It is early morning Wednesday which means it is time for Dr. Cebjan to enter the maximum security ward of Blackgate prison. There are only three cells in this wing and they are buried deep in the basement. All of the men held in this penitentiary are feared, but the two lurking within the bowels are feared and hated above all. He sometimes wonders if they are cared for properly when he isn't there, but then he is probably alone in his concerns.
He has to enter by way of three separate locked doors, and then an elevator which is only accessible by a retinal scan. There are two guards stationed permanently outside the entrance to the wing and though he has seen them every week for six months, they still fastidiously check his credentials before waving him through.
He wonders who to interview first, and makes his decision quickly when he sees only one awake at this hour. The other is probably only feigning sleep, but if he wants to eavesdrop then it is a small amusement Dr. Cebjan can indulge.
Cell #2 – Dr. Jonathan Crane
“Good morning, Jonathan.”
The slender man sits politely enough in his cell, though his large blue eyes are constantly roaming the walls of his cage. They never seem to be able to settle on Dr. Cebjan's eyes, always skirting close and then furtively dancing away.
“It's Doctor Crane,” he murmurs, distracted, and then pleads, “Why have you taken my jacket?”
When Dr. Cebjan had first been given charge of Jonathan Crane he had asked why they kept him in a straitjacket, especially if they had transferred him from Arkham Asylum to Blackgate. The guards in charge raised their eyebrows in surprise and said bluntly, “Because he's insane.”
Crane looks like a rag doll with jumping beans for stuffing, spilling out from a hundred seams. He fidgets, unable to stand still for a moment, often hugging his arms to himself as if missing the phantom confinement.
“You don't need it, Doctor Crane. You aren't in Arkham anymore,” Dr. Cebjan patiently explains.
Crane snorts, the high strains of a giggle about to erupt forth and then quickly hushed, dying in his throat. “Are you a doctor? Do you know if I'm sick?”
Dr. Cebjan leans back in the folding chair, crossing his legs. “I understand you have the same certifications as I do, Doctor Crane. Are you sick?”
Crane leans forward suddenly, almost lunging at the bars, and he holds up a finger to his lips in an exaggerated 'shhhh'. “I charge a lot of money per hour to give my opinion.” He lets his laugh spill forward fully this time, clutching his sides as he screams his mirth.
“Let me have my jacket back.” He finally says, the laughter dying suddenly from his lips.
Dr. Cebjan rises from his chair, unmoved. “I think you'll do better to learn to live without it, Jonathan.”
Crane curses him then, his tempers are quick, screaming you cunt, you cunt! And shaking the bars of his cell. Dr. Cebjan ignores him and instead picks up his chair and moves to the other side of the wing. The other has woken up and is staring at him interestedly.
And thankfully he has volumes more composure than Crane does.
Cell #1 – Bane
Bane sits in his cell, his elbows resting on his knees and his hands clasped together. He is the very measure of calm and collected. He looks up at Dr. Cebjan with eyes that pierce through the dim lighting and unlike Crane, they lock gaze with him instantly and unnervingly.
“I do wonder, Dr. Cebjan, if you have considered that Dr. Crane might do himself a harm in his current state.”
Dr. Cebjan calmly folds his legs again, settling into his chair, and looks back curiously. “Are you concerned that he will?”
Bane's laughter rumbles in the vents of his mask, like a clap of thunder. “I don't know if you really are as well-intentioned as a doctor should be and you believe this is for Crane's betterment, but it is of no 'concern' to me. My amusement is merely a pleasant byproduct.”
“And does the suffering of others amuse you?”
Bane looks at him disappointed, his tone condescending as he folds his massive arms across his chest. “Doctor, doctor...you can do better than that.”
Dr. Cebjan smiles very slightly. “Your confidence in me is appreciated.”
Bane shrugs, and waves a brutish hand dismissively in the air. “So why have they assigned a clinical psychiatrist to me? Do the people of Gotham perhaps believe that I am insane?”
Dr. Cebjan merely shrugs again, his face impassive. “I can't say as to what the people of Gotham think. Though the Gotham police are quite rightly concerned about you. I personally think perhaps you are too sane.”
“Too sane?” The large man, seated so calmly and lithely in his cage laughs again, his thunder-like mirth reverberating in the dank wing, and even causing Crane to join in with his own shrieks. “Very droll, Doctor Cebjan, very droll. A very Russian sensibility indeed.”
Cebjan allows himself a small smirk this time, his eyes narrowing. “I'm not Russian.”
“What's your first name?”
Bane tilts his head slightly as he considers Cebjan. It is plain to see the man has a vast, hungry intellect and views every interaction as a puzzle or a threat. He's sure he's a mixture of both to Bane, but if he can amuse the terrorist more than he threatens him, he can perhaps get further in his evaluation.
“Ukrainian,” Bane finally says.
Cebjan shakes his head no, still smiling, and stands up folding his chair. As he leaves, he shoots over his shoulder, “I am from Moldavia.”
“Indeed!” He hears the mechanized voice boom back. Cebjan has his credentials checked once more by the guards before he leaves, and the heavy metal door slides shut behind him and hisses shut with electronic locks.
This cell is empty.
Crane wails in the night to the microphones and cameras that capture and record their every movement, pleading to the guards behind locked doors to give him back his jacket. He writhes on the floor, twitching and shrieking, vacillating from the high-pitched pleas of a scared, trapped animal, to the guttural growls and threats of whatever darker character lives within him.
Bane is subjected to the other man's rabbit-like cries as he pushes his body from the floor with one hand, rebuilding and honing his strength because the boredom of being still is worse.
“You want to see me hurt myself?” Crane shrieks, clawing at his face with his hands, “I'll show you how much I can bleed!”
Bane shoots back an irritable, “Be done with it already or shut your mouth, damn your cursing. They'll just clip your nails or handcuff you again.”
Crane lunges for the bars of his cell, wrapping his spindly limbs around them, trying to push his head through the small gap. It looks as if his blue eyes are going to pop right out of his skull from the pressure. “I don't need my hands. I'll just bite my tongue and swallow it.”
One arm holding his entire mass from the floor, Bane calmly looks over to the cell across from his. He holds his entire bulk up like that for well over a minute without so much as trembling. “Do you know how much effort it takes to perform that specific act, Crane? Spare yourself the trouble and just bash your head in against the concrete.”
Crane spits at him, though they are too far for the spray to come anywhere near Bane's cell. He curls back up into himself, his hands beating against the walls as he murmurs, “Scarecrow...scarecrow...scarecrow...”
Bane resumes his routine, shaking his head in pity. “It's a cruelty they didn't just shoot you as a mad dog.”
Cell #1 – Bane
Bane sits calmly on the floor with his back pushed up against the bars, legs crossed and his arms similarly against his chest, but Dr. Cebjan can see the tremble beginning to rise in his shoulders as he works. Carefully he finds the broken pin lodged at the base of Bane's scalp. Working the skin around the small bump, Cebjan manages to ease out the splinters of metal and picks them. He snaps the broken syringe head off one of the tubes that pumps the venom from the mask to his spinal artery. Reaching into the pocket of his jacket, he brings out a new syringe head and affixes that to the tube, before replacing it under Bane's skin.
Bane is fighting to not shudder and twitch now, and Cebjan lightly taps his shoulder to let him know he is done. Bane pushes the mask against his face and inhales deeply, his shoulders shivering with relief, before redoing the claps in the front as Cebjan tightens the claps at the nape of his neck.
“Gotham PD wishes to speak to you again. Commissioner Gordon will be coming later this afternoon.”
Bane stretches, the cords of muscle rippling in his back as he tries to ease out the flashes of pain that had begun to simmer in his veins. He stands up, his back still turned to Cebjan.
“You will have to set up an extra chair for the Commissioner then. It would not do to be discourteous.”
Cebjan nods and leaves him alone.
“You will be serving the death sentence. At the end of this month you will be transferred to death row. You will be executed in the next three days after that.”
Bane folds his hands behind his head, unconcerned. “I see you are not wasting any time. Am I that feared?”
Jim Gordon looks extremely uncomfortable, sitting in the plastic fold-up chair and trying to remain professional. Crane begins laughing, again, and the sound unsettles Gordon who flashes a furtive look behind his back as if he is afraid Crane is standing right beside him.
Crane is breathless, as if he cannot control his laughter. “The chair and the needle's too good for you! They should rip off your mask and make you eat it!”
Bane shoots him a sour look. He knows it will never come to that and Crane is only trying to provoke him, but the prospect of such a gruesome death is an unwelcome thought. “If you keep tempting my ire, Crane, we will see just how unbreakable these bars are.”
Jim Gordon doesn't know what to do, torn between the argument of a terrorist and a madman. Crane is still hooting, excited now, and bouncing off his walls. He has finally taken to having his arms free and revels in his jacket-less state. Bane, having to hear the other man's shrieking laughter for far too many nights, has finally had enough. “I could just sit on you little man, and crush you!”
Seeing Jim Gordon's discomfort, and perhaps just then realizing his momentary lapse of composure, Bane looks almost apologetic as he addresses Gordon again. “The end of the month could not arrive sooner, Commissioner.”
Gordon 'hems' and 'haas' as he fidgets in his chair. “Before you're transferred, I'm here to help you exercise your final rites, should you have any.”
Bane arches an eyebrow, enjoying watching the Commissioner squirm. “Am I being given access to a solicitor?”
Gordon looks annoyed. He wants to be anywhere else but here. “Of course not.”
“Well, I am not a religious man so I will not require a priest. I suppose that concludes our business here, Commissioner.”
Relieved, Gordon stands up, mumbling a goodbye and it looks as if he is fighting every instinct within him not to run down the wing and out the doors. Just as he is about to cross the threshold, Bane calls out to him.
“Though if we are taking merely of wants, well, then I'd love to have the Batman's corpse in attendance so I can dance on it as they electrocute me!”
The mixed laughter in the wing sends icy fingers curling around Gordon's heart and he barely remembers to thank the guards as he leaves. They don't sound like two men incarcerated with one condemned to die. Their laughter makes him feel like everyone outside the prison are the ones who should be despairing.
Cell #2 – Dr. Jonathan Crane
Crane lies in his cell, whimpering, because he is afraid. He is usually afraid and beyond fear at the same time. The scarecrow...where is the scarecrow? He is only Crane at the moment, scrawny, weak and vulnerable. He knows he is nothing without the scarecrow nearby, ready to lash out. They are afraid of the scarecrow, not Crane. Crane is just small and weak.
The empty cell across from him and attached to Bane's is dark and full of shadows. The shadows move and Crane knows, deep down in his gut, that it sees right through him.
“My jacket...my mask...” he weakly pleads to the darkness. “I swear, I am mad. I am crazy...I swear...”
He hears the odd, hiss-like breathing of Bane in the cell across from his. The man's voice rumbles through the darkness, oddly garbled and mechanical from the mask. He sounds weary. “Why do you insist upon your insanity, Crane? Don't madmen try and convince the world of the opposite?”
Crane retreats further into his cell. He's hemmed in by two great threats and he isn't sure which one's worse. He knows Bane is bad...Bane's big and Bane's strong and Bane's a bully. He can toss Crane around like a doll and break him easily, and Crane doesn't want that.
But Bane can only hurt him in this world. And Bane doesn't understand him, not really.
Crane whispers, “The cell is looking at me. No, no, it's looking through me.”
Bane sounds as if he is having a conversation with him just to humour him. “And what does it see?”
Crane hugs his knees to his chest, lightly rocking back and forth. When he speaks next it is the closest the little man has ever come to unsettling Bane. It is when he sounds most lucid. “Me, of course. I know you aren't insane, Bane. There are a few moments when I think I can see right through you. I'm not insane. I'm not. But I need my jacket, and I need my mask, because if I'm not insane that means the voices I hear are real. And that's worse.”
Crane retreats back into himself again, murmuring 'scarecrow...scarecrow...' his favourite chant, and Bane is too disturbed to try and speak to him again that night.
The cell stares back at Jonathan Crane.
Cell #1 – Bane
Bane has always been a light sleeper. Sleeping too deeply in the Pit left you vulnerable to surprise attacks at night over something as pitiful as food, and light sleeping was also encouraged in the League of Shadows where one was trained to always be prepared for the unexpected.
So when the metal door to their wing hisses open, Bane instantly hears the locks click open and the quiet whine of the metal sliding. Two guards come in, their boots clicking on the floor, and a grim expression on their faces. Each holds onto a pale arm and a figure is dragged behind them, completely limp and dressed in the prison uniform.
Bane lays still where he is, not wanting to draw attention to himself as he watches this bizarre spectacle.
One of the guards pulls a key card from his belt and opens the third, empty cell. When the door swings open, he takes back the arm and hefts it onto his shoulder. In a coordinated swing, they toss the figure into the cell. It drops to the floor with a wet smack, completely still. It doesn't make a sound.
Bane's eyes crinkle with distaste as the guards then close the door shut and lock it. “Are we a mortuary now that you'll leave corpses in here with us?”
One of the guards turn to look at him, a hard expression on his face. He jerks his head irritably to the body in the cell. “Don't worry. She's breathing.”
“She?” breathes Crane, creeping upwards on his knees and fingertips. So he has been awake too. The guards kick the bars to his cell, making him yelp and stagger back, before brusquely leaving.
Crane creeps forward again, peering curiously through his bars to the thing that lies absolutely still in cell number Three. He has a look of wonder on his face that confuses Bane. Crane finally says, “Now I can sleep,” curls up into a ball, tucking his arms under his head and begins to lightly snore.
Mad dog ... Bane thinks, feeling uncomfortable. He looks to the body in the cell attached to his. He isn't sure why it brings Crane so much peace...because despite what the guards had said Bane was sure that thing was not breathing and it was not moving.
Dr. Cebjan sees the figure in the cell and it stops him in his tracks. He looks around confused, to the other two men in the wing. Crane seems to shrug his shoulders as if silently asking why the doctor would seek the opinion of a madman. Cebjan looks to Bane.
“It's been in here for three days now. And hasn't moved at all.”
A muted look of disgust passes Cebjan's face. “Is it dead?”
Bane is about to say something when Crane shakes his head fervently, his hair flopping about. “No, no, not dead. She doesn't smell like death.”
Bane looks to the madman and can't help but admit he is right. He hadn't considered it before, but his sense of smell is muted because of his dependency on the mask. He is sure, however, that if indeed there was the smell of rot he would have picked it up over three days. “So the mad dog has a trick or two. I guess then our new friend hasn't shuffled the mortal coil as of yet.”
Cebjan looks about, for a moment at a loss of what to do, then leaves the wing with an angry click in his step.
He returns an hour later with a small crowd of assistants and the two guards. They are allowed into the cell and the medical team examine the figure on the ground. Through the press of white lab coats, Bane cannot make out exactly what they are doing, but when they leave the figure has been re-dressed into a medical gown and placed onto the cot with its back to him.
The next morning Cebjan is back with two of his assistants and a brute of a mechanized wheelchair. It is almost too big to fit through the door to the cell, and the figure is gently arranged into it. Then they leave.
The figure sits, still limp, and still unmoving.
Cell #2 – Dr. Jonathan Crane
“My friend, my friend,” Crane hisses, grasping the bars of his cell. “Have you seen the scarecrow? Do you know where they took him?”
The figure in the cell, still lying still like a doll in the chair, remains silent. Its long, dry and tangled black hair covers its face completely. Crane seems to hear something no one else can, however, as he seems to listen intently and then his face breaks out into smiles of delight.
“Yes, I know, I know! Yes, yes, yes – we will. Tomorrow maybe.”
He hears the whip crack of Bane's voice from the other cell, laced with irritation. “You've been holding a one-sided conversation for an hour now, you dunce. Haven't you tired of your pathetic game yet?”
Crane looks moodily at Bane, and then back to his new friend in Cell number Three. “He doesn't understand, he can't see...”
Bane roars at him to shut up, and Crane flinches from the booming sound. He looks to his new friend and gives it a wink, pushing fingers against his mouth in a 'shhhh', and mercifully keeps quiet.
Cell #1 – Bane
“From the look of alarm on your face last week, I take it you were as well informed as we were on the arrival of our new guest?”
Cebjan looks at him mildly in surprise, he has been distracted with his own thoughts all morning. A slight look of annoyance passes his face, though Bane can tell it isn't directed at him. Cebjan looks mildly embarrassed at having been caught with his mind wandering, but Bane merely chuckles instead and throws his arms wide.
“You have spoiled me! I am so used to your every concentration focused at besting me in our interviews that I find myself a touch jealous that your attention is divided.”
Cebjan looks annoyed with him now. “Don't try to play to my vanity, Bane.”
It is the harshest the doctor has been with him, and Bane senses blood in the air. He leans forward, his eyes piercing and his voice sharp. “You amuse me doctor...you should be amusing. You've been thrown in here as a toy to distract me. If you were wise you would try to learn how insignificant you really are before the day comes when I grow tired of you, and you learn the hard way.”
Cebjan must have been a brave, if stupider, man than Bane had given him credit for as his hackles rise and he looks as if he is about to say something angrily back. But the inhabitant in cell number Three finally breaks its silence and begins to move.
It twitches in a bizarre fashion that couldn't be attributed to humans, but perhaps insects. It is as if its limbs were broken into sections that all were beginning to spring to life one after the other, and the awakening was painful. Its hands, twisted into claws, touches its face through the curtain of straw-like hair and it begins howling in a demented, inhuman voice. My face? Where is my face? What have you done to my face!
Whatever psychological war Bane and Doctor Cebjan were about to embark on is completely forgotten with the unearthly, keening wails of the twitching figure. Cebjan leaps to his feet, the metal door to the wing already sliding open as the guards rush in with a tranquilizer gun.
Give me back my face! You took away my face!
The guards shoot it twice through the bars, as its back arches in an unnatural angle, as if it were trying to escape gravity. As the twitching slows, the figure contorts and freezes into an ugly, pain-defying position, its hands still covering its face. Cebjan looks more disturbed than Bane has ever seen him, and even Crane is silent this time, just staring bug-eyed at the scene.
The figure twitches awake, its hands reaching up and feeling the rough texture of gauze and linen wrappings around its face. It calms instantly, stroking the material as if to check that its entire face is covered. Only a slit is left open for its eyes.
It settles back into the chair, one hand skittering across the armrest before it finally finds the control stick. It moves it experimentally to the right, the wheels whirring and humming as it obeys, and then moves to the left.
The chair stops and shudders to a halt to face Bane directly, who is sitting on his cot, staring curiously back.
Crane licks perspiration from his lip and pushes his floppy hair out of his eyes. He hisses at the chair, “Can you see him? Do you see that big brute?” He cackles after that, lost in his own private joke.
The chair makes no reply to acknowledge Crane, absolutely still once more. Bane can barely see the direction of its eyes, whether it is trying to lock gazes with him, or if it is simply just staring at the wall. Its eyes are dark and it is difficult to tell where pupil ends and iris begins. The wrappings around its face remind him of the Pit and the scarves the men wore around their faces during the years of plague.
The chair sits there, a formless shape, sexless despite being referred to before as 'she'. Bane looks to what he can see of their mystery cellmate. The glances of leg that descend beyond the medical smock are heavily scarred, but not in any ways that make sense to Bane. The scars are clean and follow a logic that makes them look predetermined, but just from their outline he cannot guess what their purpose was. The muscles in the leg seem atrophied and completely ruined. The same could be said of the arms.
The chair is still staring at him and Bane is getting a little tired of this. “I assure you, Crane can be far more amusing than I.”
Bane had not expected that to garner a response, but the hand by the control stick suddenly shifts and the chair whirrs away from him, turning into a jerky arc to stop in front of Crane's cell. Crane seems delighted and pads over to his bars, trying to push his face through the gap again and begins speaking to it. It never speaks back.
Crane shivers and whimpers to himself, clutching his ragged uniform about him as if it will protect him. He claps his hands over his ears, the voices becoming too much.
“Scarecrow...scarecrow...” he chants over and over again, hoping to drown the other voice out, but the blanket of dark whispers tease insistently at him.
He looks over to the other in the cell beside Bane's, his eyes wide in horror and sweat dripping down his face. For once the big bully is asleep, his own breathing hissing gently through his mask, and Crane wishes fervently that he were awake.
He doesn't want to be the only one who knows that the other is whispering to him.
Cell #2 – Dr. Jonathan Crane
Cebjan settles down into his chair, but leans forward in concern when he sees the state Crane is in. The man has a flair for the dramatic, but today his shivering and the blank stare in his eyes are alarming.
“Jonathan? Are you well?”
Crane turns his head slowly, as if he is quite surprised that anyone has noticed him at all. In a very soft voice he says, “Doctor Crane isn't here right now.”
Cebjan notes the absence of the usual high giggles and broken speech patterns. Crane's voice comes out flat and disconnected. He leans forward in concern. “Where is Doctor Crane?”
Crane licks his lip and dully shakes his head.
“Who am I speaking to then?”
Crane lies still, his hands folded underneath his head, and he stares somewhere beyond Cebjan's shoulder.
Cebjan tries again. “Are you the scarecrow?”
The name doesn't illicit the frenzied response it normally would, and Cebjan is deeply worried. Crane merely shakes his head again and answers in that deadly soft voice. “No...but he's coming.”
Cebjan holds up small pieces of card, a stack balanced on his lap, and presents them one at a time to the chair. He watches its eyes intently, but if there is any response only he knows. The chair is silent the whole time.
Cell #1 – Bane
“What were you showing it, just now?”
Cebjan absently glances back to the stack of cards by his chair leg. “Inkblots. Did you want to look at them?”
Bane growls lowly, settling back on his bench. “Don't be ridiculous. I thought you had a higher opinion of my cognitive abilities than that, Nikolaj.”
Cebjan opens his hands in an apologetic gesture, the stack of inkblots remaining where they are. He is about to open with a question when Bane interrupts him again. Their new guest has caught his curiosity.
“Did it respond to your obsolete test or just stare blankly at you?” Bane opens his own eyes wide, his tone mocking. “There's nothing there, hmm? Just a vacant mind.”
Cebjan prickles slightly. “I believe I'll determine that in my own time.”
“Of course, of course,” Bane waves another meaty, dismissive hand in the air, “I defer to your expert opinion, doctor.”
While the arrival of the new prisoner in the maximum security ward had shaken the others, it seemed Bane had gotten over his initial discomfort quickly and was now back on form. Sharp, and quick. Cebjan knows he has to engage Bane's interest quickly or he will get nowhere, and leans forward slightly.
“Do you know why Crane has been acting stranger of late? Did something happen last night?”
Bane looks at him suspiciously, but his tone is still mocking. “Isn't that why you're here?”
“Maybe you could help me, Bane. You are very capable after all?”
The bark of laughter that escapes the mask is amused in a derisive manner. Bane glances at him in contempt, his voice laced with distaste. “Oh well done, Doctor Cebjan, well done. Appealing to my pride and my disdain for Jonny Crane in the hopes of forging some sort of connection between us? You want me to be your little errand boy? I might have considered indulging you but unfortunately the law has already made its decision and no amount of 'cooperative behaviour' on my part will undo that.”
He leans back, his back pressed against the wall and though the mask obscures most of his face, Cebjan can see the sneer in his eyes. “You'll have to try harder, I'm afraid.”
Cebjan's face darkens, and the split second flash of utter contempt in his eyes makes Bane wonder if he truly had the measure of the doctor. Cebjan's face settles into a pleasant smile. “Of course, I must have been mistaken. A big man like you would never be someone's errand boy.”
Bane doesn't like that tone...he doesn't like it all. He leans forward again, his broad shoulders flexing, and rests his hands on his knees. “Are you trying to provoke me, Nikolaj?”
If Cebjan is intimidated, he doesn't show it, to his credit. “A big man like you, of course, you could snap my neck like a twig if you wanted to. But in all of my years of expert work, I've noticed the bigger the man the bigger the inadequacy they feel.”
Bane laughs a little again, but it is dangerous and not mirthful. “You are trying to anger me. Surely you're worth more than a cheap shot like that?”
Cebjan reaches for the stack of inkblot cards by his feet and gathers them with his files. He looks at Bane, that strange look of triumph still in his eyes. “I'm just a doctor. And it's my job to humour you, and if you want to see me as just a toy or distraction, I will allow you to do so. But I think we're just deluding ourselves onto which side of the bars the both of us stand.”
Cebjan gets to his feet and gives him a polite nod before making his way down the corridor. Bane leans back against the wall, dislike colouring the already sour taste of the venom in his mask.
“As you say, doctor...”
Bane wakes in the middle of the night and at first is unsure why. He blinks, taking a moment to register that it is not dawn, the lights in the wing have not come up, and apart from Crane's usual panicked snores, all is quiet.
His eyes adjust to the darkness and he notices the chair is facing directly at him and the thing that sits in its monstrous, mechanical throne is staring at him. Not prone to being spooked, Bane nevertheless finds its scrutiny unsettling, and turns on his side so that his back faces the chair. He can't find sleep again that night.
Cell #1 – Bane
When Cebjan places his folding chair outside the door to Bane's cell, he wonders if he should apologize for their rather heated discussion last week. As he sits down, however, he notices that the man's mind is preoccupied with something. Bane sits, a thread of tension running through his body, and he doesn't look up at Cebjan.
“Good morning, Bane.” Cebjan folds his legs and rests his hands patiently in his lap. Bane still doesn't acknowledge him, sitting on his cot with his mind elsewhere. After being ignored for a minute, Cebjan reaches for one of his files and begins to make notes. He knows how to be patient.
Another five minutes passes before he hears the rasp of the mask and the slightly garbled, yet cultured, voice come from within. “You do not write your notes in English.”
Cebjan cannot hide his surprise.
Bane still doesn't look at him. “The English alphabet is comprised of a majority of long dashes, half-curves, and a few tell-tale downward loops. The words in most common use have our writing hands move in a tell-tale fashion. But you use too many short, sideways dashes...”
Bane leans back, folding his hands behind his head as he settles against the wall to his cell. He finally looks into Cebjan's eyes. “I thought that perhaps you were writing your notes in Cyrillic, as per your background, but that is a language far more florid than English...though your hand moves in a fluid manner, it does not describe the various accents used in that language either. Indulge me, Nikolaj, what language do you use?”
Cebjan is impressed, though he tries not to show it. With a secretive smile on his lips, he softly says, “Latin.”
“Latin?” Bane looks at him sharply, his voice heavy with suspicion. “I see.”
“You don't believe me, Bane?”
“I thought perhaps Farsi.”
Cebjan's eyebrows lift up again, betraying his surprise, but he mildly shakes his head. He considers Bane for a moment, before his pen sketches across his page again, and Bane watches intrigued. He is sure it is not Latin.
Finally, the masked terrorist comes to his true intent. “I want books, Nikolaj. I am starved of reading material in here. And I want to speak to James Gordon.”
Cebjan puts his pen down, unsure of whether to feel suspicious. It is an unusual request. “Why would you want to speak to the police commissioner?”
“That is none of your concern.”
Cebjan wonders if he should press the matter, but decides against it. After their conversation last week, he is lucky Bane is speaking to him cordially at all rather than antagonizing him. He nods amiably. “What kind of books do you want?”
Bane has already lost interest in him, staring up at the ceiling. “Whatever you think I'll find interesting.”
Sensing a dismissal, Cebjan gathers his notes and gets up.
Cell #2 – Dr. Jonathan Crane
“The guards tell me you haven't been eating, Doctor Crane. You need to try or you'll make yourself sick.”
Crane lies huddled on the floor, his eyes glassy and his face a still mask. Softly, ever so softly, he says, “Doctor Crane isn't in right now.”
“Who am I speaking to?” Cebjan presses. Crane has been like this for over a week.
Crane ignores him, his mind tuning out. He looks at Cebjan as if the doctor were part of the wall.
“You said the scarecrow was coming soon. What will happen when he does?”
Crane looks at him now, with those large, watery blue eyes. “Then God help us all.”
Bane notes with a hint of amusement that none the books they have given him are in anyway politically overt. He wonders what poor library they rummaged to bring him this eclectic, and somewhat pitiful collection. A bible, a rather dry biography on the author Charles Dickens (though none of the man's own writings), a few short comedic French plays, strangely a manual on the manufacture of Swiss watches, a slim volume of poetry from the Middle East, an anthology of Nordic mythology and a copy of Young Werthe in its original German.
He flips open the Middle Eastern poetry first and realizes it is not Arabic in nature, but actually written in an archaic form of Sanskrit that he is unfamiliar with. He turns to Goethe's novel instead, and settles onto his cot.
At the very least, the books help pass the day, and he only occasionally glances at Crane's cell. The man has slipped into near complete catatonia, and Bane can only guess as to why.
When night falls and the lights in the corridor shutter out in accordance to a predetermined schedule, Bane carefully folds the corner of a page and closes his book. He hears a mechanical whirr, the skid of rubber on concrete, and looks up to see the chair turning in his direction.
The chair then does something completely new...it extends a pale, withered hand towards him, fingertips reaching just short of the bars.
Only its eyes can be seen through the slit in the wrappings around its face, the eyes still too dark to be able to discern its thoughts. Bane looks cautiously to the pile of books on his cots and then to the chair. It nods slightly.
Standing up to his full, impressive height, Bane collects the books into one large hand and walks over to the other cell. He holds them out just short of the bars.
It points to the slim volume of poetry. Curious, Bane picks it up, glancing at its cover, and then passes it to the other cell.
The chair takes it from him, the dark holes where its eyes are locking with his, before its claw-like hand skitters to the control stick of the chair and whirls away from him.
Bane sits back down on his cot and watches as the chair reads.
Cell #2 – Dr. Jonathan Crane
Crane can hear the flutter of wings, dark wings, and buries his head deeper into his arm. He moans softly to himself and closes his eyes because he knows the crows will want to eat them.
His cell stinks. The stink rises from his body and he knows the guards will come tomorrow with the hose to blast water onto him, punishment for not taking care of himself. It doesn't matter, whatever they do won't clean him.
Bane, Big Bane, has already complained a few times every time Crane has wet himself, despairing that the world has gone to hell if the terrorist is the model of civility. But they don't understand – she...she never relieves herself, never eats, never does anything normal. Crane is sure that the big brute has already noticed this, but he hasn't asked the right question.
Why should she, when she has nothing to evacuate?
And then what does that make her?
He sees, he sees so clearly now, and he often strokes his own face in the delirious hope that if he touches it enough he'll feel rough burlap instead of his own skin.
Scarecrow...scarecrow...come soon...fly away...
“I thought you were the scarecrow, Jonny. The manifestation of your psychosis.”
He didn't realize he had said anything out loud. Crane looks weakly at Bane and shakes his head, still trembling on the ground. “I thought so too...but I was wrong.”
The chair's fingers skim over the dry, yellowed pages of the book of poetry, its eyes seeing the calligraphy better in the darkness. It reads, and it knows the day is coming soon.
Cell #1 – Bane
Bane sits on the floor, and even sitting he almost reaches to Cebjan's shoulder. Cebjan checks the two canisters on either side of Bane's mask, and then per usual taps the man on the shoulder to let him know his examination is done.
“They'll need replacing in about two days, I'll make an earlier visit for that.”
Bane rises gracefully to his feet. “Did you have any luck with the Commissioner's office?”
Cebjan sets up his folding chair. “Commissioner Gordon will meet with you next week. He might arrive sooner if he could determine if your reasons were urgent.”
Bane merely shakes a finger at him in a flippant manner, as if he were scolding a naughty child. Crane suddenly wheezes in his cell, catching them both off guard.
His tremulous voice breaks in the dank air. “I know why the masked man wants to see the police officer...it's obvious...I don't know why I'm the only one who sees it.”
Cebjan turns, curious, to see Crane, still lying in his usual position on the floor. Bane glares at the little man. He's sure Crane is mad, but of late he's been annoyingly correct in his insights.
Crane, usually intimidated by Bane, doesn't seem to notice the animosity directed towards him. He isn't even looking at Cebjan who is giving him an encouraging smile. Instead he is staring at the chair in cell number Three. “The masked man wants to know why she's here. Who she is. What she did to come here.”
Crane's eyes finally look to Cebjan, and as he has never done before, settles directly into Cebjan's gaze. “Because you won't tell him. But you know why.”
Cebjan looks mildly to Bane, who for once is standing right by the bars of his cell, his massive arms folded across his chest. “Is this true, Bane?”
Bane leans forward, the tubes of his mask clicking against the metal bars as he stares down the little man. There is no humour, contemptuous or otherwise, dancing in his eyes now. They are merely filled with suspicion and a cold anger. “Are the words of the madman true? Have you been deceiving me, Nikolaj? I am sure you must realize I am a man not to idly anger.”
Cebjan takes his chair and folds it, tucking it under his arm. His expression is still mild, but Bane sees the steel in the doctor's eyes...the danger he had seen a flash of before. “Am I supposed to feel threatened by that, Bane?”
Despite his new revelations of their mild doctor, Bane did not wind up in this prison after destroying most of Gotham for being a man easily intimidated. He tilts his head to the right, the rasp of his mask and the sour smell of the venom reaching through the bars. “I may stand on the wrong side of the bars...but I am a pupil of confinement. There is no prison that can truly hold me.”
The doctor takes a step back, and inwardly Bane feels a small flicker of pleasure in scaring the other man. But this feeling instantly dies out when Cebjan says something he would never have expected in a million years. The doctor looks at him, his eyes smiling, and says, “Really? I thought you fell.”
Bane feels as if someone has suddenly let off an explosion, his ears ringing. No one knows of the Pit...only Bruce Wayne because he threw him down into that dark hell. But that part of his past had remained a secret to the rest of the world.
“Who are you, Nikolaj?”
Cebjan is already walking down the corridor, ignoring him. He stands in front of the metal door, waiting for the electronic locks to disengage. He says quietly, so only Bane can just make out what he says, “I am a man who does not hide behind a false name.”
Bane watches him go, thunderstruck.
The doctor leaves, the metal doors sliding shut again and leaving an empty clang to echo in the corridor. Bane's hand curls around one of the bars of his cell and grips tight, testing its strength. He is smart enough to know where there is no exit.
“Crane...do you know who that man is?”
Crane pushes his hair out of his eyes and a smile stretches his lips, always on the verge of breaking. “Yes.”
“Who is he then?”
Crane pushes a finger to his lips, his eyes dancing and his head shaking to and fro. “I can't spoil the surprise.”
Bane shakes the bars to his cell in a rage, the whole corridor seeming to shake as he curses the mad man, now hooting and laughing in his cell with abandon.
Cell #2 – Dr. Jonathan Crane
Crane works feverishly, now that it is nightfall. He slips out of the prison uniform and his fingers hunt for the seams that hold it together. Once he feels the ridge of thread and cloth, he brings it to his mouth and with sharp teeth grit the material together, shearing and worrying at the cloth.
It is when he begins ripping up the garment, the sound grating in the night air, that he hears the brute's breathing change. As expected, Bane's voice, slightly weary, pierces through the night air.
“For goodness' sake man, put your clothes back on.”
Crane squats, huddled like an imp in the darkness. He looks at Bane for a moment, decides it's a waste of his time, and goes back to ripping up his uniform.
“Crane, what on earth are you doing?”
Crane takes a long strip of the uniform and examines it, holding it up in the darkness close to his face so he can see it. He decides it will not do and tosses it aside, rummaging for a fresh piece.
Bane's voice is impatient now. “You've been rude enough to wake me so have the courtesy to answer me, you mad wretch.”
Crane finds a suitable piece and places it against his mouth. The rough texture, swaddling his lips, guarding his face feels so good he hums happily and decides to humour the brute. “I'm making a mask.”
“Is that what you'd call it?” There is a momentary silence before despite himself, Bane asks, “Why?”
“I need it. Soon.”
Crane can hear the suspicion in his voice. “What's happening soon?”
Crane merely shakes his head fervently, his hair flopping about, and starts tying the rags around his face. His laughter, bubbling up like a waterfall, is muffled by the crude wrappings about his face and he hugs his arms to himself in glee.
The wing is silent for the rest of the night.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Bane sits, brooding in his cell, wondering how it had come to the point when he was desperately looking forward to the visit from Commissioner Gordon. He didn't even dignify Crane with a glance, the scrawny man happily scurrying about his pen stark naked save for the misshapen rags on his face.
Save me from the madmen before I start barking as well.
“I liked you better when you were catatonic.”
Crane points fervently to the metal door to the wing, his finger jabbing excitedly in the air. “Do you smell it?”
Bane growls in annoyance, his morning peace disturbed. “Smell what?”
The door to their wing hisses open, startling Bane. He sees three figures, all clad in black with hoods over their faces, stride in. They are armed and from the glimpse of the guards' quarter outside Bane sees their regular keepers lying face down on the floor in a pool of blood.
Bane instantly rises to his feet, his legs and arms settling into a defensive stance, but the faceless men pay him no attention. They swipe a key card on the pad to cell number Three and kick the door open.
Crane is laughing, damn the man, he's laughing throughout the whole thing.
The men pull the figure from the mechanical chair, brusquely, and lie it down on the cell floor. They begin to disassemble the chair, and amazingly it divides into hidden compartments and tubes. The men move in coordination as if they have practised this procedure for months, even years.
The different sections are opened and laid out in a peculiar order. They callously strip the medical smock from the figure's body.
There are several contraptions, a mixture of metal plates and rings with tubing and switches. When they place slim braces around each of the figure's major joints, the braces hiss and snap shut of their own accord, emitting a high tinny noise and Bane watches as the muscles in each of the figure's limbs begin to spasm violently and harden.
Bio-mechanical augmentations...their design reminds him a little of his own mask, and of what they found in Wayne-tech Applied Sciences, but the designs of these are slightly cruder. Less streamlined.
Bane watches as the figure's back arches, perhaps its mouth is open in a silent scream of pain, the muscle contractions finally stop and it slumps back to the floor. In this short time the musculature of its limbs have already changed drastically. The men take out contoured plates of metal with the odd tubing, and Bane sees that they are shaped to the body. However, on the underside of the plating are sharp needle points that end in a hooked barb. He watches as they place the plates around the calves, thighs, biceps, forearms, torso, all where major muscle groups are. The needle barbs quickly pierce into the skin and with a hiss, the plate is sucked into place and sticks.
What makes Bane's eyes widen are the glimpses of the puncture wound where a small ring of raw flesh opens, but no blood spills forth.
What occurs next is just as incredible. The men prop up the figure slightly and Bane sees that there is a hole where its heart should be. And the hole is full of gears.
One of the men takes out an air pump and blasts small bursts of pressurized air into the hole, dust flying out of it. Another brings over a small can of oil and greases the different parts. Finally, the third man brings over what looks to be an elaborate, copper key. Its handle resembles the turn key of a clock, and its stem is a section of different plates, hooks, and teeth following a complicated pattern. Reverently, he places the key into the clockwork chest, turning the handle gently this way and that and there is a 'click' every time a section fits into place.
Finally the men rip open a duffel bag they had brought in with them and pull out a suit made of black fibre. It looks like it is made of a blend of leather and lightweight armour, similar to what Selina Kyle wears, except that on the inside there are dozens of barbs again, following the line of the seams. The men drape each section of the suit carefully over the figure, and seemingly of its own accord the barbs find flesh and with a hiss snap into place.
When they reach the chest, they slip a clear plate on top of the clockwork circle with a hole in the middle for the key handle. The suit is lain overtop of that, hissing and anchoring itself into place. Just as one of the men reach for the handle, the figure's arm shoots up and stops him.
Bane watches as the figure grasps the handle and then begins to crank it. Once, twice, three times in a counter-clockwise direction. The key begins turning idly in a clockwise direction, one revolution per six seconds.
The men bow their heads as the key turns, and Bane can hear the curious little clicks and whirs of the clockwork inside, and then they snap two full-gloved gauntlets made of a firmer armour over her hands and arms. Two armoured greaves and boots are slid onto her legs.
She reaches one arm behind her, presses her index finger to the floor, and with the lightest push Bane watches as she rises up, her ankles bending and straightening as she goes from lying flat to standing up tall in a graceful arc, as if a rope had been tied around her middle and pulled her up. He knows he has trained his body to be able to perform feats that require physical perfection, but what she has done speaks to an impossible core strength.
He wonders about the suit, the augmentations, and the bizarre ritual-like process that created her before his eyes.
The men bow their heads and one brings out a mask, hard, smooth, completely white and places it in front of her face. She unties the gauze wrappings, letting them fall to the floor, and the mask is pressed against her. There is the familiar hiss and the 'snick' of more barbs piercing her flesh and anchoring the mask there. The mask is a blank, completely smooth surface and its only openings are two holes for her eyes. Bane watches as two tinted panes slide forward, shielding the eyes, before sliding back upwards again like eyelids.
A coarse brush is brought forward, glistening with a liquid that hisses on the concrete when drops fall to the floor. They brush her hair with it in a few broad strokes and instantly the straw-like tangle straightens into hardened strands, swishing unnaturally as if they are made of plastic. She snaps her head experimentally to the side and her hair flicks out, whistling in the air with a dangerous arc, the tips snapping in the air like a whip.
Her arm snaps outward and her hand spreads open expectantly. One of the men place two long blades in her hand and she whirls them expertly in her hands, describing ribbons in the air as she gets the feel for them again. They resemble tonfa's, a short handle protruding two-thirds of the way up the hilt. At rest, she grips the hilts with the blades pointed downwards, following her forearms and ending right at her elbow. Two hollow sections on the underside of her gauntlets hiss open and the handle hilt jumps upwards, locking into place with a small burst of steam.
She looks more like an insect now, her armour like a shiny, hard carapace, the blades' main edges pointing outwards and following a slight curve. They look like parts of her arm, wicked pincers ready to flash out like the attack of a praying mantis.
“Ah, I see you are assembled.” Doctor Nikolaj Cebjan strides in, blood speckled on his face and stinking of gunpowder. Though he is wearing one of his usual black suits, he has a trench coat draped over his shoulders, a wide-brimmed hat on his head and various guns strapped onto a chest harness. He smiles and nods politely to Bane, and then goes over to cell number Two where Crane watches him. He unlocks the door, tosses Crane his coat and jerks his head towards the door.
The three men bow respectfully to him and then dash out of the hallway where the muffled sounds of men shouting angrily can be heard through the heavy doors. She flexes her hands, and strides out of the cell, following after them.
Cebjan glares at her and in a scolding tone says, “Cronin...”
The smooth white mask holds no emotion, but she pauses mid-step, and almost irritably whirls around on her heel in a perfect circle and clicks her way over to Bane's cell.
Cebjan tosses her a small, black square which she catches over her shoulder without so much as glancing back. She places it over the lock on the cell door. The tinted panes slide down on the white mask's eye holes and Bane plugs his ears.
The door opens with a small explosion, swinging on its hinges. She turns sharply on her heel again and marches down the corridor, passing Cebjan and following the other three men.
Cebjan now holds out a hand to Crane, coaxing him upwards. Crane gathers the trench coat around his naked body, takes Cebjan's hand and rises to his feet. Bane strides out of his cell and stops in front of the doctor.
“You have the pleasure of being one of the few men who have genuinely surprised me, Nikolaj. If that truly is your name.”
Cebjan gives him a predatory smile, all hints of the mild doctor have vanished. “I wish I could reciprocate the compliment.”
Bane arches an eyebrow at him in a dangerous form of 'oh really?' but before he can say anything they hear the harsh rapport of gunfire and screams. Cebjan pulls out a semi-automatic rifle and begins walking.
“Come, we can't let Cronin have all the fun.”
They must have taken Blackgate prison by surprise, as the small party strides down the corridors with little confrontation. The prisoners inside the cells they pass shake the bars and scream, begging to be let out or cheering. Bane sees dead guards along the way and the few they surprise are instantly gunned down.
Crane scurries along, the billowing trench coat making him seem even smaller, but his eyes are alight behind the uniform rags and he is humming with excitement. He points upwards to the ceiling and laughs. “They're here.”
Before anyone can ask, “who?” the sounds of sirens and alarms blare from outside. Cebjan doesn't seem disturbed in the slightest, merely remarking, “Gotham's finest have certainly improved their response time.”
Cronin flicks her hands downwards and with a 'snick' the blades drop from her gauntlets and into her grip. They whirl in the air until she is holding them upwards like two, large carving knives.
“Come out with your hands behind your head!” Bane recognizes the Commissioner's voice, even if it is garbled by a megaphone.
They pass by the door to the back entrance of the prison, and Bane wonders why they don't make use of that exit...though, the Gotham police have probably surrounded the entire building. He also has some suspicions of their good doctor...
...and one of them is confirmed when Cebjan kicks open the main entrance doors to Blackgate prison, his assault rifle chattering as he lays down a wave of suppressive fire. The man is arrogant.
Bane can hear the thunder of helicopter blades ahead, and he sees all of Gotham's finest and SWAT assembled outside like an army. There is an ongoing firefight which he is sure he will need to pay attention to soon, but for the moment he breathes in fresh air and feels the sun on his face.
“Cease fire immediately! You are surrounded!”
Bane sees Gordon, ducked behind the door of a squad car, and gives him a mocking wave. Gordon turns an ugly shade of puce when he sees him and roars, “You're not getting away on my watch, Bane!”
Cronin, as Cebjan had called her, is a flurry of motion, the blades rotating in circles in front of her faster than humanly possible, disappearing into blurs. Bane can hear the 'ping's of bullets bouncing off her long knives. Bane has seen impressive blade-work from the League of Shadows. Part of advanced training even included dodging gunfire and he has seen Ra's al Ghul catch a bullet with his bare hand out of mid-air. But this mechanical insect is somehow beyond the capabilities of even perfect men. Surely she cannot repel all fire.
And he is right and watches three bullets make their way past her whirling shield of blades and thud into her chest. Her body jerks back slightly with each impact, but it doesn't stop her in the slightest. Instead he watches as she begins to sprint forward, leaping into the air and landing with a crash on top of one of the squad cars, the deadly blades carving down any police officer within her range as if they were made of paper.
What on earth are those made of?
“Do you need a ride?” Bane looks to Cebjan who has a smug look on his face as a black helicopter hovers down above their heads, the wind from the propellors plucking at his clothing and hair. Thick cables fall from the helicopter and Cebjan tosses one to Bane and a second to Crane, who has his hands clapped over his ears and is still laughing.
Bane takes the cable without need for further prompting and the helicopter lifts into the air. Crane slides a few feet down his lead before gripping tighter and begins to shimmy his way up. The three hooded men that accompanied them make no move for the air lift, but instead run headlong into the gunfire.
They each hold a detonator in their hands and explode.
Cronin lunges off the hood of the squad car a split second before and is carried up into the air. Her arm snakes out and catches the landing track of the helicopter, scaling it easily and tumbling inside as it ascends upwards.
They leave Gotham down below, cursing and burning as the sky swallows them up.
The helicopter flies them out across the water, leaving Gotham behind. Crane huddles in one corner, the fierce winds whipping the coat around him and threatening to lift him bodily into the air. Bane looks out behind them, the winds stinging his eyes, but he can still see the dark shapes of their pursuers, two federal jets.
Cebjan looks outside as well, noting that they are still being chased, but looks unconcerned. He glances at the watch tied to his wrist before unbuckling it and tucking it safely into his shirt. He hands Bane a vest.
Bane looks at it, his hands squeezing the padding. “This is not a parachute.”
“They'll be able to see parachutes.”
Cebjan buckles his floatation vest on, and then moves over to help Crane into one as well. Seeing no other option, Bane puts on the vest offered to him, though it is too tight around the broad expanse of his shoulders and back. Cronin, he notices, doesn't wear a vest.
“Ten second countdown,” the pilot says and Cebjan nods, grasping his shoulder in a comradely fashion. He winks at Bane.
“Four...three...two...” Cebjan stands by the opening, and then without ceremony, covers his mouth and nose with a hand, hugs his arms to his chest and steps out into the sky.
Bane watches as he plummets to the blue expanse of the ocean.
Cronin grabs Crane, folding his arms into his chest, and then leaps out after Cebjan. Bane wastes no more time and follows after them, lunging into the sky.
The helicopter explodes a second later, and he can feel the heat on the back of his neck, the pressure wave hurtling him forward.
The drop feels long, though it lasts less than a minute. There is no time to wonder what Cebjan's plan is or if he has been betrayed. Bane does not fear pain, he lives with it already every day, and he is accustomed to leaps of faith alone.
When he hits the water the impact knocks all the breath from his lungs and he sinks into freezing cold and darkness, a roaring in his ears. He blacks out.
Some of you may recognize Cronin from somewhere and that is because she is NOT an original character. At least, not completely. Kroenen is a character from the first Hellboy film, a Nazi scientist/soldier in the service of Rasputin, and the idea of the clockwork suit, steampunk technology and weaponry are all derived from this. Karl Ruprecht Kroenen is a character from the Hellboy comics, but he is wildly different in the film. In the comics he is more of a neurotic scientist with no combat abilities whatsoever, and Del Toro changed this up for the movie. I'm going off the Kroenen in the comics as a scientist who would have created the suit to make an army of super soldiers, rather than using it for himself, and Cronin being such an experiment, and also a re-imagining of the film's character. Dr. Kroenen will be mentioned later on in the story in such a capacity.
So that being said, all credit must go to Mike Mignola, Guillermo Del Toro and Dark Horse comics. The only really original character in all this is Dr. Cebjan.
And yes, Dark Horse and Hellboy are not part of the DC universe. But what I love about comics are the multitude of crossovers, overlapping of the universes, big team mash-up's and borrowed baddies. This is a very comic book trope, which I've spliced in with the gritty, more realistic Nolan-verse. Why? Because this is just supposed to be fun. Our characters have now broken out of Blackgate and it can only get zanier from here.
So for those worried about a potential Mary-Sue or OC takeover, don't. I hope you'll hang tight in this ride with me, because I swear the real meat of the story is only just beginning. Stay tuned ;D
Crane suffers the most from the drop, wheezing and shrieking with red welts covering his naked skin from the impact with the water. In some places his skin has burst, but they are shallow wounds, stinging more from the salt water, and they will heal quickly.
It was Cronin who pulled Bane from the water and onto the boat. Though it was a task that required both of her arms, Bane could still feel the strength in those slender limbs. Limbs that did not feel any pain, that were not tested or complained from effort. They felt like steel pistons, pulling him upwards. Experimentally, he responded with a grip that would normally crush the bones in a grown man's hand, but he felt nothing yield. It was something that disturbed him to the core.
Cebjan has already removed his chest harness and now strips off the rest of his wet clothing, an assistant handing him fresh, dry garments. He tosses some more to Crane, telling him curtly to cover himself.
Bane crouches on the deck of the boat, waiting as the venom and his body recovers from the fall. It only takes a moment, and he sucks in a powerful breath, rising to his feet.
He looks over and sees Cronin grasp the key on her chest and crank it three times. The key whines and in shuddering starts begins to whirl faster and faster, until it is spinning quickly enough for the gears inside to shriek quietly. The bullets that hit her before suddenly pop out of the suit with streams of compressed air, and then the key winds down, gears chattering, until the revolutions slow to their usual turn per six seconds.
“She is fascinating for the unaccustomed, I am sure,” Cebjan says smoothly, slicking back wet hair from his face. He notices Bane's sodden clothing sticking to him and looks almost apologetic. “I would offer you something new to wear, but you're a bigger man than my tailor can accommodate.”
Bane doesn't like the mockery now always lingering underneath Cebjan's words, and waves him aside. “You need not concern yourself, doctor Cebjan. If there truly is a Doctor Cebjan from Moldavia.”
Another bland assistant comes out onto the deck, setting up chairs and a pitcher of water before leaving again. Cebjan smiles, sitting down and offering Bane a seat. “I am Nikolaj Cebjan and I am from Moldavia. But, you are right. I am not a doctor.”
Bane considers the chair for a moment, before settling himself down into it. “A mercenary?”
He smiles. “A priest.”
Bane cannot help but laugh, the sound barking through the vents of his mask. “A preacher with automatic firearms. I suppose that is one of the stranger
things I have seen in my lifetime.”
Cebjan smirks and then looks to the prow of his ship, an impatient hand beckoning towards the chairs. “Jonathan, come sit with us. And do put on those clothes, the night will be cold.”
Crane finally struggles to his feet, awkwardly tugging on the pant legs and shivering. Cronin stands impassive by the prow, absolutely still except for the key turning in her chest. Cebjan gives her another disapproving look and says, “Cronin, sit or go inside. What have I said about at least making an attempt to imitate normalcy?”
Cronin stands still, then spins on her heel and strides across the deck in fluid, but segmented movements. Cebjan's hand waves towards the last, free chair, but she ignores him, marching past and disappears into the bowels of the boat. Cebjan sighs, and shrugs his shoulders.
Bane folds his arms across his chest and chuckles. “So you write your notes in Sanskrit.”
Cebjan pours himself a glass of cool water, holding it up in cheers. “Either that or in cuneiform.”
“Ahh...the letters of the Ancient Mesopotamians. Now what sort of priest are you to be so learned in such esoteric subjects?”
Cebjan drinks thirstily from the glass, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. He looks out to the water around them, the sky already beginning to darken and cloaking them in night.
“An obscure order I think even you are unfamiliar with. Its name isn't important...suffice to say our work may appear to be the machinations of Chaos, but our ambitions are so much greater.”
Bane nods appreciatively, settling back into the chair. “That I understand. I am a child of Chaos.”
They look to Crane, who has been sullen and quiet the entire time since he was pulled from the water. He shivers, his damp hair sticking to his face, and clutching the coat tightly around himself. He is staring somewhere in the distance. “There was only one agent of chaos...and he wore clown makeup and he's dead.”
The little man surprises Bane...at turns afraid of him and yet it seems like the only thing he lives for is to antagonize him. But Cebjan laughs at Crane's remark, though Crane only seems more frightened by his musings.
“Perhaps you are right, Jonathan.”
Crane just ignores them both, staring out into the now dark water and murmuring under his breath. Scarecrow...scarecrow...
“Tell me you're tossing him into the ocean before we reach land,” Bane says irritably.
“Now, now, the both of you will see land, I can assure you.”
Crane shivers, gnawing at a fingernail. “I think we'd be better off if you did toss us into the water.”
Cebjan just laughs condescendingly. “You don't trust me, Jonathan?”
He shivers, ignoring the doctor. Bane considers them both carefully, keeping his thoughts close to himself, but quietly asks, “Are you saying I should trust you, Crane?”
Crane's eyes light up then with a manic fire. He shakes his head and says, “no” before his hysterical laughter pierces the night air and carries over the black water.
When Bane wakes the next morning he makes his own survey of the boat, padding silently through the different wings. It is a smaller yacht, and has no armaments that he can detect. Surprisingly, there is only a small crew of three, which then just leaves himself, Crane, Nikolaj Cebjan and Cronin.
Crane is too weak to get into his way. The crewmen, if the other assistants who committed suicide at Blackgate prison were any indication, would probably not sway in their loyalty. They, however, were also lightly armed and would pose no threat to him. If he wanted, he could easily take control of the ship.
Except for Cronin...
Done with his cursory patrol, Bane makes his way to the upper deck so he can have some fresh air and sunlight as he thought. While his time in Blackgate had been quite short in comparison to his other incarcerations, a stint in prison always did leave one more appreciative of the outside world.
He has never come into a direct confrontation with the mechanical woman...but the brief exposure he has of her combat abilities has already warned him she is not to be underestimated. Because she experiences no pain that he can see, she cannot be cowed. If her entire body is reinforced with that curious metal alloy, any damage she receives is negligible. Even bullets did not stop her. So that only left the key.
Did she have her own thoughts? Did she have any emotions? It seems she is loyal to Cebjan, but that is a two-fold problem. If she is loyal, than he will find it a hard time to manipulate her. If she isn't loyal...then there is something else holding her duty to the man and he does not yet know what that is.
The key...the key...Bane will have to learn more of her manufacture and how the suit works if he is to gain an advantage in all this. Perhaps there is a fail-safe, or a flaw somewhere.
He hears the upper deck door swing open and by the confident stride, knows it is Cebjan.
“Greeting the morning?”
Bane nods amiably enough. “And the world says hello. What do you want?”
Cebjan is holding a glass of wine, dressed in simple black clothing, and leans against the rail of the yacht. “Meaning?”
“You infiltrated Blackgate prison for a purpose, spending months to build up a persona. You are no simple priest, the amount of resources I have already seen at your disposal speak to you belonging to a larger organization. Cronin was placed into the cells with us for a purpose...so if you smuggled her in that means your intent was not to smuggle her out. That leaves myself and Doctor Crane. What is it you want that you've extracted us?”
Cebjan sips at his wine, staring out to the horizon and rising sun with a look of peace on his face that hides the predator beneath. Bane cannot fail to notice the man is completely unarmed, which speaks to a confidence or knowledge that comes with power.
“Do I need a motive?”
“Let us not play games, Nikolaj. Are you looking to hire me like a common mercenary?”
Cebjan smirks at him, finishing his wine. “Oh...you're uncommon, Bane, though you are a mercenary. But I am not the sort of man who dallies with guns for hire.”
Bane takes a step forward so that his bulk towers over Cebjan. He is tired of being toyed with. “That is fortunate...I am no 'hired gun' and only foolish men dally with me.”
Cebjan looks at him with that familiar brand of cold amusement. He must have been feigning fear or discomfort before, for he shows no signs of being intimidated now. “Suffice to say my organization thought it best to spare you the death sentence...and saw some worth in Doctor Crane as well.”
Bane's eyes flash. “Indeed, your 'shadowy organization'. I am tiring of your obfuscations, Nikolaj. You had best humour me.”
Cebjan, still unruffled, merely shrugs his shoulders again. His indifference is patronizing and becoming quite irksome. “We are sailing for international waters. There we will be met by a private aircraft and you, and Crane as well, will be taken to whichever destination you wish. Or as close as possible.” His expression turns a little icier. “Useful men have their privileges. And their rewards.”
“For you to keep tabs on us?”
“You won't believe me even if I do say no.”
That was at least an honesty he could deal with. Deciding not to press the matter, Bane rests his elbows on the rail of the yacht. “Take me as far as the Chinese border. I can make my way from there.”
A curious and somewhat concerned look settles on Cebjan's face. “What is there for you in China?”
Bane glances over at him with hard eyes. There is only so much the man can demand from him.
But it seems Cebjan already knows and he breathes, “The League of Shadows. Why, Bane? It doesn't exist anymore.”
“You know of us...do we know of you?” Bane settles onto the rail again, staring out into the horizon. “My contact will be waiting for me there.”
Cebjan's voice is soft. “So Jim Gordon didn't tell you after all.”
Bane feels something freeze within him. “Tell me what?”
He knows...he knows before Cebjan even utters the words aloud, and he feels a cold steel hand grip his heart and squeeze. “Talia al Ghul died during the sack of Gotham.”
Quick as a snake, Bane's hand wraps around Cebjan's throat and lifts him into the air. Cebjan grapples with Bane's massive hand, his legs kicking lightly, and he closes his eyes and focuses solely on breathing. Bane's eyes flash dangerously, and he feels his hand trembling as he slowly, keeps squeezing.
He then hears the 'tick tick tick' of clockwork gears turning, and looks to the upper deck door to see Cronin standing there. Just standing, not stepping any closer, her arms resting lightly at her sides, the blades housed there flashing in the sunlight.
Slowly, he lowers Cebjan to the ground and releases him. Cebjan stumbles a half-step back, massaging his bruised neck, but dignity keeps him from wheezing. He glares angrily at Bane, but makes no recriminations.
“Your watch dog is attentive,” Bane coolly says, watching as Cronin still, makes no move towards them, but simply looks on. “Are you her maker?”
Cebjan's voice is slightly strained, tears stinging his eyes. “I made her, but I did not design her. Her true father was Doctor Kroenen.”
Bane looks back to Cebjan, the name means nothing to him.
“Your mentor Ra's al Ghul would have recognized the name. And perhaps Bruce Wayne's own precious Mr. Fox. We like to think genius is its own singularity, but no great idea is ever allowed to pass into the ether an individual.” Cebjan still rubs at his abused throat, gesturing to Bane's face. “I see some of Kroenen's ideas in your mask.”
“Ra's al Ghul designed this mask.”
Cebjan waves his hand dismissively in the air, coughing lightly to the side. “As I said...ideas and their shared parentage.”
Bane feels waves of contempt and hatred wash over him, and he steps away from the rail. “Inform me when your aircraft arrives, Nikolaj. Your company is only amusing in small doses.”
Bane strides over to the door that takes him back down into the cabins, his eyes locked on the blank mask of Cronin. He feels his hatred burn with every step, his muscles already tensing and wondering what the first move would be to destroy a machine. Rip out the key? Tear the head from the shoulders? Drip high-powered acid over her to melt her metal bones?
But Cronin steps smoothly aside as he approaches, only tilting her head slightly over her shoulder to watch him pass, and he is left with only his own dark musings.
Crane's eyes, peering out from the filthy rags covering his face, dart and dance across the checkered board. His hand hovers nervously over the few pieces he has left, but then confidence loses him and shaking he flicks over his king.
A patient look on Cebjan's face, he rights Crane's king and places it back onto its square. “You aren't in checkmate yet, Jonathan, try to finish the game.”
Bane lounges on one of the benches in the small galley, a book from Cebjan's library cradled in his hand. Without looking up, he says, “Use your castle to neutralize his queen.”
Cebjan looks over with a pleasant smile. “You're a chess player?”
Bane still doesn't look away from his page. “Yes, though I've not used the pieces in a long time. Playing chess with Ra's al Ghul was amusing until it lost its challenge.”
Crane's fingers drum an erratic beat on his temple, his eyes narrowed as he examines the board. He glances to Cebjan, back down to his pieces, his whole body quivering with a panicked urgency. He knocks over his king again and pushes himself away from the table, cradling his arms.
Cebjan sighs, putting away the pieces. “We can try again tomorrow.”
“I used to play chess but the pieces started to bleed,” Crane murmurs, a hand disappearing underneath the rags on his face so he can gnaw on his cracking fingernails.
Bane puts his book down, weary. “But Jonny, that's when the game becomes interesting again.”
Cronin is seated for once, though her attention is undivided to the task at hand and it seems as if she could care less for the world around her. She has a small roll of tools spread out in front of her and a small drum of oil as well. Fastidiously, she checks each of her joints and the different sections of her suit, tightening, clipping, and oiling as necessary.
She then comes to the bullet holes in her suit and carefully probes inside them. One of the entry points leaves her finger coming away slick with oil. She grabs a small soldering iron and the tinted plates slide over her eye holes. Sparks spit angrily from the iron as its welding tip is pushed deep inside and whatever rend in the metal framework is repaired. Once that is done, she opens a small pot that contains a sticky, black liquid. She smears the substance over each of the holes and they dry quickly, blending the tears in the suit and conforming to the material.
Crane watches, rocking back and forth on his heels and gnawing at his thumbnail. He is counting, low under his breath...
“Three to the power of three to the power of three...” He whispers, and Cronin's head suddenly snaps up and faces in his direction. Her movements freeze instantly, and through the blankness he can sense annoyance.
He giggles, counting along with the clicks of the gears and turn of the key, whirling faster now. Tick, tick, tick, tick...
Crane suddenly feels something heavy descend upon his shoulder and looks up in a panic. With a large hand Bane 'playfully' smacks the side of his face, and it nearly knocks Crane tail over teakettle. “Come, Jonny...leave the robot to its repairs.”
Crane notices the tinted plates over Cronin's eye holes slide upwards, and her true eyes revealing a look of distaste. But Bane doesn't seem to notice as he hefts a hand underneath Crane's arm and hauls him to his feet. Crane babbles excitedly to him in a whisper. “I see it, I see the pattern for the clock-”
Bane finally stops them just when they are by the rails of the ship, and suddenly his hand moves to the base of Crane's neck, grabbing the coat and lifting him up so that only the tips of his toes scrabble against the deck floor.
Bane leans in so that the tubes of his mask are by Crane's ear. His voice booms painfully, ricocheting in Crane's head. “Did you have dealings with anyone apart from Ra's al Ghul?”
Crane dangles, his feet kicking lightly for purchase on the ground like a man swinging from a noose. “The clock...the clock...”
Bane's grip tightens. “I will throw you overboard this ship and your body will be torn apart by all that live in the ocean. But first I will snap your neck. You will sink like a stone. So, Doctor Crane, kindly make yourself present. You wouldn't want to miss your own funeral.”
He sees Crane's eyelids flutter before closing and the man hangs limp. They slowly open and Crane's voice changes, haggard and world weary. “Do you have an appointment?”
Bane repeats himself, slowly. “Did you have dealings with anyone other than Ra's al Ghul?”
“Falcone...the Joker...” Crane looks over at Bane with those disturbingly large eyes, his mouth quirking in a small, frightened smile. “...the batman...”
Crane lifts an eyebrow, that curious smile still on his lips. “Does anyone from the League of Shadows ever truly die?”
Bane looks thunderstruck, and then his eyes narrow with hatred. Roughly, he sets Crane back down on his feet, smacking him against the rail first. “Bruce Wayne was never a true member of the League of Shadows...” He looks lost in himself for a moment, before those relentless eyes snap back to Crane's. “Does the name Kroenen mean anything to you?”
Crane shakes his head slowly, his lips drawing out a silent 'no'.
Bane moodily crosses his arms against his chest. “We know nothing of the man who brought us here or what his true intentions are. The technology at his disposal is of the calibre of the League's, but nothing that is familiar. There can only be so many powerful men with those kinds of tools...and all are dangerous.”
Crane is lost somewhere, staring through Bane. “If Bruce Wayne is dead then why is his coffin empty?”
Bane's hand rests by Crane's throat, an open palm, and almost gentle as it descends into the fold of neck and shoulder. “Doctor Crane, you had best not let your mind wander when I am speaking to you right now. We get hurt when we...slip.”
Crane shudders, his eyes darting around, but he steels himself and whispers, “I don't know anything about the clockmaker. I've never been outside Gotham.”
“And do you wish to return home?”
Crane doesn't answer, perhaps he is too frightened, but Bane merely pats the side of his face with more force than necessary. “Stay alert, and I may just spare you a death at sea for the confines of your beloved asylum.”
Cebjan enters his private quarters, stopping by the door with a mild look of surprise on his face. “I am sure I locked my door before leaving...but I suppose I should not be too amiss.”
Bane glances over his shoulder, another book in his hand from the small shelf in Cebjan's study. He waves a hand to the notes scattered on Cebjan's desk. “Your inkblots...how very, very amusing.”
The stack of cards he had presented to Cronin as an inkblot test were spread out across his desk, revealing them to be notes written in Sanskrit. Cebjan doesn't look embarrassed or the least bit annoyed, stepping in and rearranging his materials. “Did you find anything else interesting in here?”
Bane has already looked back to the book. “A locked drawer that was easily popped open with a small amount of pressure. And a false bottom in the desk that revealed a hidden compartment.” He snaps the book shut and looks at Cebjan. “Though I'm sure only a fool hides his true work in his desk. I also noticed a safe hidden in the floor.”
Cebjan seats himself at his desk, pouring himself a glass of wine. A look of annoyance settles on his face as he reorganizes everything back to how he wants them. “An 'uncrackable' safe I was assured.”
Bane places the book gently back where he found it on the shelf. “I wouldn't place any faith in such superlatives, Nikolaj, but rest easy. I was never a locksmith. I just hired them.”
Bane finds a different volume that catches his interest, plucking it from the shelf. He nods to Cebjan and makes for the door.
“You're squandering your abilities...” Cebjan's voice stops him. He turns and sees the man writing in that curious, calligraphic script. “...you're just a brute, yes, but every man has need of muscle, especially when it's ruthless. And it seems Ra's al Ghul placed quite a lot of trust in you...until you were excommunicated, of course.”
Bane's voice is harsh with disdain. “And to what do I owe the pleasure of this trip down memory lane?”
Cebjan looks up at him, and Bane notices now that the man's eyes are like chips of ice. Cold fire. “The League of Shadows is dead, gone, completely annihilated. Except for you. The League has left its fingerprints all over history and the world, and I am anxious to see some of its 'imprints' not left to the scourging wastes of time.”
Bane knows what this man is now...a white bishop on a chessboard, ruthlessly cutting through pieces on its relentless march to the throne. No matter...Bane has toppled kings in the past.
“Whatever is left of Ra's al Ghul's legacy he certainly did not leave to me.”
Cebjan's eyes are burning with a quiet sort of hunger. “I can make a key of anything...so long as there is a piece remaining.”
Bane laughs, his mirth dripping with contempt and mockery and he sees the humiliation burn on Cebjan's face. “I was never loyal to Ra's al Ghul and the man hated me. Your brilliant mind could not deduce this? Good luck, Nikolaj, I hope you choke on your disappointment.”
Bane shuts the door behind him, his laughter still reverberating in the corridor, warped by venom and the hiss of tubes.
“Get up, Crane.”
Bane kicks the small cabin bed and Crane tumbles forth onto the floor, tangled in the coat he still hugs obsessively to him. Bane hauls him to his feet and presses a package of papers into his hands. Notes he has stolen from Cebjan.
“Can you read these?”
Crane stares at him with those buggy, blue eyes, and then to the papers. Curiously, he holds up a page, scanning its contents.
Bane growls in frustration. “You're holding it upside down, you fool.”
With nervous hands Crane rights the page, and shoos Bane away, sitting back down on his cot as his eyes dance across the paper. “I can't read it, but I see it.”
Bane looks at him in disbelief. “I suppose I only have myself to blame for seeking the advice of a madman.”
Crane holds a finger to his lips and splutters a scandalized 'shhh! Shhh!' fumbling with the other pages and scanning them hungrily. His fingertips skim the lines of calligraphy and his mouth murmurs silently along to some inner debate.
He suddenly tosses the papers to the ground as if they burned him, his mouth quivering and his eyes wide with fear. Bane grabs him by the shoulders and shakes him. “What do they say?”
Crane mutely shakes his head, a small panicked laugh escapes his lips. “Oh, you big brute...I'm scared of you, but they scare me more.”
Bane shakes him harder, Crane flopping in his hands like a rag doll. “What does it say, straw man!”
Crane runs a nervous hand over his face, the rags drooping. “A pit...a deep, bottomless pit that leads to hell. Thousands of souls screaming and swirling around in the abyss. A pit that spits back out power and life. But only if it doesn't break you first!”
Bane drags Crane up so that their faces are no more than an inch apart. “What has Cebjan been telling you? Answer me!”
Crane just starts laughing instead, a high hysterical keening erupting from his throat, and in disgust Bane flings him against the cabin wall. Crane's head connects with it, making a sickening noise, and he falls onto the bed, moaning. His trembling fingers reach up to his temple and come away smeared in blood, but he just continues laughing and that is how Bane leaves him.
Bane doesn't know how wise it is to judge his own conclusions off the moods of a madman. Crane probably didn't understand the script at all, merely seeing his own paranoia on the page and his feeble mind collapsing of its own accord. But their encounter leaves him unsettled and he wonders if he should jump over the side of the ship and swim. He has dealt with worse in the past.
But the rasps of the vents in his mask have started to sound more hollow, and Bane knows this means his canisters need to be changed soon. Sure enough, Cebjan finds him later that evening with two fresh cans of venom in his pocket and gestures for him to sit down in a chair.
Cronin follows him into the room, a glittering black insect with a white face. Bane sits down, resting his elbows on his knees, as Cebjan goes through his cursory check of the mask's tubings.
“Does she speak?”
“She has the ability...” Cebjan then lightly pinches his shoulder, and Bane presses the mask harder to his face and inhales deeply. Cebjan undoes the clasps and begins to fumble with the fasteners that hold the canisters in place.
Bane focuses on a crack in the floor, steeling his resolve against the pain that begins to ebb back, sharpening, burning. His chest begins to hitch, his veins boiling and his hands have turned into hard, white fists. He finally feels the light tap on his shoulder and quickly buckles the mask back into place.
He breathes deeply, relief washing over him. He begins to rise to his feet, the pain receding now, when he senses something is wrong.
Cronin cannot portray any emotion on her face, she does not even have a face, but somehow Bane feels as if she is laughing at him. He looks wildly to Cebjan, his limbs suddenly feeling as if someone is pouring concrete over them. Stumbling, Bane collapses to the floor, raging inwardly but losing it all to a blackness that swallows him.
When Bane wakes he hears the moans and cries of a thousand voices echoing against stone walls. It is cool, he can hear moisture dripping from rock, and feel himself blanketed in darkness.
He does not need to open his eyes to know where he is, but they tear open anyway in disbelief. Bane looks around him and sees the high walls and despair of the Pit.
The howl that tears through him, warped by anguish and the vents of his mask, shake the very stone.
It is one thing to admire a legend and to whisper its name in the darkness, to hear tales and dream them anew in your mind again and again.
It is quite another to confront the man who made the legend. They always seem so much smaller, for a man is not a legend, and a legend is beyond a man.
It happens rarely, and John Blake must have known some of what it felt like when he saw Bruce Wayne and wondered how such a thin, tired man could be the towering dark knight.
And Bane is a broken man. Made only of flesh and bone, blood and pain.
The Pit was his home, the cage he had been reborn in, and his name echoed off the walls, whispered in fear or awe, since the day he left with a rope tied around his waist, his face ruined. There are a few who see his face now and their hearts quail because they remember him. Most only know his name and that it is a fearful thing to speak.
Bane has returned...the Demon is back.
And in this hell on earth all who are dropped into its maw are reborn again.
And Bane's newest start to life is heralded with the unrelenting chorus of screams and howls so burdened with betrayal, hatred and pain, that the Pit shudders with him.
“You are shaking, Jonathan.”
“I know where you're taking me.”
“Then why are you not struggling?” Cebjan looks down curiously to their clasped hands. Crane had grabbed onto his tightly in the helicopter, and Cebjan thought it was because the lurching of the air craft and the loud noise unsettled him. But when the helicopter landed and they made their way to the jeep, he still would not let Cebjan's hand go.
Crane doesn't answer him but slips the rags from his face. His lips are chapped and he is sweating.
They drive down a dirt road and the night sky is full of the sounds of birds cawing and the yelps of foxes. Crane worries at his bottom lip so much he tears it and bleeds.
Cebjan speaks to him kindly on the way. “I think you see a lot, Jonathan. A lot more than people give you credit for.”
Crane moans and buries his face in his hands. “I see too much...too much...”
Cebjan gently pulls Crane's hands away from his face. He taps a finger just underneath his own eye. “Sight is our first conduit to thought. And we are nothing except machines that house our minds.”
Crane looks nervously around the jeep, his eyes stopping on the shadow of Cronin's form. “Does she have a mind?”
Cebjan smiles. “Of course.”
The jeep stops finally in a field, and Cebjan pulls Crane out of the vehicle. Crane stumbles, his arms sweeping over the long, swaying stalks of corn. His mouth quivers and he bites his lip, tears springing to his eyes.
He finally cannot take anymore and falls to his knees, burying his head in his hands and pressing his face to the dirt. He hears the howls of the nightlife around him and the wind whistling through the stalks. He weeps.
He hears them digging in the field, and then the stuttering sound of a wooden pole being dragged through the soil. It creaks as it is lifted upright and then hammered into the ground.
Crane screams as they haul him to his feet, push him up onto the wooden cross and tie his arms and legs to it. The sun is beginning to peek over the horizon, dawn is approaching.
In the rosy light he sees Cebjan, who now looks so far away on the ground. The man smiles, his ice eyes glittering and the sun picking the hints of golden sand in his hair. “I made you something, Jonathan. A gift.” He reaches inside his jacket and pulls out a misshapen lump. “It's a mask.”
Crane breathes in splutters, his chest hiccuping. “A face...a face...”
The rough burlap mask is pulled over his head, and Crane feels harsh metal click against his teeth. There are canisters attached to either side of the mask and he tastes something bitter.
His fear toxin...
Cebjan steps back and then reveals something else. They have placed a mirror in the field, just in front of him.
Cebjan pats his arm fondly and says, “Stay here until you find the scarecrow again.”
Crane's eyes roll up into the back of his head and he cannot tell if he is screaming or not, but either way his mouth is torn open in a rictus of pure fear.
Bane the Demon was back in hell and his entrance had been disappointing. The men crowded the bars of their cells when the ropes were thrown down in. They gathered to see who the new wretched soul was, condemned to die down in here with them, and they were covered by the largest shadow as Bane was thrown down.
He fell and landed with an impact of such force that it let off a huge cloud of dust and sand. The men shouted in awe of this strange new meteor, wondering if it perhaps had left a crater at the bottom of their prison.
But what they found was just a man, the floor unmarred. Flesh always yields to stone.
Bane the demon was dragged into a cell, and when he finally woke he lumbered around his stone cage, howling in rage, his great hands twisting the iron bars into knots. The men babbled excitedly at the show of his strength. The Demon was back, the Demon had come back for them.
But the next few nights revealed the Demon had not come back for them at all, and he was just a man. They saw his spirit crushed and he lay down on the floor of his cell in a massive heap, shuddering into the stone. He sobbed, he sobbed, and he was not their hero after all.
No one knew how long Bane lay there, lost in his own misery, for the Pit opened up to the sky but did not grace its denizens with a true sense of time. When he finally stood up again, his eyes blazing red, he stumbled from the cell and looked about his old home with wild eyes.
Most of the men were too shamed to look at him. One, a young man who had been thrown into the pit after the legend of Bane, made the mistake of laughing at him. Bane looked at him through a haze of red, his misery clouding his thoughts, but he knew insolence even through his anguish and wrapped his two massive hands around the boy's head. He squeezed as the boy screamed like an animal caught into a snare and his skull collapsed with wet, disturbing sounds. Bane let the body drop to the floor with a thud, not having looked at the boy once throughout the whole ordeal.
Bane searches the Pit, tearing open doors, tossing men aside in cells, and calling out one name over and over again in his mad, frantic hunt.
The field is bleeding.
The field is an ocean and it is lapping against his face, leaving behind red smears and suffocating him with the smell of copper and decay. He is gasping, straining to keep his head above so that he doesn't drown.
He sees...why, he sees Jonathan Crane floating in the red sea, his body bloated and limp.
He struggles against the bonds that hold him, his feet pushing against whatever small purchase there is so that he can keep his head up...just keep it up...
His struggles are moving the current of the dark ocean and the ripples are bringing Jonathan Crane's body closer to him. The body rolls over so that it floats face-up. His cries are strangled and die in his throat.
But I'm Jonathan Crane, he thinks desperately, but the face of the body isn't lying.
Jonathan Crane's eyes open and he feels a stab of fear in his heart. Jonathan Crane's mouth opens and something is pushing its way out. A sleek black head pushes and pushes, finally freeing itself and a wicked, pointed beak. It caws, hopping, and suddenly flying straight at his face.
He shrieks as a legion of crows fly out of Jonathan Crane's body and aim for his face, their beaks shredding, their wings beating against him.
“Scarecrow! Scarecrow! Scarecrow!”
Bane stumbles into a cell, blind because his mind is still protesting with reality. He sits down heavily on the ground, his hands shaking and his hard fought composure failing.
His head snaps forward to the sound and realizes he has come into someone's home. The voice is familiar, and he looks harder now, and recognizes the brown leathery face of the blind doctor.
He doesn't know why, but the thought that the man is still here makes him more sad than bitter.
“Bane,” the doctor says again, some urgency in his voice, and he is tugging at a brown sack by his feet. Perhaps his excitement has made him clumsy, because his hands fumble badly with the drawstring, and the sack falls away from him, ripping open. Small metal canisters fall out of the neck, spilling onto the floor and one rolls towards Bane.
Stunned, Bane picks up the canister meant for his mask. He looks to the sack and sees it bulging. There must be hundreds inside.
“How...how long do they expect me to be down here?”
The prison doctor gropes in the shadows, trying to collect the canisters back into their sack. “My friend, they expect you to die down here.”
The revelation is what Bane needs to snap him out of his misery. It burns, it burns white-hot, but it grows smaller, more condensed, and settles to reside deep in the pit of his stomach. He feels hatred curling around his heart and his mind finally settles into sharp focus. He pushes back the pain, pushes back the part of him that wants to keep screaming until his throat bleeds.
Although the doctor cannot see him, he somehow senses the change and a queer smile settles on his lips. He croaks, “Rise...rise, demon.”
Doctor Crane isn't here right now.
His breathing is shallow.
“Johnny. Johnny – haha , look at you. You're a mess .”
He struggles to open his eyes, it feels like there are sutures stitching them shut. He shakes his head in despair.
“Ohhh...did you need some alone time? Is little Johnny Crane going to go hide in the corner because he wet the bed? Are you going to cry , Johnny? HaHAHAhaha... ”
He knows that voice. He knows that mocking drawl, punctuated with breathless gasps, drawing out vowels and that shrill, chilling laugh...
“I'd help you, I'd love to help you, but you know...I'm not known for my beauty tips.”
He shakes, the pole he's tied to quivering in the ground as he tries to jerk himself free. He needs to get away, anywhere else but here...
“ Look. At. Me. ”
His eyes snap open as if someone grabbed his lids and pulled upwards. He gasps, his breathing coming out in panicked spurts, and he sees the mirror in the field in front of him.
And the clown is in the mirror staring back at him.
The clown's smiling. Of course he's smiling. He waggles his fingers. “Say...you don't look so good. Cheer up, Crane. I've got a few jokes, or do you want to see a magic trick?”
Crane screams, struggling with his bonds, and he screams and screams.
Bane huddles in the darkest corner of the cell, disliking the warm touch of sunlight. He sits like a massive gargoyle, still and grotesque. He watches the men swarming in a crowd, cheering and raising their fists in the air as one of the damned ties a rope around his waist and begins the climb.
Rise, Rise, Rise! They cheer.
“He's going to fall,” Bane says quietly, and the blind doctor nods in agreement. A moment later, there is the sound of a terrible 'crack!' and a man screaming in agony. The blind doctor does not need to ask Bane what happened, he already knows.
“They come in droves...a man attempting to climb out every day. What has inflamed their hope down here in hell?”
The doctor coughs, a wet grating sound in his chest, and answers back in his guttural native tongue. “They have seen a man rise. It makes them wish to be him.”
Bane watches the man, swinging from the rope, unconscious and bloody. “There is only one who escaped this place...”
The doctor looks at him in confusion. “Two. A child. And the man.”
Bane's eyes snap to the doctor, Bruce Wayne's face swimming in his mind. Of course...of course, how could I have forgotten? So the Batman had to do that as well...he had to kill Talia and kill her legacy as well. A greedy, all-consuming, jealous foe.
He feels the anger rush in him, dark and acidic, and finally down in Hell he feels right. Bane rises to his feet, and then suddenly drops to the floor, one hand catching the entirety of his weight. He pushes, pushes against stone, testing his strength.
“Are you going to climb, Bane?”
The doctor is surprised, his ears straining in the blackness to catch the rhythm of the mask's breathing.
“If I climb, I will fall. I am too heavy to make the jump. I do not intend to fall in front of those men.” Bane pushes himself up again and again, his muscles beginning to burn lightly, the venom pumping quicker and quicker into his veins.
“But I am going to leave here. Soon. When the Pit decides it's had enough of the taste of me.”
Bane leaves the doctor's cell and makes his way to the centre of the Pit where the chanting men have sat down to feel the sunlight, and callously watch as the failed climber struggles to untie the rope from his waist, bleeding profusely from the forehead.
Heads turn to watch as Bane approaches them, and he sees a few flickers of contempt in their eyes. His own eyes flash with a dangerous, oh? , and at least two are intelligent enough to look away in fear. The others still stare insolently back at the great hulking brute who stops in front of them.
He jerks his head to a younger one with dirty, blonde hair. “How tall are you?”
The man, the boy , shrugs as he looks at him suspiciously. “Smaller than you.”
Bane sighs impatiently, one massive hand reaching out and pressing down on the man's face. The others watch as his fingers tense, digging cruelly into his face as the man scrabbles helplessly, suffocating. Bane waits, counting to ten, observing the man's skin go from pink to red to white, and then releases him. The man tumbles backwards, wheezing and clawing at his throat.
He looks to the gathered men once more. “How tall are all of you?”
He hears hurried replies and settles for the one standing six feet exactly. “Go stand flat against the wall.”
The man looks at him nervously, but does as he is told. Bane moves forward, placing a hand just above his head, noting as the man tenses and ducks slightly as if afraid he was going to be struck. But Bane ignores him, instead noting his human measuring stick and then peering up to the opening of the Pit.
... I must not forget to account for the diminishing perspective and slight curve to the wall...
Satisfied, Bane looks around the prison, observing the cells, seeing how many are empty, and the general population of hell on earth. His voice booms about the walls, a metallic echo.
“None of you are to attempt the climb again. You will only feed yourself with disappointment, and I have a better meal for you than that.”
He leaves them to return to sitting with the blind doctor, ignoring the shocked and mutinous stares.
The blind doctor has heard all, sitting in his corner, huddled into himself for warmth. “You are going to help them escape?” He asks, a sceptical smirk on his lips.
Bane chuckles lowly under his breath. “No, I am feeding them hope. And hope is poison.”
“You aren't here...you aren't here...”
Crane whimpers into the burlap, the metal canisters clicking against his teeth, but he doesn't care that it makes his head ring every time. He is hyperventilating and trying his best not to sob.
He hears that mocking drawl, exaggerating and distorting his name. “Ooooh, didn't you miss me, Johnny? I can be such a bucket of fun.”
The clown, the one they called the Joker, seems completely content with the fact, shrugging his shoulders lightly and leaning on the frame of the mirror. “Ohhh...something has to kill us all eventually, Johnny. That doesn't mean I'm not here.” He licks his lips, a nervous twitch Crane remembers all too well. “You looked kind of lonely and all, I thought I'd drop by. Where's your buddy? The one with all the stuffing? He's more fun than you.”
The clown flaps his arms up and down, dangling his head grotesquely and Crane wheezes into the burlap sack, always on the edge of panic. He chants again in a whisper, the bizarre prayer that has been on his lips forever. Scarecrow, scarecrow, scarecrow...
“Do you know where he is?” Crane finally manages to squeeze out his lips.
The clown opens his eyes wide, a mocking smile curling around his lips again. “You mean you don't? HeeheeHAHAHaaaa...” The clown places one purple-gloved hand over his stomach, as if slain by his own joke. “Look around you, JOHNNY boy! Are we here, or are we in there?” He jabs a finger at Crane's direction, then tapping his own temple in an erratic tattoo. “Look around you, what better place to be, hmmm?”
The corn stalks bend and sway with what little wind there is and Crane looks up to see the sky, still blood-red. It's true. There is no better place to find the Scarecrow again. “I know why you're here.”
The clown nods, pressing his hands together in a sagely gesture, always mocking. “Sure...I scare you more than Bats ever did, don't I?”
It is the dead of night and the demon creeps around the hell mouth he was reborn in.
One man, loathe to stay in his cell, sleeps on the stone floor so he can see the moon and the dark night sky. He will climb tomorrow, despite the warnings all the men received, and to spend the night underneath his goal is a salve for his doubts.
He shifts, trying to find a more comfortable spot on the stone and sees one of the prison guards sitting on a stone bench carved out of the wall. Strangely, the guard has not moved all night, not even once to brush the flies from his face.
The man suddenly feels fear stab his heart. He realizes then, in the inky night, that the guard is dead and a thin trickle of blood is oozing from the corner of his mouth. He looks about him and though they are only shapes in the darkness, he knows in his heart that all of the other guards are dead as well.
“Number one.” He hears the mechanical rasp of the demon's mask and before he can squeal, large hands cover his mouth, grasping his neck and with a crack he is gone.
Bane lifts his body easily, as if he were a doll, and places him by the edge of the wall. He retreats back into shadow, sitting, and looks up to the sky.
He is a child of the Pit and it will hear his prayer.
The crow glides smoothly in the air, its wings lifted by an invisible thermal current, hot air pushing it upwards and it caws its delight of feeling such freedom. Gliding, soaring, it arcs in lazy circles, the circles tightening as it descends closer and closer to the ground.
Crane watches its trajectory, knowing it will land on his shoulder, and he is glad. Something within him has stilled, and inside he feels like ice. Calm and cold.
The crow caws one more time and then he hears a fluttering, feels something soft beating at his ear and the pricks of claw points settling into the flesh of his arm. It worries at the bag with its beak, cawing once more to let him know it is here.
Crane does not need the mirror to see it. He turns his head to his side, the burlap scratching at his face in its rough caress, and he has never felt better. His voice is quiet, but not small anymore. “I am the watcher in the field. I am one of the pagan gods. I am the shadow.”
The crow tilts its head, as if observing him closely, and then once again it caws as if to say – I believe you.
The crow then hops a few times on his shoulder before flitting briefly into the air again, landing on his chest, its claws hooking into his shirt. It begins to peck and worry at his shirt, tearing the material away until his chest is exposed. It caws three times, loudly into the air, and Crane sees the horizon darken with the flight of a thousand black wings.
The crow stabs his chest, its beak perfectly formed for ripping out strings of flesh. It burrows and burrows until it has made a hole where his heart should be and squirms its way inside.
Crane begins to laugh.
A murder of crows, the largest he's ever seen, descends onto the field, coating him, armouring him.
Several land on the wooden frame and begin pecking and tearing at the ropes that bind him. Little by little the ropes fray.
The blind doctor gropes in the darkness, his ministrations clumsy and fumbling. Bane is reminded of the doctor's previous fumbling hands that had so irrevocably ruined his face, but the only bitterness he tastes in his mouth is from the fresh intake of venom.
The canisters clicking into place, Bane redoes the clasps of his mask himself. The doctor sighs in relief, his arms trembling from the effort of replacing the canisters without sight, and he sits back down on the floor.
“These past few days I have been suffocated by the smell of blood.”
Bane places a large hand, heavy, on the doctor's head, but it is a soothing rather than crushing weight. “It is a good smell, and the pit has a thirst.”
He says no more, leaving the doctor in his gloom. He's sure the old man knows deep within his heart what is coming, so the words need not find their way to the dank air.
The demon looks to his work and crosses his arms against his chest in satisfaction. At the mouth of the pit, in the centre, is a large pile of bodies. Every unfortunate soul trapped down in this prison, Bane has hunted and taken their lives with only his hands. The dreadful machine he is building stares back at him with blank, accusing eyes but he does not feel their recrimination.
He stands quietly, until his ears finally pick up on the muffled, terrified sobs of one still left. Prowling, Bane makes his ways through the shadows of the prison until he finally comes upon the cell with the last person left.
He is an old man, his hair white, his throat wrinkled, and unashamedly he sobs into the rough robes given to all the prisoners here. “Demon...demon...” the old man whispers, trembling.
“Do not fear your end.” Bane's voice croons out of the vents of his mask, tinny and strange in the blanket of quiet. He reaches, almost gently, for the old man, pulling him up to stand on his feet. “I am only taking the last days of your misery.”
With a savage twist the man's neck is broken, and Bane carries him as he would a child to the centre of the pit. With the old man slung over his shoulder, Bane climbs up the flesh pyramid with one hand until he has reached the top and lays down the new mortar.
The descent is a little treacherous, so Bane takes his time, making sure each step is sure. At the bottom he looks back up to the pit and the ladder he is making. It is still too short, but he does not worry.
The Pit is where he was reborn and it hears his prayers. It will send him more bodies soon. It is always hungry.
Now the nights are completely silent. Only the light breathing of the blind doctor penetrates the darkness, but even then it is so quiet it might not exist. Bane sits in his old cell, his fingers tracing over the lines of brick and stone, as the doctor would trace his fingers over a face to memorize it.
Bane is finding the old memory of a face. A child's face.
“Talia...if you are anywhere, would you not be here?”
He is a child of the shadows, but there is one shade looming over him he is finding hard to find the courage to face.
If I were the sorcerer Ra's al Ghul was I would make you again with stone and blood and tears.
But this pit was his cauldron now, with stone and blood and tears mingling aplenty, and it was not for breathing new life.
His life had no purpose before and it did not seem to have one now with her gone. The child, the woman had given him more than freedom from hell. She had given him a duty, a calling, a responsibility and so had risen a broken beast to be a man again.
And now what am I?
If Ra's al Ghul still lived he would have gladly snapped the man's neck for separating him from Talia all those years ago. But that death was Bruce Wayne's, not his. If Bruce Wayne, if the Batman still lived he would break him again and this time would not stop until his skull had been crushed to pulp and sand in his fingers. But that was gone as well...all deaths cheated from him.
Where are you? Haunt me...haunt me and mock me for not being able to save you, pour all of your poison in my ear for failing you and make me relive my disgrace for every day I live...
...just don't leave my side...
When the crows lift off lightly into the air it is as if the tall man in the field has shaken them off like a layer of dust. They squawk and caw irritably at losing their perch but don't go far, settling again in the field of corn.
He stretches languorously, his muscles feeling a good, deep ache. His hand passes curiously over his face, feeling the burlap.
The scarecrow looks into the mirror and sees Jonathan Crane, huddled on the ground, hugging his legs to his chest. Jonathan waves meekly to him, a small, terrible smile on his face.
The scarecrow takes a bow, his limbs seem almost too long and flop about in motion. Then, balling his fists together, he raises his arms high and strikes down on the mirror's surface.
The mirror cracks and the scarecrow swings down again and again until it lies shattered in the field. The crows flutter and screech, still never straying far from their keeper.
Though his hands are bleeding the scarecrow doesn't seem to mind. If he is smiling, it is hidden, the smile he wears is the stitching on the burlap sack.
“How long have you been watching me?”
The man isn't given a chance to scream, a shard of mirror plunging into his throat and quickly ending his life in a warm mess. The scarecrow turns to his companion in the passenger seat of the jeep and grabs the sides of his face. The scarecrow breathes out and the fear toxin lacing his breath is sucked up into the panicked gasps of the struggling man.
“How long have you been here? Where is the preacher?” The scarecrow's voice seems darker and more terrible to the guard's ears, the fear toxin warping reality. He trembles, wetting himself, and grapples weakly with the scarecrow's grip.
The scarecrow tilts his head, patting the guard's cheek. “What are you afraid of?”
The guard's eyes start rolling in the back of his head, his clothes now drenched in sweat, but he manages to stammer, “C-Cebjan.”
“When is he expecting you?” But the guard passes out, his fear overwhelming his senses. The scarecrow doesn't mind. He opens the other door to the jeep and kicks the unconscious guard outside. He drags out the body of the dead guard and watches him fall to the dusty road. Almost an afterthought, he takes the gun from the belt of the dead guard.
Closing the doors to the jeep, the scarecrow settles into the driver's seat, wiping blood from the steering wheel with a sleeve. Turning on the GPS system he notes the coordinates of the last trip the jeep had made, and begins down the dark, dirt road.
The crows fly over head, trailing behind him in the sky.
When the new prisoners slide further down the ropes they are at first unsure of what the stench from below is. They curse their fate that they should be brought to this hell, a hell that smells of death, blood and rot.
When they are closer to the bottom and see what horror lies there, they cry out in terror, scrabbling with each other and trying to climb up the ropes. The guards at the top will not stand for such mutinous behaviour and sever the ropes instead, though they are puzzled when they hear wet smacks instead of the hard thud of bodies hitting stone.
Men fall from the sky into hell, gripped by fear and revulsion when they see the monstrous monument of dead bodies around them. Is this what the Pit truly is? Is this why this prison is feared above all else? Who is the demon in this place?
And Bane stands nearby, watching them as they moan in horror, trying to wipe the blood from their clothes, tripping over each other to run far away from the bodies.
Bane lets them go, he does not think they even see him standing in the shadows, so lost in their own terror and misery. He lets them leave, shaking from the living nightmare they have fallen into, and they go and shut themselves up in cells far away from the centre as if they can lock the horror out.
And at night he prowls his home and brings them one by one, building up his tower brick by brick and reaching further and further to the sky.
It is morning and the sun is beginning to shine down into the Pit, though it could be later in the day. It takes light much longer to reach down into the bottom.
Bane makes one last trip and goes to the cell where the princess was kept and the child was born. The only time he had been inside this cell before was the day he whisked the child away from the murderous, raping horde and saved her from her mother's fate.
It is small. Too small for the likes of him, a hulking brute of muscle and power. How ever could two people live in here and nurture what little innocence the Pit could sustain?
Bane does not sit in the place innocence was born. It was never his home. But he brushes his hand against the stone and inside he thinks, goodbye.
Bane rouses the doctor from a night of troubled sleep and says, “It is time, old friend.”
The doctor bows his wrinkled head, out of sadness or resignation Bane is unsure, and he takes two of the venom canisters and places them into Bane's pockets. Then, Bane lifts him up and wraps the doctor's arms around his neck to carry him.
Bane stands at the foot of his morbid ladder and begins to climb.
Each foothold is soft and yielding, treacherous as men can be. With his strong arms he pulls himself up with other weaker limbs and slowly, but surely, he feels the sun shining warmer on his face.
The doctor clings to him, trembling slightly. He starts and grips tighter every now and again when an arm or leg snaps underneath them, shifting the weight of the pyramid.
But the demon rises, stepping on the backs of lesser men to the world outside.
Finally, they are at the top, and Bane gently untangles the doctor from him. The doctor sways, afraid, and Bane helps him find a sure platform on the back of the second last man.
There are unshed tears in the doctor's eyes, white as milk, and he sighs, “I can feel the sun.”
Bane makes sure he dies so quickly he cannot feel any pain. He holds the man with one arm for a moment, pressing the dead man's ear to his mask. “You helped father the monster I have become. It is only right you cannot see the world outside you can never be part of.”
He places the doctor as his last step, climbing onto the man's back and his arms reach up and find the ledge of the Pit. He pulls himself up, his arms straining, his hands slick with old blood, but the stone is hard and unyielding and does not let him slip.
Bane finally tumbles over the side, feeling sweet dirt and dust beneath his hands. The Pit has spit him back out again.
He lifts his head, he can almost taste the fresh air and how sweet it is.
He hears a sinister, tick tick tick...