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“You can’t be serious, sir; I retired.”
“You’re too young to retire, son.”

Blake sighed and leaned back against the couch, balancing his cell between his ear and shoulder as he worked. He knew picking up a mysterious phone call from Commissioner Gordon at five in the morning was a bad idea.

“Well, then I quit.”

“No, you didn’t, not officially, it’s not on the books, anyway.”

Blake scrubbed his hand over his eyes, and then made a face when it came back with a handful of black greasepaint. He really just wanted to go to bed. It had been a very long and painful night.

“And why isn’t it on the books?” He finally ventured.

“Because I thought you might like to get paid for going out and getting your ass kicked every night instead of having to collect food stamps.”

He fumbled with the phone, finally catching it back up between his slippery fingers. “How—”

Gordon’s voice was softer at that. “Who else would he give it to? Just come in, John, please. You’re the only one I trust with what they’ve cooked up.”

He pressed his lips tightly together for a moment. “Are you going to rat me out if I don’t, sir?”

“Of course not. I am going to give you some boxing lessons, though; I’ve never seen such bad hand to hand combat, where did you even learn it?”

“…Learn?” he questioned feebly. Fuck, he was making it up as he went along.

He was fairly sure he heard a muttered curse on the other end of the line.

“Come in, John, and sign up for some martial arts or something. The Y down the block teaches taekwondo, I hear.”

“I don’t want to learn taekwondo,” he muttered defensively. “I’m doing ok.”

“I heard The Batman got knifed in the last heist he put a stop to.”

Blake flicked his eyes down to the gash in his armor where the handle of a knife was still protruding from his thigh. In his defense, it was a little knife.

“Did you at least go to the hospital?”

“It seemed a bit suspicious; I’m pretty sure I can stitch it up.”

His head jerked towards the door when he heard a knock that was suddenly echoed into his ear from the tiny speaker of his phone.

“Let me in.”

Blake sighed and looked down at himself, still half in the suit, the other half of him bare and covered in dirt and blood, some first aid supplies scattered around him in a mini flurry of fluffy white cotton and bandages, and then there was the sewing kit he hadn’t quite gotten the courage to open up yet.

“It’s open.” It wasn’t really supposed to be, but the lock had been jimmied open a while ago and it just didn’t seem worth it to try to replace it when the prowlers had finally seemed to realize he didn’t have anything of value anyway and had stopped coming around.

Blake watched as Gordon walked through his door, a file tucked under his arm. He felt fleetingly embarrassed to have his former—or apparently not so former—boss in his cramped little one-room apartment, but Gordon didn’t seem to care much, didn’t even give the room a cursory glance before he walked over to John.

“Let’s see the damage then, kid.” He took off his coat and set it aside with the file, rolling up his sleeves.

“Dammit, Jim, you’re a police commissioner not a doctor,” he joked weakly, but groaned in pain and carefully propped his leg up on the coffee table anyway.  Gordon ignored him, and he should probably have been grateful for that. The knife hurt coming out even more than it had going in; actually he’d barely felt it going in over the buzz of adrenaline that had been coursing through his entire body as he fought off three armed men and won, thank you very much, though he supposed points had to be taken off for the knife.

Gordon knew what he was doing, but just because he knew what he was doing didn’t mean it didn’t hurt like a bitch. He was able to stop the flow of blood fairly quickly and together they peeled the rest of his armor off of his leg before disinfecting the area, then Gordon proceeded to break out the thread and needles to put a few careful stitches into the wound while Blake grit his teeth and dug his fingers into the couch cushions, trying not to hurl every curse and swear he knew at Gordon for the amount of pain his steady fingers were inflicting. He was an orphan, too, so he knew a lot.

“Thanks for patching me up.” He tossed a throw blanket over his bandaged leg, at least trying to show a little modesty, not that he had much left. They’d spent a lot of time during occupation together, most of it in Blake’s old, just slightly larger apartment, and any modesty there had disappeared the day it became clear that there was enough water leftover that they could shower together or not at all.

He watched as Gordon reached back over to his coat and pulled out a small stack of envelopes, checks. “They’ve been waiting for you at the precinct. It took some doing, but I got you back pay for your work during occupation.”

Blake picked up the pile and thumbed through them. Combined, it was probably more money than he’d ever had at once. The idea of not having to eat ramen noodles for the rest of his life danced before his eyes. Hell, maybe he could even afford shampoo next week, really live a little.

“What are you trying to bring me in for, sir?”

Gordon, who was rummaging through the small kitchen area wrestling together some toast and coffee, bless him, glanced back, then cursed when the water in the sink sprayed up at him. “Take a look at the file.”

“Why do you want me in on this so bad?”

“Because you’ve got good instincts, rookie. The feds have cooked up some crazy idea and they’re barely letting anyone in on it. It’s beyond hush-hush, but I pulled what weight I could and I’m allowed to have one officer in. I want it to be you because I think if anyone can help them not muck this up, it’s going to be you.”

He took the bait, when he knew he shouldn’t have, and slid the file off of Gordon’s coat, settling it in his lap and paging through it. His jaw clenched and he felt his vision narrowing in anger before he could get more than two pages in.

“This is about Bane.”

“Isn’t everything, anymore?”

It was true. The monster had been found in a coma in the aftermath of their doomsday, now the media couldn’t get enough of him. Each party had their own idea of what to do with him, whether it was take him off life support for humane reasons or to hope he died, or to keep him on it out of, well, humane reasons or to hope he suffered. Blake frankly couldn’t care less, though if Bane did die he wanted it to be a lot slower and more painful, so he wasn’t sure where he came into all of this. He sighed and thumbed through the paperwork some more.

“What’s Dream Share?”

Dream Share, it turned out, was the craziest concept he had ever heard of. Dream hacking, who knew?

“Detective Blake.” A man leaning his hands across a table piled high with charts and building material turned to face him. Gordon hadn’t even given him time to get a nap in. He’d tossed Blake a change of clothes and a bottle of aspirin and told him that, if he was in, he had to go right then. Blake wasn’t sure how that was a threat, but he had suddenly found himself hobbling into a huge warehouse building just off the piers. It seemed shady as hell, but when he stepped inside, the inner floor space was clean, nearly pristine, with a couple of people milling around, working on large dry erase boards, typing away on laptops, in one case leaning over what looked like a chemistry set.

The man who had greeted him had slicked back hair and nice clothes, but he didn’t look like he was with any sort of agency. He was guarded, but a little too friendly as he held out his hand; no member of any organization was this laid back about someone from outside the team joining them.

“I’m Dominic Cobb, these are my associates.” He held out his hand and Blake shook it while the man clearly appraised him. He wasn’t exactly looking his freshest; his leg wasn’t hurting much, but he was definitely favoring it over the other while he had his duffle slung over one arm. He looked woefully underdressed compared to everyone else in the room.

“Were you debriefed?”

“Somewhat. I’ve gotta tell you, this all sounds like a lot of…”

“Bullshit?” Mr. Cobb didn’t seem bothered, and he flashed him a relaxed smile. “We get that a lot. I think you might change your mind soon enough.”

“Yeah, maybe. I’ve seen a lot of things already.”

“So I’ve heard. I’ll be honest with you, Officer Blake; we don’t generally take tourists with us on these things. We also don’t generally work with law enforcement, but, well, to be frank, no one has ever offered us quite this much money before. We were given our choice of which division we’d rather work with, and your commissioner seems like a good man, so we went with his choice. You.”

“Flattering,” he replied dryly. “Don’t worry, I tend to pick things up quick. So, you can really do it? You’ve got a machine that can go into people’s minds?”

“Not just their minds, their dreams. We can then use that to our advantage, to root out information that they might be otherwise hiding. This can save everyone a lot of the trouble that used to come from doing things the old fashioned way, or in the case here, when the subject is unconscious.”

“So they’re in there, too? They can see us in there, going through their shit?”

Mr. Cobb chuckled and a jar of pencils was spilled from the table. Blake blinked as they scattered across the floor, rolling all around the room.  “In a manner of speaking, yes, they’re in the dream, as well; they simply aren’t aware that it’s a dream.”

One of the workers beside Cobb glanced over and gave the man a dirty look before moving over to another table.

“I think someone would know if they were in a dream,” he argued, glancing over some of the mini models on the table. They looked complex, like someone was trying to build cities out of bits of foam and cardboard. “I mean sometimes you know, right?”

“But how often do you only know it’s a dream the moment you wake up, Officer Blake?”

Blake had to concede the point. He could remember many a dream that had felt absolutely real until the second the alarm went off in the morning, and then they felt absolutely ridiculous.

It was all a very interesting concept if one could push aside the absolute bullshit of it all, and he turned back towards Mr. Cobb to tell him so.

Then Mr. Cobb pulled a gun hidden in his waistband and shot him in the face.

That seemed like a bit of an overreaction.