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Fire in the Bones

Chapter Text

The streets were dark and seemingly deserted when John slipped out of the building. The rusted door creaked loudly as he jammed it closed behind him, sending specks of paint chips onto his jacket. John didn't bother to brush them off, it was beginning to snow and the cold damp would soon soak into the thin material anyway. As he crossed the road to the alleyway opposite, he swept a cursory glance around the street, making sure that his presence wasn't noticed. It seemed clear.

Looking at the building from this new angle showed the cracked windows that would now be letting the cold night air in and the bowed roof with its missing tiles. The very definition of derelict nondescript. He hoped it would be enough to keep the kids safe because it certainly wasn't going to keep them warm. He added blankets and clothing to his mental list of necessities to try and track down as soon as he could. He hoped he could.

Pulling his jacket tighter around his thin frame, John started through the backstreets and alleyways, maneuvering around the warren-like walk with well practiced ease. Gotham might be under siege for everyone now, but street rats hadn't notice the change much, always moving with hunger and secrecy. John may not live on the streets any longer, but you never forgot. Once a street rat, always a street rat - down to your bones.

~

It wasn't that John didn't understand the need to constantly move safe-houses, but understanding that logic didn't make his eyes roll any less when he saw the little chalk markings that led the way. Apparently it was deemed subtle enough to escape the notice of anyone who didn't know what to look for, John thought you might as well use arrows not bats, but he had lost that argument...

"All I am saying commissioner is I think this needs more planning." John kept his voice low and tight, not revealing exactly how frustrated he was at the thinking of these seasoned officers.

"Really? Do tell us more Blake, what with all your days experience as a detective..." Foley sneered at him. John couldn't hold in the sigh at the typicalness of the mans impotent aggression. "That's exactly it. We are dealing with an incredibly intelligent and organized force - drawing bat symbols in the streets isn't subtle, and they will notice - no matter what pattern you come up with."

Foley puffed up "These men are nothing but terrorists and criminals, and you are a jumped up rookie that - "

"Foley, knock it off.' Gordon turned his kind eyes to him "Son, its a symbol we need. People need to know he is coming back, that they will be saved." John looked back into the commissioners' kind eyes, kind but tired. The man looked wane and stretched, and John didn't have the heart to argue with him, to be another problem he had to face. He sighed.

"You will get us all killed for your symbolism." When Gordon looked ready to interrupt at that, John waved him off "I hope he comes back Sir, I do - but you can't think chalk drawings are a counter-revolution. We can't afford to do nothing." The older man just shook his head like an indulgent father "It'll all come together son." He beckoned Foley and the other officers and they left the room.

John didn't start when he felt a small hand on his shoulder, turning around to face a small tight smile, he gave a grim smile of his own in return. "Ms. Tate. How are you ma'am?" The hand moved, following the line from his shoulder down to his bicep before giving the wiry muscle a squeeze. "Miranda, please. I'm doing well, but I'm frustrated. I wish I could do more to help, but I'm told that the situation is under control." Her lovely accent darkened with sarcasm. John just nodded, his body still thrumming with barely repressed anger "Under control indeed." She squeezed again.

~

The first lookout nods his way - recognizing his face. John nods back, he knows Carter well, trained with him for a few months back at the academy. The second check was a little further down the way, shouldn't have even been noticeable...except for the thin tendril of smoke that was rising from the cigarette shakily held between freezing fingers. John walked resolutely past, at this stage incompetence failed to shock him. By the time he reached the supermarket he had warmed up enough to shake off the night's bitter cold.

John walked into the back of the bare stockroom, scanning the small crowd assembled; about a dozen cops, all layered up in civilian clothes. Lucius Fox and Miranda Tate hovered off to the side of the group, and standing at the end of a bench was commissioner Gordon, who seemed to be in discussion with deputy Foley.

Slipping in past Miranda, who gave him a small smile that he returned, he stopped next to Lucius with a nod, Nice man he thought, hell of a job he had trying to keep a crumbling empire together while Wayne was indulging in losing his piece. In that way he thought he could understand one motivation from Bane's revolution. Well…one of the least bat-shit crazy motivations; to show the world that the little men run it, while the big men merely front it.

Something that could have been achieved with a motivational poster really, not a nuclear device, but hey, dramatic flair and all that. John dragged his attention back into to the present as Gordon stepped forward.
 
'Thanks all for coming. I know times are getting tough out there, but it seems the outside world haven't forgotten us after all.' He have a shallow smile at the lack of response. 'The pentagon are sending in a team to assess our…situation.' That got the room going. Voices burst out over one another, some with confusion, some with frustration, but all with anger.
'They KNOW the situation - '
'Unbelievable! What a waste of time - '
'Team? Why not the fucking army?! We need help here -'

The commissioner held his palms up calling for quiet, and slowly the shouting bubbled down to murmured dissent. 'I know this isn't the help we need right now, but this is the step we have to take first. I don’t like it, but the pentagon have protocols to follow, and they need to see what we know to move forward with a plan. So - I'm asking for volunteers. Someone needs to meet these guys, show them the cavalcades, the patterns and the routes, point out Bane's strongholds. Basic-'
 
'Basically you are asking one of us to play suicidal tour-guide to a bunch of military jocks.' Snickers rose from the group.
'Oh sure. Hell, get a bus, lets charge 'em 10 bucks for the sights while we're at it!' John narrowed his eyes at the joking man - Nelson he remembered his name. Lifer in the force, daddy's daddy's daddy was one of the founding cops in Gotham. He probably would have made sergeant in a couple of years, probably wanted to go on to deputy commissioner after that, make a segway into politics. Maybe become mayor. That is until the whole siege thing. He must be pretty pissed the 5 year plan was derailed, John mused to himself. Well, no use for it.
 
'I'll do it.'
 
Silence.
 
'Blake - '
'Detective - '
'John -' 
It seemed as though the little crowd would go through everyone of his titles before they let each other get a word in.
'Son, you don't have to do this. It doesn't always have to be you.' He said it gently, the last sentence came out almost like a sigh. John turned to the Commissioner, and said again 'I'll do it Sir. - But I'm going to need a couple of things from you first.' Gordon just nodded, but beside him Foley gauffed.
 
'I don’t know why you have picked this kid as your little pet Jim, but this aint the time for toy-boy favourites - ' John bristled at that, clenching his fists, but thankfully Gordon chose that moment to halt the other man before he said anything more to get himself dropped with a punch to the face.
 
'Blake saved my life. I trust him. Simple as that.' The commissioner moved in front of Foley, blocking him, and placed a hand on John's shoulder, politely ignoring the slight blush his words had caused.

'Ok, we'll play this your way Son. You let us know who and what you need.' A small smile escaped him and he blushed further at the older man's show of complete trust in him. There weren't many people who John could say had ever had his back, in fact he could pretty much count them on a scissored hand, but Gordon had never dismissed him - no matter how much of a jump start rookie he was/had been.
 
'I'll need to know how they are getting in, and when. How you're communicating with them now, and what, if any, equipment they'll be bringing with them.'
Letting out a deep breath, this wasn't going to go down well, he continued; 'And, I'm going to need you to not tell anyone else those details Sir. No one.'
 
Yep - he was right. Pure shouting bedlam erupted in the circle. After a minute or so one voice rang out clear above the rest - Foley's. He descended on John, puffed up with anger, his face was promptly changing red, spittle flying from his mouth as he stalked forward.

'You saying we can't be trusted boy?! I'll have you know that every man in here has given years of service to this city! While you were in that gutter trying to crawl and whore your way ou-'

John brushed Gordon aside, drawing up to his full height he stood there, arms folded across his chest as if finding him to be such little threat to not even bother defending himself. Glaring, he cut him off mid-sentence.

'That's what really bothers you isn't it. Still haven't gotten over the fact that they let a poor kid with no connections into your precious academy. Yeah - Well get the fuck over it. You're playing right into their hands with your bullshit, and we don't have time -'

'ENOUGH! Both of you!' Lucius had quite the set of lungs on him John thought to himself. Snapped out of his confrontation he was slightly ashamed to have risen to the other man's taunting. It wasn't like he hadn't heard it all before, numerously, continuously, loudly.

Caught up in his self-recriminating musings he had missed that Lucius was still talking, tuning back in, he just managed to catch 'handedly keeping all the cops trapped down there alive. So I would say Gotham P.D. owe Detective Blake some curtesy.' John flushed. The others in the room were looking at him with either respect or annoyance. Glancing around he caught Miranda's gaze, her eyes locking into his, he felt as though he were being appraised, but in the next moment she smiled sweetly at him again and he forgot the strange notion.

The room now quiet John cleared his throat. 'The need for secrecy isn't a suggestion anyone is bent - have you thought about what would happen if a patrol picked any of us up?' A couple of the men shuddered.
'Bane's men wouldn't hold back from torturing each one of us for any information before handing us over to the courts. Fewer people who know the details the better - for all of us.' John looked at each of the faces around him, many of his fellow cops nodded back at him, albeit begrudgingly. They may not want to think themselves weak, but few have been measured, and these dark days wasn't the moment to test yourself if you had any doubts.

Gordon wound up the meeting shortly after, and the little crowd dispersed leaving John alone with the two civilians. He spoke, eyes down on the walkie-talkie Gordon had placed into his hand before leaving.

'Miss Tate, may I ask something of you?' The shorter woman nodded her accent, John looked up across to meet her eye. 'If they catch me, tell me you'll take the kids. Get them out, any way you can.' She didn't smile, she didn't try to fill the silence with false assurances that he would be fine, she didn't pretend, and for that moment John was truly grateful to her.

'Of course I will look after your orphans.' John let out a breath he didn't even know he was holding. He nodded at her gratefully as he took her offered hand and squeezed back.

'You are not to be underestimated John Blake, and you are not alone. I am going to help you.'

Chapter Text

The next few days dragged past despite the flurry of activity. There was nothing worse then waiting. Honestly. The mind is so preoccupied by the task that lies ahead but without any action to sustain it, it roams free. Thoughts of every possible scenario, what-if, disaster are helpfully supplied. That’s when the fear sets in. Suddenly every decision leads down a path, and each path has consequences, and prices to pay.
 
How many lives is he responsible for now? How many people are counting on him to led them through this nightmare, to make the choices that would set them free. And it all comes down to him, all rests on his shoulders.
 
John has never felt more alone in his life.
 
A small hand tugs at the back of his shirt, pulling him from his dark musings. Turning and bending, he picks up the little girl into his arms, making sure to wrap her blanket tighter against the cold. It’s a funny thing, normally she couldn’t stand to be hugged, but times were hardly normal he supposed.
 
'You should be sleeping.' he whispered.
'You're not'.
'Ah but I don’t have too, I'm the adult.' A little frown and set of scrunched set of eyebrows was the only response he got to that. 'Yea - didn’t think that would wash with you. Come on, we'll both go to sleep then, ok?' He carried her back over to her little mat on the floor near the low-burning fire, careful not to step on any of the surrounding sleeping bodies.
'Luke said the bad man is gonna kill us, an you cant stop him cos he got a bomb an a army an we got nobody.' Damn perceptive kids.
 
He supposed he should be proud, none of them were fools. The best thing to do is not to lie, they can see through that faster than you can think the word bullshit. Then again, there is only so much truth you can tell a 6 year old before expecting them to just fall asleep. Damn it, here goes.
'We don’t have nobody, we have a whole city of people. Far more then the bad men have. And we are going to win. Want to know how?' John paused at the vigorous nod.
'Hope. Hope is a powerful thing, and so long as you have it, nothing with ever beat you. Now. Sleep.' He tucked her little blanket up around her neck, and lent back.
 
She didn’t last long for all her stubbornness. It was hard to fight against the lure of sleep when you're warm and your belly unexpectedly full. John was glad, these kids deserved a break against the harsh life they found themselves in.
 
He moved back over to his own mat on the other side of the room next to the door. It wasn’t empty though - Miranda was also awake, and waiting for him by the looks of it. He sat down beside her, leaving a respectful distance between them, and lent his head back against the wall tiredly, closing his eyes with a sigh. Keeping his voice low  'All ok?', he peeled open an eyelid to see her reaction, she was smiling softly again. The woman seemed to always be smiling, mostly small smirk-like grimaces really, like she was putting on a face, but this time it looked genuine.
 
'Oh yes, just lost in a memory. You reminded me of someone. Someone very dear to me.' Not really sure what to say to that, John was never very good at personal conversations, even worse at sharing, he waited a little while before replying.
'Thank you. For the food, and the blankets. I don’t know why you did it, or even how you managed to get it, but thanks.'
'Why do you do it John? Without being weighed down by these orphans you could have less cares, get sleep, have more food to eat.' She poked at his ribs, which truthfully were slightly more prominent then they should be. 'You could be your own man, be free.'
 
It was John's turn to smile, this was a question he had been asked often, and no matter how many times he tried to explain it, people rarely understood his answer. But she had asked honestly, and he would give her his honest answer.
'Do you ever feel like you were born already damned? Like your life was relegated to nothing before you even had a chance to live?' Miranda drew very still beside him, but he continued, it was important.
'I'll be fucked if someone doesn’t give these kids a chance just because they have nothing. Even if all I have to give is myself. I can't be free if they aren't - no matter how far away I could go, or how warm and fed I am, I'll still know.' He was tired, it was hard to keep focused on conversation when his eyes were so heavy. A soft voice told him 'Sleep John.' So he did.

Chapter Text

They were coming in on one of the food delivery trucks. Risky, but with Bane's men patrolling the river and the tunnels, it was about the only way in and out of Gotham. It also meant they would have to be on that truck out again to avoid any suspicion. So John had 3 hours to get them, show them the city strongholds, and the bomb convoys, and deliver them back to the supply depot. No worries at all, he snarked to himself sarcastically.

He tried not to be to concerned, after all there wasn’t a concrete plan - he had insisted on that. Too many variables at play to bother with plans, too many people to involve. As it stood only Lucius, Miranda, and Commissioner Gordon (it just felt wrong calling him Jim) knew the route he intended to take the team on.

Pulling his jacket closer to his chest against the cold of the morning, John skimmed his fingers over his new talisman.

'It's to keep you safe.' Miranda had told him with her enigmatic smile. He wasn't superstitious that way, and almost told her so, ready to hand the blue flower pin back to her - but. No one had ever given him something to keep him safe before. It was...nice. That moment his plastic smile fled, and John felt genuine warmth spread through him. Miranda looked at him knowingly, moving close to pin her gift to his jacket collar.

His comm. device flicked to life with a small buzz. Lucius had provided him with the handy little thing, one of the few pieces of tech that Bane's men hadn't raided. It was time.

~

He ducked his head and shoving his hands into his pockets, blended into the queue of downtrodden souls waiting to collect their food rations. At the top of the line, as he was handed his box, he complained loudly. 'Is that it?! Are you fucking kidding me?'
The man in the truck looked him up and down telling him to move on. John shoved him.
'Listen buddy, just take your food and go home, yea?'
John threw a punch, it connected softly to the side of the other man's face. From there it wasn’t hard to get a fight started.

The people in the queue suddenly swarmed at the truck, trying desperately to capitalize on the opportunity to steal some food. In the ensuring confusion, no one noticed when the guy who started the flight slipped off with 3 others into the alleyway.

'Smooth move kid.' The guy John picked the fight with said to him as they rounded the corner. John wished he had punched him harder.
'Its Blake, Detective Blake.' He tried to wipe the scowl from his face, but he hated being called a kid. The little group made their introductions, a Captain and two Lieutenants as it turned out.

John hovered near the side of the building, looking out. He glanced down at his watch, only a few minutes till the first convoy past a couple of blocks away.
'Listen we are short on time, can you follow me?' That got him smirked at, but after a nod he slipped out of the doorway motioning them to follow.

He led them quickly through the winding back-alleys, going for speed rather than stealth. Nothing in this city seemed to draw more attention then people not in a hurry to get off the streets. Ah the times they lived in. Still, John's short-cuts kept them well away from the main roads, the alley ways he chose were ones with the fewest windows looking out over them. He may not be special ops, or even military, but John knew how not to be seen.

He motioned for the group to stop, slinking into the few overhanging doorways that provided cover. Up the road the tank was heading their way, men poking out from the top, heavily armed as usual. Right behind it was the container truck - possibly ferrying what could be means to ending 5 million lives.

John took out his Geiger counter (another reason Lucius Fox was a handy man to know in a militia-led siege). No reading registered - so this was one of the dummy convoys then. John swore under his breath. Well, no use for it but to head to the next look out point for the second route.

 

It didn’t take them long to get the 7 blocks over, but the Captain using that time to ask John all the tactical questions he could on the convoys.
How often they went past?
Whether the men changed on each convoy or stayed the same?
How often the resistance were able to track them?
Where they refuelled? etc.
John answered as best he could, but truthfully they lacked the men to be able to conduct the level of reconnaissance needed to answer these questions with detail. He hoped that meant they weren't as out of their depth as it seemed.

As ground rumbled signalling the coming of the second convoy, John turned to indicate to the soldiers to hide, only to see that they had already disappeared from view. Right, S.E.A.L's.
He shrugged to himself stupidly before swinging up soundlessly onto a fire escape a floor above.

John loved having the birds eye view, he felt he could see so much better when he had the clear air and perspective that heights gave him. Each time he climbed higher it was as though he was leaving all the gloom and darkness behind him, each time it was like being reborn. Being free.

He took this moment to lift his face to the sun, and closing his eyes breathed deep the cool air. Turning his attention back down to the street, surveying the cars in the near distance. Something was wrong.

The convoy was slowing down. John threw a glance back towards the alleyway, but he had no idea where the soldiers had hidden themselves. Even as he was preparing to risk all and call out, the tank stopped right below him. They were trapped.

John tried not to panic - it would be ok. The convoy would move on soon enough, there was no reason to lose his shit. Just as he was repeating this mantra to himself, the doors of the container opened and out spilled nearly 20 heavily armed mercenaries.

Not just any mercenaries, John realized with dread, these were Bane's men.

They moved with precision and without speaking, swiftly cordoning off the alley at all sides, guns facing inwards. They weren't there to keep anyone away, they were there to keep someone in. John knew then they had been discovered.

He scanned around, looking fruitlessly for an exit for himself and the 3 hidden soldiers. It was useless, even if he knew where they were - they were now outnumbered and outgunned.

There was a metal scrapping sound as a hatch on the tank was opened. John couldn’t force his body to take a breath, as he watched one giant muscled arm, then another emerged from the opening, lifting out a massive bulk of body. Bane.

The man who was responsible for holding Gotham on a knifes edge, jumped down from the height, his heavy boots making the only noise among the assembled group.

He lifted his hand and a few men to the side broke off at that signal. John couldn’t see where they were going, but not a moment later he heard the sound of scuffling. One by one the 3 soldiers were brought out from their hiding spots, their captors pushing down each to their knees in front of their leader.

John was to far to hear what was being said, the wind carrying off all but the odd sound of distorted mechanised voice that could only be Bane. He watched though, as the hulk of a man slowly stepped forward to the kneeling Captain, and grabbed his face with his bear-like hand.

More words, this time accompanied by a shake of the head from the military man. Before John could even think beyond the terrible thought of what was going to happen, another wordless signal was given, and from behind mercenaries raised their guns - and shot the Lieutenants. Point blank, to the back of the head.

Their blood was trickling onto the snow beneath them. John couldn’t move. He needed to do something, the Captain was still down there. He needed to get up, cause a distraction, rescue him somehow. He needed to look to see what he had around him to use. But he couldn’t move. It was like a mixture of fear and awful facination held him stuck to his perch.

Bane used his hand gripping the Captains face to lift him effortlessly into the air - dangling him like it was no effort at all. The poor man was grasping at the muscular arm, trying to punch and kick and fight in anyway he could, but the grib was to tight. Now the hand wrapped around the Captain's neck - applying more and more pressure until…

The lifeless body slumped. John saw the moment the last twitch gave out, and the man was dropped to the floor beside his unit. Gotham's liberation fell further away then ever with those 3 bodies lying in the snow. The weight of his failure was dawning on the silent dectective, holding him like an anchor in his place.

His own death would be coming now. He knew it. He wasn’t hidden any better then the others had been. As he prepared for another hand movement or some such signal for the armed men to grab him, Bane turned. He turned and without hesitation looked right up at the spot that John was concealed.

Their eyes met, slightly panicked blue locked into place by a piercing grey gaze. John didn’t know how long it went on for, could have only been a minute or so. It felt like pure exposure. He didn’t know how to describe it. Those eyes ripped into him, as though they were measuring him, judging him. The gaze lowered to take in the rest of the crouched body. John wasn't even breathing, his heart was thumping so loudly all he could hear was blood rushing past his ears.

The men all around began to move. This was it, John thought. The silent mercenary force moved quickly… back onto the trucks.

Bane was still watching him, perhaps he was going to get him himself? Engines roared to life again when he finally moved. Turning himself around he walked back to the container truck and hauled himself up to the passenger seat.

Bane looked back up to John's face, and gave him a barely perceptable nod. John didn’t focus on anything else, and forcing himself up from his immobile state, he ran.

Chapter Text

John ran. He ran so damn fast across the rooftops of Gotham, leaping between building rooftops and fire escapes, on and on. Adrenaline was pumping through his veins; he barely felt it when his landings were less graceful than normal, when he smashed his knees against the ground, rolling back up to keep sprinting on.

He didn't even know what he was running from. All he knew was that he had just locked eyes with the man responsible for the would-be-destruction of his city. He had been seen - Bane had looked right at him for what felt like the longest minutes of his life. And yet, he was still alive. John finally came to an exhausted stop; his thoughts were the only things still capable of racing at super-human speed.

He knew that had Bane wanted him dead he would have been bleeding out like the other men. Bodies’ cold on the ground, useless against such a united and strong force.

Rage and sadness welled up in him, he pushed it down. He needed to focus; he couldn’t afford to break down now. Grief and panic were indulgences he simply couldn’t give into…no matter how tempting…no matter how much those deaths were his fault…no matter how fucked they all were; back to square one.

God how tired he was of fighting alone.

He would do this. He would. Not because he wanted to, not even because he could, but because giving in was exactly what this city had wanted him to do since he was a child. Well fuck that. John was nothing if not a stubborn bastard.

He pushed himself up, gradually straightening his aching body till he was no longer leaning against the grimy wall. Looking around to see where he was, he heard a whistle. Someone was standing at the end of the alley. John knew he hadn't been exactly quiet with his sprint from danger, so he moved along down the way, making for the road opposite the stranger. Then the sound of another whistle came to him, the shadow of another man lent forward from 20 paces in front of him. It seemed he had seriously let his guard down - he had landed himself in a trap.

'Alright, listen I haven’t got anything valuable - so lets say we don’t waste each other's time ok?' John's voice came out breathless from his earlier running, but he had enough left in him to fight this out if need be, it was only 2 men.

'I reckon we might wan' waste time with a pretty boy like you.' The rasping voice came from the man facing in front of him, but the punch came from his left. John dodged it easily. Great, he thought, there were 3 of them. Even on his best day John couldn’t take down 3 guys. Fuck.

Another punch came following soon after, and John moved to deflect it, pivoting on his right foot, and using the momentum of his turn to push the attacking man into his friend. Rasping voice guy, who had up to this moment just been watching his buddies, decided to join in. He was quick, and John couldn’t evade the blow to his cheek. He staggered back, but brought a leg around to trip the man, watching with satisfaction as he landed on his ass.

Unfortunately by that stage the other 2 thugs had recovered, and they descended on John together. One grabbing his arms and pinning them behind his back, the other raining punch after punch to his kidneys. Damnit it hurt. John didn't cry out though, wouldn't give them the satisfaction. He knew the type that got off on begging for mercy, and these guys fit the bully bill to the tee.

The kidney blows stopped, and the leader stalked forward towards John, who was shoved to his knees.

'Who are ya then huh?' grubby fingers grabbed at his chin and forced his face upwards. ‘I know you - you’re a cop! Yea - you're tha one'a arrested me after all those brats wen' missin'! I wen' to Blackgate cos of you!' The fingers squeezed hard, no doubt leaving bruising marks where they gripped. John struggled against the men holding his arms, but they had him bracketed too well.

'Can't say I remember you, sorry. After a while one no-good piece of shit just starts to look like every other, but maybe you understand that - did you find many long-lost brothers in Blackgate?' John grinned at him. He knew it was stupid, he knew he shouldn't antagonise this man, but he was a big believer that you have give people the power they think they have over you. And even on his knees, battered and bruised, he wasn't going to give this son-of-a-bitch any more satisfaction.

He was backhanded for his troubles. Spitting out blood, he shook his head to clear the pain. 'Shut-it! I'm gonna show ya wha ya can do with that mouth, pretty cop.' He started to undo his belt, and John got a heavy sinking feeling in his gut. This was slightly too familiar a scenario and he struggled fruitlessly against the restraints on his arms.

Suddenly John was able to retch his left arm free, grasping at the opportunity; he twisted his body to pull against the arms on his right, freeing himself. As he turned he saw the reason he was able to free himself; the thug who had been holding his left side was laying face down with a knife embedded in his back.

From the shadows behind him, John saw a man move, fast - faster then the criminal with his pants down had to right himself. He watched as the mysterious new-comer brought his hand up to choke the purp by the neck, the other twisting the top of his head, as his body thumped him almost effortlessly to the floor. He heard an awful crunching sound - unmistakably a neck being snapped.

John's gut gave an uncomfortable twist, and he turned just in time to see the left-out thug cocking a gun directly at the man crouched over his dead friend. There was no time for him to move - no chance for his mystery saviour to get out of the way. John did the only thing he could, he stepped in front of the gun.

He felt the shot before he heard it. It was like a drill, heated up to burning point, forcing its way through him. His whole body shivered with the shock of the feeling in his chest. He wasn’t able to feel the rest of his body, and as he crumpled to the ground, he heard another shot echo around the alleyway.

John took a deep breath, looking up at the clear sky. He tried to feel at peace. If this was his day to die, well…he did what he could. Ok not such a great comfort. He hoped Miranda would at least keep her promise to look after his kids, they could use someone with her connections. She could keep them safe after he failed.

He could feel himself drifting; the sharpness of the pain was easing to more of a dull throbbing. All in all it wasn't too bad. Until someone started shaking him. Ok - it hurt again.

It was the man he saved; he was saying something over and over. Nice voice. Come to think of it, nice eyes too, beautiful dark green. Although they looked a bit wild now. He was shrugging off his jacket, pressing it down against the blood free flowing from John's chest. John felt like telling him not to bother, he had seen how gunshots to the chest ended, but when he tried to speak he just started coughing.

The man moved to cradle John's head in his lap, stopping him from choking on what he now suspected was blood. He was making soothing noises, but his hand was shaking as he ran it through his hair. John hated to admit it, but on his deathbed nothing was gained from lies, but it was nice having someone with him. He was afraid to die as he had lived his life, alone.

He suddenly wanted to know this mans name, it seemed important in a way he couldn’t explain. He managed to choke out the question. The hand brushing through his hair, trying to soothe him, stopped.

'Barsad.' His accent was lovely, foreign, John couldn’t place it, but he liked it. He smiled, he didn’t even hurt anymore. It was all finally going to stop.

'Thank-you'. He whispered, his eyes falling heavily, each blink a war of effort he was losing. As he closed them for the final time he heard the lovely voice call out to him.

'Hold on Robin, help is coming. Please little bird - hold on.'

Chapter Text

He was back in the kitchen of his old apartment, the one where he grew up in. His shoes stuck to the lino floor, the sunflower wallpaper gave the only colour and decoration in the room. He remembered when his mum put it up. He helped her, in as much help as a 6 year old can be - that is, making things even more difficult, but she never complained. She hummed along a little tune as she went, stopping only to give him one of her beautiful smiles, running a hand down his cheek,
'Thank you Robin - my helpful little man.'
Nothing he had done since that day made him feel more pride then that simple moment.

~

There was noise all around him, noise and pain. He tired to move but he couldn’t feel his arms or legs. He tried speaking, but all that came out were scratched whisperings of nothing. The world was blurry when he opened his eyes.

There was a hand running through his hair, slowly, repetitively. A shadow loomed over him, a small pain in his arm, and he was drifting again.
'It is ok - you are safe. Rest and heal brother, we have you now.'
The voice was soft, slightly accented but familiar somehow. John let the fog take him again.

~

The day wasn't even cloudy or dark - John remembers being so angry at that afterwards. How dare the sun shine as his mother lay crumpled and dying? The car was a mangled mess, there was metal digging into his back, and his seatbelt was restraining him tightly. It hurt and he started to cry. Then he heard his mother's voice, weak and whispering,
'It's ok little Robin. My beautiful boy.'
There was a funny smell in the air, smelt like when they stopped at gas stations. It made him dizzy. He tried again to reach for his mother, crying harder when he failed.
'Mumma…'
'You be strong for me my little bird. I love you.'
There were firemen there now, pulling at him. John was wailing at his mum to wake up, but she wasn't listening. They took him away from the car right before it blew up. It was burning - he was screaming.

~

'…ould move him away from the fire, he is reacting badly.'
'He needs to be kept warm if he is to fight the fever.'
'Then I will fetch extra blankets and wrap him tightly, but he will damage his stitches if he continues to move like this.'
'You know best brother, do what you need to - but then you must rest. You do no good exhausting yourself.'
'I cannot rest, not when -'
'This was not your fault brother. I will not see you carry the burden of guilt. Go and sleep, I will sit with him.'

John felt himself being carried; he was lent against a huge solid chest. As he felt the cool air again, and the heat subsiding, he slept once more.

~

He didn’t remember his father at all, but he did remember his mother's face anytime he was mentioned. It didn’t take long to learn to stop asking, even a child knows shaking at the sound of a name is wrong. Later he understood why they had moved so much, why his mother never got to attached to people or places, always gave people funny names - she said it was a game, John knew better now.

Later he would learn to judge the system that gave him so easily back to the man his mother had tried so hard to keep him from, but for now the little boy clutched to his teddy, desperate for someone to comfort him. A man approached and the social worker next to him rose to meet him, there was a shuffling of paper and the quick scratching of a pen. The nice lady leaned down to him;
'Robin, this is your father. You are going to go live with him now, like we talked about, ok?'
'His name is NOT Robin - It's John. No son of mine will have such a weak name.'
John looked up at the stranger, mapping his face for something familiar, but he couldn’t see any of himself in this man. Weren't kids supposed to look like their parents? After all, he had his mother’s eyes. The man stared back, not moving. After a moment he sighed impatiently.
'Well - come on then.'
John slid down off his chair and followed his father.

 

This slap hit him harder then the last. He had got lost in his head too deeply this time, he had to focus, he had to remember to cry out - that seemed to make him happy. He let out a little moan.
'Did you hear me boy? Stupid boy, so fucking weak. No son of mine - it’s her fault. She ruined you, but I am going to fix that.' Another swig to empty the bottle before that too was swung at his head. The pain bloomed from his temple, and John saw dark spots on the edge of his vision.
'Don’t you dare cry!'
He didn’t need to bother saying it, John knew. He hadn't cried for real since the crash, it did nothing anyway. He had learnt to mask his feelings, he had promised to be strong. He was a nearly a man now, he was 8 years old.

~

There was a cool cloth on his forehead, he groaned at the feeling of relief it gave him. He was hot, everything felt so very warm. He turned his head as if to chase the feeling as the cloth moved away. Forcing himself to open his eyes, he tried to blink away the heaviness, but he was so groggy. He felt more then saw someone leaning next to him, a shadowed silhouette of a woman. The cloth was back, on his neck this time, and John hmmmed again.

'That was a brave thing you did. Strength, sacrifice and spirit. I knew I judged you well.'
He knew that voice. He tried to focus, but his brain felt so fuzzy. Catching his thoughts was like trying to catch a grain of sand running through your fingers.
'.randa?' It was half mumbled, but the best he could manage - he already felt himself drifting again.
'Look after them Robin. Rise together.'
He wanted to stay awake, wanted to ask her what she was talking about, but he was being pulled back into the darkness again, exhaustion won out.

~

The day his father was murdered was oddly one of John's happiest memories. He clearly remembered sitting in the bereavement office of the local social services branch. The tacky yellow walls were designed to lift the spirits, as though a bit of colour was meant to distract him from the fact that these social workers were handing him over again - another new life.

When the priest came to collect him and take him to the boy’s home he didn’t listen much to the older man's commentary. He had a soft face and a kindly voice; he was trying hard to win him over. John's only reaction was when the other man mentioned adoption. A family. A chance to be part of a group that cared for you, gave you what you needed, was there for you always, that loved you simply because of who you were. John's heart cried out in yearning even as his head sought to ruthlessly squash the naivety of the hope.

In the end his head proved right, broken things do not get families. So John made friends with the other orphans, took care of the younger ones, was bullied by the older ones. He went to school, did ok. He got on with living day to day, but he kept his mask on always.

Chapter Text

When John woke this time he could feel the difference in his body. He wasn't so drowsy or confused, weak yes - but his mind was racing. Opening his eyes he took in the details that had eluded him before. He was in a small room, the walls were an off-white colour, the paint slightly pealing in places where stone protruded in an uneven finish.

Across from his bed, a crucifix starred down on him, and for a moment John was reminded of his room in the boys home, the ever present catholic symbolism was both unwelcome and yet homely.

 

A soft recurring beeping to his left reminded him that he was hooked up to some kind of machine, and he could see the IV pumping the mysterious medication into his arm. Lifting the sheet that covered his chest John saw that his entire left side was bandaged, from his shoulder down to the end of his rib cage. He gave an experimental twist, but milliseconds later the pain it caused forced him to still himself. 'Right - gunshot wound.'

 

He wondered how on earth he was still alive - in fact he was certain he had died. He remembered the feeling of the bullet forcing its way into his body, but then everything after that was just haze.

 

Despite the pain John tried to sit himself up, leaning heavily on his right side, he used his good arm to hoist his body up the mattress. A few deep breaths and not a few curses later he was leaning up against the wooden headboard.

 

John knew the weakness he felt at that small movement alone meant he had probably been unconscious for a while, and getting a better look at his body he saw the weight loss, he had gone from being underweight yet wiry to looking emaciated. He winced at the sight. He was now even more unattractive, and probably with a big ass scar on his chest too. Ah well, not as though he had a boyfriend or partner to worry about their reaction - a single perk of a solitary life he thought bitterly.

 

The more he looked around John was almost certain he wasn't in a hospital, despite the white wash walls and medical equipment. There were no other beds, no noise; come to think of it he couldn't even see that he had a chart. Maybe he was in a private recovery clinic? He winced at the thought, how on earth was he going to afford all this. There was no way his insurance covered private anything, even if he was a cop - wait.

 

John's brain slowly processed his racing thoughts - how the hell was he in a hospital/clinic anyway? The city was under siege for God-sake. Fuck! If he was here, and had been for a while - where were the kids? Who was looking after them? How long had be been gone? Had the army sent someone else in to look for the bomb truck again? He scrambled with questions, he needed answers desperately, he needed to get out of this bed.

 

John didn't notice that the heart rate monitor was beeping faster with his every thought, and now was racing. As he panicked he heard footsteps running down the corridor. He looked around frantically for something that could be used as a weapon, but the room was pitifully empty. Out of desperation he grabbed at a needle resting on a little table next to him.

 

He barely had time to hide his hand back under the sheet cover and close his eyes before the door to the room slammed open and a man came hurrying over toward him. John tensed and leaned as much as he could on his injured side so he would have enough leverage to use his meagre weapon to his best advantage.

 

As the other man had his back turned to switch off the beeping alarm from his monitor John sprang into action. He pulled his hand free of the sheet, sitting up as he pressed the needle into the man's lower back 'Don't move!'

 

The other man held up his hands in a pacifying gesture, but John kept the pressure of the needle on him as he carefully stood. Damn he was dizzy, and he knew there might only be a few moments before he would lose any benefit adrenaline gave him, so John kicked out with his right leg and brought the other man to his knees. Using the upper hand surprise John grabbed the man's head and slammed it against the bed frame, knocking him out.

 

John fell back sitting on the bed, breathless and sore from even that small movement. His left side was shooting pain, so he took a few deep breaths to try and get his mind ahead of it. He needed to gather himself and break the situation down; what did he need to do? He needed to find out where he was and get back to his base - step one was leaving his room.

 

He looked down at the unconscious man and decided that he could use his jacket; he wouldn’t get too far standing out with a half-bandaged chest. He knelt down to remove it and found a holstered gun. Feeling like luck might just finally be on his side, he immediately grabbed it and made his way to out the door.

 

Craning his head around the door frame John couldn’t see anyone around. There was a long corridor off to his left, and just a wall to his right. No windows punctured the solid stone walls, the only light coming from bulbs jimmied up to one another by extension cords.

 

There was also a slightly cool and damp feeling to the air, all of which John chalked up to the idea that he was underground - a cellar, or bunker maybe? Well, there was only one way to go to get out of here.

 

Gripping the gun in his right hand John moved from doorway to doorway up the corridor, checking for noises and signs of life as he went. But all the doors were closed, and he didn’t want to draw any unwanted attention by bursting through any of them. No, what he needed were answers, that, and as his chest gave another throb, some fucking painkillers.

 

Finally coming to a stairway John could hear murmured voices coming from above. He tried to hear what they were saying, but it didn’t sound like any language he knew, and the sound was too distorted to make out any numbers. Gingerly he climbed the stairs, one at a time, thankful that he didn’t take the boots off the man he attacked so his steps were relatively quiet.

 

There was a flickering light illuminating the wall beyond, and John could make out 4 distinct shadows. Fuck - he wasn’t exactly in any state to take on a group of probably-armed guys, and uneven odds were what got him into this mess in the first place.

 

Unfortunately any choice in how to go about his next move was abruptly taken away when heavy footsteps and shouting started from down below the floor that John had just climbed up. It seemed his unconscious friend was not so unconscious anymore.

 

Running up the last couple of steps John aimed his gun in the general direction of the shadows. He was wrong, there were 6 men sitting around a fire, all of which had jumped up at the noise and had their guns pointing at him.

 

Well they hadn't shot him yet, so John did a quick scan of the room. Two exits, one a few steps to the left behind him, and another across the room. He took one slow step away from the top of the stairwell back towards the door, his gun still raised, however uselessly, aiming a turn each at the men around the fire.

 

Still nothing happened. John took another step back. No one fired. The group had their guns trained on him, but were just following his movements almost passively.

 

The silence was unnerving, the sound of his bloody furiously pumping thrummed in his ears. Only a few steps to go. Another step back, and the man he had dropped in the cellar had climbed to the top of the stairs. He too was just watching John, no weapon in his hands. No one was making any movement to follow him, or stop him. He was damn near at the exit when a figure appeared through the opposite doorway.

 

The men standing around the fire turned just enough to look at him but keeping their eyes and weapons on John.

 

'Khalas.' The newcomer spoke the word quietly and instantly all the men lowered their guns. John refused to be unnerved, he simply pointed his gun at the man in the doorway - after all, they had revealed him to be something of their leader judging by their obedience.

Even as John trained his gun on him, he thought he recognised the man. Average height, sturdy but not overly heavy build, sandy coloured hair, clear open eyes... John's memory clicked - it was the man from the alley. John tried to remember his name, Bar-something?

 

Before he knew it he was lowering his gun, watching as his mysterious savoir walked into the room with slow measured steps, his palms facing out in a universal peaceful gesture.
'You shouldn’t be out of bed Robin, you are still very hurt.' His lovely melodic accent tugged at the sides of John's memory, but it was too fuzzy, he couldn’t concentrate beyond the pain growing in his chest and down his arm.

 

John shook his head and taking another step backwards. 'Look, I don’t know what’s going on here, drugs, black-market shit - I don’t really care. Thanks for not leaving me in that alley, but I need to go now, ok? So I'm just going to walk out this way, and you are just going to stay here.' No one moved, they were just looking at him, so John took the final step backwards through the door, but his back hit something solid.

 

'Detective Blake.' John froze. There was only one man on the planet that had that unique sounding voice, managing to sound both thoughtful and mechanised. John turned his head and watched as Bane loomed through the doorway and came to stand in the light beside him.

 

'Fuck'. It was a few moments of just standing there gaping when John realized he was still holding a gun, and now would be a great time to use it. Funny how even a gun felt like a flimsy barrier between himself and the bulk of the man in front of him. Even so, he ripped his gaze away for a moment enough to shout out 'Barsad - run'.

 

The sound of gruff laughter filled the air, and John's initial panic settled to a feeling of dread. Locking eyes with Barsad he could see he was one of the only ones not laughing, a grim little smile set to his lips.

 

'Thoughtful of you to try to save my own men from me, but as you can see Detective, not necessary.' Bane wasn’t laughing either. Although John wasn’t sure whether he was even capable of it. Either way, John wasn’t going to waste the advantage of the slight distraction. He pulled the trigger.

 

For a massive man Bane could move fucking quickly. A paw of a hand was around his wrist pulling him off his balance, and he was on the floor with a both arms held down over his chest before he had a chance to react. The pain of the landing on his wound made his eyes water, and the feeling wasn’t made any better by the pressure of his arms bearing down on him.

 

His breaths weren't coming as easy, and the adrenaline that had got him thus far was wearing off. All in all John had had enough. He wasn’t going to be toyed with by these guys any longer.

 

Trying in vain to dislodge the hold he was stuck in, he managed to rasp out, 'Just kill me, because I promise you I'm not going to beg for mercy and I'm not going to walk out on that ice. I won’t give you the satisfaction.' John stared up hard into the eyes above him, making no effort to move anymore. Bane just stared back at him, and John felt for the second time since locking eyes with this man, that he was being summarily measured and judged.

 

'You are afraid of me.' It was not a question, but John knew he detected surprise in the tone.

 

'Well, yeah. I'm not fucking stupid.' John new he was looking at him like he was crazy, which was probably not smart - but honestly, the guy was like 300 pounds of muscle and killed people with his giant bare hands, people being scarred of him should not come as a surprise.

 

'You are afraid of me, but not of death. You think your life of such little value Detective?' He was still being held on the floor, Bane looking like it took no effort at all to hold him there, the bastard. John got angry, what the hell kind of question was that coming from a man like Bane?

 

'You don’t get to talk about valuing life you psychopathic bastard - how many millions are you trying to kill? How many innocent lives before you're satisfied? Or do they not have a value to you?' Anger thrummed through him as the other man just stared silently and kept him locked down on the floor.

 

'You have fire.' Bane spoke finally, breaking eye contact and standing up to look over at his men.

 

John rolled over immediately, moving his protesting body up into a crouching position, and
leaning his left arm on his knee, he tried to push himself to stand, but only managed to fall. Almost immediately an arm was slipped around his shoulders, taking his weight and helping to hoist him up. It was Barsad, and John tried to pull away, but he was weaker then he thought, and although the other man looked slim and wirily, he was strong.

 

'I need to check your wound. If you are lucky, your stitches may still be in place.'

 

'Who the fuck are you people, and where the hell am I?' He tried to lean away from the other man, but the supportive arm just gripped him tighter, guiding him back towards the stairs he had escaped from.

 

'We are the League of Shadows, and you are home now.' John looked at him with a mixture of confusion and horror. These men were delusional bat-shit level crazy; he had to find a way to get away, fast.

 

As he was hobbled down the first few steps his gaze caught that of Bane's, the beast of a man watching him being taken away. John wasn't sure, but he thought he saw his eyes narrow at Barsad's words, but the look was gone in an instant.

 

'Yeah' John thought to himself. He needed to get out here - fast.

Chapter Text

John assured himself that if he wasn’t so exhausted, he would completely fight against the arm wrapped around his shoulder, but as he was, that support was the only thing keeping him standing. They made slow progress down the hallway, back towards the room he woke up in not long ago.

Funny, it had only been minutes really, but it seemed like hours to John; between the pain that was radiating from his chest and the revelation that he was now a prisoner of Bane and his army. Not only that, but he had walked himself straight into that little trap.

He groaned, not sure whether the source of his hurt was the wound or his self-recriminating thoughts. The sound slowed his traitorous guard down.
'That was foolish. You were gravely wounded, you need to stay in bed and rest your strength.'

John pushed himself away at that comment, leaning his weight against the wall behind him. Barsad let him go, but stood there close enough to catch him, should his shaking turn into falling. The bastard.

'Fuck you. Who are you now? My nurse?' John glared at him, taking the opportunity to really assess at the man in front of him. The scruffy brown hair that looked as though it had never been tamed by a comb. His crinkled forehead showing a few thin lines of wrinkles; worry lines - misleading as they didn’t look like they had anything to do with age. Those little wrinkles didn’t extend down near the eyes though; clearly this man didn’t smile or laugh often.

His eyes, beyond their beautiful colour, were slightly tight looking and with the tell-tale purple bruising below - he was tired, and either hadn't been sleeping well recently or had a bad diet. Looking down the rest of his body though, it didn’t seem like diet was an issue. The man was slight looking initially, of similar height to himself, but really looking now John could see the muscled outline of his arms and thighs through his functional clothing. There were scars too, thin outlines of knife wounds, some small burn marks, nothing too noticeable, but also nothing he was seeking to hide with his rolled up sleeves.

There wasn't a hint of fat or bulk on him, but his stance was firm and confident. He obviously didn't expect a threat from John by standing so close, and yet the slight lean on his back heels revealed his body to be poised to strike should he need to.

'Why are you helping me?'
'You are family now.' Barsad said easily, moving forward to once more wrap an arm around John's back and shuffle him down the last remaining doors to his cell.

Oh god - they were like a cult. John forced himself to stay neutral, schooling his face and tone of voice into the least freaked out and judgemental he could manage. The more information he could get now, the better chance he had of getting out of here and the better chance they had to end the occupation.

John knew he would have to be careful here - clearly these men were crazy, but that didn't mean they weren't intelligent. He couldn’t make the mistake of underestimating them - after all hadn’t he been the one advising everyone else of that pitfall?

He needed to rest. Rest and think. He was lowered onto the bed carefully, but even so it seemed like all the adrenaline of earlier was long gone, leaving him to feel consumed by the pain radiating out from his chest.

Barsad's calloused hands moved over his chest, and John felt a fresh fear he hadn’t previously considered in this situation. His heart raced, and he grabbed at the hands, but was easily dodged. Instead of the retaliation he was expecting, the hands were unwrapping his bandages.

'I need to check your wound, to make sure you have not hurt yourself.' The tone was surprisingly soft, and John forced his heartbeat to slow as his chest was quickly but gently attended to with fresh antiseptic cream and coverings.

As soon as he was done re-wrapping the bandage, Barsad stepped back, seeming to understand that distance would calm the wounded man from the edge of his panic.

'I could not hurt you Robin. My life is your life.'

John at once had a retaliatory scoff on his tongue, but the other man had already left the room, so he just stayed silent. dangerous cult member or not, Barsad was right, he needed to rest. The only chance he had of escaping and getting back to the resistance was when he could actually walk down a hallway without needing support. In the meantime he would take advantage of the fact they weren't planning on killing him straight away to find out as much as possible.

Pleased that he had as good a plan as he could make right now, John settled in the bed to sleep, but then the memory of Bane's narrowing eyes glaring at him resurfaced. John didn’t sleep well at all.

~

The only good thing about not being able to sleep was not having to dream. John was sick of trying to force his mind into quiet, a pointless exercise when he was just so full of questions. He decided to get up and start to answer some of them.

Sitting up and gingerly rolling his left shoulder, he felt the dull throb of pain tendril up through his neck and down his arm. As much as it hurt, it wasn’t in a bad way. In fact, he felt pretty good for someone who had just been shot. Unless he hadn't just been shot.

John sat up straighter. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious for. What was going on out there, how much longer till the bomb detonated, who was looking after his kids? Shit. Fuck.

He tried one of those stupid breathing exercises in an effort to fight the rising panic. They were about the only thing that all those therapy sessions were good for.

There was almost no use checking for a weapon again, but John gave a cursory glance around the room anyway. Seeing nothing he walked over and opened the door, not bothering to try and silence his movements. Not that there would have been much point. Sitting in a chair opposite his room was Barsad, and he was...

'Sewing? Seriously?' John was dumfounded. His face must have registered his shock and growing amusement because the other man quickly packed away a small needle and thread into one of his cargo-pant pockets and grabbed up the olive green garment before standing.

'You are awake early.'
'You're sewing.'
'I was waiting for you to wake up so that I could check your wound.'
'Sewing.'
Barsad sighed, giving up on moving the fold down chair aside.
'Mending.'
John felt a small smile cracking. He couldn’t help it, it was a ridiculous conversation to be having with a mercenary who had been plotting to kill your city but you end up saving his life because you were ignorant of who he was.

John would have berated himself more sternly for losing his grip on realty if the other man hadn't returned his smile with a tentative one of his own. For some reason that response made him feel, warm, special? He couldn’t explain it. Shaking out of thoughts he didn’t want to explore John broke eye contact and looked down the hallway.

'It's probably pointless asking, but here goes - I suppose I'm not allowed to leave?' He tried for a light tone, but it just came out bitter. He looked back to Barsad, all trace of the previous light moment gone. He inclined his head slowly, agreeing with the assumption. He looked pointedly at John's chest - still lacking a shirt.

'I need to check on your healing. Then you must eat, you have grown weak.' Well - John didn’t even know where to start with how much pissed him off. It was like all his confusion and pain, his frustration, and this surreal situation, all came together as anger. He let loose.

'What the hell are you talking about? I'm a cop remember? I must have missed the memo that you stopped hunting police and sending them out onto thin ice for sport, and started taking them in and fucking nursing them instead!' John was yelling now, not even caring that his voice was echoing all around and down the corridor.

'Well I'm not playing your fucking games ok. Whatever the hell you want from me, you won't get, so just cut this Stockholm-bullshit and tell me why I'm here!?'

'You are here because you family. You were chosen Robin.'

'I AM NOT YOUR FUCKING FAMILY YO-'

'It seems your little bird has a habit for profanities Barsad.'

Bane's voice cut through the conversation with very little effort. John froze, barely noticing Barsad's similar, but less obvious reaction to his leader's silent approach.

He seemed to loom over the space as he moved towards them, yet he wore his menacing presence with such casual nonchalance. Bane wasn’t armed, but the simplicity of his appearance just led credence to his confident power. He really was a terrifying enemy. John forced himself to take this, and possibly his only, chance to assess him for any noticeable weaknesses.

He was scared, that much was obvious - the marred skin wasn’t completely hidden by the mask. Flares of badly healed wounds could still be seen, and they wrapped around his skull and down his neck. The muscles that were protruding from the thick vest told a similar tale. It spoke not only of past hurts, but also a disinterest in hiding imperfections. This was a man who wore his strength openly, and yet was not vain.

When John looked back up to his face, he saw that he was not the only one making an assessment. Bane's eyes trailed down over his body, stopping briefly over his bandages. John suddenly wished he had a shirt, awareness of how thin and weak he looked struck him, and he fought down a blush. Thankfully Bane didn't seem to notice, and when their eyes met he seemed just as detached as when he began.

John cleared his throat, determined to get answers despite his fear of the man standing over him. 'I want to know why I'm here.'

'That question has been answered. Asking it again will not alter the response.'

Sensing yelling would probably not be a good idea; John shook with the effort it took to contain his frustration at these cryptic answers. This movement did not escape Bane's notice, but the man simply kept looking back at him, waiting, and if anything, seemingly amused by his fury.

John tried a different, more direct track. 'Where are we?' Half expecting another flippant answer like 'home', John was surprised when Bane turned and started walking back down the hallway. He looked over to Barsad, unsure what the hell happened, but he just silently motioned John to follow.

He caught up to Bane by the time he reached the top of the stairs, Barsad following him close behind. This room was familiar to John from the day before, but it was empty now, the small fireplace burnt out, and a round ring of cushions and blankets strung around it.

But there were details that John hadn't noticed amidst the rush of action yesterday. The walls were made of wood, not stone like the level below. Although there were no windows, there was a sound of the wind blowing coming from somewhere close by - so they weren't underground. And it was cold. Not just lacking a shirt chilly, but damp seeping cold.

Bane didn’t pause, and John followed him through the room, then through a doorway, then into a corridor. He stubbled a couple of times, his legs so unused to even this small exercise, but each time he felt Barsad's hand on his back guiding him back to his feet.

After a short while Bane came to a holt at a solid door, bared by a wooden beam across it. Lifting the log as through it were nothing, he pulled the door open and inclined his head, motioning John to go through.

A blast of cold air hit him at once, causing him to throw his arms around his chest. Blinking back the eye-watering bitter cold, he walked through. His next thought was that he was right. They weren't underground. They were on a fucking mountain.

John was floored - what the fuck? Surrounding the building was a ring of mountains, their peaks snow-capped and not too distant. The building itself was three quarters of the way up a mountain, and seemingly half built into it.

He wasn’t sure how long he stood there for, but it wasn't until he felt something being flung over his shoulder that he moved past the feeling of shock to register the cold again. In fact, his body had lost a fair amount of feeling thanks to his bare chest and feet, and he slipped the warm olive green jacket on gratefully.

'Wha- Where are we?' John repeated his last question, not bothering to keep the shock from his voice. He had never been outside the city, foster homes and orphanages having little money or patience to take unclaimed kids on vacation. The only mountains he had seen were in movies or tattered old copies of National Geographic magazines - this was beautiful. Beautiful and wrong. He shouldn’t be here. In fact when Barsad supplied the answer, it took him a little while to place exactly where the Hindu Kush was.

'How in the fuck did we get to Afghanistan?' John really didn’t know what question to lead with, he only had about a hundred that seemed urgent to ask. 'I mean, not to put too fine a point on it, but weren't you kind of….busy in Gotham?!' A horrible feeling instantly came over him 'There still is a Gotham. Isn’t there?'

He looked frantically between the two men, desperate for any kind of reassurance or answer. Barsad didn’t answer, giving nothing away he had instantly looked over to Bane - who looked…sad? John had no idea what was happening right now, and fucked if he had the patience to deal with their shit, even if they was the most terrifying of men. 'Answer me!'

Bane's mask rumbled. 'Your city is not our concern for now.' Well that was a fucking informative answer. John looked to Barsad, who so far had been the more forthcoming of the two, hoping that his desperation would appeal the man to answer and not torture him further with shadowed riddles.

'We came home to regroup. And to…' The hesitation lingered on in his tone, and John didn’t miss the way that he hadn’t stopped looking at Bane as he spoke. 'To bury our leader.'

John's head snapped over to look at Bane, who at those words, seemed to slump a little - there was no mistaking it. 'Are you dying?' That would explain why the man didn't seem like…himself. And as stupid as that thought was John believed it was a valid point. He didn’t know what he expected a criminal mastermind mercenary to be like, but this looming dejected presence wasn’t exactly it.

Barsad broke the silence with his lilting voice. 'Not Bane; Talia al Ghul. The daughter of Ra al Ghul, the chosen heir of the League of Shadows. She was our leader.' At John's continued puzzled look, it must be some kind of trick to deflect attention from Bane he thought, Barsad spoke again 'You knew her as Miranda Tate.'

'Miranda Tate is dead?' John took a moment to process that fact. 'Wait, Miranda Tate, the billionaire business woman? That Miranda was this...Talia woman?' John was floored. It was shocking; she was, for lack of a better term, a pillar of Gotham's community. But then that would be perfect wouldn’t it? He thought about how easily they had all accepted her presence, at meetings, the secret hideouts, her volunteering to help with recon. She had been everywhere, and they had told her everything.

'Jesus Christ. The whole time...the whole fucking time and she was betraying us. Fucking bit-' A hand clasped around his throat, instantly cutting off all hope of breath.

Suddenly the cold metal of Bane's mask was pressed into his cheek, doing nothing to distort the rage in his voice.
'Never speak of her that way. She was strength forged from darkness. Beauty born of vengeance and burning with fire.' The grip on his neck tightened another fraction. 'And the only reason you are still alive.'
John's vision was slipping, he grasped ineffectually at the hand choking him, kicking out, trying anything to dislodge himself - but his attempts were nothing against the brunt of Bane's anger.

'Brother - let him go. He does not yet understand, but he will.'
A snarl close to his ear, hand still tight around his throat.
'I cannot allow you to do this brother.'
The pressure eased slightly, John gasped a lung full of air at the chance.
'You think to DARE stop me?'
The mask was turned away, the vengeful glare directed at another.
'You must do as you will brother. I do not argue with your pain, only your target. Remember our sister’s wishes. He wears her protection still.'

With the removal of his hand, John fell to the floor. He coughed up precious air as desperately as he drunk it in. His eyes were watering and he could still see black spots even as he blinked. When he looked up he saw Bane looming over a far-too-calm-given-the-threat Barsad.

'I would have killed you for your insolence.' He growled then stalked away, leaving them in silence but for John's still loud breaths. Barsad stood still, his eyes trailed Bane's exit, seemingly lost in thought. It wasn't until the other man disappeared from view that Barsad seemed to snap out of his trance. He extended a hand down to John, making eye-contact for the briefest of moments before he turned away. But John had only needed that moment to see the pain there.

It was then that John understood the cryptic message Barsad had given him the night before; 'my life is now your life'. Barsad was no longer Bane's man - he was now John's.

Chapter Text

John was sat by the fire, extra layers of clothing and a blanket wrapped around his shoulders in an effort to warm him. He was shaking, not only with the cold, but with anger. Over and over in his mind he replayed every interaction he had with Miranda Tate, trying to pick out anything that had seemed odd, anything that stood out. But nothing was coming to him. Everything had seemed perfectly natural, Miranda had seamlessly blended into their lives and their plans.

Growing more furious, he tried to think harder, to analyse better his memories of those bitter few weeks of occupation. It wasn’t good enough. He had to know how he failed, where he failed. He had left children in her hands for god sake - he couldn’t afford to be this wrong. He just couldn't.

Wrapped up in his musings, John saw the silhouettes of people moving about him. It must have been a regular ritual that he had decided to literally sit in the middle of. About half a dozen men were moving cautiously around him, taking their places by the fire as they took their morning meal, sending furtive glances at both himself and Barsad.

John spent all of a minute pretending not to notice before just blatantly returning the looks with stares of his own. He was almost itching for the excuse of a fight, anything to divert the frustrated energy he found himself trapped with. He twitched with irritation at the silence. He finally snapped when Barsad moved from hovering over him to trying to pass him a bowl of something resembling porridge.

'Why are you helping me? And I seriously don't want any answer that includes the world 'family' got it?!'

The bowl was set down on the floor with a sigh, Barsad joining him down at his level. After a few moments silence, John was ready to rage again, his patience was becoming an increasingly endangered response. But Barsad had just been gathering himself it seemed, and he finally answered in his quiet even tone.

'You saved my life.'

That was it, the whole explanation? John forced himself to wait another few seconds to see if anything else was forthcoming, but when the other man remained silent and staring off to the far doorway, he let out his angry retort.

'What the hell does that matter? You saved mine first, those guys in the alley would have had me. So…we're even.' Barsad just shook his head slowly, still starring off to the hallway beyond the room.

'No. We are not even. The value of your life is far beyond that of my own.'

It was said so matter of fact that John was too stunned to react before Barsad continued. 'I was charged to watch and protect you, I failed. You should not have been in a position to have been hurt.'

'You were watching me? Why?'
'You were chosen.'
John sighed. 'So you keep saying. Chosen for what? By who?'
Barsad looked around the room, scanning quickly before he answered. 'Talia. She chose you to be with us. To lead us after our mission was compl…after she was gone.'

John looked up sharply at that 'Your mission? You mean when you had finished bombing Gotham to the ground? The mission you failed?'

There was a collective shifting, the entire room seemed uncomfortable, but John didn’t let up. Even at the risk of baiting a bunch of killers, he had to have a clear answer. Bane had been too vague earlier, and John needed to know that if he was in the bloody Hindu Kush with a group of mass-homicidal mercenaries, that at least Gotham was safe.

'You did fail right? Just to be crystal clear - no room for doubt.'

The hesitant answer confirmed that indeed their plan had failed, and John couldn’t hold back his smile. His city was safe. There was somewhere he could go back to once he found a way to get out of this place. He could go home. Back to his life before all this craziness started.

Back to his job. Being a detective was everything he had been working towards for years. Despite the taunting and dirty tactics, the hatred he faced because of his origins, the rumours of favours he paid to get that promotion, and despite the Dent Act fiasco.

Back to his apartment. Sure it was small. Well a studio really. And the location wasn’t the best. Or the furniture, the heating, or the pipes and their lack of hot water. But it was decent enough for the price, he didn’t like to spend that much on rent anyway, not with the orphanage lacking the funds from the Wayne foundation these last few years.

Back to his frien-, loved on-, the kids.

Coming back to himself John saw that Barsad was still looking down the corridor beyond the room. Taking advantage of his distraction John pressed on, wanting to see how many answers he could get before Bane showed up.

'Why would Miranda chose me? I'm nothing like you people, I'm a cop. I'm hardly going to help you finish what you started in my own city!'

Another long pause. John was beginning to recognise that this might be typical of this quiet man, thinking before speaking, measuring his words. This time Barsad did turn to look at him when he spoke.

'She wanted you to be free from the world you were trapped by Robin. She recognised your soul.'

John was not prepared for philosophical mercenaries, mentally he had reached his limit. 'Wha- No. You know what? Just forget it. Question time with you is like a fucking bag of cats. I've had enough.'

John got up and walked away. He didn’t pay any attention to where he was going, focusing only long enough to register the fact that no one had stopped him.

He needed to be in the fresh air, he needed to be high and free with his thoughts. His mind felt trapped. 'My fucking soul. Jesus Christ.' He was muttering to himself as his feet traced unknown paths.

He thought about his kids. They needed him, someone to watch over them, someone who could show them that it didn’t matter where you came from. A protector who actually loved them.

He had made a mistake allowing Miranda Tate close to them. He had thought her influence, her standing and money would help them. He hated that he had fallen for the same societal thinking he had abhorred, and in doing so he had put their lives at risk.

If he was being genuinely honest with himself, he didn't just miss them, he missed the purpose they gave him. His life was worth something when he was watching over them. Now though. Well. He was a prisoner/chosen one of an intimidating secret army. In the Hindu fucking Kush.

He had found a kind of balcony; a slightly dilapidated wooden walkway protruding from the main building and winding around a corner to meet the solid rock of the mountain-side. Leaning his back on the stone, he slid down till he was seated against it.

It was solid and weighty, and John needed that to ground him. He needed an anchor to settle his thoughts and flighty emotions. He had to reign himself in, to regain control of his emotions. He couldn’t stop what these clearly deranged people thought and said to him, but he could control his reaction to it. He had to.

'My soul. She recognised my fucking soul. What am I doing here' He groaned and let his head fall back to hit the solid stone none too gently.

The sounds of fighting snapped John out of his reverie, and he moved up to the ledge of the wooden landing. Below about 20 feet or so was a courtyard of sorts; a round open space paved with stone that wound around like a snake. There were 2 men fighting surrounded by a group of 8 spectators. They were circling one another, one would strike and the other deflect. John couldn’t hear or understand what was being said, but he could make out the sound of laughter and shouting.

Suddenly one of the fighters struck his leg forward lightning fast, tripping his opponent. John watched as he used the momentum of the fall to flip the bigger man onto his back, following the motion down till his hand was resting on the fallen fighter’s neck. The sound of cheering deepened and a hand was extended to aid the beaten man to his feet.

They were training, John realised with a little horror at the follow-up thought of training for what? There it was right in front of him, proof that this was a force that was not-beaten. Sure they said they failed in Gotham, but they weren't defeated. These were men free to plan another attack, free to try again. They were free.

John had no idea what he could really do to stop them, but he knew he had to do something. He was in a unique position. For whatever reason these mercenaries hadn't killed him, he was somewhat…special to them? It was time to shake off his confusion and lethargy. He would find out everything he could about their organisation, and he would try to stop them from within.

From orphan rookie cop, to detective, to resistance fighter, to spy. It had been a fuck busy year.

Chapter Text

Bane watched from the shadow of the hallway as his men settled around the fire to break their fast. He would have to stop calling them his men. For they were no longer his, not since. But it was more then habit, he had trained with them, most of them he had lived beside for years.

One who had no idea the gift he had been given. The honour bestowed upon him, when it was so often denied to others who seemed more worthy. She had been their leader, they her disciples, and he determined to be her strength, even though she barely needed it. Many had made the mistake of thinking her weak, but not long after. The silence of the dead speaks volumes.

Bane had never questioned her before, content in the knowledge that her education had long since surpassed what little he had collected in his own youth in their prison.

No, he followed her orders, never contributing his thoughts on them, and she, never asking.

But now. Now even as he burnt with sorrow, he was tinged for the first time with doubt. Doubt for her that had been his all since his life was good enough to bother committing to memory. Hatred at his own weakness threatened to blind him. He would not dishonour her memory with his insignificant emotions.

But to look on what was put in her place, he could not help their overwhelming presence. Blake was nothing but a brash youth. Barely able to sit for the useless anger he fought to contain. Seated among a brotherhood sworn to die at his command and he refused to share of their food. He watched at the predictable eruption of indignation at an answer not expected, and the immature stalking off that followed.

His eyes met those of his second in command. They had been observing him since he had stood there. Ever watching Barsad. His brother. His former friend and companion. The man whom he once called his own, and was so claimed in return. No more.

He moved back from the shadows and turned away to follow Blake on his purposeless wanderings. The noise was not hard to follow, not even the slightest effort made to conceal his path. It was incompetent and lazy.

When he observed the small self-inflicted hurt the boy managed by slamming his head against the stone behind, he was conflicted between wanting to crush that head properly, with a force that would shake the mountain in its impact, and anger at the wasted efforts of his brother to keep this one from feeling pain.

That anger built at when he remembered those frantic days shortly after the wound the boy had suffered. The guilt that drove Barsad to neither eat nor sleep, not by his direction nor even hers. The doctors painstakingly sourced and vetted for the exacting expertise. The vigil kept even after movements of dreaming pain caused alarm. Back then even Bane was concerned for his survival. But that was before. Before his entire world ended.

The boy was moving now, watching the training in the upper courtyard. He had ordered it himself, taking control of the men while this period of adjustment was endured. It would not do to be complacent, and he could not abide idle laziness. Perhaps even the slight chance for revenge for all that was lost was fuel enough to fight through the despair in the air.

It would take little to kill him now, and Bane allowed himself the fantasy. To push the boy from the height, an accident caused by unfamiliar surroundings and his recent injury. Not satisfying in the way that watching the dimming life from his eyes would bring, but better a lack of satisfaction then the continued offence that each breath he took was one stolen from another.

As his chance walked away from the edge, he moved himself. There were tasks needed to be done. Nothing waited for indulgences of emotion. In the storerooms he took what was needed, and moved through the complex, accepting the aborted movements of men removing themselves from his path with a cursive nod.

Rounding to the doorway he made one last look to the courtyard fighting. The commotion of the boy joining the spectators had allowed Barsad the upper hand in his own fight, and he watched as his opponent was disarmed with all the grace and strength the slighter man possessed in his movements. He was not one to gloat nor lord over his defeated foe, slipping back from the attention as quickly as he was able.

His eyes found Bane's again, as they always seemed to, effortlessly. There was a time not so long ago that those eyes would crinkle slightly in a small smile meant only for him. And in return he would receive the same, even unseen, but the other man always seemed to know. Easy affection bought with years of loneliness from companionship, broken now.

Hoisting his bag over his shoulder he left through the front doors. The journey to the small village would be quick and easy with the weather this time of year, but the solitude and purpose were welcome to him even for a short time.

His mind was occupied by a single thought in these moments. Talia.

He wouldn’t even whisper her name, the mask distorted its sound to something ugly and untruthful. She, who was his beauty and light should never be so represented. Never should she have been failed by her protector, the one who gladly raised her when given the trusted role of nurturer. Oh how he had felt pride and humbling gratitude for the love of an innocent child. No, he would not sully her name by speaking it, but he would think it, on and on. Talia. Talia

Chapter Text

He watched the back of the retreating figure as he left the compound. Closing his eyes tightly for a moment, Barsad allowed himself to remember previous goodbyes where he would have looked out for the softening of those eyes, the small creases that neither age nor care created, and know that there was a smile for him hidden behind the mask of the formidable man.

But not this time, not since she died. Died exacting from him a promise that turned his brother, friend, and lover away.

Pain, hurt, betrayal. It was the price he had to pay to follow his path, he knew that. And he would do so gladly if it were he alone that must endure. But to see his brother faltering... To not only see the sorrow he was facing and be unable to offer comfort, but to also be the cause of anguish. Barsad never thought to feel such guilt again. Not since he had been found by the league, not since he had been given his purpose.

The stirring distraction caused by Robin's arrival to their training session gave Barsad the opportunity he needed to bring himself back to the present moment. It had been good to work out his pent up energy and frustrations, he hadn't had much of an opportunity to exhort himself physically whilst he was watching over the slighter mans recovery. He felt slower, less in tune with himself, he knew he was letting his thoughts distract him from his surroundings. He would have to train harder, it wouldn’t do to allow himself to be bested again, not if the consequences of last time were to be avoided.

Robin's eyes sought his out amidst the crowd, and Barsad was impressed to find no fear lurking there despite the revelations the man had been subjected to over the day. There was instead an uncertainty, but backed by a steely determination. It seemed the little bird had come to a decision to take part.

Barsad wasn’t fooled for a moment that he had believed his purpose with them, but the fact that he was putting his stubbornness aside for astuteness was a promising start. He could see ever clearer the attributes Talia had admired in him. All else aside, Barsad was glad of the opportunity to see for himself what made this man, beyond the pinpointing research he had conducted into his past, and the glimpses caught from shadowing him throughout the streets of his broken city.

'You move incredibly fast.' The compliment was acknowledged with a small incline of the head, waiting for the question he knew was coming. 'Can you, I mean, would you show me?' It was asked hesitantly.

'If that is what you wish Robin, then we will teach you.' Barsad registered surprise and a flicker of annoyance in the other mans face at his acquiescence.

'Don't call me that - My name is John.' The tone was firm, angry even. Curious.

'All your identification suggests otherwise Robin John Blake.'

'They are just legal documents.' He countered. ‘That doesn't make it my name'

'Names are bestowed as a reflection of thought and an indicator of purpose. 'John' is neither of those things, but Robin was given to you for a reason. You should honour that.' Barsad ignored the way Robin's hands twitched, clenching in and out of a fist.

'I won't talk about honour with a mercenary whose plan would have blown up children.' The younger man was reigning himself in as much as he could, but to Barsad the rage and loathing that was directed at him was blatant.

He didn't counter the argument, knowing the futility of such a debate now. Allowing the silence between them to grow, he knew that a calm and steady patience would be the only way to get the other man to listen. And there were many things for their little bird to learn before he could understand.

The situation reminded him of his own initiation, and the patience and guidance his brother had shown him, even in the face of his anger and despair. He would need to remember that influence and try his best to emulate it, poor substitute that he was.

'Look- are you going to teach me or what?' The exasperation had won out over the angry silence.

'You are still healing.' Seeing the beginnings of another angry retort Barsad moved to press his hand lightly against the bandaged would on his slighter man's chest. Even the slight pressure he exerted caused a shuddering reaction, and the pain that was valiantly hidden just a fraction too late, was proof to his cautious words. 'I will not see you any more hurt through my actions.' Almost unconsciously his hand stayed pressed against the chest, seeking out the heart beat that was steady and constant now.

He didn’t move as Robin took a step back, distancing himself from his touch. Curious.

'I can still fight. I am not weak.' In other circumstances it would have been amusing to hear such a statement from the body in front of him. So thin that the bones of his rib cage were easily visible. No trace of fat after enduring the siege, and muscle wasted to almost nothing during his long unconsciousness. Scanning over a body like that it would be easy to dismiss boasts of strength as posturing, to be treated with as much scorn as the countless tens of other men who had made the same boast within his hearing. But Barsad had watched his man fight a bullet and recover from death's attempts to claim him. No, Robin was not weak.

'We will start where we can, and build from there. While you heal, you may still learn.'

He gestured over to the corner of the courtyard, and guided the other man to stand in font of him.

'First you must learn to breath and centre.' As he spoke Barsad circled Robin, using his touch to lightly adjust his stance, pushing his shoulders down from their hunched position, and pressing between the blades of his back to correct the slouching posture.

'Once you have your bearings, you own your body. And then you can control its potential.' He felt a breath of air escape the other man's lungs in a small puff of derision.

'Yes Yoda.'

Barsad cocked his head at that, but said nothing. Instead facing the other man, he gestured to do as he did. He started with simply breathing deeply, and although he saw the eye-roll this induced, it gave the opportunity judge whether there was any limitation to his lung capacity from his injury.

Happy enough with those results, Barsad moved onto stretching exercises. He had of course seen Robin move, and he knew the younger man to be flexible, but the difference between adrenaline fuelled movements and true body control was vast and marked. In this he could see some difficulty.

As he watched silently he saw how Robin favoured his right side, moving his left arm as little as possible. This in turn caused him to overcompensate and struggle with his balance. Mentally noting the worst of the reactions he called a stop to their activity.

'Why are we stopping? Had enough have you?' The breathless laugh was accompanied by a self-depreciating grin that Barsad didn't like. Turning to the sidelines he retrieved his canteen and a protein bar from his jacket, he handed both over to a now crouching Robin. He was relieved when both offerings were accepted, remembering the refusal of breakfast that morning. Purposefully keeping a pace of distance between them, he joined the other man sitting on the floor.

The sun was at its highest point, he tilted his head back slightly, the light and fleeting heat welcome on his face after so many weeks underground. The silence of the moment was broken, it seemed Robin had finished his food.

'Were you the trigger man? Would you have stayed behind to die with the rest of us for your mad beliefs?' The anger and bitterness of that last question just about covered the curiosity of the previous one.

'What bothers you more Robin? That we would have died with the city or that we believed enough to do so contentedly?' Barsad ignored the tension in the other man's posture, keeping himself relaxed and still. Even though his eyes were closed to the sun, he had no doubt he was being starred at

'What bothers me? What bothers me is that anyone had to die at all! What right did you have? If you wanted death so badly, why drag so many innocent people with you?'

'I did not seek death.'

'But you just said -'

'I did as my brother and sister wished. If my death was called for, it would have been given.'

'What kind of self-sacrificing bullshit is that?' At that Barsad did open his eyes and turned his head to find Robin staring at him eyes wide with confoundment and anger.

'As opposed to your sacrifice? For one a stranger to you.' He raised his eyebrow, glancing down at the bandage lining Robin's chest, and looking back to his face. His mouth was open and eyes narrowed.

Barsad smiled softly at the reaction, and in response saw the anger return to dominate the features of the other man. So full of anger he thought to himself, just as his sister had told them. He would be just as formidable as she predicted once trained properly.

'They are your family and they asked you to die for them - that’s pretty fucked up.' Stubborn also.

'Is there a greater thing to die for?' He asked with genuine curiosity as to the answer. It was odd to even voice the question. Doubt simply did not exist in this matter. It was as absolute to him as the rotation of the earth to the sun. He was blessed in his orbit, and had been grateful for the glimpses of brightness given to him.

The silence stretched on. Barsad thought with some sadness that perhaps Robin did not know the loyalty of family, having grown up only with other orphans. He would learn in time what family meant, once he allowed himself be shown. Once Bane allowed himself…no. He could not think of his grieving brother now. He must not give in to the aching in his chest the way he craved to do so. Strength was needed now.

'If they were really family, they wouldn’t ask it of you.'

The words were spoken softly. Robin did not shout this statement, but the steel behind it was resolute. Barsad took in the softened features, obvious even in the turned posture and the gaze out beyond his sight.

'You shouldn't hurt family.'

Barsad found he had nothing to say to that.

Chapter Text

When he looked back on that first week, John wasn’t entirely sure how he didn’t loose his mind as well as completely wreck his body.

They had started out with basic stretches, and more balance-finding exercises. He had jokingly scoffed at the idea that he needed to learn how to stand again; after all he had only been mastering that accomplishment since he was a toddler. It only took one hour to disabuse him of the notion he had mastered anything.

Standing in one position without fidgeting, without any movement at all, then springing into action after letting the body become lethargic was far more difficult then John ever believed. He tried over and over to find his centre as Barsad shown him, standing still yet watching out for the quiet man as he circled his position, apprising and preparing to strike. He nearly always failed to see the hit in time to move beyond it, and even the couple of times he did anticipate the movement, he would lose his balance and topple over. It was frustrating to say the least.

When Barsad had deemed he had had enough of just standing, he took him through some slow movement exercises that John knew he had seen old ladies doing in the park. But these exercises were coupled with lessons on the different vulnerable parts of the body.

John watched as Barsad moved his hands over a different part of his body, naming each and listing the vulnerabilities then waiting for him to repeat what he had heard. If he really thought about it it would be terrifying to know the human body was so frail - but being the stubborn bastard he prided himself on being, he recited every one back until he had them all memorised.

Although he was frustrated with the limitations of his injury, John could feel himself getting slowly better. And by better he meant slightly less then completely useless. Even that tiny progress was a relief. There was nothing like being held by a group of terrifyingly competent killers to force you to reflect on your own body's capabilities, and John knew the moment they all stopped looking at him as some kind of God - he was fucked. And he was constantly on the lookout for that moment. It was just too incredible that this situation could last.

After Barsad had finished exercising him each day, he was sat on the sidelines with water and a seemingly endless source of protein bars to watch the rest of the (far and vastly) more strenuous training taking place. He would need to know what these men were capable of if he had a hope of planning to get away.

So John watched the deadly yet somehow graceful movements before him with a mixture of awe, trepidation, and after a few days, traitorously, a growing question - how on earth did these guys fail?

It wasn't as though Gotham PD lacked skills. He himself had the standard academy training with some bi-annual refresher courses that brought officers up to a level competent to deal with street thugs. But seeing what was before him it was dawning on John just how woefully inadequate that was.

Their city in the last decade had faced the Crane and the Joker - and yet the police forces were still so hopelessly basic in combat skills. Why? The question burned through him, and without an answer rage followed suit. They had allowed themselves to become sitting ducks, to be so helpless as to need someone like Batman - which was great when Wayne was actually around and not off having a grief-induced vacation.

The glaring fact was that there was nothing, nobody stopping this nightmare from happening again.

Something of his angered thoughts must have shown on his face, because suddenly Barsad was crouching down face to face to look closely at him.

'Are you in pain Robin?'

He shook his head, too angry to speak in that moment. At his silence, instead of rejoining the others, Barsad sat down on the floor, and leant back slightly against the crates John had perched on. John looked down and tossed his water bottle into his lap. Barsad seemed surprised, looking up at him for a moment before drinking with a soft spoken thank you. John grunted in reply and together they sat in silence for a while.

'You would have actually done it, wouldn't you?'

Barsad looked up at him again, bottle half-way to his mouth, a couple of small drops of water dripping down the short stubble on his chin, following the distinct line of his adams apple...Jesus - John ripped his eyes away. He needed to get laid. It had been... too long.

'Yes.'

'Right. So if you had had your way, you would have all been sitting here around your bloody campfire like a bunch of boy scouts from hell watching my city burn right now.' He choked out bitterly. He had to remind himself that even this distractingly-handsome man was willingly part of a group that would have killed him and everyone he cared about and considered it a victory.

'No.'

John whipped his head back around in surprise.

'We were not to have come back here. We were to have endured the fire, together.' John's face must have been a picture of shock.

'You would have killed yourselves? Why? What the hell was the point of everything you put us all through if you were just going to off-yourselves?' He watched the other man's face withdraw from its carefree repose to a slim smile.

'She willed it. It was to be a shared end to their shared suffering.'

John the conviction and the loyalty in his tone, even though he didn't seem to be a part of the 'their' he was referring to. And if John's suspicions about that couple were right, well, then there was something terribly sad about the devotion of the man before him.

'She ordered you to die? And you would have what, just gone along with it? Because you were told to?' He shook his head. These were some serious brainwashed guys. The kind you heard about when you stayed up too late after a long shift, and the bed is too damn cold and alone, so you stay on the couch watching crappy ole re-runs of crime documentaries about people who escaped cults.

Barsad's open face didn't react to John's open confusion. Just calmly responded in his usual steady soft voice.

'Our lives were hers. As they are now yours Robin.'

John shook his head, unwilling to get back into the same days-old argument of leadership, instead he leant away from the crate he was sitting on and knelt down till he was on the same level as his companion. 'You seem to have forgotten a key piece of your own rhetoric - what happened to equality? No one owns another mans life. It's wrong.' He picked up another fallen water bottle and stood up. 'And I would never ask anyone to die for me.'

In response John found himself facing those stormy looking eyes. He swallowed, concurrently damning and admiring the ninja reflexes the other man possessed. He was standing so close John swore he could feel an exhaled breath from the small huff of a laugh as the other man smiled softly at him.

'You would never have to ask.'

As he watched him walk away back to the centre of the courtyard, John felt the weight of cosmic fuckery; that a man who embodied every notion of evil he had been taught had shown him more care and unconditional loyalty than anyone else since he was a boy.

He shook himself from those thoughts as he followed Barsad back to resume his exercises. It was all part of some kind of brainwashing plan, faking affection is the same as faking anything else - he knew that.

Somehow that conviction did little to settle the fluttering in his stomach.

Chapter Text

Bane's absence had been a cautious thought always on the peripheral.

John had no idea what he had done to incur the hatred of the man, but honestly it was a relief. Bane was the only one who had acted normal in this entire fucked up world he was caught up in.

The man had valid reasons to want to kill him, after all John was a cop, he was part of the resistance that thwarted his plans, and he seemed to have (unwittingly and unwillingly) usurped his place as a leader to his very own band of mercenaries.

No, Bane was the one normal thing in John's world right now. And that fact alone told him just how very fucked he was.

No one spoke of him, or mentioned his absence, so John had no idea whether it was a regular occurrence or something to do with him. Normally he would have laughed at his insertion of self-important thoughts in the other mans motives, but normal was so far in his rear-view mirror now that he didn’t berate himself too much.

Instead John found himself hyper-aware of his dwindling opportunity to escape without the hulking presence of that man. It wasn’t that he thought the others here couldn’t hurt him - hell he had been watching the training well enough to realise how even the slightest looking of men could fuck him up three ways from Tuesday. It was more that he found himself doubting that they would.

The whole leader thing had started as a joke that he didn’t pay much attention to - after all he had been slightly more focused on the fact that he had survived being shot. That and the whole Hindu Kush thing. But he hadn't really taken them seriously. Because well…seriously!

But as the days wore on and he wasn’t tortured or killed, that he was if fact given every bit of medical attention he needed, shown a cautious respect, and now being trained in their own fighting style…he was slowly getting the impression maybe they were serious about his being their leader.

It was something that Barsad definitely acted out as though John were his new messiah. The man was constantly there, getting him food, gently taking him through training, checking on his injuries with an almost reverent care, being ever so patient when John raged at the revealed details of their plans in Gotham. In fact, abstractly John wanted to know what right anyone who killed people for a living had to walk and talk like they had swallowed the Little Book of Calm.

He really had no idea what to do about his newly acquired disciple. Obviously if he wanted to escape, he would need to give him the slip, but the man was so rarely far from him that it was trying to flee your shadow. Oddly enough, on this issue if no other, providence proved to be on his side a couple of days after this thought.

John had just finished up another session of 'how to throw knives' with a beefy looking mercenary he had named Ramsay - another reference lost on these anti-TV heathens. When normally he would have turned around and seen Barsad waiting there patiently to bring him to dinner, today no was no one there. Not willing to read too much into it yet, John walked down the wooden hallway to the main hall by himself.

Finding a small group of guys already setting up the fire, John sat himself down with a confidence he didn’t fully feel. Fake it till you make it he thought to himself, realising in that moment that this would be the first time he had been alone with the others since he got there.

Preparing himself for a possible conflict or at least some serious awkward tension John found himself tensing, eyes darting around, whilst still trying to play it confident. He probably wasn't fooling anyone. No one said anything or acted any differently though, which was slightly anti-climatic.

There was a low buzz that several different conversations created, and from what he could hear, in a few different languages. Food was passed around; John took some of the flat bread and a bowl of stew swimming with spices that he had come to love, not surprising given his usual diet of noodles or coffee. In fact he was loving the food so much he was finally starting to fill out again, losing the gaunt sickly look that had been his reflection for the last few months.

The man next to him dipped his head in thanks for plate John passed over, and he suddenly seized on the opportunity to speak to someone without his constant shadow.

'What happened to Talia?'

The man stilled, looking to his companion on his other side for some kind of aid. That just pissed John off, he was tired of being kept in the dark. Reminding himself that he was supposed to be their leader, he spoke out in his most commanding voice.

'Tell me.'

The room silenced, all conversations abandoned and eyes all turned to John. He stared them down. A few moments past before the man next to him cleared his throat.

'When imprisoned in the pit Bruce Wayne learnt our Lady's true identity. That it was she who had risen to purge the unworthy. Upon his return to Gotham he sought her out, telling the police what he had learnt.'

The man paused his tale there, but John simply raised his eyebrow, seeking the end of the story.

A sigh.

'While we were occupied elsewhere, they arrested her. Before we could get to her, she had been killed.'

John shook his head.

'No, the police wouldn’t have done that. She would have been tried, probably locked away till the end of time, but they wouldn’t have murdered her.'

'Then maybe she would have preferred this alternative to yours.'

John thought through what he had been told. If he was honest, it wasn’t as though he couldn't imagine one of his fellow officers, frustrated, angry, betrayed - feeling as though her death would be perfectly justified.

'Wait - what do you mean you were otherwise occupied?'

Faces suddenly would not meet his own, silence prevailed once more and John sinkingly knew he was right.

'Me, you’re talking about me. Aren't you.'

It wasn’t even really a question, but he was given a shallow nod of response regardless. He responded with a shallow laugh.

'No wonder Bane wants to rip me to pieces.'

It wasn’t as though he wanted Talia/Miranda dead. The betrayal stung, of course it did. And her plan would have lead to the death of millions, so you couldn’t even say she deserved better. But.

But John remembered her bringing extra food and blankets for the orphans after John told her their plight. He remembered the light teasing as she coaxed stories of his non-existent love life from him during their many hours he shared his watch in the safe house. He remembered hands running through his hair soothing him to an exhausted sleep.

Talia might have been an evil piece of work, but she had also been his friend.

Something was pressed into his hand, and looking up he saw a small smile on the face of his storyteller. It was a flask. Grinning back at him John took a swig - and almost spat it out comically again, as it was he settled for eye-watering choking. A few laughs and a heavy pat on his pat made sure he recovered.

'Shit. That must be at least 80 proof!'

More grins around the room.

'You guys don’t do anything by halves huh? Ok then.'

John took another swig, prepared this time for the burning down his throat. He smiled. Fuck but he had missed alcohol. There simply wasn’t anything going that wasn’t from a bathtub during the occupation, and John was living with the kids most of the time, so he couldn’t indulge. He passed the flask round to the next man.

'Thank you little bird.'

John groaned.

'I'm going to kill Barsad. Seriously it's just a bloody bird. And I'm not little!'

His companion just laughed and shook his head.

'It is no insult - our lady was known to us as 'little fire', but that didn’t mean she could not burn the entire world.'

John didn’t know what to say to that. Truthfully, a small part of him that he didn’t want to analyse too closely, was kind-of flattered. He hadn't ever had a nickname given to him that wasn’t for ridicule or distain.

After his mother, when he just became John, he wasn’t settled anywhere long enough for nicknames, and playing, and friendships. Then when he grew up and joined the force he had the usual 'rookie' and 'hothead', occasionally 'fag' from some of the desperate supposed hetero men he had turned down.

If 'little bird' was what he was given now, well - it wasn’t the worst. He fought back the smile that threatened to inappropriately overtake his scowl.

After a few moments John noticed a man stand and start to tell a story song in some unknown-to-him language. He was shortly joined by 3-4 others, all jumping in with similar rough voices and wildly flapping hands.

The room relaxed, lulled by the combination of camaraderie and alcohol. John lent back against the floor-roll behind him and allowed himself to absorb the atmosphere despite not understanding what was said.

The laughter rang on, and the flask had rounded its way past him a couple of times when John was aware that the man to his left had just finished his tale, and all eyes were settled on him now.

Well. Shit. Being slightly drunk allowed for many things, understanding their crazy language was not one of them. His left neighbour was kind enough to enlighten him.

'We share tales of the day we became men.'

John nodded, trying to think quickly about when that milestone came round for him. There were plenty of things to chose from, specialties that society acknowledged; getting your drivers licence, first time sleeping with a girl, turning 18, moving out. None of those were what came to mind.

'When I buried my father. There was no one else at the funeral, just me and a social worker who took me out of the home for it. Afterwards the priest knelt down and told me I would have to decide who I wanted to be. That from now I would have to be my own man.'

It wasn’t a happy memory per-se, but it also wasn’t worth the tragic pitying response he had received when he last told someone that story. An ex-girlfriend had been sulking that he didn’t share enough of himself. Turns out not many people want stories that down have happy endings. It was a valuable lesson to learn about relationships; when partners say they want honesty, they really want it thinly-veiled.

Which was why John was surprised with himself for sharing that story. He tensed in delayed reaction, the last remnants of fuzzy alcohol induced relaxation disappeared.

A voice from opposite him called out for an age. John defensive, replied without inflection, not wanting to let on his change in attitude.

'8 years? You a late-bloomer!'

Guaffs of laughter spread at that, and to his own shock, John joined in. Obviously his story wasn’t a shock to a band of mercenaries living in the mountains. He wasn’t the only kid from a fucked up background trying to fly under the radar of his past. He wasn’t a curiosity in the way he had been even in the force. It was freeing.

He allowed himself to relax once more and listened in to the rest of the tales told, spoken now mostly in English with a care to John's understanding.

So the rest of the night past in that way, and at some point during a song from gruff voices John fell asleep where he lay. Surrounded by killers, next to a fire. He would later pretend he didn’t sleep as well.

~

The next morning there was as orderly a getting of breakfast and packing away as John had seen since he arrived. There was no hint of sore heads or lack of sleep. It was very disciplined, and John struggled not to feel too bitter about it, but his own night on the harder floor with the cold had left his shoulder throbbing.

Right now he just wanted to get some of Barsad's fancy injections and get his blood moving. Speaking of Barsad…he still hadn’t shown up. And John definitely didn’t see him last night.

He wasn’t concerned, he was just curious. Definitely curious. When Ramsay came over to him, probably to take him for more knife skills 101, John asked him where Barsad was. The look he got wasn’t encouraging.

'Barsad is on the mountain in ritual.'

John put his hand to his temple, honestly it was like he wanted tension headaches by starting conversations with these guys.

'No - none of this fragmented ninja speak - where specifically is Barsad, and what is he doing?'

Ramsay nodded as if to pacify him, but thankfully elaborated.

''Every year Barsad disappears to the mountain to visit with the spirits of his wife and baby.'

Wait. Wife and baby? John's heart gave a little clench as he thought about the quiet man and what could only be an aching loss.

'When will he be back?'

This time Ramsay definitely did evade the question. John saw the furrow of his eyebrows as a thought hit his mind, and he called over one of the other men standing close-by, referring to him in their own language. John just folded his arms and repeated the question. Ramsay dipped his head in apology, answering;

'Other times he has gone with Bane, and Bane brings him back.'

Shit. Well that was…obviously not happening. John felt an uneasiness in his gut at this situation. He wasn’t sure whether it was pity for Barsad, or a slight guilt that because of him Barsad was without his whatever-he-got from Bane.

Either way he didn’t like the way Ramsay had said 'brings him back'. Was it just broken English, or did he mean Bane had to physically bring the man off the mountain? The uneasy feeling grew with a sound of the wind outside. John made up his mind.

'We're going to go get him. Tell the others.'

Without waiting for a reaction John headed for the front doors. He stopped in one of the little alcoves he had seen on his first guided trip through when he was trailing after Bane, and grabbed himself some heavier boots and another jacket.

He reached the massive wooden doors to find a small group of about 6 men standing there waiting. The bar to the door had already been removed, and John was inwardly impressed with just how fast these guys got shit done. He reminded himself that they thought he was their leader, and since no one had stopped him yet, he was just going to run with that while he could.

'Right. We need to find Barsad - does anyone have any idea where he goes?'

One man nodded his head.

'Ok, well lead on.' John gestured ahead and falling into a line, John himself placed somewhere in the centre, they headed out.

~

A few hours later, an incredibly cold group trudged back into the temple. At the rear of the little cavalcade a man covered in snow that had been falling progressively heavier, soaked through with sweat and damp, was being half-carried by 2 supporting shoulders.

John, a couple of steps ahead, had been constantly craning his neck back to check on him. Barsad had been mumbling earlier, but it seemed to have dropped off with the cold. He needed the warmth of a good fire along with something warm and substantial fed to him, but otherwise he seemed ok. Just cold and exhausted. John could sympathise.

The twinge of pain in his shoulder had blown out to a throbbing pain, the cold doing nothing but spreading the ache until it dominated his every movement. His stomach was also making it very known that he hadn't eaten anything since last night, and that you don’t go from having 3 square meals a day back to old irregular eating habits without some suffering.

Quite frankly, John was tired, worried, annoyed, and in pain. Which is why when Bane suddenly appeared in the main room, arms folded and feet apart waiting for them, all John was in the mood for was to loudly and angrily say;

'Where the FUCK have you been?!'

Chapter Text

It was indicative of the years of patience and restraint that had been demanded of him that Bane didn't crush the slighter man for his audacity. Physically he may not be allowed to harm Blake, so he settled instead to make the other man cower before him.

He walked forward, crowding into the detective’s space, forcing him to backwards until he was pressed against the wall. This vantage point usually allowed Bane to observe the trembling fear that previous enemies displayed in their final moments. This time however he was angered to see very little reaction beyond impatience and annoyance.

Unfamiliar with being made to feel like a mere inconvenience, Bane growled. He would teach this foolish boy exactly why men trembled at his very name. Placing one hand down against the shorter mans sternum, he bent his head closer 'You think to question me Detective?' He pressed his hand slightly, hearing with satisfaction the sound of air being pushed from lungs.

'You believe your anger entitles you to seek answers from me?'

He pressed further still. This time the pinned man fought back. Hands wrapped around his wrist in an attempt to dislodge him. It was weak, the force barely causing him to move at all. His eyes were narrowed, still defiantly glaring at him despite the completely ineffectual defence.

Oh how Bane wanted to crush the life from this unworthy interloper. How easy it would be to just press down, his full weight crushing the boys ribs and lungs, ensuring no further breath was ever his to take. He could do it. He had already failed Talia, why should he allow the man responsible for her death to live in her place?

'..asrad'.

A rasp escaped on an exhaling breath. He was calling for help? The coward sought another's intervention. Pathetic. Hands now dug into his arm in a more frantic attempt to remove the pressure from his chest. Bane watched passively, using his free hand to swipe them away. He would end this now.

'You left Barsad.'

The one deep breath allowed in the struggle was used up, Blake was twitching for air, but Bane snapped back as if burnt. Barsad.

He looked around the room, seeking the man out but he saw nothing but concerned faces standing a respectful distance away. He was not among them. As sudden as the all consuming rage that had overcome him at Blake's voice, the worry that now replaced it gave his mind a chance to remember the minutes previous, and the man that was being carried through the doors. He had not paid much heed before, thinking it no one of any importance, but now the features were clear.

Bane stalked out of the room, hearing only distantly the sound of gasping that could only have been Blake's relieved success at sucking in oxygen again.

He headed down the stairs to the small cellar rooms used for healing. He hated these cells, loathing the deep permeating feeling of cold that only being underground surrounded by stone and memories could cause.

Stooping to enter the space he immediately saw Barsad laying on a small pallet bed, one of their brothers leaning over him. His entrance caused the man to turn, and speak with him, but Bane heard little past the diagnosis of fever and exhaustion. Barking at the man to leave and fetch wood, he moved to kneel next to the sleeping form.

Shrugging off his heavy coat he draped it over the layers of blankets, remembering back to a previous time they had shared a bed.

Barsad had returned from a long scouting mission and had stolen his jacket almost as soon as he entered their little room. Bane watched from the desk as he slumped into their small bed, laying the jacket over himself. He had questioned the action, amusement in his voice, Barsad's only response had been to promptly fall asleep, almost unseen under the large woollen garment.

Barsad's face was cool to the touch. He was definitely chilled, the sooner Bane started a fire the better. His glance wandered up to the bags under his eyes, the exhaustion plain to see now that he was looking. He had not been looking after himself.

Hearing footsteps coming down the stairway, Bane moved to get up, but not before letting his fingers drift down to trace the lips of the sleeping man. The old bitterness he felt toward the mask resurfaced, despite the knowledge that he was prevented from that experience by more then his own deformity now.

Another stab of anger burnt through him at the thought of Blake's very existence. He was the cause of the destruction of Bane's world, not only taking everything from him, but treating it with contempt. He was the reason Barsad was in this state.

As two of his brothers arrived with wood, Bane busied himself with the familiar task, building a fire large enough to warm the room. The motions had the desired effect; forcing his thoughts to calm, reigning himself back.

~

He had been sitting watching the sleeping man for close to an hour when the detective entered the room. Bane didn’t move, only his eyes tracked Blake's cautious approach, some bitter amusement at the wide berth he attempted to keep between them in the tiny room. He saw with satisfaction the already angry bruising on his neck, it would serve as a reminder to respect the physical advantage he possessed.

Blake reached out to touch his palm to Barsad's forehead, and Bane couldn’t help the low grumbling from that action. He may know that his touch was no longer wanted, but to see another so openly do what he could not - he struggled to remain still, turning his attention back to the fire, stoking it with a slight ferocity.

Blake had moved away from Barsad, his check-up seemingly over. Instead of leaving as Bane expected he leant down against the wall opposite him, staring at the fire with a frown on his face. Bane ignored him.

The sound of the wood crackling under the flames dominated the space, punctured every now and again by the soft sounds of Barsad's sleepy breathing. Blake still stood, his weight leant against the wall, as though the meagre height advantage that position afforded meant anything, his attention flickering between Barsad and the fire.

'Why did you leave?'

Bane raised his eyebrow at the return to questioning. Blake's lack of self-preservation was outstanding. Clearly his previous attempt at teaching respect was not a lesson this boy learnt easily. He would be happy to repeat the experience for him. Before he could respond, Blake spoke again.

'You left. Left him and no one else knew what to do.'

'So my absence is to bare the blame for your ineffectual leadership?'

'No - Fuck. This isn't a leader-thing. I don’t give a shit - I'm not competing with you for this. This is about Barsad. This happens every year yeah? So where were you?'

Bane was gripping the metal poker with enough force to bend the handle. He threw it down into the flames, throwing sparks into the air between them. He narrowed his eyes at Blake, seeing that although the other man flinched slightly at the motion, he was not backing down. There was fear in his gaze, but also a stubborn determination.

'Do not speak of what you do not understand.'

'Look - I don’t pretend to know what the fuck is going on here. You have a problem with me, fine. I'm sorry Miranda died - I didn’t want that, no more then I want to take her place. But taking that out on Barsad - that’s a pretty shit way of treating someone who lov-'

Bane was up and across the room before the offending man had a chance to finish. He grabbed his jacket and lifted him up against the wall, bringing him up eye-level, feet dangling from the ground.

'This your answer to everything? Anyone says anything you don’t want to hear and you just bully them into silence. You're a real big man, just like so many others.'

Blake spat the words out at him with a vengeance in his tone that was telling for one so slight. He didn’t fight back, he just hung there, forcing Bane to feel the weight of both his body and his words.

'Brother…stop.'

Bane whipped his head around at the sound of Barsad's voice, seeing him leaning up on his elbows off the bed, his eyes focused on the point where he was holding Blake against the wall. He let go instantly and felt the other man drop unsteadily to his feet.

He took in the look between the two men, seeing Barsad's eyes track over the detective's body - appraising for damage, before settling back on his own.

The sadness he saw reflected there at him was enough to stop him. In that moment he questioned whether or not his life would have been better had Talia left him to his death in the pit. He would have never known what it was to have the heart of another, but he would never have known the pain of its loss. He would have died from the agony of his wounds, safe in his ignorance.

'I hope you will recover soon brother.'

Inclining his head to Barsad he turned to leave the room, fingers itching at his side. He heard the soft murmuring of voices as he walked away.

He had become weak, and Blake's words echoed in his mind. What had he allowed himself to become? His pain was deserved, Barsad's was not.

He could not lose his control again, he would not harm the boy, even though every fibre of his being longed for vengeance. Harming Blake would only hurt the one he cared for most. He couldn’t not do that to Barsad, even if he had chosen another.

Chapter Text

Upon hearing Bane's heavy footfalls down the hallway, the tension drained away from John's body. He looked over to Barsad, who was still sitting up on his elbows, eyes focused on the doorway. Feeling responsible for the awkward situation he blurted out

'Are you ok?'

Barsad looked up at him.

'You did not have to do that.'

'And just sit back to let him just treat you like shit?' John snapped, instantly feeling bad as Barsad's eyes tightened in a half-wince.

'It is not as you think.'

John levelled him a look, eyebrows raised, but otherwise said nothing. He had seen enough domestic abuse cases on the job to know how these things went, and pushing the victims before they were ready ultimately did more harm then good. He did however snap at Barsad to lie back down and rest when the tired man attempted to get out of his bed.

'It seems I owe you my life again Robin.'

John scoffed 'I doubt that.'

But his comment did nothing to dissuade the genuine thank you and earnest look Barsad gave him. John felt uncomfortable at that amount of attention.

'Yeah well…can't hurt having a bad-ass killing mercenary owe you a couple of favours I guess.'

Seeing Barsad's slight smile, he continued, leaning in closer to stage whisper conspiratorially

'I don’t suppose you would let me cash one of those favours in for getting me out of here?'

That earnt him the full laugh that he was aiming for. At the rich sound John found himself grinning in return, and a comfortable silence fell between them.

John was lost to thoughts of Barsad's past. He wasn’t so naïve as to think that all criminals were born evil, but he thought losing a wife and child would definitely be enough to turn an otherwise good man. And…wait - when did he start thinking of Barsad as a good man?

He had been one of those responsible for bringing him here and holding him against his will. He had helped in the plan to destroy his home. Not to mention the fact that he was trying to train him in the image of their dead club leader, and anyone who could move that deadly didn’t just learn the theory.

Ok so he had helped him out against those alleyway thugs, then seemingly nursed him back to health when he was shot (and then been a continual mother hen afterwards). And he was continuously calm in the face of John's temper, never retaliating even though he had demonstrated his superior skill.

And the man just always looked so damn sad! Those eyes just…well John was never really a huger, but there was something made him just want to comfort - stop. Christ, he needed to come back to reality. Maybe Bane had hit him one too many times in the head.

John cleared his throat whilst trying to shake out of his thoughts. Barsad looked up at him briefly from the fire at the sound, a decision formed in his look.

'I was part of a unit seconded to the UN during apartheid. For peacekeeping. We were protecting the home of a wealthy family during an uprising. We pushed the crowds on and the family was safe.'

John held his breath, listening closely to the quiet voice. Something told him that this private man shared details of his life with very few.

'When I returned home, the house had been raided and burnt. A grave freshly dug under a tree. Neighbours with tales of a rioting crowd that had passed through.'

He paused for a moment, staring off into the fire.

'She had hid, but could not keep the baby quiet. I had directed the danger to our home to protect a family important by wealth.'

John shivered, imagining the vivid scene. Barsad didn't notice, continuing in his monotonous tone.

'I sought revenge, tracking the rebel leaders from their hiding places. Then the league found me. Gave me a home, brothers. They offered me a chance to avenge more then my own hurt. To correct the balance for all.'

Barsad finished his tale, no indication of the cost its retelling took from him. John on the other hand felt tense, his entire body hanging on the words of Barsad's memory.

'Why did you tell me this?' Suspicious of his motives, perhaps an attempt to plant a seed of discord with the world so as to join them in destroying it.

Barsad sat up, his gaze openly meeting John's slanted one.

'So you will know. We know of your past. With us you have a home and brothers to put your needs above their own. You need not bear anything alone again Robin.'

The silence stretched between them. After a few moments John murmured something about letting him rest, and left the room. He was raging.

There was no way he was going to let Barsad see the effect his words had, there would be no satisfaction to be gained from him for all this softly softly approach. He knew what Stockholm Syndrome was fuck you very much, and he wasn’t stupid enough to allow himself to be manipulated.

So yeah his life was sometimes shit, and yeah he got lonely, but who the fuck didn’t these days? That didn’t mean he needed to be fucking adopted by a bunch of emotionally scarred men with guns.

In his rage he barely saw where he was going, didn’t have a destination in mind, he just wanted to go. Back to his shitty apartment that was his, back to the job he'd earnt even with its shitty people, back to the orphanage and the kids that actually liked him. He had had enough of this place, these people, this league, this bullshit!

Absorbed in his completely fed up inner monologue, John didn’t notice the man in his path until he had walked straight into him.

Bane looked down at his position on the floor with a raised eyebrow.

John groaned. 'Oh fuck me.'

~

He picked himself up off the floor, careful to avoid using his left arm. Bane was still standing there looking unimpressed, but also not grabbing him by the throat so small mercies and all that.

'The training of Gotham’s finest must have been extensive Detective Blake for you to fail to see directly in front of you.'

John glared at the snarky comment.

'Fuck off.'

He moved past the hulking man, making his way to the training area, overcome with the need to hit something. Hard and repeatedly.

'What an extensive vocabulary you possess.'

Of course the bastard was following him. John's hand twitched involuntarily, a move not missed by Bane who seemed amused by it.

'You wish to fight me.'

John turned around at him with a look he hoped would be interpreted as 'fucking obviously'.

'Then you must learn how.'

And that was all the warning he got before Bane charged him. He was on his back before he knew what happened. He shook himself upright, not giving the satisfaction of the groan of pain he wanted to exhale after falling on his shoulder twice in the space of minutes.

Bane was standing a few feet away, hands gripping his vest, watching passively as John considered him. All other activity in the room had stopped, men no longer pretending to have their focus elsewhere came over to watch the latest Bane vs. Blake action. John couldn’t blame them really, they didn’t even have a TV, but fucked if we was going to let Bane humiliate him completely.

Remembering the stance Barsad had shown him, he leant slightly forward on his toes, pitching his weight evenly between both legs, ready to pivot in either direction that Bane came at him. It didn’t take long.

Bane moved as though his bulk were nothing at all. He was fast, not in the blink-it-and-miss way that Barsad was, but still more then John had anticipated. He had moved too late, dodging left to avoid be barrelled down, but not fast enough to miss Bane's leg tripping him, his hand around his throat pushing him into the floor.

'Impressive. Little wonder my brother looks exhausted.'

Bane let his grip go and rose from his crouched position, his back to John as though he considered him so little a threat. John's rage graduated from simmering to boiling.

If Bane wanted to be a sarcastic trying bastard great, that was something John had mastered at 10. Bring it.

He picked himself up off the ground quickly.

'Yeah, because it has nothing to do with you abandoning him then ignoring him when you’re back so you can act all menacing and angry.'

Bane turned, his eyes flicking from mocking to glaring instantly. John wasn’t cowered, this time Bane had definitely started it, and fucked if he was backing down first.

'I assure you Detective, it is no act.'

Bane snarled at him, moving forward his fists delivering two sharp fast jabs to John's kidneys. He doubled over in pain, winded from the force of the punches.

Ok, he thought to himself, drawing air into his lungs slowly. This fight was not going to be won in a traditional way. Bane was huge, his body honed into pure muscle. There was just no chance John would ever be able to box his way out of this. He had to force Bane off his game, distract him enough to get a chance for a hit.

'Really?' John wheezed out. 'I think you’re a great actor. Prancing around Gotham all theatrically, letting everyone believe you were calling the shots. When really you were lackey to a woman with nothing but a grudge and deep pockets.'

He knew he was playing with fire talking about Talia, but Bane did exactly as expected - he lashed out. Coming at John with murderous force, he predictably went for his throat as he had done the many times before.

John dropped at the knees, pivoting on his left foot to flip around Bane as the other man grasped the air where John's head was milliseconds ago.

'Maybe lackey is a harsh term. How do you like disposable resource?'

Another lunge, this time John rolled out of the way.

'She would have watched you burn for her vengeance. What a devoted relationship you must have had.'

This time John wasn’t able to completely miss the punch swung at him, managing only to turn his head enough that the impact was spread over his cheek and ear instead of directly to his temple.

He used this chance to get a point on the board for himself, cutting his fist up whilst Bane's arm was extended, and landing a punch to the un-armoured patch of skin at the underarm. It wouldn’t have hurt him, probably barely even registered, but still John felt slightly shocked that he had managed even that much.

Apparently the rest of the room agreed, the tension that had started as uncomfortable was now palpable. Bane seemed similarly stunned, although completely unharmed. He turned slowly, rage and appraisal in his gaze. John knew the baiting game was over, Bane was onto him now.

'You speak of misplaced devotion, yet your own to the Batman is one of a child desperately clinging to a lie told to soothe it.'

He circled around, forcing John to move in a direction he dictated. John recognised the ploy for what it was, but there was little else for him to do to avoid the reach of his opponent.

'You and your city were party to your own destruction. Placing your hope in an impotent saviour who ran from us with as little conscience as he appeared and hid from your world when it suited his vanity.'

John had all of a second to process the idea that Bruce Wayne had been connected to the league before Bane rushed him. Finding himself backed to a wall, he had nowhere to go as Bane delivered punch after punch to his abdomen. His own retaliation was completely ineffectual, his reach only able land on body covered in protective armour.

Knowing he wouldn’t last much longer, and feeling overcome with desperation and pain, John did the only thing he could think of that would have any impact at all. He head butted the mask.

Beyond registering just how much that fucking hurt, John heard the distinct sound of gas leaking, and felt Bane move away from him, he straightened out, panting as his caught his breath.

He saw Bane a couple of steps away from him, his hands to his face trying to fix whatever it was that had broken, but what really caught John's attention was the look of pain dominating his features.

He had no idea why that should surprise him, Bane was just a man after all, but still, a large and imposing man. Watching him struggle to fight the pain and fix the mask, John felt…bad. That odd thought struck him, it didn’t matter that Bane had been dealing it out as well, he couldn’t explain it. Maybe it was because his weakness was so obvious that it seemed like a low move - but John didn’t press the advantage Bane's preoccupation afforded him.

He stayed where he was, still catching his breath and stretching out the pain in his left shoulder. He made eye contact with a few of the mercenaries around the room, shaking his head slightly in what he hoped conveyed 'shows over, fuck off'. Apparently it did.

The room was soon filled with the sound of other men training. Bane had stopped the leak in his mask, hands now down from his face, eyes watching John with an indistinguishable focus. The silence between them grew awkward, and John slightly ridiculously felt the need to say something, anything really.

'You ok?'

Maybe anything wasn’t a great idea, something less fucking stupid would have been better.

Bane glared at him.

'Save your concern Detective. Perhaps for the man you left to stomp around like an angry child.'

John's eyebrows rose at the distain being lashed upon him.

'Does the word hypocrite translate into whatever languages you speak?'

Honestly this man was fucking infuriating. How dare Bane turn this around - seriously was he the only fucking one who acknowledged that he didn’t want to be here?

'You know what is so fucking tragic about this entire fucked up situation? Barsad just told me all about how you are one big happy family here, how you can count on each other. Poor bastard believes it too. He either can’t or won’t see that you don’t care for him above your own self pity.'

Then Bane did something John did not expect, he slumped dejectedly and walked out of the room.

John blinked.

'What in the hell…?'

There was only the one thing in this new world that John found himself in of which he was completely certain - he was going crazy.

Chapter Text

After Bane left the room John must have stood in the same position for too long with a look of stunned shock on his face, because after a while one of the other men came over to him.

The pat on his upper back caused him to tense in surprise, and the offending man put his hands up in pacification. John relaxed.

He nodded to the door Bane just left through.

'Our brother mourns lost love.'

John made an 'hmm-ing' sound. Conversations with mercenaries on Banes love life, well frankly was not doing much to help his mental heath. In fact a strong case could be made for its significant contribution to his developing madness.

'Yeah, Talia, I know.'

His companion grunted and shook his head.

'No - she was as daughter. Barsad.'

John's head snapped up.

'What about Barsad?'

'He has chosen another.'

John's mouth could have caught flies. No. Fucking. Way.

'What? He left Bane? For who?'

John certainly didn’t envy that guy. Bane didn’t seem the lets-stay-friends type. Maybe the other guy was already dead at the bottom of the mountain somewhere.

A look was levelled at him.

John blinked.

'Oh fuck no! I did not just become the fucking other woman in some fucking mercenary marriage.'

Furrowed brows and a squint met his own shocked expression.

'But you are man, yes?'

John levelled him with a look of his own.

'I swear to god I'm scheduling sarcasm classes round here. You're all fucking killing me.'

He got a shrug in return before the other man left him to resume his training.

John was floored. How in the fuck had that idea gotten around? There was no chance that he missed a come-on from a guy like Barsad, Jesus the guy was gorgeous - his ego alone would have noticed if he was interested, not to mention is dic-. Ok that thought was now being shelved as completely inappropriate - if you want to live, do not think of Bane's lover that way. Except he wasn’t Bane's lover anymore. John promptly told himself to shut the hell up.

~

The rest of the day past in what counted for routine round these parts. Training, break for some food, more training.

With Barsad out of commission, John continued his rotation with different mercenaries in the group, being taught their particular skill sets. Honestly John tried not to love it as much as he did, but he couldn’t help himself really.

The one-on-one training allowed him to build on the street fight moves he had picked up as a kid, and turn them into something honed and deadly. The sense of accomplishment this learning gave him, and the wonderful feeling of being able to commit his body to something till exhaustion won out - it was fantastic.

Today he was shadowing Mikael, a guy who could possibly be mistaken for a geek if you were to glance at him; all gangly limbs and so slight and skinny John actually felt healthy next to him. He was told there was no better shot in the entire room.

When John tried telling them that he knew how to shoot, he was a cop for God sake, he was met with laughter and a witty retort.

'Police use guns like a shield, not a weapon.'

Then someone tied a piece of thin rope with a small coin-like medallion at the end to a beam across the room and set it swinging, the light dancing off it as it swung around. Mikael smirked and picked up his gun, and after a couple of seconds fired a single shot. When John went to inspect the medallion he found half of it had been shot off. He grinned, ok - he guessed could stand to get some extra shooting practice.

There was little to no chance to think about his earlier run in with Bane, and John was thankful for the distraction. The knowledge that he was again (inadvertently, always inadvertently damnit!) the cause for Bane's unhappiness would have otherwise been enough to set him on edge, fearful of turning only to find a knife in his back.

Later when the sun had set and the room was once more transformed into a place of food and storytelling, John picked up a plate and wandered down to where he had left Barsad resting. Entering the room he half expected to see Bane there, but there was only the injured man, seemingly asleep on the bed.

The room was freezing, the fire looking like it had gone out long ago. John felt a twinge of something like guilt, he probably should have come back to check on him, but he had lost track of time in his training - quite willingly as he sought a way to avoid thinking.

Placing the plate of food down next to the bed, John looked around for a way to get the fire going. He found a small pile of wood stacked against the wall, and moving as quietly as he could he placed a few logs in the little stone pit Bane had built.

Right. Now to light it. John couldn’t see any lighters or matches anywhere. There was however a couple of small sharp stones and some straw. Come to think of it John was pretty sure he had seen people start fires by rubbing rocks together in old cowboy and Indian movies. How hard could it be?

He crouched down and started whacking the stones against one another, succeeding in creating nothing but noise. No sparks, no spontaneous fire-starting. He kept trying, growing increasingly frustrated until he missed the rock entirely and ended up smashing the stone against his hand.

He swore colourfully, and at that point heard the sound of muffled snickering. Looking up he saw Barsad leaning out of the bed laughing at him lightly.

'Would you like some help Robin?'

John glared in return, but he handed the stones over to Barsad who knelt down to join him on the floor. He watched as the other man lit the fire effortlessly, listening as he told him the best angle to strike the stone at, and how to feed the flames from the straw to the logs.

In very little time the flames built up, and John leant back against the bed to enjoy the warmth. Barsad mimicked his action, settling next to him, that stupid small smile still on his face. John elbowed him.

'Shut-up alright! It's not like I had a bloody reason to learn this. When I was a kid if you lit fires they had a special place to lock you up. Not that I think that would have done your lot any harm, some padded cells and forced psychiatry.'

He muttered but his smile belayed the harshness of his words and Barsad laughed.

John reached to grab the plate of food he had brought in, handing it over to Barsad. He ducked his head, the small smile back again.

'Thank you little bird.'

John rolled his eyes.

'Yeah, you and I need to have a chat about appropriate nicknames. First rule being when you are the same height and weight as a person - you have no business calling them little.'

Barsad moved the plate to the space of floor between them.

'You are yet to regain your weight. If you would share the meal with me?'

John huffed and tore off a small piece of bread. They sat in the comfortable silence, watching the flames of the fire, and sharing the plate of food.

John couldn’t help his thoughts drifting back to this mornings conversation. Barsad had left Bane. Neither man seemed particularly happy though. Whether that was the cause or not was questionable. Had Barsad left Bane from abuse or fear? John had seen enough of Bane pushing his weight around to think that was a distinct possibility.

Was that why Barsad told Bane he was with John? Protection? The idea seemed ludicrous, Barsad could handle himself against Bane 10 times better then John could ever hope to. Unless…Talia. Of course. John was the one person that seemed untouchable (or based on his and Bane's interactions thus far - un-killable).

It kind of made sense, even if Barsad really didn’t seem the type to use him. Abusive relationships were tricky things to manoeuvre, and John wasn’t going to judge the guy for needing an out. Still, he was uneasy. Nothing made any fucking sense.

After a while John turned his head to look over at Barsad, and seeing him looking relaxed, decided to voice some of his burning questions.

'What was Bane like? Before Talia died? Was he always so angry, violent?'

Barsad opened his eyes and looked back into John's. They became so damn pensive and sad, reflecting a remembrance that obviously hurt. John was just about to tell him not to worry, to change the subject when Barsad softly answered.

'No. He was gentle by choice, but strong when needed. A protector.'

Huh. John struggled to keep his face blank, figuring a look of complete disbelief would have been rude.

'He threatened you.'

He left that statement hanging, not quite a question.

Barsad looked away.

'He had never done so before.'

John sighed.

'Are you afraid of him?'

This was important. John made sure to watch Barsad's face for any tell, any sign the man might inadvertently make. He did nothing but shake his head.

'Never.'

A pause.

'He saved me.'

'You realise you sound like a brainwashed cult member right?'

That was a slightly rhetorical question, truthfully John didn’t expect his sense of humour to translate on this subject. But Barsad surprised him with a slight turn of his mouth.

'He is a good man.'

John snorted but didn’t push him any further.

'Tell that to my kidneys. And my city.'

He frowned, the morose thoughts of home once again made him feel simultaneously trapped and lonely.

It was odd how he didn’t think of Gotham every moment as he used too, life here just seemed to flow with a routine that swept him up and along. That was probably the very point of it.

He was angry with himself now, but that was no different from how angry he was at himself most of the time. Angry and tired. The last couple of days were certainly making themselves felt now, and John felt as though he could crash into a bed and sleep for weeks.

He got up slowly, resting his hands on his knees to hoist himself upright.

'I'm going to get some sleep, you should rest - I need someone short to kick my ass tomorrow for a change.'

Barsad smiled and tried in vein to offer his bed to him, but John just glared at the sick man at the subject was dropped.

'Robin?'

John turned at the door.

'You should give him a chance. As you have for me.'

John sighed.

'Goodnight Barsad.'

Chapter Text

While he didn’t quite manage to sleep for a week as he wanted, John found the moment he laid his head down, he was completely out. Not the noise around the fire, the laughter and joking, not even Bane's presence had stopped him from falling into a deep and welcoming sleep.

The next thing he was aware of was a sleepy-eyed Barsad gently shaking his shoulder to wake him, a soft apology on his lips.

John got up, but groused anyway, although he was sure the intimidating effect of it was somewhat lessened when it turned into a yawn half way. Barsad smiled and proceeded to unwrap the bandages surrounding his chest.

'It is healing well.'

The angry red wound didn’t look much different to John, still big, still sore. He hissed when Barsad's warm hands applied more antiseptic ointment, spreading it over his chest liberally. It reminded him of a time an ex wanted to try something new in the bedroom - he was washing honey from the sheets for weeks.

..Wait. This was not the time to be thinking those kinds of thoughts. Not when Barsad was right there, so close to him, touching him.

John was begging himself to think of something else. Anything else.

'How long has it been?'

John croaked out, with an only slightly frantic tone.

Thankfully Barsad interpreted that as a question about his injury.

'8 Weeks.'

John mentally calculated - 8 weeks was 2 months since he was shot, then add another 6 weeks since he had been staying at the orphanage during the siege. Ok so that was...three and a half months since he last got laid. Even then that was only a quick fumble in the shower with a fellow cop who had been so deep in the closet he could've found Narnia.

'Holy shit.'

Barsad finished wrapping the last of his bandages and placed his hand over John's heart, misunderstanding his outburst. John instinctively caught Barsad's hand where it lay against his chest, not wanting him to feel the accelerated heart beat he was sure would give him away.

'It is still very early Robin, you will soon regain all your strength.'

John found himself smiling at Barsad soft voice and his attempt to sooth him. For the first time he thought about how truly gentle Barsad was. His touches, his voice, his hidden away body language, and the little ways in which he had taken care of John as he recovered. He cared for people, and in this case to his own detriment. He had lost his lover because of his nature, because he cared for John.

Looking down John found that he had been absentmindedly stroking the back of Barsad's hand with his thumb. Barsad's eyes were tracking this touch but he made no move to pull away or to stop him. John opened his mouth to say something.

It was at that moment that Bane chose to enter the chamber.

He walked towards them, his eyes glancing over them both. John thought about what it must look like; him sat up on a chair, Barsad on his knees beside him, and John holding his hand over his heart.

Well fuck.

Bane looked over him slowly and silently and John forced himself to hold his gaze. As his eyes bore fiercely into his own, John was overcome with the feeling that Bane could see in them the arousal and feelings that he was desperately trying to hide.

Feeling Barsad's body freeze with tension John took a quick look at Barsad's face, and saw a flash of something there - despair and regret maybe? John considered his actions, he didn’t want to make the situation between the two men any worse then he already had.

He squeezed the still held hand lightly before letting it go and standing up. Putting on his shirt in the dead silence of the room, and without looking at either man, John walked out towards the bathhouse alone.

~

By the time John arrived at the little training courtyard, Bane and Barsad were already well into their own training. He saw Barsad throwing knives with Ramsey, and he openly nodded at him with a smile, receiving a timid one in return.

John was headed over to Mikael to resume their shooting-tiny-shiny-moving-things training when he saw Bane body-slam whatever poor opponent he was facing at that moment.

He fought a wince in sympathy, knowing the earlier scene was the cause of such rage. John would have bet all he had that Bane was imagining him in place of his current victim.

What John really needed was an opportunity to gauge whether Bane actually cared for Barsad. To see whether his animosity toward John was all-out hatred for what he was; a cop from the city he had sought to destroy, or if it was actually jealousy and regret.

Problem was, emotions were never really his strong point. He wasn't callous or cold, no the problem was he just didn’t understand them, not really. Logically he knew what love was, he had seen other people in love, heard about it, watched enough movies on it, hell even said it to some ex's when it had been important to them that he did so. But did he understand it? Feel it? He couldn’t say that he had.

Unknown things made him uncomfortable, what was out of your control had the power to control you - and John had worked too hard in his life to lose control over himself. But, thinking of Barsad, John couldn’t shake the overwhelming feeling of…well…care for the man.

He had no idea why, but he was also slightly over questioning it. Something just drew him towards Barsad, it had from the alleyway. Hell if he could take a bullet for the guy, he could suck up dealing with emotions.

Barsad deserved to be happy, for his past loss if nothing else. And John would do what he could to get that for him.

~

He chance came up earlier then he thought possible. Bane had been watching him all afternoon, and John could feel the tension rolling off the man - quite impressive he still had the energy really, considering the amount of men he had fought/crippled during the day.

John had purposefully avoided seeking Barsad out all day, not wanting to enflame the situation further, but he hadn’t be able to completely elude the man's innate mother-hen-ness.

Barsad first brought him over some water and protein bars. He then took John his medication a couple of hours later.

A little while after that, John finally shot the stupid little coin. The cheers from the men in the room had shocked him, and he ducked his head feeling the self-consciousness that came from being the centre of attention. He didn’t need to understand their language to hear their congratulations, translated through slaps to his back and big open smiles. John found himself smiling in return.

When Barsad then walked over to him with a sniper rifle he gathered that he had graduated. And when he went about explaining its various parts, John also gathered that Barsad was to be his teacher once more. So there went the avoidance tactic.

Barsad spent the next couple of hours showing him how to hold the rifle, positioning his body around, guiding him in how to aim, how to synchronize his breathing so it didn’t interfere with a shot. After all that John had to admit to having a greater appreciation for SWAT, and he hadn't even fired a shot yet.

When he complained about that Barsad smiled at his enthusiasm.

'We will need to go out onto the mountain for that little bird. Perhaps tomorrow if you wish?'

John had nodded absentmindedly, his attention taken up by the grunt from Bane's latest sparring partner being taken down. Barsad noticed and excused himself, packing up with the others who were winding down for the day. John saw his chance.

As the room cleared he walked over to Bane, who was helping his defeated opponent to his feet. Upon seeing John standing there the other man dipped his head slightly to him, then Bane before leaving with the others.

Now alone together Bane and John were literally at a stand-off.

'I want to ask you something.'

Bane took in John's presence with as much loathing and condescension he could put into a single look.

'What you want is of little consequence to me Detective.'

He turned his back, looking to walk out of the room where the others had left.

'A challenge then?'

Bane turned his head to face him, eyebrow raised.

'Fight me. For every hit I land you have to answer a question.'

John tilted his head defiantly upward, daring him to back down. He was counting on Bane's stubbornness here, that he would fight him even without an audience.

'What do I gain from such an arrangement?'

Well it wasn’t a no.

'The chance to beat me stupid isn't enough? And because I'm literally asking for it - no one could blame you for how this ends.'

That got his attention just as John hoped it would. The implication that anyone could censure Bane for his actions had raised his hackles, and the unspoken fact that he was referring to Barsad wasn’t unrecognised.

'Very well.'

Bane took off his vest, and John saw for the first time the scars that lined his arms were littered all over his body. There were simply too many to count, some small, looking like puncture wounds. Others were long and jagged and looked as though they were inflicted with the intention of causing as much pain as possible and leaving him marked for life.

When Bane turned to face him John was caught starring. He hastily looked away, knowing himself how he hated the response his own marred body often caused, he didn’t want to act hypocritically now. But judging by Bane's lack of reaction, he seemed to take John's response as one of intimidation, and really, he could understand why.

The man really was built. Brick shit-house built. But John had seen him before, fought with him briefly before, so if Bane was expecting him to cower in fear now he was in for disappointment.

'I hope you don’t mind if I keep my shirt on, only you didn’t buy tickets to this gun-show.'

John made sure to smirk, but it seemed the cocky bastard display wasn’t going to fool Bane twice. He didn’t charge at John as he had last time, instead he kept the 7-odd foot distance between them, appraising him.

John had been counting on Bane being tired, hoping the exertion from his vigorous workout during the day would put him on a somewhat level playing field. He might have been hoping for too much, Bane didn’t even look out of breath, and time was not on John's side, not if he didn’t want Barsad wandering back looking for them.

John lunged, darting to the left at the last minute to try and take Bane by surprise. It didn’t work, Bane side-stepped him effortlessly, extending his leg out to trip him, and swinging his arm back to propel him forward. John didn’t fall, but it was a close thing. He was already off balance when he saw Bane's fist come down to hit him, he pitched forward and rolled out of the way.

Bane followed the motion, and as John barely had stood upright before Bane's hand had grabbed him by the jaw. It was just like back in that alleyway with the Special Forces Captain. Bane's grip was vice-like and John couldn’t pull away, feeling the pads of his fingers digging into his cheek, bruising him with ease.

'You made a foolish bargain Detective Blake.'

He twisted in the hold, bringing up his right leg to kick Bane in the kidney enough to struggle out of Bane's hand, putting a few feet between them once more.

It became clear to John then that the only way to beat Bane was to get him so furious, that he would be distracted from calculating every move. The obvious danger in that plan was that he was making 200 pounds of muscle-honed killing mercenary furious.

Not a great plan admittedly, but the only thing he could think of now. And it had worked last time…sort of.

'So, I had a little chat about you with Barsad last night.'

The next punch faltered slightly, and John ducked just in time to avoid a dislocated shoulder.

'It was very…revealing.'

This time Bane was definitely off, aiming a fist that John could see coming easily. It ended up smacking the wall where John's lower abdomen would have been a moment before.

He didn't let up at that failure though. Three more punches followed in quick succession, two aimed to his chest, which John avoided only by jumping backwards, and the third to his face, which John couldn’t get away from.

He felt his left eye swelling immediately and closed it, not wanting to become disorientated by the double-vision it was causing. John used that opportunity to launch his own offensive.

His fists were at his chest, protecting it from the lashing moments before. He brought his right arm upward towards Bane's mask, knowing the other man would seek to defend that weakness after their last encounter, and simultaneously punched his left fist into the bottom of Bane's ribcage.

He had hit.

Bane looked livid, but John had already bounced back out of reach.

Panting with exertion he asked between breaths.

'If your plan hadn't failed, were you going to get Barsad out of Gotham before the bomb went off?'

Bane's eyes widened then narrowed. He seemed slightly shocked at the question asked, but John had thought hard about it, knowing he might only get the one chance before Bane beat him to a pulp. One chance to know whether or not Bane cared for Barsad as much as the other man seemed to.

'Why would that matter to you?'

'Just answer the question - were you going to get him out? Regardless of his willingness to die for your creed?'

Bane tilted his head slightly considering him, and for all the things in the world in that moment John couldn’t shake the ridiculous image of a confused puppy.

The silence dragged on for a few moments before Bane straightened and answered in a quiet tone.

'Yes.'

John raised his eyebrows, waiting for some elaboration. Bane seemed to sigh impatiently, the mask distorting the sound.

'There was a plane to take some Talia wished saved from the fire. I would have put Barsad on it. Ordered him to lead it.'

John let out a long exhaled breath. He had his answer.

'You love him.'

It wasn't a quite a question; that was too intimate, too close. It was a soft realisation, spoken quietly, and slightly absentmindedly.

John was glad, it was a relief to know that Barsad's feelings were not wasted, squandered on someone who would not return them and treat him callously. He was glad. He was. So there was no reason for the flutter of something in his gut at Bane's revelation.

Before he could think on it to closely John fond himself charged at. The surprise of the motion left him with no time to brace himself, and he hit the floor hard.

Winded, he had no strength to even attempt to move before Bane was looming over him, one leg on either side of his chest, his weight pressing John into the ground, pressing the air from his lungs. Pressing, pressing, pressing...

'Barsad may have chosen you for his partner, and for that alone I will not kill you. Cause him harm in any way or test my patience further - I will torture your mind and your body until you beg for the mercy of death. Do you understand me Blake? '

John hadn't moved, his body frozen in stillness. His breath was coming in quick, shallow spurts. His vision had blurred till all but the looming silhouette of the man pining him was seen. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t see.

'No….no don’t.'

He was whispering, the words slipping from his mouth instinctively.

'Blake!'

John flinched, closed his eyes and tried to stop talking, they hate it when he talks. It only makes them hurt him harder. He tried to concentrate on breathing, one breath after the other.

Suddenly the pressure was gone from his chest, and he wasn’t on his back anymore, he was rolled on his side. Taking a huge lungful of air, John slowly blinked and the room came back into focus, the surroundings familiar. Another deep breath and he lifted his body up to a seating position, ignoring the way his arms shook.

Bane was crouched a few feet away from him, head tilted again, his eyes scanning him with an incalculable look to them. He made no attempt to come near him, just sitting and staring in silence.

'Robin?'

John's head whipped around. Barsad was standing in the doorway, looking between him and Bane. As he came into the room John made himself stand before Barsad could move to help him.

He saw in the corner of his eye Bane rising from his knees, but otherwise staying where he was.

As Barsad's soft eyes scanned over his body, John could sense the tip of an enquiring question ready to begin. He headed it off, putting up his hands palms outwardly facing. He framed his face to show a smile, and quietly exhaled the breath he was holding.

'Ok - you two need to have a serious talk. The communication breakdown here would be funny if I wasn’t wearing the black and blue consequences of it.'

Both Barsad and Blake were looking at him like he was speaking Ancient Greek, matching frowns and wrinkled foreheads.

He looked towards Bane, forcing himself to look meet the other man's gaze, the incalculable look hadn't gone. He needed to get out of this room, he needed to be alone before it all hit him. This situation had to end now. John cleared his throat.

'We aren't together. Barsad didn’t choose me - he thought you didn't want him.'

Turning then to Barsad, John spoke no less abruptly.

'He loves you. I don’t think he ever stopped.'

He turned around from the both and started walking from the room. Turning his head back at the door to see them still standing there looking at him, John huffed.

'Sort your shit out. Fucking mercenary marriage counselling is not even close to my job.'

Leaving them alone, John stood in the shadow of the hallway long enough to hear shallow murmurings from within the room. That was enough.

He headed into the main chamber, the other mercenaries in the same jovial form as they had been the past few nights. John dodged the invites to join them, smirked at the references to his newest injuries, and laughed off the jokes about his not knowing when to stop.

Grabbing a sleeping blanket and a bottle of what-ever-the-hell-it-was 80 proof alcohol they were drinking, John headed for the balcony he had found on his first day of wandering.

The fresh air was crisp, cool, and lovely. Here he dropped his smile, he could pretend that his shaking was due to the cold, he could fool himself that he was having a drink because he wanted one.

John wrapped the blanket around his shoulders and sat against the wall, taking deep swigs from the bottle as he allowed his memories their moment. Tomorrow they would be crammed right back where he had fought to lock them.

When the bottle was empty and his head nodding with a sleepiness he could no longer deny, John fell asleep.

~

He dreamt.

He was in the midst of climbing a cliff. He didn’t know why but he just knew he had to reach the top. His hands were cut from the jagged edges, he was tired, his arms strained and his chest cramping with pain. He paused for a rest, nowhere to stop he just hung there.

A voice cried out to him, but he couldn’t hear the words, the wind was picking up and he was too far away. He twisted his head around trying to find where the voice was coming from and that’s when he saw it - a child, falling straight down the side of the cliff.

John reached out, but he was too far away, there was no chance to reach. He could do nothing but watch as he fell. There was another scream, the wind also carrying it down to him. Another child was falling. Another child too far away to reach.

He heard a voice whisper into his ear.

'Rise Robin.'

It was Miranda, no Talia - he shook his head and began to climb faster. He tried not to watch as each child fell past him, screaming something he still could not hear. He didn't watch, but he counted, he counted each child that died as he failed to reach the top in time.

Finally he reached the top, just in time to see the last child fall. He was close enough now to hear what they had been screaming - John. They were screaming his name.

He fell to his knees, crying.

'Robin.'

Barsad was beside him looked down, hand extended out to him. Behind him Bane and the other members of the league stood watching.

'John.'

Commissioner Gordon called his name. Behind him stood Father Reilly, the cops from his unit, and Bruce Wayne.

John looked back and forth between them as they both spoke.

'Come home little bird.'

'Come home Son.'

He woke up screaming.

Chapter Text

Barsad had been wary when he noticed neither Bane nor Robin return from training. He knew the current volatile situation had not allowed them a chance to learn about each other, a situation caused in large by his own actions.

If only he had been faster that night in the alleyway of Gotham, reacted to the threat faster, killed them faster. If only he had been better.

Robin would not have been hurt trying to help him, the league would not have been distracted enough to miss Wane's escape and Talia would still be with them, and Bane would not be so broken by grief, he would not hate him.

He had thought the days of his actions hurting those he loved were over. It seemed not. All the brokenness of his world was down to his failure, but that was a burden for him to bear, and he could not do nothing while his brother punished Robin for his failings.

He left the fire-side, wandering back through the hallways toward the training chamber. He could hear Robins voice, and the distinct sound of Bane's mask in response, although it was too quiet to hear the words.

As he came to stand in the doorway his brother's eyes flashed toward him quickly, but no other indication of his presence was made. Robin was lying on the floor in a recovery position, Bane crouched down near him, still and watching.

Robin was breathing heavily, clearly in some kind of pain.

His movements to assist were rebuffed, but Barsad wandered forward regardless, wanting to ensure he was close enough to help if needed.

He knew Robin to be impatient and passionate about his causes from the short time he had spent in his company, but Barsad still didn’t expect the outburst that came from the man shortly after he stood up.

He stood there stunned silent and immobile by his words, left staring at the vacated space where Robin had been.

Barsad hadn't expected that. The idea that Robin, or anyone, would go up against Bane just to measure his care for him…he didn’t understand. Why would he risk the danger of that action when he had nothing to gain from the knowledge?

He was startled out of his thoughts by the feel of something brushing his shoulder.

'It is not often my presence is able to surprise you brother.'

Barsad turned to look at the hand settled on his shoulder. His eyes followed the path of the arm upwards, as always noting the honed power of it, designed to inspire fear in others. It was an image at direct odds with the small crinkles he found at the eyes, a reaction he had come to learn hid a grimace - an empty smile that had accompanied his empty attempt to fill the silence.

It was new, this effort to make small talk with Bane. In their years together, even before they had been lovers and had only sought each other out for companionship, they had never required a silence to be filled. Either man needing nothing but the shared presence of the other.

Barsad replied anyway, not wanting to cause the removal of his brother's hand from upon his body.

He imagined he could feel the heat from that simple contact radiating down through his body.

'No. Your movements had long been as clear to me as my own.'

Bane starred at him a moment longer, then looked away slowly. His arm removed at the same time, coming to hang by his side.

'I am unused to failure.'

The quiet admission was spoken softly, dejectedly.

'I fear the cost of my weakness. That I have caused more to be lost than Tal…'

A sharp intake of breath punctured through his confession, and eyes that were focused on some distant point, closed in time with the dip of his head.

Barsad moved without thinking, not able to just stand idle in the face of his brother's pain. He reached out, gently cradling the face in front of him. Hands placed on either side of the mask, Barsad turned his head till their eyes met once again.

He saw the pain of the last few weeks reflected back at him. Bane's eyes a storm of rage, despair, and fear. Barsad's heart ached for him, that this strong man should feel such crippling guilt and grief.

'You have caused nothing. Our sister forged her own path, and you followed her guidance, as did we all. She would not wish this, her anger at your grief would be formidable.'

The slight movement of muscles under his fingers revealed a small smile. Barsad felt his own lips curl upward in response. It was then that he realised that he was still cradling Bane's head, but more then that, the other man was allowing it.

It wasn’t that he and Bane were never gentle with one another, it was just usually Barsad who was the recipient of such soothing care. Bane had just never seemed vulnerable to him, and Barsad realised the mistake he had made; he hadn’t questioned the super-human image the large man projected to the world.

Yet here he was, a man almost broken, proving that he was just as vulnerable, just as human as any other.

The small smile slipped from Barsad's face at the realisation of how much he had failed his lover with his assumptions. He wanted to apologise, he wanted to beg forgiveness, he wanted to confess how much he did care. Bane spoke first.

'Tell me I have not lost you.'

A tear slid down Bane's cheek, the track of it running over Barsad's hand. His eyes tracked the movement as his fingers stroked over the path it left behind, a soft brush erasing the trail, just as he wished he could erase the pain. He swallowed back his own emotion, his voice clear when he spoke.

'Never.'

Barsad declared simply, joy, relief, and love coursing through him in equal measures.

'I am yours.'

Bane's hand slid between them, and he placed two fingers to the smiling lips, pressing lightly. Barsad closed his eyes at the touch, savouring the feeling of care and affection that such a gesture had always meant.

'Habibi.'

The soft feeling of air from the mask brushed his face as Bane lowered his head to rest against his own, his hands mirroring Barsad's as he pulled their foreheads together.

They stayed in that embrace for an uncounted time, both relishing in the lightness of heart after so many weeks of despair.

~

It was the sound of the wind, not the feel of it that woke him.

John blinked, slowly coming to consciousness. Damn his head hurt, he tried to lift a hand to his temple but couldn’t move his arm to cooperate. It took a couple of seconds for it to click why; he was covered in extra blankets, cocooned in warmth.

To his left there was a bottle of water and a protein bar. The empty bottle of homebrew nowhere to be seen.

He looked around but there was no one there. Massaging his aching head John took the water bottle and downed the entire thing, one refreshing gulp after another. Looking warily at the protein bar John knew he should eat it, even though he was almost sure he would be sick swallowing any food right now. He would need is strength to get through the day.

As he stood up to stretch himself, falling asleep upright and against a rock was not the best of ideas for the spine, John caught the beauty of the sun reflected from the snow-capped mountains opposite. It was breathtaking.

Admiring the view he noticed that the high winds had moved the low laying cloud that had been present last few times he had looked out. Now though he could see down the valley, could see a winding little pathway that seemed to twist and turn right down to….a village.

John squinted to make sure his eyes weren't fooling him.

There was a village.

There was a way home.

Chapter Text

The early morning found John alone, punching a bag in the corner of the training courtyard. His hands tightly bound with a some cloth he tore into strips, wrapped around in a familiar pattern.

He remembered being taught as a boy, the priest of his boys home thought it would be a healthy outlet for his anger, back before he had learnt to mask it. But John had enjoyed it, so kept it up long after he mastered pretending to be normal.

There was something about the power he felt it gave him, that his body could be strong enough to defend himself. He thought if he tried really hard, practiced as often as he could, then never again will anyone beat on him like his father, or attack him as others had done.

Of course when things didn’t happen like that, when others still proved he could be beaten as hard as ever and hurt in ways he hadn't thought of, it just served to stoke the stubborn fire in him.

He trained harder, watched fights on the streets and learnt the dirty tactics that won fights. The teacher had frowned upon his moves, but meant that next time someone wanted to take him on, there had to at least be more then one of them.

Today though, today was all about frustration. Those fucking memories and that damn dream had riled him up. And having seen that freedom is actually in hand, that he had at least had a chance to get out of here, to get home - left him feeling disconnected.

His time here had taken some of the shine off the appeal of his life. And he hated himself for allowing those thoughts.

Yet the more he tried to punch away those traitorous musings, the more his mind analysed.

The pride he had felt in having his own apartment had morphed when he thought how alone it was compared to the constant stream of people here.

This community of criminals had more genuine camaraderie then he expected. Friendships were more here then a beer after work. These men would die for one another. His friendships with work colleagues consisted of carefully constructed lies about his past, and hiding his sexuality for fear of reprisals. Here though, his background was a complete non-issue.

And as for being gay, well with someone as fricken masculine huge as Bane, and someone as terrifyingly competent as Barsad openly displaying their feelings, it made his hiding seem cowardly. His lack of any meaningful relationship feel like a failing.

And for the first time in a long time, he wanted that. Wanted someone to look at him the way those two men looked at each other, all quiet passion. To have someone who cared enough about him to look out for him, and be looked out for in return. To love him, faults and anger and failings and nightmares and everything.

This was why he needed to leave. He had to get back to his life - what was real.

This place was playing with his mind. The camaraderie, the respect, the affection, none of it was real. John needed to get back to where life made sense again.

Besides, with Bane and Barsad together again, the equilibrium of their mercenary society would be restored. There would no more divisions in Bane versus the rest of them. No outsider.

Except for John.

This was why he was so relieved by the sight of that little village. He knew he needed to leave now, before these men realised what he had already deducted - Bane was back, they had a legitimate powerful leader now. John was no longer necessary.

And John had seen how these guys dealt with things that weren't necessary.
~

It didn’t take long for others to join him, filtering into the room and going about their own routines. He saw from the corner of his eye Bane and Barsad enter the room together.

So obviously they had made up then. His plan had worked.

John didn’t stop punching the bag.

A few moments later he felt a presence at his side, the feeling of being watched causing him to turn around. It was Barsad, standing patiently with a bottle of water ready for him.

Looking over the man John noticed something different. Nothing obvious had changed, the soft smile that seemed to always grace his features was ever present, but there was a lightness there now, less strain and tension.

Barsad looked happy.

John offered a small smile in return, taking the bottle with a quiet thanks. As he took a deep mouthful he saw that Barsad's neck and collarbones were covered in small finger-shaped bruises.

So obviously those two had made up very well.

John half-choked, half swallowed his mouthful. He waved off Barsad's attempt to step closer to help him, thumping his chest in an effort to dislodge the uncomfortable feeling. Of course he had forgotten the inconvenient fact he had been shot, and that maybe hitting yourself wasn't the smartest move.

A groan of pain escaped him and hunched over slightly, cursing his own stupidity.

Barsad was on him at once, hands on his shoulders, trying to help him sit down but John shrugged him off hard and stepped back.

'Robin…?'

His name was spoken tentatively, like a question. When John raised his head it was to see Bane coming towards them.

Bane's eyes darted over him, taking him in. The gaze wasn’t threatening, not as it had been in the last tense days the found in one another’s company. It felt more…measuring. John wasn’t sure what to make of it.

John didn’t miss the way Barsad immediately stepped back when Bane joined them, turning his body so that he was now standing side on to both men, but no longer between them. As they each offered a nod to one another, John realised that any help Barsad had given in John's defence in the past was now ended.

Barsad was back to being Bane's man.

John had to get out of there, suddenly the room felt too small, the air too close. It was an overwhelming feeling, like claustrophobia - but he had never had a problem with that before. It didn’t matter.

'I need some air.'

'I must change your bandages.'

Barsad took a step closer to him again his arm reached out, but John twisted his body quickly away, avoiding the contact.

'Just….don't worry about it. I'm fucking tired. I'm just going to go lay down for awhile.'

Two sets of eyes were watching him, and for a moment John thought he saw concern in both, but chalked that thought up to the loss of reality he was already feeling.

He plastered on a small smile.

'Go on, it's not like you couldn't do with a real opponent to practice with.'

Barsad looked as though he was going to say something, but John walked away before he had a chance.

He walked back through the compound, noting the lack of people around. It seemed as though everyone was in the courtyard. John grabbed a couple of rolled up blankets from the main dining/sleeping chamber and took them down into the smaller rooms where he had first woken up.

Laying one of them out on the small bed, he stopped and listened at the door. It didn’t sound like anyone was out there. Giving it another minute and he was sure that no one had followed him.

John sprung into action.

Using the second blanket he stuffed the bedding with what at a glance could pass for the shape of a body. Sure it was a teenage move, but fuck it, it had worked for him in the past.

Slipping out of the room he climbed back up the stairs, eyes darting around the room for any sign of a wandering mercenary that could ruin his plans. He was in the clear until he reached the storeroom.

Looking under the door, John saw a shadow pass, giving away the presence of at least one man. Leaning through a crack in the wood John finally thought luck was on his side, there was just the one man. Praying said luck would hold out a little longer, he opened the door.

'Hey! I was just looking to grab something to eat.'

John wandered around the room, making a show of peering under benches and onto shelves. The mercenary moved away from his bench to help him.

'I know Barsad has an obscene stash of power bars hidden around here somewhere.'

The other man chuckled.

'Yes. Our brother hides them poorly.'

He bent down to lift a box from a lower shelf, and John swiftly moved in. Locking one hand around his mouth, he pinched down hard on the man's neck, applying as much pressure to the nerves where Barsad had shown him the week before.

The mercenary thrashed, dropping the box with a thud, his arms thrown back, trying to get a grip on John to unhinge him. But John held on tight. 20 seconds Barsad had said, that’s all it took to down a man regardless of size. John was certain this was not how Barsad wanted his lessons put to use, but John was a great pupil, he could adapt and apply.

Finally the other man lost consciousness, and fell to the ground. John held his breath, he hadn't a clue how loud or quiet his take-down had been, too focused on keeping his grip. But if they had made too much noise, it was all up now.

No sounds came from the corridor, no running of outranged armed mercenaries ready to avenge their brother.

John let out the breath he was holding. Lowering the unconscious man to the ground he hunted around the room. There were plenty of useful things to be had. Grabbing a small satchel bag he loaded up some food and anything that looked remotely valuable - he would need to have something to trade for help or transport when he reached the village.

His fingers ran past a measure of rope, and John quickly cut a measure of it for his bag. The rest he used to tie up his knocked out victim, adding a gag for extra insurance. Without this guy being able to warn the others as soon as he woke up, it would buy him some much needed extra time.

John felt a twinge of guilt, hoping that the other man wouldn’t be punished too harshly when it was discovered John had escaped. But that guilt wasn’t enough to overcome the ruthless thought that it was either him or John himself, and John hadn't chosen this life.

He slipped out into the hallway and made his way to the front gate. It was barred as it had been the first time he had seen it, a huge wooden beam locking access. Even if there had been a way for John to move it himself, the open door would be a pretty obvious clue as to where he went, so he pulled the rope from his stolen bag and knotted one end, creating a loop.

It took three throws to latch the rope to the top of the wall. With each failure John's head snapped around to the passageway behind him, expecting company at any moment. But his luck was holding.

Climbing the wall with one arm practically useless was another battle. Using his good right arm John hoisted himself as high as he could, and then locked his feet together to push himself further up the rope. It was exhausting, but after about 10 minutes he had done it.

Sitting on top of the wall he unhooked the rope. He couldn’t afford for it to be seen, he would have to jump the other side. Dropping his bag down he judged the distance to be about 20 foot. John gritted his teeth, it was going to hurt. He jumped.

Landing he tried to roll, not wanting the impact to be directly on his ankles, that would get him nowhere. Instead his entire right side bore the brunt of the hard ground, and he lay there for a few moments willing himself to move past the pain.

Deep breaths and adrenaline got him up. Grabbing the bag he ran. He ran as fast as he could down the stone and grass pathway. He ran until he was so short of breath he thought he would faint. Only then did John dare to look back, and when he did he saw nothing. No one was coming for him.

He had done it, he had escaped.

Chapter Text

In any other circumstance, John would have relished the opportunity to appreciate the gorgeous scenery, the brilliance of the landscape, the magnificence of the millennia old giants of mountains.

For a boy who could only dream of leaving the limited world of St Swithin's - to be in a place like this was nothing short of unbelievable. Really, he didn’t even have a passport.

As it was, John barely glanced at anything beyond the rocky path ahead of him, managing each step as carefully yet quickly as he could manage.

His head whipped around every few moments to check the path behind him, and every time he looked it was empty.

A mix of relief and trepidation surged through him.

The weather was holding, he could still see the valley clear and bright.

John didn’t know what deity he had to thank for his luck, but he swore if he could just get down to the village he would pray to each and every one of them in relieved thanks.

After a couple of hours he stopped, hating the risk, but knowing if he didn’t get some food and water into himself, he would be next to useless.

Sitting down on the rocky ground, John pulled out a bottle of water, attempting to drink despite the shaking of his hands.

His chest throbbed, the combined effects of adrenaline, fear, and high altitude causing his heart to thump wildly. For all that he had given out about it, he wished he had some of Barsad's medicine now.

He wondered how Barsad would take his running away. Would be he be disappointed? Or maybe just relieved that there would be no further complications for him and his lover?

Whatever Barsad thought, John was sure he could tell Bane's reaction - fury. Fury at not being able to choke to life out of John himself, like he did to those men who crossed him in Gotham. He seemed like the kind of man for whom vengeance was personal and long-burning.

That thought just reinforced his righteousness in getting away. He had had to do it.

John spared a thought for the guy he had knocked out in the storeroom. A small tendril of guilt permeated through his thought. He had quashed his conscience at the time, but now; it felt like leaving the man tied up at the mercy of Bane had been kind of a dick move.

He didn’t even know his name.

But Barsad wouldn’t let anything happen surely, he was nothing like Bane, ruthless and cruel - he was different. And the others, Ramsay, Mikael, and more with stupidly weird names - they seemed like decent enough people.

Minus the whole trying to blow up Gotham plan, they were the kind of guys he would have liked to get a beer with in the real world.

A chance to know some people he didn’t always have to hide his true self around.

Friends…

Fuck but he was going to need so much therapy when he got home.

John shook himself out of his head. One last gulp of water and mouthful of energy bar, and he pulled himself to his feet, checking the path again, and setting off at a jog.

~

Barsad was grinning. A ridiculous grin, and he was doing nothing to change it.

The last day had done more to wash away the cares of these past months then he could have hoped. To be surrounded by his brothers, to have his lover returned to him, and to have Robin leading them.

He knew their little bird was still struggling with his place, but Barsad believed he would not only come to accept it with a little more time, but truly rise to his potential.

A potential to hopefully be soon realised now that Bane had returned to aid in his training.

His mind had wandered and he found himself knocked down, bested with a move that he should have easily dodged.

'Had you still been miserable, I would barely register a challenge for you. I find your happiness suits me well brother.'

He couldn’t help it, he laughed and accepted the hand to help him from the floor.

Accepting that is discipline had momentarily escaped him, Barsad set off to complete a task requiring less coordination. He would make Bane's daily meal.

It was not something he needed to do, Bane being more then capable of looking after himself. But Barsad had looked after this element of housekeeping every time they found themselves together, a small part he could play in giving his lover strength.

However when he walked into the galley his grin dissolved from his face.

 

~

 

John reached the outskirts of the village just as dusk was descending.

He stayed off the path, choosing instead to slip down a rocky incline closest to a small house on the fringe. There were no windows to look though, only a small wooden door that was of a weight John could appreciate.

Carefully pushing it open to try and avoid any undue noise, he let himself into the sparsely furnished, empty room.

Looking around at each of the walls he couldn’t see any sign of a telephone. Cursing under his breath he turned to leave the way he came, only to find an old woman standing in the doorway.

John took a step forward, lifting his finger to his lips in the hope she wouldn’t scream, but she surprised him, merely dipping her head to the side and saying something in a language he couldn't understand.

He just shook his head, then mimed using a telephone, bringing his hand up to his ear, willing her to understand his need.

The old lady spoke again but seeing his confusion started to point past herself outside.

John, thinking she wanted him to leave her house, nodded, trying to calculate how long he would have to try and search other houses before she alerted the entire place.

As he passed her she grabbed his hand, pulling him along the side of the house toward the populated street in front. John pulled his hand back, slipping her grasp, but she merely huffed and wrapped her hand around his wrist and continued forward.

There was little else he could do but follow unless he hurt her or knocked her out. He didn’t want to do either, she was a little old lady for God sakes!

John resigned himself to being led out, hoping no one would take too much notice of them if he played along.

He was sorely mistaken.

The entire street stopped and stared. Around 20 people in all just looking at him as he was led by the hand back to captivity by an old wrinkled 5ft woman.

John sighed. It was all he could do bar scaring them and himself by laughing manically at the absurdity of the situation.

John Blake - escaped a mercenary strong-hold, captured by a granny.

They came to a stop outside another house in the square, and his erstwhile chaperone loosened her little grip on him as a man came out.

He looked at John and gave a funny little dip of his upper body. Funny, it looked almost like a bow…then it clicked.

He was dressed in their clothing, had come from their direction, and was obviously not in the least local looking. These people must think he was a member of the League.

Hope surged again and John pounced on the feeling to try and connect with this man. He made his miming action for a phone again, but this time instead of confusion, the man nodded and gestured for him to come inside.

He ducked his head and followed him in quickly, and there on the wall to his right was the most antique, old looking telephone he had ever seen

It was beautiful.

John picked up the receiver and with a shaking hand spun the numbers in the dial.

Nothing. Just beeping.

He swore.

Vaguely he remembered something about international dial-codes, but what was the one for the USA? He had never had to know this before, and now that obscure piece of trivia was all that was standing between him and help.

John took a deep breath. All he could do was to keep trying. A few variations later and he remembered some scene in a movie he had seen long ago and gave the number a shot.

It was ringing.

His heart was in his throat while he waited, muttering a string of begging litanies that someone was there.

'Hello.'

A voice. John almost cheered.

'Oh thank fuck - hello! Hi! I need to speak to Father Reilly - it’s urgent.'

'You shouldn’t swear you know, I'm an impressionable kid.'

John's heart only hammered faster, now with barely veiled impatience.

'Listen - I don’t have time. Is this St. Swithin's?'

'Yep.'

John's voice hitched with a small laugh.

'Great - tell me, are you guys all ok?'

'….Yeaaahh. Why? Whose this?'

'This is John Blake. Look kid, this is really really important ok? I have to speak to-'

The line went dead.

John growled in frustration, slamming the phone against the wall.

His fingers were poised to dial another number when a voice behind him caused him to drop the receiver entirely.

'Who did you call Blake?'

Bane's mechanised voice filled his body with weighted dread.

It was all over.

 

~

 

'Hello? Hellllllllloooooooooo?'

He sing-songed into the receiver, but the beeping continued.

''You know you shouldn't be answering the phone Luke.'

Father Reilly dropped his whistle in on the desk, half-way out of his soaked coat as he took in the boy in his office. He was one of the numerous new children taken in after the siege, and the Father was finding it hard to keep track of them all every moment of the day.

Luke shrugged, putting the phone back in the cradle.

'Sorry Father. I think it was a prank anyways - said he was that dead cop from the news.'

The older man froze. He managed to stutter out his question just as the boy was bounding from the room.

'Wait…what did he say his name was?'

The answer he had dearly hoped for, but didn’t want to disappoint himself should it be wrong was shouted back at him from the hallway.

'John Blake.'

He fell into his chair. His heart racing so that he could almost feel his heart pumping through his shaking body.

Could it be real? John was alive?

The police had closed the case, convinced their evidence was substantial enough. He had never truly believed it, even when they tried to console him, telling him that was just part of grieving. He might have listened to them if not for someone else sharing his doubts.

He flicked through his draw till he found what he was looking for, the card that had been pressed into his hand at the funeral.

Dialling the number into the receiver, his leg tapping impatiently with every ring of the connection.

'Hello? I need to speak to Bruce Wayne. It’s urgent.'

Chapter Text

Bane stood there, looming within the doorway. His bulk enhanced by the spread stance of his legs, and the crossed arms that bulged already sizable muscles. He was silent after his question, waiting on John's response.

There was nothing for him to do. It was all over with.

There would be little point in delaying the inevitable. If nothing else, John was determined to face whatever end Bane planned for him like a man.

'Fuck you.'

Given his situation, it wasn't the most intelligent answer he could have given, but John felt it was the most appropriate.

Bane merely raised an eyebrow, managing to look both furious and unaffected by his defiance.

'You will accompany me outside.'

John gave a small smile to the anxious looking couple whose home he occupied, hoping it was somewhat reassuring. Judging by their continued stares, he had missed the mark somewhat.

From the doorway it seemed the entire village had collected to give audience to the march toward his doom.

Across the square, there was a motorcycle, more of an old dirt-bike really.

‘So that’s how he got down here so fast.’ John thought to himself resignedly. It didn’t much matter now.

Bane had already mounted the bike, a small jump and a twist of his muscled arm and it was revving impatiently.

Standing 10 feet away, John made no move to get closer. The slight standstill was broken as Bane kicked the bike round, driving over to him and thrusting a helmet into his stomach.

John blinked. His hands had grasped the bulky item instinctively, but he threw it to the ground. He wasn’t buying the road safety message now, not when he was just going to be gutted on the side of said road anyway.

'What, afraid to kill me with an audience? Little performance anxiety perhaps?'

John knew he was snarking, but he couldn't help himself. His death-avoidance filter had seemingly been broken somewhere along his flight.

Bane dropped the kick-stand, and leaving the motor on, effortlessly rose off the bike and swung the disregarded object up. He loomed over John, and there was no doubt in his mind that he would pay for that petulant move, perhaps with an indentation of said helmet in his skull. But when he felt the helmet against his head, it wasn’t in rage. No, it was carefully fitted down until the snug cushioning enveloped him.

He didn't say anything else, and John felt the uselessness is fighting against him further at his moment.

Honestly, where did it matter where he was killed? It wasn't like he had family back home to bury him anyway.

John got on the bike, careful to use the seat handle behind him for support. Not the broad shoulders and firm waist of the man in front.

Bane revved the engine once more, and they took off back up the mountain.

~

What had taken him the best part of a day to travel, took a mere few hours on the bike. But in that moment John wished he was running it again.

The vibrations from the engine were traveling directly up his spine, aggravating his chest and recently healed ribs. It felt as though his bones were shaking, and he couldn't stop fidgeting each time a particularly hard bump sent a throbbing lash throughout his body.

Suddenly Bane veered off the dirt path, taking them towards a little wooded area.

So this was it.

When the bike stopped, engine switched off, John couldn't help the sigh of relief.

Ok, so he was going to die, but death was an end to the pain and uncertainty. That, he could look forward to. The kids were alive. He hadn't failed them with his stupidity over Miranda Tate. He could go now.

The night air was refreshing on his skin. His sweat covered body appreciated the cool evening, and John took his situationally inappropriate moment to feel the breeze, it was a small thing but lovely.

His back was to Bane, and he hoped the man would use those stealth skills to get it over with quickly. If he was lucky he might not even suffer.

He remembered Bane killing on TV and in the alleyway - he hadn't tortured them if nothing else.

He felt the air move behind him and he took a deep breath, but otherwise kept still.

A hand settled on his chest, right above his heart. It pressed close, heavy, and he felt his recently closed scar sear with pain. But still John didn't move.

If Bane wanted to feel his fear by an accelerated heart rate, he was going to enjoy disappointing him.

But when the other hand moved to his left hip, fingers gripping in the hard protruding bone, John lost it.

The breath he had been holding was let go in short sharp bursts, and he went at once both completely ridged and squirmed with all his strength to escape the hold.

Of course it didn't work. The grip grew firmer. The hand on his heart grew heavier as his heart rate exploded.

His shirt had ridden up and the feeling of warm skin against his own ripped from his mind every self-defense tactic and offensive move he learnt over the last few weeks.
Arms enveloped him, trying to contain his thrashing.

John managed to overbalance them, and those restraining arms pulled him to the ground.

He was winded, he couldn't catch his breath. The weight on his back was too much.

He couldn't. The weight was too much.

He had to stop, but his body wouldn't listen.

Fighting only made them angrier. He could never beat them.

He had to stop. Please just stop.

Please.

He felt cold, the chill of the night air on his was causing him to shake. But why could he move when he was being held down?

Someone was calling his name. But it’s just one voice. Where were the rest of them?

He took a breath. The air was clean, nothing covered his mouth. He took another, greedily filling his lungs.

There was his name again. His real name. They never called him by his name.
Faggot, cock-slut, whore. Those are his given names. Not Robin, never Robin.

Only his mum called him Robin. And Barsad.

Barsad.

Barsad wouldn't hurt him. Had looked after him. Had been his friend. His first real friend.

He should open his eyes. Barsad wouldn't hurt him.
A crack of colour seeped through the squinted slit of his eyelids.

He could make out no shapes surrounding him. No legs. Nothing but grass.

He moved his arms from underneath his chest. Testing out the cramped tingling muscles.

Using his new found freedom of movement, he pushed his hands into the dirt and lifted himself up into a crouching position.

Not on his knees, but not too high from the ground that being pushed down again would hurt too much.

Feeling slightly more in control, John took in his surroundings. There was no one else around. No group of men. But Barsad wasn’t there, only Bane was.

Bane.

John tensed again, adrenaline fueling every cell in his weary body. Trying to give him the energy needed to fight or flee.

Except Bane wasn’t moving. He was 10-odd foot distance away, and seemingly staying there. He was kneeling in the dirt, his hands resting palm upwards on his thighs. His bulk dwarfed, his posture calm and unthreatening.

But his eyes – his eyes were following John’s every movement. Assessing him. Probably judging his weakness, plotting the next way to terrorize him before taking his life.

John was enraged. Shame and fear mingled together, giving him the strength to stand and face Bane down, his stare and voice cold and unyielding.

‘I may be smaller than you, weaker. I might not be able to move as quickly, or fight as effectively as you can. I’ll probably die here because of it. But I have never preyed on people or used them. And when the time comes for your well-fucking-deserved death, for all your lofty ideals – you will never be able to say the same.’

Their eyes did not leave one another, even as the silence dragged on. John glaring with fury and defiance, Bane with focused attention.

After long moments, Bane broke the stalemate.

‘No. I will not.’

He rose from his knees, and John steeled himself, but Bane had just turned back toward the motorbike behind him and reached into the saddlebag.

When he returned, John was standing in the same position, as still as he could manage with the chill of the evening and the worn-off effects of his righteousness.
Instead of a gun or even a shovel, as he was expecting, John watched as Bane returned with a blanket and a water bottle.

He left them close to where he had been perched, and gave the statuesque man a wide berth, walking silently past him into the shallow shrub of the surrounding forest.

John started at the unexpected move, his neck whiplashing round to follow the retreating figure.

‘Where are you going?’

Bane didn’t pause.

‘Wood for the fire.’

John was confused and exhausted, which lent a slightly hysterical tone to his voice.

'And you’re just leaving me here? What if I ran?'

Bane turned to stare back, his gaze holding the same intensity as ever, and answered the question/threat with the oddly melodic tone of his mechanized voice.

'I would find you again.'

Chapter Text

There would be little to find by way of game in the forest Bane knew. Most of the larger, more intelligent creatures would have been alerted by the sound of the motorcycle, and have known to flee the danger. The smaller creatures, the less intelligent, they were often too foolish to move, too trusting.

They would be easy pickings.

The animal kingdom was harsh, but the rules simple. The world of men though, the cruelty lay in hope, for, though they might think otherwise, the rules were the same. The weak suffer and the strong survive.

Breaking the necks of the three rabbits held in a trap, Bane sought to vent his frustration.

The world cannot be changed, it remains as it always has been. It is nothing but naivety and stupidity to believe otherwise.

And Bane was neither naïve nor stupid, not like their new leader. Not like the man who spoke of lofty ideals, yet ran away from his responsibilities. Who rallied against making judgements, yet cowered before him as though harm would come from size alone.

Robin John Blake.

Bane flexed his body, trying to see himself from another’s perspective. He was littered with scars. He hadn’t paid much mind to them previously, each one bore witness to a fight for life, for protection. He was proud of them.

His body; scars, weight, even his mask, showed that he was needed. Was proof that his life held meaning.

And yet the sainted Blake flinched from him like all the others.

The man his beautiful Talia ordered him to follow would never see him as anything other than a monster.

Collecting up the now skinned rabbits, Bane made his way back through the bushes to the open air camp with a heavy sigh of resignation.

John Blake had not moved.

No longer held by the trauma of his flashback, it seemed he had not yet shaken its effects. Bane had seen it many times before.

He got on with making the fire, always sure to stay in front of the crouched man, staying within view.

The last of the rocks placed in the circle, and he had the mini-pit prepared. The smell of cooking meat permeated through his mask. His own meal was going to be a problem, he would have to wait until the smaller man slept.

His reluctant companion stirred, the hauntings leaving him.

He shuffled to the other side of the fire and wrapped himself in the blanket, starring with a confused intensity.

‘Will you kill me now?’

Bane removed one of the sticks of rabbit from the fire. He inspected it closely, deeming it cooked through sufficiently. It was proffered around the fire, and accepted without a word.

‘No’

Watching as a first tentative bite was taken, followed by ravenous chomping of the remainder, Bane lowered himself down, folding one leg under another.

Beyond the crackling of burning wood, the silence was broken once more by another calmly asked question.

‘You’re taking me back then?’

Bane opened his eyes to see Blake staring at his now bare stick, leaning forward he took another from the fire and held it out without making any further effort to move.

‘I am’

A small glare was leveled at him, but nevertheless the detective shuffled around within reaching distance to grasp it.

‘Did you find your orphanage as you expected it Blake?’

A sudden choke and a cough and he had the full force of a blanketed ex-detective looming over him. Bane didn't move.

‘How did you know? If you dare hurt them I’ll-

‘You can do nothing. You are powerless to protect them.’

He looked up to see John deflate at the truth of his words.

Once again he was reminded of the monster this man believed him to be. It bothered him. It shouldn't.

Barsad liked his man, his man who thought him barbaric.

It bothered him.

‘The League will help them.’

A twisted smile.

‘‘The League’? Help children?’

Bane inclined his head, making no move to rise from his position.

‘If you commanded it.’

The smile graduated to a sharp bark of laughter and Bane bristled at the mocking sound.

‘Oh, that simple huh?’

Warming to his theme, John stared him down, his blanket wrapped like a cape around him.

It was an unfortunate parallel.

‘Bane; destroyer of cities, saviour of small orphans? You lying son of a bitch, you would have seen them dead along with the rest of us! Millions of people! Why? WHY!’

Bane rose at the heated accusation, unable to deny it, but unwilling to allow this man to berate him.

'I did as I was ordered'

Another laugh from the detective.

'Just a lap-dog then?'

Bane raised his voice to a growling snarl, advancing on John as the frustration of the past few weeks overflowed, powering his muscles with rage-filled adrenaline.

'I was loyal! Do you know what that is Blake? Do you know what it is to turn your back on the only person in the world to treat you as though you had worth, and all because she ordered you to? To obey when it betrays those you love?'

John stood his ground, but couldn't help shrinking under the intensity of the outburst.

'I would have killed you. No regret of you would have lingered in my conscience. I should have killed you. Your life is owed to the woman you curse, tantruming like a child at the life you now lead, no gratitude that you have life at all!'

Bane kicked the helmet at his feet, launching its now dented carcass into the surrounding forest.

John still had not moved, and as Bane's heavy breathing slowly regulated through the mask, he felt weary. The rush of medicinal gases tired him, and the unfulfilled hunger gnawed at him. He was going to sleep.

He ignored the still standing John, satisfied enough that he wouldn't run again. Or at least that he could easily be caught once more should he try.

With his back against a sturdy tree facing the fire, he sat with his legs stretched over one another, and readjusted his coat against the cold.

Thoughts of Barsad and his soothing presence calmed him into sleep.

~

The journey back to the mountain complex was one of strained silence. John held stubbornly onto the small back railing of the bike, refusing, even for the sake of safety, to hold onto Bane for support.

Although the awkwardness of that journey was nothing compared to the reception John received from the gathered members of the League. The entrance hall was filled with stares sheepishly returned with a small smile that did nothing to placate.

The crowd parted to reveal Barsad standing at the doorway to the training room, and John twinged at the cool indifference from his once-friend.

Bane walked ahead, caring nothing for easing the atmosphere of Blake's return. He had got the truant back safely, that was his responsibility discharged. He now thought only of his partner.

A hand stroking down the side of his face tore the gaze back to his own, and Bane was unduly reassured to see a lessening of tension, a showing of trust.

His hand moved to the back of Barsad's neck, pulling him close enough to gently butt their foreheads, and felt in return a fond sigh.

'Habibi'.