow him out of the room once, but Bane just shoved him back in and gave him a warning look before disappearing. It didn’t take long for John to wonder if Bane left to eat in privacy due to his mask in some way, if the man might worry about his image or wanted to hide a secret about what was hidden beneath the mask. The more he thought about it, the more certain the detective was that it had something to do with Bane’s mask. Oddly though, instead of making him more persistent, John felt his curiosity ebb to leave room for understanding.

 

Beyond the eating, the rest of their routine was relatively normal. They even slept in the same bed, although they were both certain to lounge on opposite edges of the mattress. Despite his fears, John was able to sleep well most nights, causing his time with Bane to pass even more quickly than he realized. He thought he would grow bored being stuck in the same room constantly, and it was true that he felt antsy since he wanted to be out in the city trying to help. But he didn’t feel bored. When John wasn’t reading he spent his hours sketching in his notebook. First he sketched anything he could see from the balcony: the streets, the buildings, the horizon. But then the weather turned frigid and John spent most of his time indoors, and that was when he began sketching Bane.

 

Drawing the masked man eroded John’s fear of him, albeit slowly. There was something about studying a figure until you knew it well enough to capture it on paper, understood it enough to add the details that brought it to life, that reduced the uncertainty and unknown. Bane was still a dangerous man and always would be – the cop’s instincts would never fade, he would always be cautious and aware – but Bane began to look more human and less like a monster as John studied him.

 

As time passed, only the mask continued to instil fear in John. He still made sure to avoid provoking Bane unnecessarily of course, always aware of those muscles he had sketched from every angle, but he had come to terms with the fact that Bane was human. Potentially a madman, yes; John couldn’t excuse what Bane had done to the city and what he feared the man had done to Batman to force the dark knight into shadows for so long. But Bane was still a man, intelligent and calm but with his own pressure points that could be provoked. It was all about understanding.

 

The mask, however, was not human. Sometimes John would sketch the mask on its own because it just felt so separate from Bane. It was a part of him in the sense that John didn’t think anyone had seen Bane without the mask, but it was not a part of his being. Something about the metallic sound of it working, the way it occasionally dug too deep and John noticed Bane rubbing at raw skin in the pre-dawn light, and the added stress in the larger man’s face and neck. Whether Bane was forced to keep the mask on or whether he chose it – similar to how John chose to stay captive in this room – John was sure: the mask was Bane’s own personal cage. And whatever could cage such a creature of strength and intellect scared John.

 

#

 

More than once Bane left John alone for hours in the room, not gone for food but to traverse the city and continue whatever plan he had for Gotham. Sometimes John would hear the guards discussing something quietly if he pressed his ear against the wall, though details were lost through the plaster and wood. Other times, on rare occasion, an emergency broadcast on the television would be made, showing photographs of a few important people gone missing or found dead. The rest of the time, John had no idea where Bane disappeared to.

 

In the first week he didn’t speak much, cautious and withdrawn from his enemy. It was only part way through his second week of imprisonment that John felt comfortable enough to speak, and in the end the words were drawn from him with shock. He had never before seen a wound on Bane’s body; whether the man was careful or inhuman in how he took damage, or both, John didn’t know. But when Bane walked into the room late one evening and stripped off his armour and shirt as though John wasn’t even there, John could see cuts and bruises marring the man’s skin.

 

“What happened to you?” he asked before he thought to hold his tongue. His voice was rough from disuse.

 

“Don’t tell me you care,” Bane teased him, stepping over to the mirror on the inside of the closet to survey the damage.

 

“Just curious,” John defended. “You don’t normally take damage like that.”

 

Bane chuckled. “I’m not immortal.”

 

“Good to know,” John narrowed his eyes, annoyed by the way Bane was talking to him. The detective took a moment to survey the damage that Bane couldn’t see, spread across his back. Everything would heal and nothing required stitches, but what really caught John’s gaze was a line of raised scar tissue tracing Bane’s spine. The scarred line slid up under the mask and John was finally able to see how far it extended, spreading out across the base of Bane’s neck as well. He had gotten a glimpse of the scarring on his head before but he had never seen more.

 

He wondered what had caused it, and what it felt like if he were to run his finger along the line. “Like what you see?” Bane turned to look at him, his marred back visible only in the mirror. John sent Bane a glare and returned his focus to his notebook before his cheeks could do something embarrassing like blush. “Thought so.”

 

Furious, his cheeks definitely flushed now but with anger, John raised his head to tell Bane off. But that was when the washroom door clicked closed and he was left to stew in his curiosity and annoyance with the other man. During the time it took Bane to shower and patch up what he could, John had come up with a string of excellent comebacks and arguments to Bane’s comment. So when Bane stepped out of the washroom and fell directly into bed, snoring almost immediately, John felt a little disappointed.

 

It was still a little too early for him to consider sleeping, so John stepped out onto the balcony for a few minutes to let the wind sweep his mind clear. He reminded himself that it wasn’t smart to get into an argument with Bane anyway. Once his head and frustration had cleared, John stepped back into the room to grab some dinner. It was the first time Bane had fallen asleep with John still awake and moving around the room; normally Bane slept last and woke first. Because of this, John found himself watching the man sleep while he munched on some bread.

 

Bane was still huge; John didn’t think there’d be any room for him in the bed if it was a double-sized mattress. His mask was still in place as well, and the way it distorted Bane’s light snore had John question if it had taken a long time for Bane to grow accustomed to the material covering his mouth. Still, even though Bane would always be dangerous, John thought he looked a little softer in sleep. He doubted Bane even considered John a threat, which was why he fell asleep with John still awake, and he told himself not to let it feel like a privilege.

 

He finished up his bread, brushed the crumbs into the trash can and then headed into the washroom. On his way out the first-aid kit caught his attention, left open on the counter. He thought to leave Bane as he was – if he died from infection then all the better. But then John remembered Bane tending to his head wound – though his methods left much to be desired; he knew the wound would not be healing as well without Bane’s intervention. It was the camaraderie he had developed as a cop that had him carrying the kit with him into the main room.

 

It was getting darker so John flicked on the ceiling light before crawling onto the bed. Bane was sprawled out on his stomach, shirtless with his back covered by just the lightest sheet on the bed. John pulled the blanket back and left it around Bane’s hips, even though he knew Bane still had pants on, and then he surveyed the damage. Closer up, the detective could see that a few cuts were deeper than he thought; Bane would be able to get away without stitches if he insisted, but the cuts hadn’t been cleaned and they already looked raw.

 

“Bane,” John whispered, still keeping his distance. If he was going to startle a giant, he wanted to be able to escape if he woke up angry. “Bane!” he said again, a little louder this time as he nervously shook Bane’s bare shoulder. The masked man gave a grunt but snored on, oblivious. For a moment he considered trying to kill his enemy right now; John wouldn’t survive the encounter but he could hope that Bane’s death would send the rest of the plans for the city crumbling. He wavered, knowing there must be weapons somewhere in the room, but in the end he decided he should know more about the plans of operation before trying to kill Bane. He could only imagine the revenge that would rain down on this city if Bane was working with others in secret.

 

Returning his attention to Bane, John shook the man more insistently. When that failed to rouse the slumbering beast, John decided he wasn’t going to risk it. He had no way of knowing how violent Bane might be if he was awoken or startled, and John valued his life more than trying to save Bane from a few potential infections. With meticulous fingers, John repacked the first-aid kit and was halfway off the bed when he felt the mattress shift. “Where do you think you’re going?” Bane growled so low and rough that the hair on the back of John’s neck stood up.

 

John froze and looked back to see that Bane had turned his head to watch him, sharp eyes focused on him. Even wounded, half asleep and spread out on the bed, Bane’s look was predatory. “I was trying to wake you,” John said weakly.

 

“You succeeded,” Bane told him. He didn’t move except to blink. “I’m sure you wouldn’t wake me if you were planning to kill me in my sleep. So tell me why I am awake.”

 

The detective swallowed his fear; at least Bane hadn’t assumed negative intentions on John’s part. Maybe he could even gain some favour with his captor if he helped Bane in some minor way in return. “I was going to fix your cuts. I didn’t think you could reach them.”

 

Bane’s eyebrows knit together, showing his confusion for a rare moment. “Why?”

 

John bit his lip, wondering the same thing himself. He said the only answer that made sense, “To repay you for fixing my head.”

 

Bane was looking at him like there was more. John shifted uncomfortably under the stare. After a minute, Bane sighed. “Get on with it then. I want to sleep.” And with that, Bane turned his head away, trusting John at his back.

 

With no rules established, and knowing that he had to be able to reach all the cuts, John cleared his throat and mimicked Bane’s position from nearly two weeks ago. He settled in the dip of Bane’s lower back and pulled the kit to him immediately, not willing to linger in this position. Bane said nothing and breathed evenly as John wiped clean and bandaged the untended cuts. He could see Bane’s muscles flex occasionally, skin jumping under John’s fingers when he sterilized raw flesh, but Bane made no audible sound of protest.

 

When he was finished with the last cut, he could feel Bane relax below him. John piled everything back into the first-aid kit but then hesitated. He should have gotten up and pretended this never happened, but mimicking Bane’s position also reminded John of what the larger man had done before moving off him. Boldly, John slid his finger up Bane’s spine, tracing the scarring there. Up and back down. He could physically see muscles loosening under his hand, soothed.

 

Encouraged by Bane’s lack of violent response, John leaned forward and considered the scars more closely, noting their trail up to Bane’s neck and head. “What are these from?” he was brave enough to ask as his finger continued to trace.

 

He could feel Bane shudder beneath him; it felt like John’s own heart was stuttering in his chest. “That’s a story for another day,” Bane brushed him off and then rolled onto his side. John toppled off the man and onto his own side of the bed, surprised by Bane’s harmless method of removing John without grabbing or throwing him. John took the hint and brought the first-aid kit back to the washroom, not wanting to push his luck. When he turned off the lights and returned to bed, Bane was already snoring again. Feeling accomplished and a little warm, John slid under the blankets on his own side of the bed and drifted off into a dreamless sleep.

 

#

 

They talked more after that. As curious as ever but braver now, John asked why Bane never ate with him. Bane told him to mind his own business, but then later that day when John returned another completed book back to the desk, Bane asked him what he thought about it. Seeing no reason to lie or withhold his thoughts on a simple book, John told him. What followed was a two hour long discussion on literature, genres and morals.

 

Another time Bane challenged John to explain his faith in Batman, which he did. Without saying anything that would endanger the Batman, John talked about the importance of belief and hope. After a bit of prodding, the detective told Bane about losing his parents and growing up an orphan, about seeing Batman fight crime and feeling inspired thinking he could be a hero even if he didn’t have a mask and a cape. He was just beginning to talk about his first day on the force – his pride – when he trailed off, noticing that Bane was watching him with unblinking eyes. “What?”

 

Bane didn’t say anything for a minute. He just sat there, almost staring past John with their eyes locked together. “You’re foolish,” Bane accused, though his tone wasn’t scornful. “But you can be inspiring.” John felt his body flush with embarrassment but before he could even decide how to react to that comment, let alone come up with a retort, one of Bane’s guards came in, made an urgent hand motion, and Bane exited behind him before he even got his coat on fully. This left John alone in the room for the rest of the day to mull over what Bane had meant by his words.

 

It was during his third week as a captive that Bane began answering some of the detective’s questions seriously. And that was when John knew he was in more danger than he realized, because if he just told Bane a few select stories that he was sure couldn’t bring harm to anyone he cared about, John was merely appeasing his captor and gaining favour. However, when Bane began telling John stories in return, it became constantly and increasingly difficult to see him only as the enemy – the mask – and not consider what lay beneath – the man. It didn’t even really matter that he knew Bane was filtering his stories just as meticulously as John was, because he doubted many – if any – had ever been trusted even with these innocent stories of little consequence.

 

The cop turned detective heard about what it was like to grow up in prison, the teddy bear on the desk going by the name of Osito being Bane’s only companion after he was sent down to serve his father’s prison sentence. John heard about bullying much different and much more deadly than what he had experienced as a child, and he heard about what it was like to look up at a small patch of sky and not know anything beyond that sliver of sky and the sun as it briefly passed by every day. John hadn’t had an easy childhood, but he couldn’t even comprehend what it would be like to grow up in prison, to not know how vast the sky really was as life passed you by.

 

He shouldn’t have taken it for granted, but John couldn’t help asking more. How had Bane escaped? Where did he go once he could finally see the horizon? What had caused those scars down his back? Why did he come to Gotham? Why did he want to burn this city – John’s city – over any other? What was his driving force? The exciting thing was that Bane actually looked like he was considering telling John everything – giving him every answer he desired – before his expression closed off again and Bane was pulling on his coat.

 

John remained where he was, his chair pulled up beside the desk and Bane’s large, worn armchair, even after he heard the door click closed and lock behind Bane. He was left alone with his thoughts and questions and imagination as the few stories Bane had offered to him swam around his head. There was still so much John didn’t understand about the masked man, but already he could see how Bane’s childhood might have turned him onto this dark path.

 

He wondered if there was any way of pulling Bane back into the path of light; pull him out of shadows before it was too late.

 

He wondered if it already was too late; if the man had adopted the mask and let it become him.

 

Osito, the poor worn teddy bear from Bane’s childhood stories, caught John’s eye. Osito sat there, dirty and worn and threads barely hanging together, staring back at him. A small flame of hope and determination lit up in John’s chest before spreading across his limbs. Bane was a criminal, and it was very likely that he was also crazy, but John was sure that that little innocent child who stared up at the sliver of sky in wonder must still be in there somewhere beneath the brute and muscle for the teddy bear to make it this far and earn a place of honour on the desk.

 

The bear was not well maintained now; the neglect was clear. John kept hope though; Bane would not carry a teddy bear around if it had lost its meaning to him. With this new fire settling in his stomach, John stood up and went to rifle through all the supplies he could find in the first-aid kit. He found some needle and thread and although he knew it wasn’t the perfect material, it would have to do since he couldn’t exactly go out shopping.

 

He sat down in Bane’s chair at the desk and set everything down – needle, thread, scissors. Then he reached over and picked Osito up, cautious of the fabric since he didn’t want the bear falling apart in his hands. The detective was surprised when he felt that Osito was heavier than he had expected, a noticeable heft to the bear that could not be blamed on fluff and stuffing. John looked the bear over until he noticed a tear down Osito’s back; John didn’t like how reminiscent it was of Bane’s scars down his spine.

 

Slipping his fingers in tentatively, his eyebrows rose when he felt metal cocooned in fluff. Gripping carefully, John withdrew a small blade from Osito’s back. He set the teddy bear back down before looking over the switchblade in his hands, sliding the blade out of its protected state. It wasn’t a large knife but the blade was long enough to cause damage in the hands of someone who knew how to use it. John grimaced at the thought that this was Bane’s only protection when he was in prison, that he had to fight for his own life at such a young age. What kind of childhood required a kid to keep a blade in their teddy bear?

 

Red rays of the setting sun glinted off the blade as John looked it over, reminding him of the fact that time was continuing to slip by. He didn’t know where Bane had gone, if he had left to travel about the city for the evening and night or if he had just gone for food or a walk to deter his questions. Either way, John didn’t want to be found in the middle of his repair job; the thought of Bane walking in on him sewing up his old teddy bear left him distinctly uncomfortable, not sure what explanation he would give if the masked man asked.

 

John briefly entertained the notion of slipping the switchblade into his pocket, arming himself against his enemies for the first time since being dragged here three weeks ago. It would feel good to have a weapon again, just to feel like the battleground was more even. Truthfully he knew the blade would not do much against guns, and he doubted he could do much damage to Bane before his enemy broke him in return, but even some small symbol of power would be nice to have. He dismissed the idea quickly though, knowing that as soon as Bane saw the repaired teddy bear he would know or at least assume that John had found the knife.

 

Decided, John slipped the blade closed again and set it on the desk before turning back to his original task. He wanted to sew up Osito’s back, wishing he could repair the damage as much as possible, but Bane would probably want to return the blade to its hiding spot. That left the torn ear and the nearly-detached eye for John to fix as best he could. He threaded the needle and began reattaching Osito’s ear, careful to keep any remaining stuffing inside the bear.

 

He was slow in his work, not wanting to muck up and destroy this final symbol of what childhood and innocence Bane might have once had. John’s fingers were cramping slightly by the time he was tying off the thread and checking over his work to make sure the thread wouldn’t loosen and the ear wouldn’t fall off. He was pleased with the result though; the black threading was visible but it was sturdy and strong and should last for a long time.

 

He threaded the eye next, but before he even managed to pull the first stitch taut he heard the door opening and closing. John glanced up, ready to blurt out the first explanation that came to mind but was quickly cut off. Bane was towering over him and shoving him out of the chair. The full force of Bane hit him and John winced in preparation for colliding with the ground. Instead he felt his body being lifted and slammed back against the wall, knocking all the breath out of him and jolting a flash of pain across the back of his head where his healing wound hit the wall.

 

“Bane!” John barely managed to choke out before a large hand pressed against his neck with a vice grip. John gave a whine at the pain, feeling his lungs beginning to burn. Frantic, he lifted his hands to pull at Bane’s, trying to pry him away. When that didn’t work, John tried to kick Bane away with his legs. The massive being in front of him grunted but didn’t move; John’s knees buckled between their two bodies.

 

“What did you think you were doing?” Bane roared, and as John heard the raw fury in that voice and felt the power in his grip, he knew Bane could kill him at any second. “Were you trying to sneak the blade and slit my throat?”

 

Tears prickled the corners of John’s eyes and he tried to shake his head, though it just dragged another silent gasp from him as he felt Bane’s fingers bruising his neck. His peripheral vision was fading and he couldn’t pry Bane’s hand away. Desperate now, John abandoned trying to save his own neck and motioned a hand back toward the desk. He was already so out of breath that when Bane looked over to the desk and released John a moment later, John’s legs gave out beneath him and he collapsed to the floor.

 

He lay sprawled on the carpet for a few seconds, dragging in ragged gasps of air. His throat felt raw and abused; each tilt of his head and each breath made his whole body throb and ache with pain. Bane walked over to the desk, leaving him there on the floor to survey the innocent knife and the half-saved Osito. John’s heart was tripping over itself with fear and relief that he wasn’t dead, fuelling him with adrenaline to escape this beast while he still had the chance.

 

Without a backwards glance John pushed himself onto his feet, limbs shaking under him but eager for flight. Feet under him, unwilling to wait for his body to calm lest he lose his opportunity, John bolted for the door. He had enough momentum behind him that when he flew into the hallway he was able to send the door guard to the ground in a crumpled heap with a fist before he had a chance to react and raise his gun. John shook the pain out of his hand, uncaring if he had broken any bones, and raced off toward the stairwell.

 

There were two more guards by the stairwell and they shouted when they saw John approaching. The detective put on another burst of speed, praying that he could take the two down before they got their guns ready. He knew that even though he wouldn’t come out of the fight unscathed, he could best two guards. John’s stomach dropped with a sickening twist when he saw five more guards stepping out of one of the hotel rooms at the guards’ shouts; they were unarmed but the numbers were no longer in John’s favour.

 

Taking advantage of his momentum and adrenaline, John barrelled on ahead. He rammed his shoulder into one of the guards and kicked his dropped gun away before hooking an elbow back against the man’s temple, dropping him like a stone. The other stairwell guard seemed to have abandoned his gun with such close proximity and John took advantage of his brief distraction to kick him in the knee. He heard a crunching sound as the man’s leg buckled and he howled in pain.


Before John could do anything else he felt the five remaining guards descend on him, catching his bruised neck and arms to drag him down. These men were closer in size to John than Bane was, but it was impossible for him to get more than a few superficial hits to the guards’ bodies before he was overwhelmed. Heart still hammering in his chest, John got dragged down to the floor and pinned. He tried to punch or kick anything he could but he felt his blood turn to ice when he felt the men begin to tear at his clothing.

 

“Bane!” John screamed before he could even think about what he was doing. Bane had just pinned him against a wall, nearly strangled him, all over a misunderstanding. John had run from him, rightfully so, and now he was calling for help from only halfway down the hall. He didn’t know if Bane would come to help – doubted it, since he informed John that he would lose his protection if he left the room. But John knew that Bane was his only chance of avoiding what was about to happen, to see the next sunrise. “Bane!

 

“He’s not coming,” one guard informed him before smacking John across the head, sending his vision spinning.

 

“You’re all ours,” another told him as he fumbled with John’s pants, tearing them in places and scratching skin with how desperately he was pulling them down.

 

“Pretty little thing,” a third guard, the one sitting on his legs to keep him from kicking, cooed. “You’re going to feel real good.”

 

“Bane!” John continued to struggle even though he knew his body was getting scratched and bruised because of it. Tears of terror were flowing from his eyes freely as his shirt was torn away and his pants were hiked partway down his thighs. Another guard pressed John’s face down against the carpet, nearly breaking his nose at the force.

 

In this position, his breathing laboured as his body panicked and a guard sat on his back to keep him pinned, John felt rather than saw Bane approach. Each step made the floorboards under John quiver and creak. The footsteps were slow and measured, energy coiled and contained – barely. The guards all froze around John but didn’t withdraw, keeping him pinned and half naked on the floor as they watched their leader approach.

 

Bane stopped close to the group and remained silent for a second. All John could hear was his calm breathing, juxtaposed to John’s fearful panting. Then Bane spoke and the threat in his words made John shiver even though the words were not directed at him. “Do not touch what is mine.”

 

One of the guards, a brave, foolish one, spoke up. “You said if he ever left the room—”

 

Bane cut him off, sounding unimpressed. “Now it extends beyond my room.”

 

Another guard sounded annoyed and eager in equal measures. “How far?”

 

There was another heavy moment of silence. “How far are you willing to go to risk crossing me?” No one spoke, which was answer enough. “Now get off him.”

 

“But—!”

 

Bane’s sigh was angry enough to shut the guard up so quickly John thought he might have swallowed his tongue. He felt the guards pulling away from him quickly and he lay panting on the floor. His shirt was beyond hope but he tried to get his fingers steady enough to pull his pants back up around his waist. John was still on the ground as he watched Bane’s boots sidestep him to approach the guards. The young detective didn’t even want to look up, chose instead to hide his face in the crook of his elbow as he heard pleas for mercy and five necks cracking, one by one.

 

“John Blake is mine,” Bane said coolly. John wasn’t sure who Bane was speaking to but the words shook him to the bone; he didn’t think his heart would ever stop racing. “Get this mess cleaned up and spread the word.”

 

John heard a whimper but before he could think much on it he gave a startled shout as Bane lifted him from the floor and flung him over a shoulder. Bane kept a large hand on John’s bare back to keep him in place as he began to walk them back to his hotel room, but this left John facing behind Bane. He could see the five twisted, dead bodies of his attackers on the floor. The two guards John had managed to attack were still off to the side, one still unconscious while the other one was awake and watched them walk away with fear.

 

It surprised John to realize that the guard was showing equal fear toward John as he was for Bane, his glassy green eyes holding John’s. Slung over Bane’s shoulder, being carried away from a near rape and death, John could practically hear the guard’s question. Who are you to win Bane’s favour so fully? What does it mean for Bane to choose a problem-cop over his own men? Feeling ashamed and confused, John let his gaze drop to the floor as Bane carried him away.

 

By the time they were back in the room, John’s stomach was churning. “Put me down,” he demanded weakly, barely enough energy left in his body to shift away. Bane closed and locked the door and stepped further into the room without listening to John. “I’m going to throw up,” he warned, clenching his eyes closed as he tried to swallow the vomit.

 

Bane paused and set him down slowly, reaching out to hook a hand under John’s elbow to keep him standing when John nearly collapsed. John made it the fifteen steps to the washroom before falling to his knees and gagging over the toilet. His insides felt twisted, his chest too tight as his heart refused to slow and he forgot how to breathe properly. His throat ached and burned as the vomit came, and he knew his whole body was likely littered with bruises.

 

He retched up everything his body had but it still didn’t feel like enough. It felt to him as though he was unclean, inside and out; he couldn’t even comprehend what those men were about to do to him. Thinking about it just had him gagging again even though it made his stomach and back ache and nothing came out. He looked over to the mix bath and shower and considered submerging himself under the water to clean himself, perhaps never resurfacing, but that was when Bane stepped into the room and caught his attention.

 

Bane knelt beside John and handed him a cup of water. John rinsed his mouth with the first glass and then swallowed the next one when Bane refilled the cup. He sipped the third glass more slowly as he sat in front of the toilet, unable and unwilling to move. Bane sat down beside him after grabbing one of the spare blankets in the closet and wrapping it around John’s shoulders. It was only when Bane brushed some tears from his cheeks that John realized he was still crying – hadn’t stopped. His whole body was wracked with barely-contained fear and shame, his limbs trembling as he sat on the cold tile.

 

John was just starting to think that he was beginning to calm down when suddenly he remembered weight pressing him down, hands pulling at his clothes, and he promptly threw up all the water into the toilet. He tried to keep his sobs silent and failed for the most part as he clutched at the blanket and held it tighter around himself. The heat made him feel safer. Bane stayed close but didn’t say anything for a while, and John felt oddly comforted by the man’s silent presence. Except he still remembered why he had risked the hall in the first place and John’s eyes narrowed. “I wouldn’t have run if you hadn’t tried to kill me.”

 

“I know.” Bane didn’t sound very interested – in fact he sounded a bit bored. But the blanket and the refilled glass of water and the thumb brushing his tears aside said otherwise. “I’m sorry.”

 

“It’s not okay,” John snapped, voice rough.

 

Bane didn’t even sound mad when he responded with, “I know.” John sent him a glare and then leaned back against the tub, feeling exhaustion pull at him. Shifting even an inch had him groaning with pain, his body marred with blues and purples. “Was that the first time that has happened to you?”

 

John blinked his eyes open briefly to consider Bane before letting his eyelids slide closed again. “I’ve been cornered a few times in an alley before,” he explained, clearing his throat even though it hurt to do so. “But it was always just violent. They never tried to… to—” He rushed forward to gag over the toilet again even though there was nothing in his stomach to lose. He curled up on the tile when he was done, too exhausted to lift his head.

 

“You will likely wish to shower in an attempt to wash away your shame,” Bane suggested, sounding far too knowledgeable. “It won’t work, but you might feel better trying.” John rolled over slightly, just enough to be able to look up at his enemy, his protector. Bane must have been able to read John’s question in his puffy red eyes, or maybe he was just expecting it since he nodded to the silent question. “Prison,” the masked man offered. “But there was no one there to stop it.” John looked back to the tile, not knowing what to say. Silent tears continued to fall from his eyes without consent but his body remained still. “You’re safe here.”

 

John’s laugh startled him so badly that he choked on a sob afterwards and fell silent. “Just put me in the tub and let me drown,” he said dismissively.

 

“That doesn’t sound like the snarky up-start detective that ended up on my floor three weeks ago,” Bane reminded him. “The one who sacrificed his own freedom to keep fighting and save his city, even if it meant being forced to live with a madman who occasionally tries to suffocate him, just to try to collect information on the enemy. The one who took down three of my best trained men.” John jumped when he felt rough fingers in his hair but he otherwise didn’t move. “I told you not to let that fire go out,” Bane chided softly.

 

“Why not?” John growled, nearly beyond the point of caring.

 

The fingers carding through his hair paused. “Because the light of that fire is hope to more than just you.” John blinked in surprise. Even though he wasn’t entirely sure what Bane meant by those words, it made John’s heart give a little flutter. Bane didn’t explain further and after a minute he pulled away, his fingers withdrawing. “Shower, and know that if I hear the tub filling instead I’ll drag you out in whatever state of dress you leave yourself in.”

 

The door closed and John was left alone in the washroom. He dozed on the cold tile for a little while, unaware of time passing. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long before fresh, raw memories jolted him awake each time he began to drift off. Eventually he gave up entirely and picked himself off the floor, turning on the shower. Bane was right; it didn’t wash away the sense of weakness and shame that tarnished John’s skin each time he thought about being pinned, about being unable to fight them off. But the hot water did sooth his stiff muscles and made him feel a bit calmer.

 

He hadn’t heard the door opening while he was in the shower but he found a heap of clothes just inside the door when he stepped out and towelled off. He pulled on his new clothes and dropped what was left of his shirt in the trash. Then he brushed his teeth to get rid of the aftertaste of acid and headed out into the hotel room. It was dark and quiet in the room, the sun set outside and just the desk and bedside lamp turned on.

 

John saw Bane seated at the desk and walked over silently. He found Bane with Osito cradled in his hands, the teddy bear dwarfed by Bane’s hands alone. Osito’s eye was still dangling, attached to the thread and needle John had dropped when he was attacked. Numbly, John pulled himself up to sit on the desk and held an outstretched hand toward Bane. There was a brief look of uncertainty in those gray eyes before Bane handed Osito over carefully.

 

They sat in silence in a circle of light from the desk lamp as John finished up his task. Bane remained seated and watched John’s every move, like a parent hovering over a sick child being treated at the hospital. John could practically feel Bane’s nervous energy and it made him anxious so he kicked the larger man’s leg lightly, a nudge. “Calm down; you’re going to make me panic.” He had been a cop long enough to know that people acted rashly when they were nervous and high-strung, and he honestly didn’t know what would happen if either of them snapped.

 

Bane sighed deeply and settled a little more in his armchair. His eyes remained fixed on John’s hands but his shoulders relaxed and John felt his lungs pulling air in more easily. He stretched out his tense muscles, allowing them to relax now that the sense of danger had faded from the room. John finished up the eye quickly, knotting the thread and clipping off the excess. Then he sat there on the desk and held Osito in his hands, close to his chest. He noticed Bane shifting in his chair out of the corner of his eye but Bane didn’t intervene as John held Osito close.

 

After a few minutes John felt a bit self conscious and he looked back up to see Bane’s eyes on him, rather than on the teddy bear. John could feel the heat of his cheeks growing red and hoped it wasn’t visible in the shadows. “I can fix his back too, if you want,” he offered quietly.

 

Bane was still looking at him, but then those eyes dropped to watch the teddy bear in his hands. “Amat Victoria Curam. Victory favours the prepared,” Bane murmured, barely audible with how quietly he was talking.

 

“When you prepare for battle you end up seeking it out,” John challenged. He kept his hands low and open so that Bane could take Osito back from him at any time if he chose. “Perhaps it’s time to begin focusing on healing old scars rather than searching for new ones. Don’t let yourself become nothing but a weapon’s vessel.”

 

“Don’t judge me. If I hadn’t prepared I would never have lived long enough to make it to Gotham,” Bane told him strongly, eyes hard and warning John to back off.

 

John leaned a little closer to Bane, eyes narrowed. “If you don’t learn to let go then you won’t live long enough to leave Gotham.”

 

Bane growled and looked like he was about ready to argue or hit John, but then his face cleared. In place of defensive anger there was surprise, and then something softer John didn’t have a name for. John jumped slightly when he noticed Bane lifting a hand, but he held still when he read no threat in that powerful arm. John’s eyebrows furrowed in confusion when he felt Bane press a thumb softly against his bottom lip, denting it before skimming his thumb along the bottom curve of his mouth. He didn’t know what Bane was doing, or why it left his body tingling, but he didn’t move away. After a minute of this Bane pulled his hand away, leaving John feeling oddly bereft.

 

“Do you think you’re up for it?” Bane questioned him, eyes now on his own hands in his lap.

 

John’s words were a little breathless. “Up for what?”

 

Bane lifted his gaze and even though John couldn’t see his lips, he thought he could see a sad smile in those eyes. “Fixing him.”

 

The air was heavy and John thought – hoped – they were talking about more than just Osito. “I want to try,” he said strongly, hugging the bear close.

 

The masked man nodded. “Then start with his back.” That was all he gave John before pulling himself out of his chair and moving to the bed. John stayed where he was in the light, watching Bane lie down, shift around a few times and then fall still. He couldn’t help but think that Bane looked so much younger, more innocent as sleep wrapped around him.

 

Alone in wakefulness, fearful of his memories plaguing him again as soon as he lay down to sleep, John resettled himself in Bane’s chair. He soaked in the man’s lingering heat as he grabbed more thread and began sewing up Osito’s back, the switchblade left on the table. When he was finished John skimmed his fingers down the line of stitching, remembering the sensation of Bane’s scars under his fingertips.

 

Finally he was satisfied with his work and he set Osito back on the desk in his place of honour. Sleep was tugging at John’s limbs, adrenaline faded and leaving him stumbling as he turned off the lights and crawled into bed. In the darkness he could see that Bane was on his side facing John, when normally he would be on his stomach or facing away. Although he knew it was presumptuous of him, it felt welcoming.

 

Hesitantly, John shuffled forward until his knees brushed Bane’s and his head was tucked against Bane’s chest. That was where he was expecting to stay, close but not touching, so he made a startled sound when he felt Bane winding an arm around his waist, pulling him even closer. John was engulfed in Bane’s heat and his eyes drifted closed immediately. Despite everything that had happened, he felt so safe in this embrace. And with Bane protecting him from his nightmares and memories, John was able to sleep through the night.

 

#

 

John knew what Stockholm syndrome was. He had read about it, and studied it. He could say the definition and explain some common behaviours and beliefs as well as list off a few well-known cases. He was aware enough of his situation to understand some of what he was feeling toward his captor. He felt indebted to Bane for his protection, for keeping him alive and saving him from being raped. He felt closer to Bane after spending so much time with him, and he felt special knowing Bane wouldn’t kill him. At first he hadn’t felt completely secure in his belief that he was any safer with Bane, but now things were different.

 

After a month in this room with Bane, things were changing. Bane was more open and less commanding, and his strength felt calm without being restrained. John’s bruises were healing and he no longer feared his captor and protector. In fact he was beginning to seek out Bane’s company and they began sharing more stories and thoughts. Bane even asked about his drawings, and John actually showed him his work.

 

John knew Bane was still a physical and intellectual threat, but John no longer felt in danger. However, despite how irrational that might seem to any outside observer, John still didn’t think he was suffering from Stockholm syndrome. Victims were known to empathize with their captor to the point of defending them and agreeing with them, giving up their own beliefs and fight first as a defence mechanism to avoid drawing the captor’s anger, but then later actually having a shift in belief under such duress.

 

John empathized with Bane, he couldn’t deny that. Each day he spent with the man he learned more about what had happened to Bane to lead him here, what drove him. He still felt like he was missing a key point of the story, like there was a hole there that Bane was purposefully leaving empty. But still it was almost too easy to understand Bane’s pain, loneliness and anger.

 

However, the detective took comfort in the knowledge that he hadn’t abandoned his fight for Gotham, his belief in heroes – both masked and unmasked – or the fire still burning brightly inside him. In fact, he had Bane to thank for keeping that fire going; John was positive that it would have been extinguished by those hungry guards if Bane hadn’t been there to protect him and hold him close afterward.

 

It almost seemed to John that Bane was the one being changed by this encounter, the driving forces of pain and anger fading as Bane appeared to calm and open up. It made him wonder over the older man’s words from weeks ago when John asked Bane if he was trying to convert him over to his side. That is not how I think this will end, Bane had said. Had Bane known that John might change him? Had he been hoping it would happen?

 

These thoughts always sent John for a spin. Fear that he was reading too much into Bane’s private behaviour, certainty that he had truly seen a change in the masked man, concern that it wouldn’t matter in the fight for Gotham, relief that he had actually been given a chance. John was scared that he was a fool, but he was determined enough to keep fighting anyway, even though he was fighting now for more than just the city.

 

Bane had asked him if he was up to the challenge of trying to fix him; John knew this was what Bane had been implying a few nights ago when John had Osito cradled in his hands. If Bane hadn’t asked then John wouldn’t know how to act, because he didn’t think it was his place to save someone who didn’t want to be saved. But Bane had asked; John was sure. And John wanted to save Bane. He wanted this war to come to an end and have Bane be able to walk out alive and with purpose. Not simply a cog in the machine, not just a weapon ready for an opportunity to be used. John wanted Bane to let himself heal – and allow John to help if he could – and transform into something more.

 

John was aware of the fact that it was not a simple task. It would take time and patience and bravery on both their parts. Not knowing how long he would have, how much longer this war would drag on for, John began thinking about what he could do to help Bane. He remembered the man’s words that night: Start with his back. John hoped it was a hint and began to hover around Bane more closely. He was expecting the larger man to be annoyed by this and tried to move in slowly, but Bane showed no agitation to John’s increased proximity. In fact, he seemed quite content to encourage it.

 

On nights when memories of his near-rape haunted him, John would slide over to Bane’s side of the bed for comfort. And even if Bane was asleep and unresponsive when John shuffled over, the smaller man would always wake up cocooned in Bane’s arms. The larger man even stayed in bed past dawn some mornings, unhurried and staying close. Other times they would sit almost too close together, Bane with a book and John with his sketches, their knees or arms brushing too many times to be coincidence.

 

John was aware of his growing attraction to his captor, his protector…his friend. He told himself he was just trying to get close to either get an opportunity to see Bane’s back again or coax him into talking about what caused the scars, but he couldn’t lie to himself. That was his main intention, of course, but the way his heart skipped beats and his skin warmed at Bane’s touch, feeling equally calm and eager for something more, was completely selfish on his part. It didn’t help him get over it though when Bane took no issue with John inching closer, touching and smiling more.

 

It was an internal battle for John. He wanted Bane, wanted more. He had even slid his hand over his own length once or twice in the shower thinking of those arms holding him down but not forcing him, lifting him and leading him. Each time his come painted the tile John would cover his mouth to muffle his moans and then he would spend the rest of his shower chiding himself for his foolishness. But it just left a layer of desire on his skin, prickling him like electricity. He reminded himself that Bane had come into the city and wrecked havoc. Many people had died and there was still a bomb out there, ready to be set off at any time. John felt horribly guilty, but a part of him didn’t care. He wanted Bane anyway.

 

He thought he was doing a good job of hiding it. But one day when they were both seated together by the desk, John jumped when he felt Bane rest a hand on his hip. John looked up, wide-eyed, but didn’t pull away. Bane slipped a finger under the fabric of John’s shirt and began tracing circles, and John could feel his face flushing. Those gray eyes were watching him seriously, taking note of his reaction and also his unwillingness to respond. “Would you feel less guilt if I forced you?” Bane asked quietly, finger still swirling.

 

John shivered and shook his head. “I’d just tell myself I had been asking for it.” There was no point trying to hide the reaction of his body; they were both aware of the other’s interest at this point.

 

Bane raised an eyebrow. “Aren’t you?”

 

With an angry huff, John knocked Bane’s hand away. “No.”

 

He was expecting the larger man to be angry, or to at least mock John for his indecision. But Bane just withdrew his hand and turned back to his book. “Okay.”

 

That just made John want it more, but he fought it. Over the next few days he was at war with himself until he decided, late one night, that if he helped Bane deal with the scars on his back, he would have no reason to remain physically close and he could end this. John was already in bed but still awake when Bane finally slipped under the covers. The mattress sagged under the weight, gravity tugging John toward Bane, but John waited. After a few minutes of no movement Bane must have assumed John was asleep and decided to sleep on his stomach.

 

That was when John tried to calm his racing heart and pushed the sheets aside. He could see Bane turning to watch him as John crawled closer, and heard the grunt of confusion when John moved to straddle his back rather than lie down against his side, but he heard no sound of protest. John settled in the hollow of Bane’s back, the plains and dips of the man’s muscular back on display in the moonlight. “Detective…” Bane began, not exactly protesting but hesitant.

 

John skimmed his finger along the scar’s length. “Will you always call me that?” he wondered aloud, curious.

 

Bane was silent for a moment, tense beneath him. “…John.”

 

John smiled even though Bane couldn’t see it, feeling a familiar warmth fill him that he was beginning to associate with Bane. “I like how that sounds when you say it,” he admitted. He traced the scarring more carefully now, following each jagged angle and turn up and down Bane’s back. Bane shuddered under him and remained silent. “Will you tell me what caused these?” John requested shyly.

 

Bane shifted below him but didn’t knock him off. The room was silent for a few minutes before Bane finally said, “He didn’t give me a choice.”

 

John slowly lay down on top of Bane, arms hooked around Bane’s shoulders to stay close and his head resting just below the base of his neck. He liked the way he could lay on top of Bane without causing him discomfort, and he liked feeling those strung muscles relax under his warmth and weight. “Who?” he prompted lightly.

 

“The doctor,” Bane began, and then proceeded to tell John the whole story. When Bane was still in prison, he had gotten badly injured, his face torn and his limbs broken. In this state he caught the attention of a doctor who was experimenting with a dangerous drug. He called it Venom. He strapped Bane down and injected him with the drug right at the base of his skull. The drug tore through Bane’s body, up into his brain and down his spine with such vicious ferocity that it tore through flesh and bone before diluting as it spread across his entire body. “It healed my face and my body, but then it nearly killed me,” Bane told John. “Most days I wish it had.”

 

Bane had never felt such agony before in his life and it never faded. He had always been in peak physical condition but the drug changed him, gave him abnormal strength and reflexes. It felt like his bones were growing too large for his skin, his muscles too heavy to lift. He was unconscious for days and when he woke up he was deemed a ‘success’. That was, of course, until the side effects kicked in after only twelve hours without the drug.

 

“It felt like I was on fire,” Bane explained. “It felt like the drug was consuming me.” The doctor insisted on giving Bane more doses and Bane had agreed, desperate for some relief. But that just brought back a different form of pain, a hollow ache in his body and mind. Soon it didn’t feel like he would ever escape from the agony and he decided that if the withdrawal side effects killed him, at least he would be done with it. At this John clung to Bane, hugging him more tightly.

 

“I killed the doctor because he wouldn’t let me stop,” Bane said. “It wasn’t my first kill, but it was the first time I killed with my new strength. I remember…” Bane paused, taking a deep enough breath that John rose and fell with it. “I remember being appalled that it was so easy to break a neck.”

 

John began brushing his fingers over Bane’s bare shoulders and arms. “What happened then?” he was horrified, but he was also curious since Bane had obviously survived to make it here.

 

“It took months to wean myself off the drug, cutting down the doses. The scars on my back are so deep because each time I took the drug it tore at my skin again as it spread.” Bane sighed and pressed up into John’s chest just a tiny bit; perhaps John’s warmth was as soothing as Bane’s was to John. “Finally I was free of it and I began to recover and rebuild my strength. I hated what I had become, even though I had already killed before that time. I felt…tarnished. I wanted redemption. I thought I had found it when—.”

 

Bane suddenly tensed up under John, his sentence dropping off hurriedly. John lifted his head slightly, confused by the quick change. “When what?” he prodded. He was still curious about so many things. What had Bane thought would bring him redemption? Where did the mask come in? “Bane?”

 

Bane shifted more insistently under John, like he was considering dislodging him. “That’s enough stories for one night,” he said with a tone of finality.

 

John wanted to argue but it wasn’t his place to push anymore than he already had. Bane had told him a lot and it had clearly pained him. It added another layer to John’s understanding of the masked man, but he almost regretted asking; he didn’t think he had helped anything heal. It felt more likely he had torn open old wounds. Wanting to apologize and feeling brave, John leaned down and kissed the scarring where Bane’s neck met his shoulders.

 

Bane froze, not even breathing for a few seconds. Unsure if this was a good or bad reaction, John pressed another kiss a little further down the scar’s trail, and a little further down again. He was tentative with the scarred flesh, pressing his lips softly to warm skin slowly. John reached the end of the scars and began kissing his way back up when Bane gave a shuddering sigh of obvious pleasure.

 

John kissed back up Bane’s spine with a smile on his lips, hoping the other man could feel it. Feeling bold, John continued past Bane’s shoulders and kissed up the back of his neck. He didn’t know when he would ever have this opportunity again since he had a feeling Bane wasn’t in any way submissive, so John decided to take advantage of his position. He found the juncture where Bane’s neck met his shoulder and sealed his mouth over skin, nipping hard enough to leave a mark. Bane growled beneath him, sending a rush of heat through John. He pulled away with a satisfied smirk, seeing his mark, and then covered Bane’s body with his own again. “Now you can take me,” he whispered in Bane’s ear.

 

Movements as fluid as water, Bane turned them around until John was on his back and Bane was kneeling above him. It left John dizzy and giddy with eagerness and nerves as he felt the larger man carefully rest the weight of his lower body on top of him, holding his torso up with his arms. John liked where he was, in the centre of the bed with Bane’s arms framing him, his warmth surrounding him. So his smile faltered when Bane muttered, “Change your mind.”

 

“Why?” John grumbled, unhappy that things weren’t going as he imagined.

 

But then Bane leaned closer, the metal of his mask nearly brushing John’s chin. “Because this is the only time I’ll let you.”

 

John swallowed and thought about it seriously for a moment, trying to focus past the heat of his desire. Bane was his enemy, his captor, and he was a monster who was trying to tear apart his city. But Bane was also a man, a friend, a protector, and even if John wouldn’t put a name to what he was beginning to feel for him, it was there. “I want this. I want you,” he assured strongly, holding Bane’s eyes in the darkness.

 

John was expecting Bane to be fast and demanding and rough, so he was a little confused when he felt Bane brush his fingers tentatively over John’s lips the same way he had the night John mended Osito. Then understanding struck John like a lightning bolt, setting his body on fire. With the mask in the way, this was how Bane kissed him. Bane was kissing him. The rush of longing that passed through John’s body was almost overwhelming as he softly pressed his lips up against the pads of Bane’s fingers.

 

Bane hesitated, fingers hovering close enough to John’s lips that he could imagine their weight. John smiled reassuringly and lifted his head just far enough off the pillow to kiss Bane’s fingers and then his palm. He wanted Bane to know that he understood, and that it was okay. John rested his head back against the pillow after a moment and he smiled wider when Bane’s fingers trailed after him.

 

They lay there for a long time, Bane first tracing the shape of John’s mouth, then brushing over his lips and finally resting his thumb against his mouth, the tiny weight pressing down like a caring mouth. John’s smile faded but not due to anger; he lay there and offered sighs of contentment as he left his lips parted and tilted up to Bane. He shivered almost constantly at Bane’s care and attention, and John wasn’t very surprised to feel his body responding to the sensation and realization of what this implied.

 

Eventually he caught Bane’s hand with both of his own and kissed each finger again before nipping his wrist and finally letting go. Bane seemed to get the hint because he made quick work of their clothing, tossing everything aside before leading John back down on his back. Their bodies slotted together, skin against skin, and John moaned softly as he felt Bane’s half-hard cock nudging against his thigh. Again John was forced to realize how massive Bane was, apparently in every aspect.


Calloused fingers brushed over his lips again, catching his attention. “You’re trembling,” Bane noted with a question in his tone.

 

“I’m fine,” John promised, leaning up into that unique kiss. “I’m just a little worried I won’t be able to...” he glanced away, blushing.

 

“Is this your first time?” Bane asked, sounding a little amused.

 

“No,” John sniffed indignantly. “I’ve just never been with anyone so... big.”

 

Bane was smirking; John could see it in his eyes. “I’ll take care of you,” the man promised, hushed but clear even through his mask. “You’ll like it.”

 

John nodded and he could feel Bane rubbing his cock slowly against his thigh. He realized that Bane was already beginning to swell and harden, but before he could think or worry too much about it, John choked on a gasp when Bane’s large, rough hands gripped him and flipped him over. For a second John was flat on his stomach, his hardening length rubbing pleasurably against the sheets, but then those strong hands were on his hips again and leading him up. John felt a little self-conscious presenting himself the way Bane was manoeuvring him, head pillowed on his arms and knees under him to leave his ass in the air, and he missed the friction of the blankets against him. But it was immediately made worth it when one of Bane’s warm hands snuck between his legs, nudging him slightly to spread open wider, and encircled John’s length which was hanging heavy under him.

 

Fuck,” John whispered, fingers gripping at the blankets as he moaned and rocked his body. He was surprised at how good it felt to be exposed to Bane, knowing the larger man was right behind him on the bed, watching as John grew harder in his hands and shifted back wantonly for more. He had never been with anyone so dominant before, or so well equipped to display his dominance. John only had experience with fumbling hands and second-guessed moves, so to feel Bane stroking him with such confidence, running his other hand over John’s skin like he already owned him had John arching and panting almost immediately.

 

“Look at you, so eager,” Bane praised, tugging on John’s length a little tighter. Already John’s hips were starting to angle down to follow the strokes, seeking more pleasure, feeling his body overheating as he began to pant. “Do you like that?”

 

“Yeah,” John nodded frantically, panting against the sheets.

 

“Do you want more?” Bane skimmed a finger across the slit of John’s cock, causing him to jolt forward. John whined in the back of his throat, pressing his ass back, unable to speak for a moment. “Stay right where you are,” Bane commanded and then his hand slid away.

 

John gave a groan of displeasure and turned to watch Bane get off the bed and disappear into the washroom. When he reappeared a moment later, John swallowed thickly at the sight of Bane’s thick, swollen cock hanging hard and ready as he got back onto the bed. There was no way that length was going to fit inside him, but he wanted to try anyway. John continued to watch over his shoulder as Bane slicked up his hands with lube. “Where did you get that?” John asked, and then immediately thought of a more pressing question. “How long have you had that?”

 

“I picked it up about a week ago,” Bane answered nonchalantly, likely aware of what that implied but uncaring. Before John could come up with something to say in return, his breath left him in a rush as Bane slipped one large, thick finger inside him. “Relax,” Bane told him as he moved his other slicked hand to begin stroking John anew. “You’re already small enough as it is without you clenching up.”

 

John couldn’t even think of a retort, his eyes clenched closed as he shifted and moaned into the blankets. He focused on relaxing his body and letting Bane in, reminding himself that Bane wasn’t going to hurt him. The larger man clearly knew what he was doing and they would both make it work. John pressed his body back to take a bit more and Bane twisted both hands – the one around his cock and the one slowly opening up his ass – as a reward.

 

Bane,” John whispered, feeling heat begin to pool in his stomach.

 

A second finger began to prod at John’s hole, slippery and pushing in slowly but demandingly. John could feel his body spreading and relaxing around the intrusion, only clenching around Bane’s working fingers when the man rubbed teasingly against his inner walls. Bane worked him open slowly, thrusting his fingers in and out and twisting them to spread the generous amount of lube he was using. John whined and begged into the sheets, arching back for more. Two of Bane’s large fingers made him feel full, but when a third began to push in John grunted as his muscles ached and burned. “Fuck,” John cursed, panting as he tried to focus on relaxing his body.

 

Bane was slow but relentless; he gave John the time he needed but continued to push forward. Slowly his three slick fingers inched in, John’s muscles being pried open by lust and determination. Bane was mostly silent as he worked, just the sound of metallic breathing behind John as he worked him open. His other hand continued to pump John’s cock slowly, squeezing or twisting his hand occasionally to get a startled yell and a groan from the sprawled detective.

 

It took a long time, but finally Bane had all three fingers shoved fully inside John’s body, knuckles against his ass. John let out a rushed breath and began to fuck himself back on those fingers; they were large enough that it already felt like he had a cock buried inside him. He was desperate for it, loving how full and taken he felt already, and took no shame in rutting back. Especially when Bane gave a pleasant hum and jerked his fingers forward in a rush, nudging against John’s prostate and leaving him arching for it.

 

John didn’t have to wait long before Bane grew impatient and withdrew his fingers. He liked how he could clench down and feel how wide he had been stretched, knowing his ass would be stuffed full of Bane’s massive girth soon. John rose onto his hands and knees for a moment, stretching his body out and putting on a display as he heard the wet sounds of Bane slicking up his own cock behind him.

 

Bane gave an appreciative growl and ran a hand over the swell of John’s ass. “I’m going to take you bare, John,” Bane told him. He sounded confident and determined, but John thought that Bane wouldn’t have said anything at all if he hadn’t cared enough about John’s opinion.

 

Back to resting his head on his arms, only his knees pushing his ass in the air in anticipation, John turned his head to look over his shoulder at Bane. He could feel a nervous drop in his stomach, paranoia eating at him. “Are you clean?” John was spread on the bed, quivering with desire, but he was still smart enough to care. He could see Bane’s whole body on display behind him, skin rippling over muscle and thick long cock hanging ready.

 

Bane tugged at his length a few times, staring at John’s ass. Then he paused and met John’s gaze. “My body has already been tarnished once. I would not let that happen again,” he said seriously.

 

John swallowed. He felt horrible for questioning Bane on this, but he had to ask. “You can’t always tell when someone…”

 

Bane towered over John and the detective gave a grunt of mixed fear and lust as Bane wrapped his body around John’s. Large hands pressed on his shoulders, keeping him pinned as Bane’s twitching cock rubbed against John’s thigh. “Do you think I fuck anyone who comes along?”

 

“I…” John hesitated and fought the urge to rut back against Bane’s insistent cock. “Have you not slept with any of your men?”

 

“Favouritism doesn’t promote camaraderie,” Bane said matter-of-factly.

 

John moaned when he felt Bane rest more weight on his body, crushing him to the mattress. “You favour me,” he commented weakly. He felt a little short on breath with Bane’s weight above him, but this made him feel good, engulfed in the best way.

 

“That is the point you should note,” Bane told him, muttering so close to John’s ear that he could feel the metal of the mask against his skin.

 

John shifted under Bane just to feel how large and warm and solid the man was, covering his body, consuming him. His heart was racing but not with fear. “You…” John licked his lips, shy with his new assumption. “You favour only me.”

 

“That I do,” Bane admitted, his hips swaying forward at an undemanding pace against John’s body now. “Does that bother you? That a monster has chosen you?”

 

John tried to shift over onto his back so he could meet Bane’s eyes, but Bane wouldn’t budge. John let out an annoyed huff and then sighed. “You’re not a monster.”

 

“With this mask?” Bane gave a sharp bark of laughter that came out harsh and angry through the mask. “I’m afraid I am.”

 

“You could take the mask off,” John suggested hesitantly. “Let it go, move on.”

 

One of Bane’s hands moved from John’s shoulder around to his face. John leaned forward and kissed the searching fingers, drawing them back to his lips. Bane brushed his lips for a few soft sweeps before he began to withdraw, pulling John back into his kneeling position as he went. “I’m going to make you mine,” Bane told him calmly.

 

John felt frustrated with Bane for avoiding the mask conversation, but he was desperate and burning with desire so he let it slide for the moment. His cock hung heavy, swollen and hard from being pinned down against the mattress. Bane’s cock moved from his thigh, leaving a wet smear there, before John felt the slick head pressed against his hole. Bane hesitated for just a second and John whispered, “I already am.”

 

His heart swelled when Bane gripped his hips a little tighter at those words. Then Bane’s hand was brushing over John’s back in soothing circles as he began to push his cock in. It felt even bigger than it had looked between Bane’s legs and John let out a gasp when just the head popped in. He could feel his muscles clenching around the thick flesh and it felt good, but it also made his spine ache as his muscles were forced to grant entrance. It was when Bane began to push in a little further, length slowly filling his body, that John’s back straightened and he gave a pained whimper.

 

Bane paused and then withdrew and John gave a small sob of disappointment when he felt his hole being left stretched and unused. “Fuck me,” he pleaded, frustrated at his body’s inability to take what he so desperately wanted.

 

The hand on his back continued to offer a comforting warmth while Bane’s other hand tugged at John’s length a few times to bring him back to full hardness. “Your body will take only what it can,” Bane told him quietly. The hushing noise he was making sounded like static and wasn’t very soothing, but the sentiment had John relaxing. “I will still take you.”

 

The blend of patience and lust in Bane’s words had John moaning again, pressing his ass back until he was rubbing against that thick cock. Instead of the cock he received fingers again, three slicked ones and then a fourth, spreading him even further than he thought was possible. John’s legs were spread wide, Bane helping to keep him up and stable, and his ass was already beginning to take on a pleasant ache of being used. Bane didn’t seem interested in rushing through this so it was left to John to eventually reach back to still Bane’s fingers. “Now, Bane. Please.”

 

On the second attempt Bane’s cock slid in easily, filling John and stretching his ass only slightly as he pushed in since four fingers had stretched him wide enough. When Bane was fully seated within John, on his knees behind him, hands on his hips, they both paused. And then Bane leaned his weight forward a bit more, slipping in an extra half inch, and John spasmed as he felt the head of Bane’s cock rub against the bundle of nerves deep inside his body. “There it is,” Bane whispered, rutting his hips forward just enough to continuously rub against John’s prostate a few times, leaving him writhing and gasping.

 

“Bane, I—” John bucked back, seeking more. He had never been fucked this way before, Bane’s cock spreading him open but barely moving as he rutted demandingly against John’s prostate. It left him breathless and unable to stay still, quickly fucking himself back on Bane’s cock just to feel more. The sheets were half torn from the mattress from his desperate, clutching fingers. “I can’t last long like that.”

 

“I won’t last long either with your tight body around me,” Bane told him, breathing a little louder and more ragged through the mask already. Bane wound a hand around John’s body to pinch at a nipple, rolling it between two fingers before moving down to fondle John’s cock again. “But you’re going to wait to come until I’ve already filled you, understand?”

 

John cursed and pressed back harder. “You better hurry up then.”

 

Bane took him seriously and pulled almost all the way out before thrusting all the way back in. John shouted words of nonsense and clenched his eyes closed, feeling his body wind tighter as a pressure began to build at the base of his spine. Bane’s thrusts were much different from anything else John had ever experienced; each one was calculated and demanding and rough. John would have been knocked halfway up the bed by that point with the force if Bane wasn’t holding him in place, keeping him there as he began to thrust in faster, deeper.

 

It felt amazing to have such a powerful force behind him, taking his body and claiming him. He liked to know that Bane wanted him, wanted only him, and was taking as much pleasure from this as John was. Bane was a bit quieter in his pleasure but it was still possible to hear his grunts and occasional moans as he thrust in deep and pulled John back to take even more, take it harder.

 

John was making little fucked out noises each time Bane thrust forward, knocking the air out of his lungs and leaving him panting and whining as he grabbed at the blankets and pushed back. He wanted it to last longer, loved every second of Bane’s strength and heat around him and in him, but he could already feel his body tightening, threatening to send him tumbling over the edge. He could tell Bane was getting close too, his thrusts more stuttered and losing their rhythm as he slammed forward.

 

The bed was creaking and John wondered briefly if there were new guards outside their room after the incident last week. The thought made him question why he was okay with this, being pinned down and taken so forcefully. But he realized that it was different with Bane. He had thought of this man taking him and it wasn’t forced; even when John had needed extra time to adjust Bane hadn’t pushed him before he was ready. He didn’t know where this would lead – though he hoped this wasn’t a one-time fling – but he knew that he wanted Bane’s weight and heat wrapped around him and spearing him open.

 

John wondered if any guards outside or any others in the hotel could hear their coupling. John wanted everyone to hear, wanted everyone to know that Bane had chosen him and that John wanted him in return.

 

Bane began grinding forward against John’s prostate again, strangled moans falling from John’s lips as frequently as his breath as Bane held his hips steady and shoved against him. “Bane, come on,” John pleaded, panting. He didn’t think he would be able to keep his knees under him if Bane wasn’t holding him up, keeping him in place to take more. “I need it.”

 

“You’re going to wait for me to fill you,” Bane ordered, voice rough and tense as he continued to thrust in and out. The sound of skin hitting skin filled the room as Bane’s hips collided with John’s ass over and over.

 

“I’m trying,” John sobbed, panting moist air against the mattress. His body was loose and pliant, left for Bane to hold and take as he pleased. “Please fill me.”

 

John,” Bane moaned, thrusting in with a jerk of his body, his whole weight bearing down onto John to shove his whole cock in as deep as possible. John could feel the head of Bane’s huge cock shoved against his prostate and clenched his ass down around the length, loving the ache of being so filled. Then he felt Bane’s flesh twitch inside him a second before his hot seed began to spill inside John.

 

John gave a cry and came with a full body shudder just at feeling Bane’s thick come gush inside him and fill him up. Bane was a large man but John had never thought that would affect the amount of come he spilled, but he quickly realized he had been wrong. The masked man continued to stutter his hips forward weakly even past the point where John collapsed from his own orgasm, his come splattered over his inner thighs and the duvet. There was so much come that John could feel it trickling out of his ass past Bane’s cock and begin trailing down his thighs. It wasn’t long before all of John’s thighs were coated in sticky, wet come.

 

When Bane finally finished, the last of his seed buried and deposited in John’s body, he pulled out and rolled over carefully before collapsing. John appreciated not having the huge man collapse on top of him, but he missed their contact immediately. With all the energy he had left, John crawled on top of Bane and then let himself fall, his arms and legs shaky and exhausted. Bane wrapped his arms around John almost too tightly and held him close, both of them breathing hard.

 

John stayed like that, his head tucked under Bane’s chin. Bane didn’t seem to mind John’s come-coated legs straddling him, and although the cold metal of Bane’s mask against the top of his head wasn’t the most comfortable, John didn’t want to be anywhere else. He shivered though, Bane’s heat only keeping his front warm while his back was exposed to the cool air. He got up just long enough to throw away the soiled duvet and pull up the clean sheets, cocooning himself and Bane together in the blankets. And then, with Bane’s hands holding him comfortingly close, John drifted off to sleep.

 

#

 

John woke with a grunt when he felt a finger prodding at his sore ass. He attempted to shift away and groaned louder when he felt how tired and achy his limbs were, his ass sore from abuse. Still Bane’s finger wandered, tracing the crack between his cheeks and pressing just his fingernail back into John’s dry hole. John whined and reached over to pin Bane’s arm to the mattress; it made him happy that Bane let himself be pinned. “What are you doing?” John grumbled.

 

“What do you think I’m doing?” Bane asked lightly. He lifted his arm with ease, taking John’s with him, and began teasing John’s hole again.

 

John shifted away again, further up Bane’s broad chest, and whined louder. “Stop, I’m too sore.”

 

Bane’s finger hesitated and then he moved his hand to rest on John’s ass. “I could force you.”

 

John had already tucking his head back under Bane’s chin, still tired from the previous night’s activities. “You wouldn’t.”

 

“But I could,” Bane pressed, squeezing John’s ass for emphasis.

 

John moaned softly at the sensation but closed his eyes, desiring sleep more than sex at that moment. “You could,” he agreed, “but you won’t.”

 

He smiled when Bane relented and moved his hand back up to John’s lower back, keeping him close and allowing him to fall back into sleep.

 

#

 

The snow was beginning to dust the city streets when John left the hotel on his own. He had remained in the hotel room for another week after Bane had started to claim him, allowing his body to recover and grow accustomed to the thick penetration. It wouldn’t end well if he went out in the streets and one of Bane’s men decided they didn’t like being cast off for a cop and John was unable to defend himself because his ass was too sore.

 

It had taken a while for his body to recover since Bane – the man with seemingly limitless patience and self control when it came to crime and vengeance and strategies – insisted on claiming John’s body every night. John couldn’t exactly complain – when he screamed into the pillows it was never for help – but it made him grumpy when his normally fit body betrayed him. He was used to taking care of himself and fighting crime; for that you needed to take care of your body. Any form of weakness that slowed him down was maddening.

 

Finally his body had adjusted to Bane’s girth though, accepting Bane more easily and with fewer aches the next day. He was moving around the hotel normally again, waking up each morning on or beside Bane and quite content. Bane took him out into the city again, getting him some warmer clothes against the ice in the air. They went back to the courts and watched for a long time. More than once Bane asked him if he wanted to go, but each time John shook his head.

 

He didn’t know what he was waiting for until he saw one of his senior officers being dragged into the courts and left on his knees. John remembered his name to be Charles. He wasn’t the happiest man, and certainly not the kindest, but he was a good cop. There was a gash across his forehead but he seemed aware, glancing around at the crowd and focusing on John with wide eyes.

 

John felt pinned in place, standing beside Bane with his body even tilted a little toward Bane in search of some warmth in the large room. He felt like Charles was examining him, taking in his position. Then his eyes narrowed in disgust. The man with the gavel – who John was almost positive had once been going by Scarecrow – was beginning his speech about Charles already being found guilty and now forcing him to choose a sentence, but the senior officer had eyes only for the young detective.

 

“Officer Blake,” the man said loudly, cutting across the murmuring crowd. John realized that many people probably didn’t know about his promotion to Detective since he disappeared so soon after the change in job title. “Explain yourself.”

 

Everyone quieted and turned to look at him then. A large portion of the crowd began to murmur when they noticed Bane standing there as well, towering over John. “I…” John began, knowing how this must look, wondering what he should say. He wouldn’t lie on Bane’s behalf, but he also wanted people to begin to realize that there was more to him than the mask. “I was captured but—”

 

“But what?” Charles snapped. “You struck a bargain and became this creature’s lapdog to save your own skin? Is this your daily walk as Bane’s pet?”

 

Bane gave a tiny growl, quiet enough that only John could hear. John brushed his hand across Bane’s arm to calm him. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he accused, even though he knew what people probably thought. He hated that people were always willing to make assumptions, rather than taking the time to gain the whole story.

 

“You abandoned your city!” Charles yelled, words echoing around the room. “You left it to burn to ash.”

 

Before John could respond, Scarecrow hit his gavel against some wood with an echoing crack. “I’ve had enough of this. Choose your sentence.”

 

Charles gave John one final, hard look and then turned to face forward. “Death. I don’t want to live in a city with cops as filthy as this.”

 

“Death it is,” the gavel slammed down again and a man peeled away from the crowd, gun raised.


“No!” John rushed forward, stopping to stand between the gunman and Charles. Even after what Charles had said, he couldn’t bear to see another cop killed, not if he could do anything about it.

 

“I don’t want your protection,” Charles yelled behind him, John’s eyes on the gun. “You disgust me.”

 

“Well this is the only protection you’ll get,” John shot back. His heart was pounding in his chest and he wondered if this was how it was going to end, if he was going to die saving an asshole superior who might be right about John but didn’t know the whole story. The gunman didn’t lower his weapon and John swallowed, preparing for the pain.

 

Then Bane stepped in front of John, taking the line of fire, and the gun finally dropped. John let out a sigh of relief. Bane didn’t even say anything, but suddenly Scarecrow hit the gavel again. “Get them all out of here. I’m done with this.”

 

Bane nudged John toward the door and grabbed Charles by the arm, dragging him out behind them. Once they were on the snowy street Bane deposited Charles on the curb and walked away, leaning against a wall a block away. John knelt down beside the senior officer. “Are you alright?” he asked, his own heart still racing.

 

Charles knocked his offered hand away and remained seated on the pavement. “You’ve forsaken us all, Blake. We all thought you were dead. Gordon has men looking all over the city for you. And now we find you’ve been holed up with this monster all along.”

 

“Where’s Gordon?” John asked quickly. He doubted he was going to get Charles to believe a word he said, but Commissioner Gordon would listen, if not believe him.

 

“You think I’d tell a traitor like you?” Charles laughed without humour. “Just shoot me now.”

 

“I’m not going to shoot you,” John said, disgusted.

 

Charles looked up at him with anger in his eyes. “You might as well have,” he said, and then pulled himself up and began walking away in the opposite direction from where Bane was leaning against the wall.

 

John stood as well, stretching out his stiff legs. He thought about calling out to Charles but didn’t bother; he was too angry and hurt to say anything productive. He knew Bane was waiting for him but John stood where he was for a long while as the wind swept light snow around him, chilling him. Finally he walked back to Bane and they headed back to the hotel together in silence.

 

When they were back in the room Bane slammed the door closed behind them. “Don’t do that again.”

 

John, already angry and hurt and ashamed, spun on his heel. “Don’t do what?”

 

“Walk in front of a gun,” Bane said. His voice was quiet but John could pick up on the unevenness of his words. Bane was angry.

 

“I was doing my job. I protect the innocent,” John snapped, voice growing louder. “I will always do my job! You can’t stop me this time!”

 

“I have never stopped you from doing anything,” Bane told him coolly, knowing the words would cut deep since they were true.

 

“You’re right,” John admitted bitterly. “And it’s time for me to finally start acting the way I should be again. I will protect this city to my dying breath.”

 

Stony silence was his response from Bane, who stood there by the door staring at John with unreadable eyes. John didn’t know what Bane was thinking, or why he had suddenly gone so quiet John couldn’t even hear his breathing. But before he could ask or say anything else, Bane turned and left the room. Left alone, John decided to turn on the television to see if he could gain any information about the city. It was that night when he saw the report that Charles had shot himself in the head earlier that evening, found dead in a gutter up in midtown.

 

It left him feeling heavy as he continued to watch the broadcasts. Interestingly there was also a quick shot of John standing outside the courts, taken after they left since no cameras were allowed inside the courts. John looked at the picture of himself beside Bane; they were such a bizarre pair, and he wondered if the way they stood a little too close together was as obvious to any random observer as it was to John. The detective felt his cheeks burn with embarrassment but he tried to think about the positive side of the broadcast. He didn’t know where Gordon was in the city, but maybe he had seen the broadcast or had talked to Charles before his death. Maybe he knew John was still alive and was looking for him.

 

It grew late and Bane didn’t return, so John eventually slipped into bed. He couldn’t sleep though, his mind buzzing with questions. He thought about Charles, and Gordon, and Bane. His friend had been so angry; angry enough to fall into silence. John wondered what he had done to upset Bane so badly, running over in his mind what had been said. He assumed Bane had been angry because he was worried about John, which brought a smile to his lips despite his sad thoughts, but he felt like there was more. It seemed like John’s words had triggered some sort of conflict in the larger man, and John had no idea what it was.

 

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the door opening and closing. When he glanced over at the clock he realized he had been lying in bed for over an hour, thinking and exhausting himself. Bane fell into bed but when John rolled over to look, he saw that Bane was lying on his back and was not on his side facing John. John was not welcome. Disappointed and still tense but also exhausted, John rolled again to face away from Bane and finally willed himself to sleep.

 

The next morning came too quickly, John feeling tired and restless after a night of light sleeping and confusing dreams. For the first time in almost two weeks, John found the bed empty when he rubbed sleep from his eyes. It left him feeling sad and alone and he fought the urge to shift over to lie on Bane’s side of the bed, just to feel closer. But Bane was awake and over by the desk, back to reading, and John didn’t want to look any more pathetic than he already felt.

 

He dragged himself out of bed and into the shower, unable to face Bane right away. Eventually his hunger forced him back into the main room though as he grabbed something to eat. He offered some food to Bane out of courtesy and an opportunity to say something casual to him, but Bane didn’t even look up from his book. John’s sadness was quickly being bolstered by a growing sense of loneliness that would not be brushed aside by the reminder that Bane really should be his enemy.

 

By the time he was done eating, the room still uncomfortably silent, John had had enough of the hotel room. He thought back to Charles’ words, and even to Bane’s, reminding John that he couldn’t give up the fight. And now there was a chance that the Commissioner was out searching for him, or was at least aware of the fact that he was alive; maybe John could pick up the fight again. He still didn’t know how exactly he planned to fight for the city when it set Bane back into the role of villain, but he couldn’t sit by and do nothing. It was time for him to step up.

 

Decision made, John cleared his throat. Bane didn’t look up. “Bane,” John said, trying to be patient. Still the other man didn’t glance up from his book, merely flipped a page. Feeling his heart clench painfully at being so blatantly ignored, John gave an upset huff. He was going to attempt to maintain some tact and diplomacy but now he didn’t really care how his words came out. “Can I leave?”

 

This caught Bane’s attention, drawing his eyes up from the book. John could see hurt there, leaving Bane’s face tense, but John was hurt too and he needed to get some fresh air before he snapped and really said something he didn’t mean. “You have always been allowed to leave,” Bane told him blandly.

 

John’s mouth twisted into an unhappy grimace. “But do you think your men will leave me alone after you...” he trailed off, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. With such pain and tension between them, it felt odd to discuss their coupling. “When you laid claim to me?”

 

Bane turned back to his book, though John was almost positive that he wasn’t actually reading the words in front of him. “I guess you’ll have to take your chances,” Bane said back, not sounding too troubled.

 

John hated himself for it, but he felt close to tears. In order to avoid doing something as utterly embarrassing as sobbing in front of Bane about being ignored, he strode over to the closet and pulled on his coat, hat and gloves. He could see the light flurries of snow falling past the window in the morning light and he had no idea how long he would be out in the cold. Once he was dressed he paused by the door and looked over to Bane one more time. Again the masked man didn’t look up and, unable to take anymore, John slipped out of the room in search of a distraction.

 

He wandered the streets for hours with no real purpose. He had been expecting to enjoy this walk – the first one he had made alone and free in a while – but it just left him depressed. First he headed east to get back into his flat, though he found that someone had broken in during the last month and a bit he had been missing. All of his valuables were gone, including his phone, but everything else had been left. John filled a duffle bag with his two old sketchbooks as well as a few books he had been meaning to read and decided he should probably start working on in case things turned bad for him. He also grabbed his spare gun and holster, strapping it onto his hip, some clothes that would actually fit him properly, food for his walk and a few other non-essential niceties.

 

He felt safer walking the streets with a gun on his hip, even though he would never use it unless absolutely necessary. He noticed a few people watch him for too long as he passed, though with street clothes on it was impossible to tell who was friend and who was foe. The detective remained alert of his surroundings as he kicked up snow from the sidewalk, wandering. He had no way of knowing where Gordon was, and he didn’t think anyone would trust him enough to tell him. All he could do was hope that Gordon was still looking for him and would grab him.

 

Luckily enough, that’s exactly what ended up happening; though John would have been much happier if it had happened earlier. He had been walking out in the cold for nearly three hours when he heard a familiar distress whistle the police had adopted. He paused mid step and turned, glancing down into the darkened alley until an unknown man stepped far enough out of the shadows to be seen. John felt a little nervous following the stranger, edgy in the quiet, near-abandoned streets, but he trusted that whistle and he didn’t have much choice.

 

The man did not lead him astray and before long John found himself being led into a small basement storage facility, Commissioner Gordon sitting down there with a few other slightly familiar faces John recognized from before this whole mess of a situation. Everyone quieted down when they saw John and the detective felt a jolt of unhappiness tumble through him.

 

Bane was angry with him, wouldn’t talk to him and seemed happy to send him out into danger. John had just been beginning to recognize the sense of warmth and belonging that filled him when he was with Bane, and now it was taken away. Not worse, but just as unpleasant, John had now returned to his own people, the people he was supposed to belong with, and they fell silent with distrust at the sight of him. John took all that pain and did his best to bury it down deep; he had to focus and talk to Gordon about what had happened, about what he had learned, and about what he could do to begin helping this city.

 

Much to John’s relief, Gordon ushered everyone else out of the room. Then he pushed a chair out for John to take at the table. “It’s been a while, Detective,” Gordon began, hinting but not demanding.

 

John sat down and nodded, silent for a moment as he tried to get his thoughts in order. He wanted to be careful about what he said. He didn’t want a bunch of police officers running off to the hotel in an attempt to arrest Bane; that wouldn’t end well for anyone, and John couldn’t bear to see Bane and his fellow officers injured or killed. Even now, sitting in front of his boss and a man he admired, John wasn’t ready to set Bane up for a slaughter; he had to make sure Gordon understood that there was more to the man than the mask.

 

He explained everything that had happened to him, about being attacked in the street and getting dragged to Bane. He told Gordon about Bane’s method of manipulating John into staying, but also mentioned how it was probably only because of Bane that he was still alive. After that he talked about what it was like living with Bane and what he had seen at the courts, and also gave a brief recollection of his run-in with the guards. John fell silent though when his memory returned to what had happened after that, Bane kissing him and both of them getting tangled in the sheets.

 

John fought down the blush before it could redden his cheeks, and he looked up at Gordon. He felt his stomach twist nervously when he saw the look on the Commissioner’s face. There was a calculating look there, Gordon tapping his fingers against the table has he thought. “We all worried you were dead,” Gordon told him. “And we could really have used your help. Bane’s been in control of this city for over four months now and we still haven’t gotten anything under control.”

 

“Let me help,” John sat on the edge of his chair, desperate for an assignment. He had been absent for a month while his city suffered; he wanted to do whatever he could. He noticed Gordon hesitating immediately, his mouth tightening and his eyes glancing away. Angry hopelessness filled John. He was doing his best to help despite his difficult situation but everyone was pushing him away! “I came here to help,” he said more strongly, leaning forward. He needed someone to accept him, to let him in and help.

 

“But you must be able to understand why we hesitate,” Gordon spoke carefully, looking back at John; at least he was willing to meet his gaze. “You’ve been gone for over a month and stuck with Bane. We have no idea how you’ve reacted to being kept hostage, and we also have to wonder why he’s suddenly let you leave. He could be trying to use you as a double agent to collect information, or to get you to lead him to us. We’re already taking a risk.”

 

For the second time that day, John felt like his heart was being torn in half. His chest felt tight and his heart ached. “Gordon...” John whispered but then fell silent as he felt his throat tighten, though he refused to cry.

 

“Maybe if you told me the whole story...” the Commissioner prompted, not unkindly. “If you explained to me why it sounds like you’re fighting both sides of this war inside you.”

 

John swallowed and looked at his hands, resting in his lap to keep himself from fidgeting. “There’s more to him – Bane – than you realize,” John offered hesitantly. If he screwed this up, Gordon would have him thrown out if not worse. “I can’t deny or defend what he’s done. But he’s a man under that mask. He’s told me a lot about his childhood and I don’t know everything, but he doesn’t seem fully dedicated to this fight. I’m beginning to think there’s another driving force behind this attack on the city.”

 

“He still did all those things,” Gordon reminded him. “He has killed people. He has set off explosions. He has kidnapped you and torn this city down.”

 

“Do you fault a front man?” John grumbled, still looking at his hands.

 

“Of course we do, Blake,” the Commissioner reminded him. “He’s still making his own choice to take part in this and play a role.” Gordon ran his fingers through his hair and sighed. “Don’t fall in love with a man who’s beyond saving.”

 

John’s head snapped up, his heart stopping. “I’m not—!” he stuttered. “I’m not falling in love with him!” Gordon gave him a disbelieving look and John stood so quickly that he knocked his chair over. He righted it quickly and began to pace, tugging at the cuffs of his jacket. “I mean, I hate to admit it, but it’s probably Stockholm syndrome or something...” John suggested weakly, even though he felt his chest clench painfully at the words. They didn’t feel true even as he voiced them.

 

“John,” Gordon spoke quietly to catch his attention. “People with Stockholm syndrome aren’t usually willing to admit that their captor has faults or could be wrong. They just defend their captors; there’s no real understanding or belief that they did anything wrong. But you’re standing here asking me how to help the city, and how to stop Bane. At the same time,” Gordon motioned John back down into his seat. “You want to try to save this man. Tell me, Detective,” fingers drummed against the table again. “Have you ever been in love before?”

 

John rubbed the back of his neck nervously, feeling the scar of his healed wound, remembering that first time Bane had shown even a sliver of interest in him. Despite Bane’s attitude right before John left the hotel, the memory made him feel a bit calmer. “I don’t know.”

 

“Take it from me,” Gordon rested a comforting hand on John’s knee, drawing his attention. “Love is when you see someone’s faults and you want to try to help them become a better person, and protect them when times get difficult. But you care for them and love them no matter what.”

 

The detective was sure to keep his hands clenched tightly in his lap so that his trembling was less obvious. “I can’t be in love with him.”

 

Gordon shrugged and pat John’s knee. “Perhaps you see something in him that none of us see. Maybe you’ve done something to earn enough of his trust to be shown what none of us are allowed to see.”

 

John laughed and winced when it sounded more like a confused sob. “I guess you definitely won’t be letting me help out now,” he muttered. He wasn’t going to agree with Gordon outright – he still had to sit down and think about this. But his words were enough of an admission to the fact that he knew he was at least in danger of being in love with Bane. At this point there were so many emotions filling him up – confusion, shame, uncertainty, frustration – that he just wanted to leave.

 

But Gordon wasn’t done with him. “I can’t give you any detailed information right now, no,” he explained, having the decency to sound apologetic. “But if you prove you’re still reliable and trustworthy we can see what you can do to help us with our investigation.” John had no idea how he was going to prove that he was trustworthy, but he nodded his understanding. “However, there are still many things you can do to help this city. There are a bunch of people without basic necessities, and I would feel safer with another cop watching the streets. As long as you don’t think this will lead Bane to harm you in any way,” Gordon added worriedly.

 

“Bane wouldn’t hurt me.” John shook his head, a ghost of a smile on his lips with his certainty. He noticed Gordon’s surprised look and shrugged a shoulder. He just knew.

 

Gordon offered a tiny, fleeting smile. “I believe you, actually. I saw that report saying that Bane stood in front of a loaded gun for you.”

 

John blushed at the implication of that action, but he also felt a nervous suspicion settle in the pit of his stomach. “I don’t want anyone following me back,” he warned.

 

The Commissioner nodded his agreement. Whether he was agreeing because he feared putting his men or John in danger, or if he actually was respecting John’s wishes to protect Bane as best he could, John didn’t care at that moment. “If you ever need to find me again, look for the little white bat symbols. You’ll figure out the pattern. And John,” Gordon called after him as John stood to leave, ready to head back. John looked back over his shoulder. “Good luck.”

 

“Thank you,” John ducked his head slightly before heading back out into the cold.

 

John was sick of the cold and made as much of a beeline back to the hotel as he dared. He took a few detours and paused occasionally to ensure no one was trailing him back, but as soon as he was sure he was safe he ran the rest of the way. He climbed halfway up to Bane’s room and then sat in the stairwell, letting the hotel’s warmth thaw him again as he thought. He was so angry that no one seemed to trust him, even though he understood why; he hadn’t asked for this! And what Gordon had said... Could he really be in love with Bane?

 

The very thought seemed absurd when he thought about what Bane had done to this city without any noticeable qualms. But then he remembered all his private moments with the masked man; Bane taking care of his head wound, saving him from those guards, trusting him with Osito and some childhood stories... walking in front of a gun for John. The subdued affection in some of those moments had the detective’s heart fluttering as he remembered them; he couldn’t even hold down his smile.

 

Thinking of this, of all the time he had spent with Bane, made John begin to realize that Bane might wear two masks instead of just one. After having a childhood like that, and whatever else happened to the man between prison and Gotham, John was positive that Bane would have needed to learn how to hide his emotions and distance himself from any pain or anger just to keep from snapping.

 

John began to ask himself: who was Bane, really? Was he the masked monster who could twist a man’s neck in front of an entire stadium and set off a bomb without blinking? Was he the oversized protector who just wanted to be left alone to read books? Or was he just a man, hardened enough to kill someone in order to protect a detective he had grown fond of, but lonely and desperate for someone to see that there was more there?

 

When he thought about it, really thought about it, John realized that the answer was quite obvious. Of course there was more there – everyone had a set of masks they wore, even if they weren’t physical metal and leather. John had done something to earn enough of Bane’s trust to be shown some of what was underneath, and John wanted to know even more. Bane had been alone for so much of his life; now John wanted to be there with him. He was... He was falling in love and he didn’t want it to stop.

 

With renewed energy, John stood up and climbed the remaining flights of stairs. Although there had been a few guards in the hotel lobby, he didn’t run into anyone on Bane’s floor. John rushed up to Bane’s room and slipped inside, dropping his duffle bag carelessly before glancing around. What caught his eye sent his heart up into his throat.

 

Bane was sitting in John’s chair by the balcony window, flipping through pages of John’s sketchbook with Osito seated on his thigh, leaning back against him. It was such an oddly intimate and childlike moment but it left John worried; Bane’s eyes looked sad. Before anything else, John stepped over to the desk and set his gun down beside the forgotten switchblade; even if Bane wasn’t watching him, he didn’t want to have a weapon so close to Bane. Once that was finished he hesitantly crossed the room.

 

As he approached, Bane spoke without looking up. “You came back.”

 

John paused a few feet away from Bane. It felt like there was so much more between them than a few feet of empty air. “Of course I came back,” he answered, taken off guard by Bane’s obvious surprise. Something clicked in John’s mind. “You thought I had left for good,” he murmured, beginning to understand.

 

Why did you come back?” Bane questioned him, turning a page in the sketchbook carefully. This page, like many others, had a sketch of Bane’s mask on one page and John’s guess of what Bane might look like without the mask on the other, trying to separate the two and understand each part of a whole. “Has the honourable Commissioner sent you back to collect more information? To kill me in my sleep, perhaps? Or maybe I should be preparing for that door to get knocked down any second after you lead them here.” Bane’s voice was deadly calm.

 

“Bane...” John began nervously, taking a few steps closer. “I made sure no one followed me back.” He took another step forward and then stopped, his knees almost brushing against Bane’s. Finally Bane looked up at him, eyes clouded and unreadable. “I want to learn more about you but to help me understand you, not for the police. It’s just us. I won’t let them harm you.”

 

“You’re not doing a very good job of protecting your precious city then,” Bane accused.

 

John swallowed a snarl. “I’m doing the best I can!” he defended. “And you’re not making things any easier.” To his surprise, instead of standing and leaving or retorting with words possessing a vicious sting, Bane merely looked away to stare out the window. All the anger inside John slipped away as fluidly as water. He took another step closer, standing between Bane’s knees, and turned Bane’s face toward him with a hand on his cheek. “I’ve hurt you,” John whispered with certainty, reading Bane’s now-open expression. “You really thought I wasn’t coming back.”

 

“You shouldn’t have come back,” Bane told him, not fighting John’s touch.

 

“Why?” John asked, brushing his thumb along Bane’s cheekbone and up to his temple, soothing the skin he could reach.

 

“Because you’re making things terribly difficult for me as well,” Bane admitted, eyes slipping closed at John’s caress. John felt like he had been struck by lightning and, feeling brave, he leaned down and pressed his lips against the mask where Bane’s lips would be. It felt odd to have his cheeks framed by the metal tubing on Bane’s mask, and it made him antsy that he couldn’t actually feel Bane’s lips, but he didn’t pull away. In fact, he held Bane closer and leaned into it, ensuring that Bane knew exactly what he was doing.

 

When he felt Bane’s large hands wrap around him, grip at the jacket John hadn’t even taken time to remove yet, John knew that Bane was kissing him back even if he couldn’t feel their lips touch. Wanting to be closer, John pulled away just long enough to throw off his coat and move the sketchbook and Osito onto the bedside table before crawling into Bane’s lap. The chair creaked warningly but neither of them paid it any mind as John pressed his lips against metal again.

 

Bane had the strength to take John’s weight and fight off gravity to keep him close, their chests pressed together while Bane’s hands held John carefully, hands splayed across his back. He could feel Bane dragging him closer, clinging to him, and John decided that he wanted to take care of the other man this time. He pulled away enough to meet Bane’s eyes, knowing Bane would be able to see his cheeks flushing at the thought of what he wanted to do. “Let me take care of you,” he pleaded, slowly rolling his hips forward as Bane’s hands trailed down to hold his hips.

 

Bane gave a groan and, although he hesitated, he nodded. It was enough of an admittance of trust that John lunged forward to kiss Bane again, and then grabbed one of Bane’s hands to kiss the pads of his calloused fingers. He would never forget the way Bane chose to kiss him, and if this was all Bane was ever able to give him, it would be enough. He actually heard Bane moan softly which had John smiling against his palm, and then finally he withdrew and slid to his knees between Bane’s spread legs.

 

John tried to calm his breathing, nervous as hell but eager as well and turned on by Bane allowing him to do this. He felt himself calming more when Bane began threading his fingers through John’s hair, taking advantage of the growing length since John hadn’t gotten it cut in a few months. His hair wasn’t long enough to curl around fingers, but it could be gripped lightly. John gave a pleased moan when he felt the light tug of Bane keeping him close and encouraging him.

 

With shaking fingers John reached forward and undid the button and zipper of Bane’s pants. He tugged at the fabric until Bane lifted his hips and his pants and underwear got bunched up around his thighs. Bane’s fingers continuing to stroke and tug at John’s hair kept him calm as John reached forward and wrapped a hand around Bane’s half hard cock; even with it mostly flaccid John could still only just wrap his hand around the entire girth.

 

He slid his hand up and down, once, twice, and then paused long enough to spit on his palm to make his hand glide against flesh. He liked feeling Bane’s length twitch and swell in his hand, immediately interested and turned on by John’s actions, and he loved hearing Bane moan for him. Bane slid a little further down in the chair, his legs spread to accommodate John, and ran his fingers through John’s hair constantly but without rushing him. John was actually a little surprised that this was making Bane so much more vocal than when they were in bed, and John liked to hope that it had something to do with Bane responding to John taking a more active role.

 

Pleased and encouraged, John continued to stroke Bane’s length as he worked the man to full hardness. Soon Bane was hot and heavy in John’s hand, which could not fully circle the man’s cock. He began twisting his grip as he continued to pump his fist, making sure all flesh received equal stimulation. Then he skimmed his palm around the thick, swollen head and Bane gave a grunt and lifted his hips. Smirking now, John repeated this movement before sliding his hand back down and leaning forward to lick up the underside of Bane’s cock on the next upstroke.

 

John,” Bane moaned through his mask, voice low and rough and breathless. John moaned in return, feeling his own cock press desperately against his pants’ zipper as it began smearing precome over his underwear. He greedily bucked his hips forward to rut against the tight fabric of his pants as he continued to work on Bane, using both hands now along with his tongue to stroke across his wide girth.

 

When Bane was fully hard, John paused for a second to survey his work, ignoring Bane’s impatient growl above him. Bane was thick and long and John had no hope of ever deep-throating him the way he had fantasized doing, but if he used both his hands and his mouth at the same time he thought he could make it work. John shuffled closer on his knees and flicked his tongue against the slit of Bane’s cock, tasting salty precome already. The larger man lifted his hips and John pulled back, waiting until Bane looked down the length of his body to meet John’s eyes.

 

“You’re going to have to be careful,” John warned him, very aware of the fact that he didn’t have the strength to keep Bane’s hips pinned. “I want to do this and I’m trusting you.”

 

Bane’s fingers brushed along John’s lips fleetingly, which John took as agreement. Working himself up to what he was about to do, John spent a few moments sucking and licking up the length of the massive cock twitching in his hand, teasing the ridge and the pulsing veins until precome was trickling down and making his fingers sticky. That was when he finally wrapped his hands solidly around Bane’s girth to keep him angled forward and let his mouth descend.

 

He suckled at the head for a minute, letting himself make noise since each sound of lips sucking flesh had Bane’s hips stuttering up. He tongued the slit and felt more precome gush onto his tongue, reminding John of how much come he was going to receive at the end of this. Still a bit nervous but hot and eager as well, John finally began to take more into his mouth, letting his lips spread slowly around Bane’s cock.

 

It was difficult getting his mouth to open wide enough to take Bane in, cradling the thick cock on his tongue and trying to make enough room in his mouth while avoiding teeth. In the end he only managed to get about half of Bane’s cock shoved into his mouth and he already felt his jaw begin to ache at the strain. But the way Bane was gripping at the chair’s arm hard enough that it was beginning to bend had John’s hips bucking against his pants more desperately, so turned on by Bane’s obvious pleasure.

 

John wrapped his hands around the untouched half of Bane’s cock, curling his fingers tightly around flesh to squeeze and stroke slightly. Then he began bobbing his head quickly, taking Bane’s cock in and out of his mouth as far as he could go, his lips straining and the head of Bane’s cock nudging precome against the roof of his mouth on each downward suck. After every few bobs of his head he had to pause and breathe through his nose before he got dizzy, but it was worth it to hear Bane groan and pant as he waited impatiently for more.

 

He began to coordinate his movements and stroke Bane’s length with his mouth and hands together, all down, suck, all back up, tongue at slit, all down. The fingers in his hair tugged a little more demandingly now, though Bane was clearly doing his best to keep from lifting his hips and forcing his cock down John’s throat, avoiding choking him. John knew Bane wasn’t going to last much longer judging by the way he couldn’t keep still in the chair and the fact that Bane – quiet, thoughtful, secretive Bane – was muttering John’s name every few minutes.

 

John looked up through his lashes, catching Bane’s gaze as he watched John suck him off. Immediately Bane bucked under him and threw his head back, grunting loudly as his body tensed up. Knowing Bane was on the edge and wanting to push him over, John took a deep breath and pushed his mouth down farther. It hurt and he felt tears spill from his eyes but he took Bane all the way to the back of his throat, his whole mouth spread wide open for his girth, and then he sucked and withdrew.

 

Halfway back, his mouth still shoved full of Bane’s cock, he felt Bane tense and twitch. The hand in his hair moved to hold the back of his head, keeping him in place. John didn’t fight it as he felt come begin to rush into his mouth, hot ropes of the sticky liquid coating his mouth and tongue. He remained where he was for as long as he could, swallowing around Bane’s cock to try to handle all the seed, but that just seemed to draw more sticky heat from the twitching slit.

 

Eventually John had to pull back, excess come trickling past his lips and down his chin onto the carpet. He closed his eyes and gasped for air even as Bane continued to ride his orgasm, a few more streaks of hot come splattering across John’s cheeks and forehead before the last few drops slid back down Bane’s length and over John’s fingers. John collapsed against Bane’s knee, dragging air into his lungs weakly and listening to Bane say his name like it alone brought him more pleasure.

 

Before either of them really recovered, John felt hands under his arms hoisting him up. “Bane?” was all he managed before Bane tore off his pants and underwear and sat him down forcefully in his lap.

 

“You don’t need my cock today, do you,” Bane asked, although it didn’t sound like a question; he sounded certain. John whined at Bane’s confidence and thick growl. “You can come on my fingers,” Bane said as he began brushing his come off John’s face, coating his fingers with the sticky liquid.

 

John opened his eyes once Bane had cleaned off his face, taking in Bane’s flushed skin and wide, dark eyes. “I can,” John agreed, moaning softly when he felt Bane trail his fingers down his spine and press against his hole. Bane pressed two coated fingers in right away and John arched his back, scrabbling at Bane’s shirt to hold on and keep him close as he whined in the back of his throat and took it.

 

It burned slightly but John wanted it so desperately that he rocked his hips back down, fucking himself open on Bane’s fingers as he panted. Bane only managed to get two fingers shoved all the way in and thrust a few times before John arched violently and screamed as he came across Bane’s black sweater. He whimpered, oversensitive as Bane pushed his fingers against John’s prostate twice more, pushing two more streams of come onto his shirt as John rested against him and shuddered.

 

Bane removed his fingers and held John close as they both relaxed, their hearts beating together as they slowly returned to a normal tempo. At some point Bane stood up, John still in his arms as he was carried to the washroom. He was deposited in the tub and left to relax and wash up; he asked Bane to join him but the masked man gave a sad shake of his head and left. John realized that Bane didn’t want to get in with the mask but was also unwilling to take it off in front of John, and the detective relented. It made him sad that Bane still felt the need to wear the mask, but he wasn’t going to push him.

 

John actually decided to have a bath since he was already seated and he didn’t think his legs could hold is weight right away. He threw away his shirt as the tub filled and then he cleaned himself off and dozed in the warm water for a while, feeling utterly sated. He was so relieved that Bane had taken him back; John felt like he might actually belong somewhere – by Bane’s side. And Bane’s admission that John was making things difficult for him as well, hinting that John might not be the only one coming to terms with these new feelings, left him hopeful and happy.

 

After a while John pulled himself out of tub and emptied the water, towelling himself dry. He smiled when he saw that Bane had left him another change of clothes just inside the door. They were the old clothes John had gotten from the ransacked store, which meant Bane had respected his privacy and not gone through his duffle bag. Dressed, John headed back out into the room and found Bane looking through more of his sketchbook. “I grabbed some of my old drawings if you want to look,” he offered shyly as he stepped closer.

 

“Yes, I would,” Bane confessed without any hesitation, lifting his eyes to watch John approach.

 

Made confident by Bane’s own confidence, John stepped forward and kissed the mask again, briefly but strongly. Then he pulled away and smiled. “Go wash off. I need to get something to eat anyway.” He could see that Bane had shucked his come-covered shirt but knew the larger man would still probably want to shower; he hadn’t been joking when he talked about wanting to keep his body clean and untarnished.

 

John ate dinner alone, accustomed to it now, and then sketched some of the cityscape he had passed that day while Bane showered and then ate. That night they fell into bed together, curled up in the centre of the bed, and John fell asleep feeling Bane’s affectionate fingers brush his lips.

 

#

 

Time passed quickly as the snow continued to fall in Gotham. It had been over four months since Bane took control over this city, over four months since Batman had disappeared without a trace. The city had grown accustomed to this new lifestyle of living on what they could find and accepting the fear in their hearts that came from being powerless. John had been with Bane for nearly two months, no longer a captive but with him by choice, and he began to wish they had had more time.

 

Bane hadn’t said anything to him but John could sense a tone of finality in the air; the end was coming soon, regardless of what actually happened. It made John clingier as he stayed close to Bane’s side as often as he could, sharing moments of warmth and comfort. They slept in the middle of the bed every night and talked every day. Bane had taken a strong interest in John’s old sketchbooks, asking about a few random drawings with genuine interest. John liked knowing that Bane found him just as interesting as the detective found Bane, and he was happy to share some stories as they grew closer.

 

As time went on though, both John and Bane found themselves to be increasingly busy during the days. John was the first to leave routinely, bundling himself up before heading out to patrol the streets. He did his best to keep innocent people in their homes and safe when they were foolish enough to wander about, while warning off any thugs he ran into. Gotham was a scary place by that point, even some normal citizens taking advantage to pillage and run rampant. It wasn’t long before John remembered his old orphanage and began making it his main stop, ensuring they had enough to eat and stay warm. Time would slip by quickly there since he would stay and play some games with the boys, trying to reassure them that things would be okay again someday.

 

Bane began making routine disappearances as well. Sometimes he would leave before John did, and other times John would return to an empty room. However, they always woke up together and made love under the sheets before falling asleep together. John asked where Bane was disappearing to every once in a while, even though he knew he would never get any real details. Sometimes Bane would say ‘the courts’ and other times he would simply say ‘the city’ without giving any specifications.

 

It was frustrating, especially since John told Bane about patrolling the streets and helping take care of the orphan boys, but he knew there was a careful balance he had to maintain ever since Bane learned John had had contact with the police. At some point John was forced to admit to himself that he would probably never gain Bane’s full trust, that the man had been hurt too many times to give John everything, even if he wanted to. John did his best to be happy with what they could share despite the battling outside their hotel room.

 

This war for Gotham had been going on for so long that it was surprisingly easy to forget the details. John went out and patrolled and took down a few men wrecking havoc and killing mindlessly, but it was easy to forget that they were Bane’s men. He began helping Gordon get food and supplies to the cops trapped below ground; he assumed he proved his trustworthiness to the Commissioner when Bane and his men didn’t show up at the little hideaway he had used for talking with John. It was easy to ignore that helping Gordon and the cops meant hindering Bane, rather than just a masked villain.

 

John wanted to forget, even though he knew it was foolish and cowardly of him. He wanted to be able to curl up with Bane and tell himself that it would all be alright, that everything would get sorted and they could stay like that forever. John wasn’t one to hide from reality though and in the end he wouldn’t let himself forget, even if he could. He reminded himself daily that he was fighting for a city and a man all at once and that he might not be able to have both, even though it tore at his heart.

 

Bane seemed to sense this turmoil and their melancholy infected the other. Their touches were softer now, their looks lingered, and each time Bane claimed him John got choked up with the feeling that it was their last time. Finally it came to a head one night as they lay in bed together but couldn’t sleep. John’s mind was racing even though he was exhausted and Bane looked just as anxious, neither of them able to stay still.

 

Bane’s voice startled John from his thoughts. “John.”

 

The detective lifted his head off the pillow to look over at Bane. “Yeah?”

 

There was a long pause of silence and John forced himself to be patient. “Can I tell you a story?”

 

“Always,” John said immediately. Bane reached for him as John moved closer and it took mere seconds for John to get situated on top of Bane. They hadn’t had sex that night but they were both naked, having grown addicted to the sensation of their skin pressed together. Neither of them showed any shame now as their naked forms melded into one. 

 

The moon was a sliver that night, making it harder to see in the dark. John lifted a hand to stroke over Bane’s cheeks, comforting and soothing away the anguished lines on Bane’s face. Then he let Bane manoeuvre him until he was lying down, rising and falling with Bane’s breathing; this was going to be a long story. “Do you remember when I told you about the scars on my back? I mentioned that I found something that I thought could bring me redemption.” John nodded against Bane’s chest. “Well, it wasn’t a something. It was a someone.”

 

John tensed and tried to pull away immediately, the bitter taste of jealousy on his tongue. It was only Bane’s strength that kept him in place, holding him against Bane’s chest until he stopped trying to escape. Then two warm hands smoothed over his bare back, calming him. “A child,” Bane clarified. John was grateful that the masked man didn’t sound angry or teasing at John’s assumption and reaction.

 

John let Bane sooth him for another few minutes, enjoying those calloused fingers running against his skin as he drew his own circles on Bane’s shoulder and collarbone where he could reach. Bane didn’t say anything else, waiting for John to ask more if and when he was ready. John relished in Bane’s closeness for a few minutes, and the knowledge that they had somehow crossed over an invisible barrier; Bane was now seeking him out to share a story. Then, finally, he kissed Bane’s skin and asked, “A child?”

 

Bane took a deep breath and held it, keeping John aloft until Bane exhaled and they settled back closer to the mattress. “I told you that I was injured badly in prison, but I didn’t tell you why or how. It was saving this child. She was born in prison and I thought if I protected her and got her to a better world, a world she deserved, it might atone for some of the things I had done. For the most part they left her alone, but things were violent there and fights broke out often. One day a bad one started and the whole prison was fighting; they wouldn’t care if they killed a child,” Bane whispered, never pausing as he traced John’s spine up and down, a line he knew intimately by now. “I got her to the ledge so she could climb out, but they nearly tore me apart because of it.”

 

John wound his arms around Bane, staying close. “That was when the doctor gave you the drug,” he filled in on his own, murmuring against Bane’s skin. “The Venom healed your body but nearly killed you and you spent months getting off it.”

 

“That’s right,” Bane agreed. “She escaped and I fought death and I thought that was the end of it. But then she came back for me, with her father, and they helped me escape. I thought I had gotten a second chance at redemption. I thought that if I became her protector again and acted as I had before the doctor had forced me to take Venom, I could shrug off the drug’s tarnish. I could be the man I was before; maybe not the most innocent of men, but human at least.”

 

“You are human, Bane,” John insisted, his heart aching at Bane’s belief that he wasn’t.

 

Bane was silent again for a few minutes, considering John’s words. When he spoke again, he didn’t acknowledge the smaller man’s words. He merely continued on with his story. “Unfortunately, by the time they rescued me from prison, even though I had fought off the withdrawal symptoms of the Venom and didn’t need to take it anymore, the pain never fully faded. As thanks for protecting his daughter, the father crafted this mask for me to administer a weak doze of morphine to make the pain more bearable.”

 

John sat up fully, seated on Bane’s stomach with his hands holding him aloft against Bane’s chest. “Even now...?” he barely had the heart to ask, one hand lifting to cup Bane’s cheek, hand touching both skin and mask. The thought that Bane was in pain now – was always suffering – made John feel utterly powerless and heartbroken. A thumb brushed under his eye and only then did John realize a single stray tear had slipped past his lashes. He blinked, swallowing around the lump in his throat and forcing the rest of his tears down, turning to nuzzle Bane’s hand. “I’m so sorry.”

 

“Don’t apologize, John,” Bane told him softly, caressing John’s cheek. “You should know that when I’m with you, I sometimes think I don’t even need the mask anymore. You take my pain away more fully than the medication ever did.”

 

John leaned closer, his forehead pressed against Bane’s, his nose crushed uncomfortably against the mask. His hands framed Bane’s face, holding the man and the mask, and tried to keep his breathing somewhat even. He knew he would sound irrational and naive, but he whispered the truth against the metal tubing of Bane’s mask. “I want to save you.”

 

“Have you considered that I might be beyond saving?” Bane asked gravely, as though he had already considered this and come to a conclusion.

 

“You’re not,” John held on tighter, mindless, desperate. “I need you to stay with me. I need you.”

 

Bane’s hands moved to rest on John’s back and fell still. John felt a sickening twist in his stomach, picking up on Bane’s tension and unease. “There is a reason I’m telling you this now, John,” Bane told him seriously. “Many years of planning are finally coming to a head, and I think it is time for us to part ways,” Bane whispered, his voice numb and uneven.

 

No!” John yelled, sitting up in a rush. His vision was blurred by tears he would not allow to fall, his chest tight and painful around his aching heart. He felt so hurt, so lost that his body converted it to rage. Without thinking he punched Bane, raining hits down on the skin of his chest even though it was John’s knuckles that were taking the most damage. “You can’t do this to me!” he yelled loudly, struggling against Bane’s grip when the man grasped his wrists to cease his attacks. “You can’t just turn my world upside down and let me fall...” he choked on the words. He had wanted to say them to Bane for so long, always wondered when the right time would be. Now he realized he had missed his chance. He tried to pull his hands free with no avail. “Bane,” he lamented with a ragged voice, as though already mourning him.

 

“John, listen to me.” Bane spoke strongly even though John could hear his voice wavering. John forced himself into silence, doing his best to focus.  There was something in Bane’s tone that made John realize that this was beyond just the two of them, that there was more at stake. He had to pay attention and he did his best to slide back into the cop mindset that had kept him alive through years of patrolling Gotham’s streets. Bane spoke again when he seemed sure John was ready to listen, and his words sent chills down John’s spine. “That bomb is going to go off in a week regardless of what anyone does. You need to warn the police and get as many people out of the city as you can. Then you need to leave the city.”

 

“Wait... What?” John asked, his thoughts in a tailspin. “I thought the bomb would only go off if the triggerman pressed the button...” he trailed off, eyebrows furrowed. He could feel the starting pain of a headache across his temples but he tried to ignore it.

 

“That’s what everyone was led to believe,” Bane agreed. His hands stopped gripping John’s wrists and their fingers wound together. “I’m telling you otherwise.”

 

“I don’t understand,” John tightened his grip, holding Bane’s hands almost too tightly. “If you know this then can’t you stop it?”

 

“There are more players in this game than you know,” Bane said cryptically. John growled warningly and Bane met his gaze, looking apologetic. “I cannot stop this. I should not even be warning you.”

 

“You say I should get everyone out the city but how? There’s only one bridge intact and it’ll get blown if anyone tries to cross it. And the police barely trust me as it is; what makes you think they’ll believe me now and let me lead them?” John muttered, frustrated by his own weakness.

 

“You must convince them,” Bane told him. “Their lives depend on it.”

 

“What about you though?” He saw the resolution in Bane’s eyes, could feel the tension below him of a man determined to die. John’s blood ran cold and he began to breathe quicker, panicking. “Come with me,” he begged. “Take off the mask, become someone else.”

 

“This is who I am, John,” Bane said sadly. “I took this city, I burned it. I cannot pretend otherwise or turn from that without consequence.”

 

“Yes you can!” John argued selfishly.

 

Bane hushed him, not unkindly. One of his hands detached from John’s and slid up into his hair, stroking softly to calm him down. John lay down on top of Bane again, one of Bane’s hands still brushing through his hair while their twined hands rested beside them on the mattress. Each second was a battle as he fought to maintain his own mask, hold in his tears and try to think logically. It felt like he was about to burst and he began to shake with it, his breath stuttering as he dragged oxygen into his lungs. John’s reaction made him feel incredibly weak but he didn’t care; he felt safe here with Bane, never judged. But that just made his throat constrict again at the thought of losing his companion. “I don’t want to be without you,” he confessed into the silence of the room.

 

“Nor I you,” Bane promised. “But I would have you leave this city before it falls to ashes. I will not take you to death with me.”

 

“What if I want to go with you?” John asked. He brushed his fingers along Bane’s face and felt his heart jump when he felt one rebellious tear on Bane’s own cheek.

 

“Do not speak that way,” Bane said forcefully, though John could hear a hint of desperation behind it all. “I was wrong before but now I understand. You are my redemption, John. I will protect you until the day I die.”

 

Fingers brushed the corner of his lips and like flipping a switch, John’s tears began to fall steadily. He cried until sleep took him.

 

#

 

The next morning John packed his duffle bag. He took his sketchbook full of Bane, unwilling to part with it, but he left the two older ones for Bane to keep. Bane handed him the gun and the switchblade silently, and insisted he take Osito. “He deserves more of a life than he got,” Bane said distantly.

 

“So do you,” John retaliated but with no real bite behind his words. He hadn’t slept well at all and he woke with a headache and a heavy heart. Bane seemed perfectly neutral about the whole situation but after knowing him this long, John could tell that the man’s uncaring mask was as much of a front as the metal one. Bane was hurting too but he had made his decision, and he seemed entirely uninterested in letting John make a different one.

 

John wrapped Osito up in a sweater to keep him safe and tucked him into the bag, then moved about collecting other things he would need; a few sets of clothes, some food. When he was finished the duffle bag was full but not heavy and he lifted it onto his shoulder with ease. “I still don’t understand why you can’t stop this,” he said as he turned to Bane, both of them standing by the door. “Or is it that you won’t stop it?” he pressed.

 

“I take loyalty seriously,” Bane informed him, which was an answer that didn’t really explain anything. John’s mouth thinned into a tight line, showing his displeasure at Bane’s half-assed response. “There is something I must finish and I would rather you not be here for the finale.” Bane stood before him, tall and powerful and distant. They were only a few feet apart but there was a wall between them now; it felt like they had reverted back to the day John had gotten dragged in here by guards. The Bane he had come to know was gone, hidden away beneath well-practiced masks. “If you choose one man over an entire city then you are not the man or the detective I have grown to admire.”

 

It felt like a slap to the face. John’s skin stung under his clothes, his chest constricted and withholding air from him. John forced a deep breath, opening his lungs. Bane was right; John was being selfish. He had the knowledge to save this city, or at least as many people as he could. Perhaps they could even stop this bomb from going off on their own. The detective had no interest in relying solely on a masked man to save everyone. After all, there was a man behind it all, but he was still making the choice to wear the mask and do these things; that counted for something.

 

“Fine,” John spoke tersely, anxious to leave now. Bane’s words and rejection hurt and he wanted to use that pain to leave, distancing himself with the fuel of anger and betrayal. He didn’t want this conversation to last long enough for their expressions to soften, or for them to hover closer. Bane had selfishly made this choice for the both of them and John wasn’t going to weaken himself by getting on his knees and begging for something that couldn’t be. “When exactly is the bomb going to go off?”

 

“Tuesday at about eight in the morning by my calculation,” Bane said stiffly.

 

“Anything else I need to know?” the detective questioned, fidgeting with the bag’s strap on his shoulder. The question was heavy with expectation but he wouldn’t allow himself to get his hopes up. The time had come and gone for declarations and apologies.

 

John had never before seen someone stand so incredibly still. “That is all I will tell you.”

 

“What a disappointment,” John snipped, not above returning that verbal slap. He truly was disappointed in Bane; he thought there was more to the man than that. Apparently he had been wrong.

 

Before Bane could say anything else, John unwilling to listen to another word from the masked man lest it make leaving even more difficult than it already was, John slipped through the door and let it close behind him. His pace was even as he headed down the hall toward the stairs – he would not permit Bane to hear him running, nor witness the detective crumbling at the edges. The cold air that hit him in the face as he stepped out of the hotel helped him regain some composure and control and John only stopped long enough to get his bearings before heading down the street.

 

He tracked down one of Commissioner Gordon’s men and gave him a message to pass along. John was forced to wait in the back of an abandoned bookstore as the message was passed along to the right people. He remained seated in the chair provided to him but tapped his fingers impatiently on the table, his duffle bag full of memories at his feet. He wanted to be doing something, focused on a task so that his mind wouldn’t wander and he wouldn’t notice the way each beat of his heart felt strained. But he was left waiting for nearly an hour until the police were sure he wasn’t being followed and they determined it was safe for Gordon to show up.

 

After that first discussion John had had with Gordon, they hadn’t talked anymore about John’s feelings or relationship with Bane. Perhaps now Gordon could read the barely-concealed pain tightening the corners of the detective’s eyes and mouth but he didn’t comment. John appreciated it, not sure what he would have said if the Commissioner asked. Finally John was given an opportunity to not simply force the mask of a cop but to actually slip back into the role, no longer having to pretend. He wasn’t okay but there were more serious matters to deal with than his broken heart.

 

He told Gordon what Bane had told him about the bomb and when it would go off, and vaguely about the fact that he would not be receiving any further information from the man. At first Gordon quizzed him, trying to figure out if this was a ruse or a decoy. The Commissioner never once asked ‘why would he tell you this?’, and John wasn’t sure if that assumption about the trust he had briefly shared with Bane comforted him or drew him closer to tears. In the end he decided that when you were bottling things up you always felt like you were on the verge of tears and brushed the choking sensation aside.

 

Eventually he grew impatient by the inactivity and told Gordon that it was better to assume Bane was telling the truth and prepare rather than ignore it and have the whole city go up in flames. Agreed, they began to spread the word to the network of cops and brought everyone together to devise a plan of attack. John was glad that Gordon believed him when he said he wasn’t going to be seeing Bane again because Gordon let him join in on the planning and action stages that followed. The detective thought it might have killed him if he was forced to sit by and watch as the rest of the city scrambled to save itself. Bane had given him this task and although John wasn’t doing it for Bane, he didn’t like the thought of letting him down either when it came to something so important.

 

They tracked the three trucks that traversed the city day and night, trying to determine which one held the bomb and which ones were decoys. They memorized the routes and marked it with symbols of white chalk and began drawing up plans on how to stop the explosion. It was frustrating to have to hesitate but they were forced to keep their distance while they worked, fearful of the unnamed triggerman setting the bomb off. Just because Bane had said the bomb would go off in a week no matter what didn’t mean there wasn’t a detonator out there capable of setting it off sooner if the police weren’t careful.

 

At the same time they worked on getting information to the police below ground, informing them of the situation on the surface and coordinating efforts to get everyone out. They were going to need as many able-bodied people as possible to try to get citizens to the bridge and to take the city back; they had no hope of evacuating every citizen so their goal was to stop the city from falling to ruin. It was proving difficult to track Bane’s movements around the city, the masked man moving frequently and showing his face rarely, but John knew that in the end it would come to blows between Bane’s men and the police.

 

The week passed quickly for John and, he assumed, for everyone else as well. He had been expecting it to drag, for his heavy heart to weigh him down and make it challenging to put one foot in front of the other, but he had been wrong. Time always flew by when you were on a deadline, especially one as fatal as this. John spent his time helping to track the truck with the bomb and then shifted his attention to preparing the cops for escape, Gordon taking point on the team tasked with disarming the bomb once they had located the correct truck.

 

Any spare moment he found John spent with the boys at the orphanage he grew up at. He told the man running the orphanage about what was going on in the city, behind closed doors so they didn’t start a panic, and got him gasoline for the bus so that they could drive to the bridge when the city went to hell. Once that was sorted John played with the boys, desperately hoping that acting normal would mean that everything was normal.

 

He wanted to forget the last two months but couldn’t. Every time he heard mention of Bane he couldn’t help but lift his head and look around, seeking him out. In quiet moments when he had no choice but to be alone he found himself missing their discussions on literature, and the way Bane sometimes hovered over his shoulder to watch him draw. Sleeping on a cot surrounded by snuffling, snoring cops in a large room made him feel horribly alone when he remembered strong arms around him. He even missed the mechanical sound of Bane’s quiet snoring in the late hours of the night.

 

It was on Sunday night when John finally broke down and went back to the hotel. Doomsday was upon them and this was the detective’s last chance to get a full night of sleep since Monday night would be a mad scramble. He wasn’t expecting Bane to still be in the hotel so he wasn’t sure why it felt like he got punched in the gut when he pushed open the door and was met with a vacant room. In that moment, as the door fell closed behind him, he hated hope for making things so much more painful.

 

John took his time looking around the room, taking note of what had been left and what had disappeared with Bane. The majority of the books had been left and although it looked to John like there might be a few missing, it was impossible to tell which ones were gone by sight alone. Most of the clothes had been abandoned, as had the food. But even though he searched the entire room, unaware of his shaking hands until he finally gave up and sat on the bed, John couldn’t find his two old sketchbooks anywhere.

 

Bane had taken them with him. He had taken a part of John with him, had not cast everything they had shared aside. John picked up his duffle bag – something he never let out of his sight now – and pulled the bundled up sweater out. He unwrapped it and held Osito in his arms, wondering childishly if a part of Bane would feel him hugging his little teddy bear, left to John for safekeeping.

 

He lay down in the middle of the bed slowly and stayed there for a while, blinking up at the ceiling, Osito resting on his chest. Then he moved back over to his side of the bed, not liking how massive the bed felt when he lay in the centre alone. The room was too quiet, too unlived-in. It was empty and abandoned, leaving it to echo only with John’s memories of the time he spent with Bane. The memories were bittersweet, giving John some comfort that what he had shared with Bane was real, with the price of a little heartache in return. Despite it all, John slept better alone in that bed, Bane’s warm smell only half faded, than he had the entire week with the cops.

 

#

 

Monday passed in a blur, every plan already made, every preparation complete. It was agonizing being forced to wait to act, letting the seconds tick by on their watches tauntingly, but they couldn’t risk threatening an antsy triggerman before they had no other option. John, Gordon and the other cops moved through the city on silent feet, taking refuge in shadows and street clothes as everyone rallied together.

 

After his night at the hotel John returned briefly to his flat in the east end, stowing his duffle bag away under his bed. John had woken up with the understanding that Bane was planning to die with this city, whether out of some sense of obligation or necessity, John didn’t know. Bane had told John to leave the city and handed him Osito – Bane’s one companion – to save, even after telling John about the bomb. The detective wondered if Bane thought the police wouldn’t be able to stop the bomb, or if he knew some hidden detail that would mean the end of the city even without the bomb’s destructive force.

 

Bane had left him with unanswered questions and an empty heart, and John decided that he wasn’t going to let Bane off the hook so easily. He had helped the police track down the truck with the bomb inside it, and in these final thirty six hours he would help rescue the trapped police from underground and get as many people to the bridge as he could. But he wasn’t going to cross that bridge with them, turn his back on this city and a man he thought might not be beyond saving but was actually scared of being saved.

 

If John failed then the little duffle bag would go up in flames like everything else and it wouldn’t matter. If he succeeded... well, then John and Bane could go retrieve it together.

 

It was as the sun went down and the shadows lengthened that everyone began to move. John dressed in clothes that were moveable and could keep him warm throughout the night, armed with his gun and Bane’s switchblade. He slipped through the streets on quiet feet until he reached a manhole by the bay, the designated location where the trapped cops would finally rise to see the sky again.

 

As John worked on pulling off the metal cover, opening up a circle of light from the city lights and the moon to the cops below, giving them hope, he wondered if they were feeling what Bane had described when he looked up at his small sliver of sky and wished for something more, for freedom. Shaking his head and focusing on the present, John offered a hand to the first cop to climb the ladder, pulling him up into clear air. He didn’t even have time to smile, to take in the man’s grateful look before bullets tore through the air and the man fell, dead.

 

John spun on his heel but it was too late; he was already surrounded. The detective had no choice but to step away from the manhole as guns were trained on him. He forced himself to hide his anguish when one man dropped a grenade down the hole. There were confused shouts and screams from below, a loud boom and then silence. John clenched his teeth, feeling rage well up inside him even as the leader of the pack stepped towards him.

 

“Who are you?” the man demanded, perhaps vaguely recognizing John from those pictures of him with Bane or maybe just wondering who was stupid enough to go against Bane.

 

John swallowed and stayed silent, unsure what to say and also unwilling to answer. The impatient leader shoved him back and John toppled down some rubble, his body bruised and scraped by concrete until he came to a rest on the road below. He could hear other cops on the opposite side of the rubble, calling out to him, but John’s focus was on Bane’s men as they followed him down and forced him to his knees, guns aimed at his head again. John was disappointed that this was going to be his end, shot in the street by a bunch of thugs before he could see Bane again – demand a more satisfying end from the man – but it was with acceptance that he closed his eyes. He was so tired of fighting.

 

A yelp of pain and the sound of a fist hitting flesh had John flashing his eyes open a second later, just in time to watch Batman floor three thugs in a streak. The others turned to face their new, more formidable opponent, while John took advantage of the distraction to grab the gun of the leader and drag him aside. He disarmed the man and then beat him down until the man lay sprawled on the concrete. When he turned, he saw Batman kicking the last thug that dared try to get back up and then approach John.

 

“If you’re working alone, wear a mask,” Bruce told him through his own dark mask, eyes concerned as they watched him.

 

“I’m not afraid to be seen standing up to these guys,” John said strongly, speaking the truth. Although there was more he wanted to do in his last few hours before the bomb went off, he wouldn’t fool himself into believing he had another day waiting for him.

 

“The mask is not for you,” Bruce clarified. “It’s to protect the people you care about.”

 

The Batman’s words drew up Bane’s face in John’s mind unwillingly, and this time he couldn’t shake it. John wanted to ask Bruce where he had been, what had happened to him the last five months, but it wasn’t the right time. They released all of the trapped cops who were still alive, who quickly swarmed the fallen thugs and got them cuffed before they could do anymore damage.

 

John could see that Batman was getting ready to leave, to follow this fight until the end, but John had one question he had to ask before Bruce disappeared. “Where’s Bane?”

 

Bruce turned to him, looking him over. Perhaps there had been something in John’s voice that gave him away, but Bruce didn’t comment on it. “City Hall,” he said. “We’re going to stage a full attack. You should get out of the city while you can; take as many people as possible with you.”

 

“I’m getting really tired of masked men telling me I should abandon my city,” John growled, uncaring that his words probably made little sense to Bruce.

 

It was difficult to read any sort of expression on Bruce’s face behind the mask but the hand that came to rest on John’s shoulder felt solid and comforting. “You can do more good helping people escape and making sure this doesn’t happen again than standing beside masked men. We don’t just wear the mask to protect the ones we care about from those seeking vengeance,” Bruce explained, squeezing John’s shoulder until it almost hurt. “We wear them to protect the people we love from us, so that if we don’t make it there’s no one at home waiting to be disappointed.”

 

“What if I would rather be there at the very end, rather than waiting at home wondering?” John asked. Bruce’s speech might have been aimed at deterring him, but John felt a renewed energy flowing through him.

 

Bruce stared at him for a long minute and then patted his shoulder. “We all have a choice to make,” he finally said. “I wish you luck on yours.”

 

John nodded. “Thank you.”

 

They parted ways and the city quickly fell into chaos, police and thugs battling in the streets whenever they collided. John made his way to the orphanage to take refuge as he ate and slept restlessly for a few hours. He was woken before dawn when he and the man who cared for the orphans got all the children awake and dressed. By then the children seemed to pick up on the tension in the air and fell quiet, following John’s instructions as they got packed up and collected on the bus. John pulled a few of the older boys to the side and sent them two blocks in each direction to knock on doors and get people to evacuate, and then he sent the bus off in the direction of the bridge with clear instructions on what to say to the men patrolling there.

 

“You’re not coming with us to the bridge?” the orphanage director called out to him, standing by the bus waiting for him.

 

John wavered for a brief moment on the curb as he heard the bus engine power up, wondering if he should go with the boys and try to keep them safe as they went through the streets. But John had made his choice, as selfish as it was, and he had chosen the man hidden behind the mask. He was going to live or die with Bane and he could only hope that his efforts to get the city evacuated were enough. “There’s someone I won’t leave without,” he called back, waving the man off before turning and breaking into a sprint.

 

The sun was rising in the sky as John ran through the streets, seconds and minutes rushing by too quickly. The detective grew more frustrated every time he needed to duck into an alley to avoid a fight, knowing he didn’t have time to get caught up in a fist fight he had no guarantee of winning. By his watch it was already past seven, the sun climbing, and he was still halfway across town from City Hall. If it was a normal day where he could run through the streets without having to pause and hide, or if he could take transit, he wouldn’t be panicked. But at his slow crawl John could feel tears of frustration prick at his eyes that he refused to acknowledge as he continued to rush through the city blocks. He was so close, so determined, and he wasn’t going to fail right before the finish line.

 

He began to recognize the circle of buildings that surrounded City Hall and knew that he was close. He checked his watch and saw that he had fifteen minutes left, a few street fights having slowed him down and bloodied his knuckles. John’s lungs were burning from exertion, begging for him to stop and rest, but he continued to push forward. He only stumbled to a stop, resting against a wall and panting as he listened to shouts, when he heard gunfire and explosions from a few blocks away. The explosions were small – definitely not a bomb – but they were enough to remind John of what was looming over him with ten minutes to go.

 

The sound of torment and death assaulted his ears as he rushed through the final blocks and even though he couldn’t see what was happening, he knew that a lot of people were dying. Between his running and the fear that he was already too late, John was gasping for air as he turned the final corner and rushed out onto the sidewalk. He was just in time to see Miranda Tate walking out of City Hall and John was about to call out to her except he saw her climbing into an old-style Batmobile.

 

Confused and uncertain, John backed up into the alley, slipping out of view as he watched the vehicle come to life. There was a brief second where it felt to John like he was caught in a freeze frame. People were still fighting and dying in the streets, gunshots going off and the sun forever rising, but it was all static to John’s ears. Then he watched as Miranda’s Batmobile engaged its machine guns and began mowing down everyone on the street – friend or foe, no one was spared.

 

He rushed back behind the alley wall and out of the line of fire as the vehicle continued raining down bullets as it drove off. John rested his forehead against the brick wall, panting and fighting down vomit. He had been a cop for a good number of years and had witnessed life on the streets long before that, but he couldn’t remember the last time he had seen such mass, thoughtless killing. The fact that it had been Miranda in that vehicle, making that call, just added another layer to the betrayal; the police, and Gordon, had trusted her.

 

The sound of another explosion and a motorcycle kicking into gear and driving off jolted John out of his reverie, reminding him that he was standing uselessly and vulnerable in the middle of a war. Head bowed, John looked to his watch and felt his heart stop. It was three minutes after eight in the morning. What had happened? Did Gordon succeed in disarming the bomb? Was Bane’s calculation off? Was this all just a set-up to draw everyone into the murderous bloodbath he had just witnessed? John pushed himself away from the wall, stumbled, and then ran out into the street.

 

Bodies ripped open with bullet holes littered the streets, thick streams of blood pooling and trickling towards the clogged storm drains. John stepped past it all, heartbroken for the tragic loss of life but for that moment John could only think about one thing – one man. He climbed the steps of City Hall and rushed in past the broken-down doors, looking around frantically. John felt disappointed and overwhelmed when he didn’t see Bane – didn’t see anyone – when he first glanced around; how would he find Bane in the city again if he had moved on?

 

A groan from further in the building caught John’s attention and he followed it, motivated by blind hope. He couldn’t hold back his cry of relief and panic when he found Bane crumpled against a far wall. “Bane!” he yelled as he crossed the room and fell to his knees, barely noticing the shock of pain that travelled up his legs and spine when his knees hit the hardwood flooring. Bane didn’t respond even when John shook him and the detective momentarily refocused his attention on pulling away the smouldering armour half torn to shreds across Bane’s chest and legs.

 

The clothing underneath the armour was singed but intact, but a lot of the skin below that was bruised black already when John carefully rolled up Bane’s shirt. He skimmed his fingers over Bane’s stomach and chest, hovering cautiously as he took in the damage and determined that there were no internal injuries. He received a groan when he pulled Bane’s shirt back down and nudged his shoulder, trying to get a response. Bane’s breathing was rushed and sounded wet and rough above the sound of air hissing where a few tubes had been broken.

 

“Bane!” he whispered desperately, trying to drag the masked man back into wakefulness. He was still aware of time ticking by with no knowledge about whether the bomb was neutralized or if it could go up any second. Each breath they fought for, each painful pump of their hearts could be their last.

 

Bane groaned again and blinked his eyes open, steely grey widening and then softening when they saw John in front of him. “John...” Bane whispered and John had to lean forward to hear him through the broken mask. “You’re supposed to be...” Bane swallowed audibly and dragged in another ragged breath afterward; John was beginning to suspect that the mask was hindering his breathing. “Gone.”

 

“You’re not going to get rid of me that easily,” John chided him with a chuckle born of nerves, heart hammering in his chest. His fingers clung to Bane’s shirt as he knelt close, desperate to be even closer but fearful of Bane’s condition.

 

“The bomb is going to go off in seven minutes,” Bane told him, raising unsteady hands to push him away.

 

John had to hold back a sob that threatened to overwhelm him when he felt how weak Bane was. He moved back to kneel beside Bane and fumbled with the metal tubing, trying to get it all slotted back into place. He knew it was for pain and not for breathing, but clearly something had broken that was keeping Bane from drawing in normal, deep breaths. John did his best but a lot of the tubing had been bent out of shape and wouldn’t fit back – likely broken from whatever had torn and burned Bane’s armour.

 

“I’m not going anywhere,” he informed Bane strongly, holding his gaze and shaking him whenever Bane’s eyes drifted closed. “That still leaves us seven more minutes to be together.”

 

“Seven minutes,” Bane gave a weak, humourless laugh.

 

“Not as much time as I wanted,” John smiled sadly, cupping Bane’s cheek to force him to keep their eyes locked. “But more time than I hoped for.”

 

Bane shook his head and this time John just locked their fingers together when Bane tried to push him away. “You need to go.”

 

“We both know I’m not escaping a six mile blast radius in seven minutes,” John reminded him, relieved to see that Bane seemed to be regaining more awareness as the seconds passed. “Besides, this is where I wanted to be anyway. I did everything I could to get people evacuated and help stop the bomb,” he sighed. “I can only hope Gordon and the Batman neutralize it so I have more than six minutes left with you.”

 

“John—” Bane began and then was cut off when one of the bent tubes fell out of place again. Hissing air filled the room as Bane gasped for breath.

 

“Bane, you have to take the mask off,” John insisted, squeezing Bane’s hand in his grip with concern. “Leave it behind. Start again. I know it will be painful but I’ll be here to help. Just let me help,” he begged, voice growing louder and more frantic as Bane’s chest began rising and falling quicker, taking shorter and weaker breaths.

 

“Can’t—” Bane shook his head, an apology in his eyes.

 

“It’s killing you!” John snapped, shaking fingers beginning to tug at the mask, searching for buckles to undo. “I didn’t go through all this just to watch you suffocate five minutes before the bomb goes off!”

 

Bane knocked his hand away but held John close. “No one cared who I was until I put on the mask,” he whispered against John’s ear.

 

“I care!” John yelled, reaching his hands up again to pull at the mask. “I fell in love with the man behind the mask and I refuse to lose you! Do you hear me Bane? I won’t let you die on me!” John was breathing hard, tears of hopeless fury wetting his cheeks. He brushed them away mindlessly as he reached for the switchblade on his belt. John was aware of the fact that Bane had stopped responding, that the sound of air scraping past bent metal had dimmed in the abandoned City Hall. “I won’t let you!” he yelled again, furious as he left his throat raw.

 

He raised the switchblade and began cutting through tough leather and fabric as carefully as he could with his frantic pace. He accidentally cut Bane across the cheek, blood flowing red across John’s fingers, but he didn’t stop. He sawed at the mask until he felt the threads tearing, the shape of the mask falling free. Finally he got one band cut free and he pulled the mask off carefully, wary of what might be attached.

 

The mask came away with relative ease, clattering to the floor and immediately forgotten. John could see skin rubbed raw and puncture wounds scarred over like a bunch of red freckles around Bane’s mouth and jaw, no doubt where the morphine was administered. John felt his heart fluttering, in danger of flying right out of his chest as he finally looked over Bane’s real face. Bane was... beautiful. Large, lush lips, a straight line down his nose John wanted to trace, soft cheeks and a strong jaw.

 

He wanted to touch and kiss every inch of Bane’s revealed face but first he had to keep Bane alive. The larger man wasn’t breathing even though the mask had been removed. John manoeuvred him onto the ground carefully and then sealed his mouth over Bane’s, blowing air into his lungs. His body acted on instinct as he concentrated on resuscitating Bane, allowing him to work and avoid panicking.

 

Finally he felt Bane stir under him and John pulled away, letting Bane take his first deep, unfiltered gasp of air before he started to breathe more consistently. Bane had only been unconscious and unable to breathe for about ten seconds so John knew he would be okay, but they had been the longest ten seconds of his life.

 

He knelt over Bane and stroked his cheek while resting his other hand lightly over Bane’s heart, feeling it return to a safe tempo and comforting himself with the rise and fall of Bane’s chest. “John,” Bane croaked and John lifted his eyes, catching gray. “John,” Bane said again, voice growing stronger with each passing second.

 

It sounded odd to hear Bane’s voice without his words being filtered and mechanized by the mask. John also found himself incredibly distracted by the fact that he could now watch those full lips move as Bane said his name, watch that mouth wrap around it. “I’m here,” John promised, taking liberties now and brushing his fingers all over Bane’s revealed face. “I’m not going anywhere.”

 

Bane’s lips quirked up into a lopsided smile, the most beautiful, heart-melting smile John had ever seen. John curiously brushed his fingers over those curved lips, taking in the shape and the sensation of them against his fingers. Bane smiled wider and let him, laughing breathlessly when John pressed down hesitantly with his thumb, denting Bane’s lower lip. A kiss. “John,” Bane whispered his name again, lifting his own fingers to skim over John’s smiling lips as John raised his eyes shyly.

 

“Yeah?” John whispered back. He was almost positive that Bane hadn’t heard John’s declaration of love before he passed out. But instead of feeling disappointed, he felt butterflies in his stomach.

 

“I’m in love with you,” Bane told him resolutely, seriously. And then, before John could even say his declaration again, Bane slid fingers into his hair, held the back of his head and pulled him down into a deep kiss.

 

John moaned at feeling his lips pressed against Bane’s – moving against lips that were kissing him back, rather than just breathing air into Bane’s lungs. John shuffled around to lie on top of Bane, aided by the man’s strong arms moving him into place above him. He slid his fingers over the smooth skin of Bane’s head as he met the kiss, locked their lips and deepened the kiss immediately. Bane moaned back and brushed his tongue against John’s bottom lip, seeking entrance.

 

John offered it, opening his mouth wider for Bane to explore greedily. At the same time John felt Bane’s hands slip under John’s shirt and skim up his back, holding him close and pressing him against the hard length of Bane’s body. Eventually he felt his lungs aching for air and John was forced to pull away, gasping and laughing and crying all at once. Bane brushed his tears away with a fond smile on his lips, seeming to understand.

 

Taking hold of Bane’s passing hand, John kissed each fingertip again, reminiscent of the kisses they shared that drew John into this dizzying, fulfilling love. He dropped his head to press his forehead against Bane’s again, only this time their noses pressed together and their lips were close enough that they could feel each puff of breath. “I love you too,” he confessed, his heart swelling each time he said the words. “I love you.”

 

Bane gave him another lopsided smile, which John was quickly falling in love with. “How much time do we have left?”

 

John looked at his watch. “Three minutes.”

 

Bane’s look grew mischievous. “That’s enough time.”

 

“For what?” John asked, and then grunted when Bane rolled them over and pinned the smaller man to the floor.

 

“For me to make you mine the way I’ve wanted to,” Bane told him and then immediately descended. John gasped when Bane sealed his mouth on his neck, sending his pulse flying under Bane’s lips as he nipped hard and then licked away the pain. Bane pulled at his clothing roughly and John knocked his hands away, trying to focus on undoing the buttons and pulling away fabric while Bane marked every inch of his neck and collarbone.

 

John got them both undressed quickly and Bane returned to kneeling above him, lifting his head back up to kiss John’s breath away. John brushed his fingers over Bane’s bare shoulders and back, taking in every detail and memorizing it as he met each kiss in their frantic, possessive dance. It was so rushed, fingers running and gliding over skin to touch everything, rather than skimming slow and curious. Bane was so possessive but John was just as greedy, both of them tasting flesh and marking everywhere they could reach.

 

This was their moment together, and although it would only be three minutes, it would be the best three minutes of their lives.

 

Bane got his hands on John’s hips and hoisted him up, John’s shoulders skidding against the wood flooring. John hooked his legs over Bane’s shoulders to keep himself in place, not even shy that he was spread open so wide for this man. They had already shared so much with their bodies and minds over the last two months. John felt he knew Bane better than anyone else and he knew Bane knew him better than anyone else, because John had never allowed anyone else to get this close.

 

John’s nails scraped against the floor as he searched for something to grip, his back arching violently when he felt the first sweep of Bane’s large, wet tongue across his hole. “Fuck!” John cursed, his toes curling as he gasped. Bane didn’t even give him a chance to adjust, instead pressing closer and shoving his tongue right past John’s tight ring of muscles. “Bane, Bane,” John groaned, panting as he clenched his eyes closed. “Oh fuck.” He shifted up, seeking more shamelessly, rutting himself against Bane’s tongue as the man got him wet and ready. “Bane, come on. I want to feel you in me.”

 

“Patience,” Bane told him, pulling his mouth away just long enough to speak and then suck three of his fingers into his mouth. John was very jealous of those fingers as he imagined Bane’s tongue swirling around them.

 

“Too bad we don’t have more time,” John lamented, struggling for breath now as he imagined his own cock spreading Bane’s lips. He had fantasized about Bane giving him a blowjob before but had never lingered on the images in his head, thinking the mask would never come off and it would never become a possibility. Now he could see Bane’s lips spreading around his fingers and knew what his tongue felt like and John wanted it, badly. Bane raised a curious eyebrow, still wetting his fingers. “I want my cock in your mouth,” John admitted, well past the point of self-consciousness.

 

The wet pop that filled the room when Bane pulled his fingers from his mouth had John bucking his hips up again, greedy and jealous. He whined loudly and struggled for breath when Bane worked two wet fingers into him slowly, skipping a few steps considering their timing. John had no issue being loud, letting each moan and whimper echo off the walls as Bane worked him open. There was no one outside the building to hear them and the city was about to go to hell anyway. All that mattered was the two of them together, connected, united.

 

He felt lips against his inner thigh, nipping softly and kissing as Bane twisted his fingers and began spreading them, opening John up. John looked up the length of his body at Bane and felt his heart jolt happily when he noticed Bane watching him. “Next time,” Bane promised with a sad smile, never pausing in his work. John gasped when Bane brushed a finger against his prostate and then furrowed his eyebrows, confused. “I’ll suck you off next time,” Bane said to clarify, kissing more of John’s thigh like he was marking John’s skin with his promises.

 

John’s throat tightened but he wouldn’t let himself cry in this moment, wouldn’t let tears tarnish his reunion with Bane. So he bit his lip and nodded and whispered, “You better.”

 

Bane smiled softly before dropping his gaze again, pressing a third finger inside John now. The smaller man thought he could take it, that Bane couldn’t do anything else he couldn’t handle, but then John was screaming as he felt Bane brushing his tongue around John’s rim, licking at where his body was spread open around his fingers. Then Bane scissored his fingers wider and thrust his tongue in between them and John gave a desperate shout, pulling Bane closer to him with his heels digging grooves into the larger man’s back.

 

John had to grip himself around the base to keep from coming too soon even though he hadn’t even stroked his length once during the whole frantic, claiming encounter. Bane continued to work for another few moments before finally removing his tongue and fingers, drawing a ragged whine of loss from John. Bane reached up to resituate John’s legs, hooking his ankles behind Bane’s head. “This may still hurt a bit,” Bane warned him, biting his bottom lip in the most attractive way.

 

“This is what I want, Bane,” John promised, smiling, shaking with desire and relief as he reached a hand out to Bane. The larger man caught his hand between them and kissed his palm and then nipped the inside of his wrist, seemingly determined to mark every inch of John’s skin the way he wanted to over the last two months when the mask was in the way.

 

Bane got himself as wet as he could, coating his cock with spit and precome, and then took hold of John’s hips. His grip was strong enough to bruise but John liked that idea, liked having Bane’s marks all over his skin and shown to the world. A whine built in the back of his throat as Bane began to push in, slow but determined, but John’s body opened up willingly for his lover. He wanted this and he trusted Bane; by now he knew how to relax and accept this man into his body.

 

As soon as he was loose enough that he didn’t feel any pain from Bane’s shifting hips, John looked up at Bane through his lashes. “Make me yours,” he whispered because he knew what it would do to Bane, but also because he meant each word. “And be mine.”

 

Bane’s first full thrust was brutal. John’s back skid against the floor as he threw his head back, his neck and back arched to show off his body as Bane slammed into him, paused, pulled out, and shoved back in. “Yes,” Bane hissed as he cradled John’s body close and buried himself to the hilt on each thrust, pulling John closer to take him deeper.

 

Their pace was uneven and rough, desperate and passionate as they claimed one another. John took Bane in and Bane took his offer, both of their bodies moving against one another at the perfect angle. Bane’s massive cock was shoving against John’s prostate on every thrust, which kept the smaller man’s spine bowed off the floor and his ass clenched tightly around Bane’s moving length.

 

The sounds of their pleasure filled the destroyed room, Bane with deep grunts and moans that were loud and rich, no longer muffled by the mask. John gasped and whimpered and panted and took everything Bane could give him, loving the way his body ached and felt so incredibly loved. Soon Bane moved John’s legs off his shoulders and helped him wrap his legs around Bane’s waist, dragging him in even deeper. From there Bane held John’s hips still and fucked into him hard and fast, his hips shoving forward so quickly that little hiccup-like sounds escaped John on each thrust, the air fucked out of his lungs with Bane’s force.

 

John’s orgasm struck him like lightning, no warning or build up. Suddenly Bane was shoving forward, grinding his cock against John’s prostate ruthlessly and John arched back so far he felt his spine ache. His toes curled and his fingers dug crescents into his palms since there was nothing else to grab and John screamed Bane’s name with all the air he had left in his lungs as his come streaked across his chest.

 

Bane gave a curse and a grunt and rocked forward. John felt the man’s large body shudder against him even as he continued to ride his own orgasm, and then he felt the familiar sensation of hot come filling him up. He gave another satisfied groan as Bane continued to rock against him weakly, burying his seed and letting the excess spill onto the floor. Bane fell on top of him with a final shiver, their bodies locked together as Bane’s cock slowly softened and finally slipped from John’s body.

 

For a little while they lay against one another, breathing hard and too sated to speak. Then John felt Bane lift his head just enough to kiss the bruises littering John’s neck and chest. Once Bane was done, John held his face between his hands, careful of the shallow cut he had made on Bane’s cheek with the knife, and pulled him into a deep, loving kiss. They stayed like that for a long time, kissing softly, and only pulled away when the outside chill swept over their naked bodies and started their shivering again.

 

A thought occurred to John as his fingers skimmed over Bane’s scars, a blanket of tiny raised bumps. “Aren’t you in pain without the mask?”

 

Bane allowed John’s fingers to wander, not looking uncomfortable from the touch. “The pain will come when the morphine fades.” John traced his fingers back to the scar at the base of Bane’s skull and down his spine as far as he could reach, worried. “I think I am strong enough to endure now,” Bane said, talking about a strength much different from the physical kind.

 

“Can I do anything?” John continued to skim his fingers over skin, already beginning to feel tension return to muscle.

 

“Stay,” Bane said simply. John nodded and let Bane tilt his head up with a finger under his chin, welcoming the light kiss. Then Bane tucked his face against John’s neck and breathed out. “How much time do we have left?”

 

John lifted his watch in the air above Bane’s head to see. Then he narrowed his eyes, making sure he was reading the time correctly. “It’s nearly 8:30,” he informed Bane, confused.

 

Bane lifted his head and caught John’s wrist out of the air, looking at the watch. He gave a grunt of surprise and then their eyes met, understanding dawning on them. “I guess your Batman really did save the day.”

 

“I guess,” John murmured, still a little dazed. He had come to City Hall searching for Bane with the full understanding that he would get caught in the bomb’s blast and would never see another day. He had been okay with that; he had made his choice. He wanted to be with Bane until their end, even if that only meant seven minutes together. Now, it seemed, they had much longer than that to spend together. John wasn’t complaining at all but it felt disorienting, his thoughts jarred now that he knew he wasn’t about to die. There was no rush, nothing he had to say in this instant lest it be his last chance.

 

“Are you alright?” Bane asked him, getting his arms under John and carefully pulling him up into a seated and then standing position. Bane offered some support while both of them found their clothes and pulled them back on, seeking some barrier from the winter air outside.

 

John winced as his body moved, feeling worn from his stressful week and from his reunion with Bane. It felt good though as he stretched out his muscles and spine, like he had just finished a gruelling but successful workout. “Yeah, I’m alright,” John promised, steadying himself with a hand on Bane’s shoulder. “I’m just a little shocked. It’s bewildering to think you’re about to die and then suddenly you not going to and you have no idea how much longer you have.”

 

“Let’s not count time,” Bane suggested, watching John closely. “I’m ready to move on. Talia was never going to bring me redemption. Miranda,” Bane clarified when he saw John’s look of confusion.

 

John took this information in. Miranda Tate, also named Talia. The word redemption made everything click in the detective’s mind, linking Talia to the child Bane had protected in prison. Someone Bane had tried to protect for years – decades – and now he was finally leaving her behind. John watched silently as Bane stepped away from him to pick up his mask, brushing fingers over the cut leather.

 

John walked up to stand beside him, also looking down at the mask in Bane’s hands. It had looked so monstrous on Bane’s face, like the metal had been bent and shaped by anger and pain. Now it sat lifeless and disconnected, no longer having a place in this world. John’s eyes rose from the mask to Bane, studying him as Bane looked over his mask. Bane was still somewhat monstrous in stature, tall and muscular, powerful and cunning. But he was also just a man, who had made a lot of mistakes but chose to face the consequences of those mistakes rather than running or shifting blame.

 

“What changed?” he asked softly, resting his hand on Bane’s wrist.

 

Bane looked down at him, eyes sharp and serious. “I realized that I had made a mistake. I was exacting a revenge that was not my own. I let Talia shape me in my desperation.” Bane turned back to his mask and slowly made a fist around it. John winced when he heard metal screech and crumble. “Then you came along,” Bane spoke without looking at John, letting the tattered ruins of his mask clatter to the ground. “You were the first one to look at me like there was a part of me worth saving. I had forgotten that there was more to me than the mask, that I could be more.”

 

“You are so much more than the mask, Bane,” John moved to stand in front of Bane, blocking his view of the mask and holding those gray eyes. “At first I thought it was just Stockholm syndrome,” he admitted. He noticed uncertainly pass across Bane’s face and he cupped Bane’s cheeks, pulling him into a deep, reassuring kiss. “But then I saw the man you were, and the man you could be, and you gave me hope.”

 

“Hope,” Bane echoed, confused.

 

John nodded. “We all wear masks, Bane, even if they’re not physical ones. We all put on fronts for the world and hide who we are. I started to worry that we became our masks, pretending until the mask took over. Your mask scared me so much because I couldn’t imagine someone being so strong and intelligent and ruthless.” John sent Bane an apologetic look but pressed on, needing Bane to hear his words and believe. “But then you let me see what was behind the mask and you gave me hope that no matter what happened, a part of us always remained.”

 

“John...” Bane spoke, hushed. John felt fingers trace his lips and he gave a relieved sigh, exhaling his tension and fear and pain on a single breath.

 

“You reminded me that I wasn’t just a hardened cop and an orphan. Watching you find yourself and believe in yourself again made me feel like I could do the same. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel lost,” John confessed. “Maybe that’s a little selfish of me but—”

 

John’s next words were cut off with a groan when Bane pressed their lips together, kissing John long and deep. John stood up on his toes to mould his body against Bane’s and kissed back, wrapping his arms around Bane’s shoulders to keep him close. When they parted, John knew his cheeks were red. “I’ve never known you to talk so much,” Bane teased.

 

John’s blush deepened with embarrassment. “Let’s keep it simple then.”

 

“Okay,” Bane nodded. “I like who I am with you, and who you make me want to be,” Bane declared, arms around John’s hips to keeping him pinned.

 

“Same,” John said breathlessly, offering up a shy, happy smile.

 

“Then let’s go discover what we have hidden behind all these masks of ours, shall we?” Bane suggested, and John knew he would never grow tired of seeing those lips smile.

 

John nodded and let Bane lead him out toward the street, into a Gotham that was smoking but saved from the fire. It was impossible to tell what lay ahead of them, what challenges they would face. John knew they would have to wear many more masks in their lifetime alongside everyone else, but he twined his fingers with Bane’s and took comfort in the truth that he would always have Bane by his side, and that they would always love each other for their true selves, what lay behind all the masks.