The Dark Knight Rises Anonymous Kink Meme

Gotham's Reckoning

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Round Two Prompt Post
tdkr_anon wrote in tdkr_kink
Round Two Is Currently Closed To New Prompts

Welcome to 'Round Two' of The Dark Knight Rises Kink Meme.
This round will close when it reaches four thousand comments and after two weeks, another prompt post will open.

Please read the rules before posting

General Policies

ͽ Be polite to everyone within and outside of the community.
ͽ Please post your prompt with the according subject line.
ͽ Do not embed NSFW images and videos; link to them instead.
ͽ Warn for NSFW images and videos.
ͽ Do not repost a prompt that has previously been prompted.
ͽ Limit yourself to how many prompts you post per round.
ͽ Please post your work with the according warnings. Warning Guide 
ͽ Enjoy yourself.
A full list of the rules can be found here.

Subject Line Format

ͽ Alphabetize pairing names (ex. Bane/Bruce Wayne/John Blake) or use (Any/Any)
ͽ If you have one character chosen, but not another, put ‘other’. (ex. Scarecrow/Other)
ͽ Use ‘Gen’ if no pairing is wanted.
ͽ Add 'RPF' if you want a real person fic.
ͽ Put appropriate warnings if they are needed. Warning Guide (ex. Torture)
ͽ There is nothing else that needs to be put on the subject line, which means you should refrain from adding anything else.

Example Subject Line
Bane/John Blake, Warnings: Torture, Non-con.

Filling A Prompt

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ͽ A fill can be anything: fiction, fanart, podfic, manipulation, video, podmix, ect.
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Character List
The Dark Knight Rises List:
Bruce Wayne
Dr. Jonathan Crane
Dr. Pavel
Jim Gordon
John Blake
Lucius Fox
Miranda Tate
Ra's Al Ghul
Selina Kyle
Talia Al Ghul
(There are others, add them as you see fit)

Actor List:
Anne Hathaway
Anthony Garcia
Christian Bale
Cillian Murphy
Gary Oldman
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Liam Neeson
Marion Cotillard
Nestor Carbonell
Tom Hardy
(There are others, add them as you see fit)

Flat View | Fill List | Discussion Thread | Beta Search Thread | Friending Meme

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This prompt round is closed (or soon to be) so sequel stuff will be posted here until it can have a home of its own in a new thread. Don't expect speedy updates. XD
ps. Let's play Name The Sequel!


There's another way into Batman's cave. It took John a couple weeks to find it. An old well shaft, dank and dim, but wide enough to accommodate the ladder he erects. It's a little easier than rappeling into the cave every time he needs to visit.

And he visits a lot.

“I brought someone to see you,” he calls out today, straightening up when he leaves the narrow shaft. His voice bounces back at him. Above, he hears the creak and rustle of disgruntled sleeping bats. “You awake?”

There's a little cove toward the back, near the lift that goes up into Wayne Manor, where Bane is currently lying belly-down on a cot Bruce must have installed. He doesn't budge at John's arrival. When he's close enough, John pulls Harvey out of his coat and sets her on the floor. She pads away, sniffing and squinting her one eye. When Bane suddenly drags in a harsh, forced breath, she jumps and runs away, the fur down her spine bristling.

“I took her to the vet last week,” John says, pulling up a chair and slinging his backpack to the ground. “She's rabies-proof now, so hopefully she doesn't get anything weird from the bats. She only gained two ounces in three weeks, the vet thinks she'll stay around five pounds, which is pretty small, for a cat ...”

Bane pulls in another breath, and rolls over to look at John.

“And you?” he says. Every word seems to cost him. “Are you well?”

The broken mask warps his voice more than ever. It's even more mechanic, no longer human, almost robotic. Harvey, creeping up under John's chair, pulls back and hisses. He's never heard her hiss before. He nudges her back with his foot, embarrassed.

“You mean since I saw you twelve hours ago?” he says, smiling. Bane's gaze is hard and intense and entirely serious. John clears his throat. “Um, yeah. I'm good.” He pauses. “Are you?”

Bane's eyes crinkle into a smile. His face is tight with pain.

“Yes,” he says, maybe serious, maybe mocking. “I am well.”

Getting him here was one of the most difficult things John's ever done. The sewers were being flooded with people to clear out debris, homeless people, and terrorists in hiding. There was no way for Bane to stay down there without being detected, so John had had to help him leave. Around every corner he thought he could hear the clatter of approaching boots. The anxiety of being discovered probably knocked about two years off his life.

He feels bad for using Bruce Wayne's hiding spot, but if there's one place in Gotham where Bane can recover without being seen, it's here. Getting him into the cave was the hard part. Bane has been beaten and his analgesic-delivering mask is broken. Bones are cracked, muscles are torn. John hadn't found the well entrance yet and he still doesn't know how to get in from Wayne Manor. He'd helped drag Bane to the base of the waterfall and then froze, unable to believe he hadn't thought of how to get Bane up the rock face. It had taken them hours and hours to leave the sewers; it was almost dawn.

He was on the verge of panic when Bane suddenly roused himself from a glassy-eyed state and regarded John scornfully, then began to climb the rock himself. Without any rope or equipment. He made the no-doubt excruciating climb as quickly as he was able, sucking in loud, grating breaths; and once inside the cave, he dropped onto the floor, exhausted, and slept for two days.

There are still some days when John isn't quite able to believe he's a man.

Harvey spots a creeping insect and starts stalking it. John's pretty sure she's the bastard kitten of a feral cat and a house-pet, because there's a deep core of affection inside her despite what she's been through, but she's also wild enough to hunt. She's already killed two mice in John's apartment, which, he informed her, officially upgrades her from deadbeat status.

Her depth perception isn't the greatest, though, her being one-eyed. She misses the insect and hits the wall head-first.

“I take it,” Bane says slowly and dryly, watching her like John is, “this is my surprise guest.”

“Yeah,” John says, smiling. “Didn't you miss her?”

Bane scoffs quietly and puts his head back down on the pillow. In another moment, he's asleep.

John watches him for a bit, then opens up his backpack and starts pulling out supplies.

Bane sleeps a lot these days. Rest is the best nurse, John had to tell him at first. Bane wanted to be on his feet, working, stretching, exercising, fighting his body back into the shape he wants it to be. It's been a long time since Bane was incapacitated, and he's like a wild horse that thrashes because it doesn't know it's not supposed to stand on a broken leg. John didn't even have to argue him into compliance. Every day more toxin leaves Bane's body, and every day he is more of a man than the beast he used to be.

He tires. He sleeps. He dreams. He dreams about the pit—he thinks he's there when he sleeps, because of the cave—and he panics and lashes out. John finds him trying to claw the mask off his face, groaning at the unfamiliar way his body hurts.

And he calls for Talia. It's the only time he makes mention of her. To his confused mind, it must seem she is punishing him for his failure by refusing to come. So John sits with him instead, tries awkwardly to soothe him until he settles or lapses out of his daze and looks at John bemusedly.

It's been six weeks now. The nightmares seem to be getting worse.

The pain...

John kneels on the cot and peels away Bane's shirt to take a look at the skin underneath. The worst of it, at least on the outside, is burns and shrapnel wounds from the explosives off the Bat-bike (he still hasn't learned its official designation). These he tends obsessively, and his reward is healing scar tissue without any signs of infection. Before the city got back on its feet, John was quick to hoard any remaining antibiotics and medical supplies, worried foremost about these wounds, the most obvious and ugly.

But these wounds aren't the problem anymore. They're healing, and Bane isn't getting better. He's getting worse.

His breathing is laboured even in sleep. His scalp under the straps of the mask glistens with a sheen of sweat, and when John touches his face he finds it feverish to the touch. Bane's being slowly paralyzed by the pain, sinking into deeper and deeper stupours when he rests.

There is nothing John can do. Bane is dying.


Re: Untitled Sequel: 1b/?

aww, poor bane =0(

Re: Untitled Sequel: 1b/?

OMG! LOVE!!!! <3
SO happy to see this sequel started. I love that John brought Harvey to visit.
Ack - poor Bane! Help him, Obi-John-Kenobi, you're his only hope!

Re: Untitled Sequel: 1b/?


Re: Untitled Sequel: 1b/?

I am transcendently happy. It's like getting tickets to see the sequel to your all-time favorite film and the theater is packed and the audience is thrumming with excitement and like, disbelief, because this. is. it. What you've been waiting for.

Like that.

Untitled Sequel: 1b/?

I honestly screamed OMG when I saw this had updated bemusing everyone in the general vicinity - but I don't care, I am SOHAPPY and I know I'm going to re-read the whole thing very, very shortly and bask in the gloriousness that is YOU.

So glad this is being updated again and I look forward to more ♥ And to see that Barsad IS ALRIGHT. :3

Now, the name game, umum. *goes blank* Hmm. I may have to think about this and come back with a flail point of 'ahah!' heh.

Re: Untitled Sequel: 1b/?

THX for the Sequel!

and NONONO Bane is not dying! NO! T T

Re: Untitled Sequel: 1b/?

So super excited right now! I love the other fic, but this was what I have truly been waiting for, and you started it off PERFECTLY!!! Is it safe to assume that Barsad is coming back? I always felt in the movie that he didn't die, probably just wounded; however, I see him as the one that can help John save Bane from dying, and I remember the chapter where he yells at Bane and tells him that he has 2 people that care about him (I assumed that Barsad was the other one). I mean... they are the League of Shadows, they are probably very hardy stock! LOL!

Re: Untitled Sequel: 1b/?

I honestly can't understand why on earth I have not found it earlier! The sequel, I didn't even know existed, bloody hell! Love ya, Whisky!

Hooray for less teaser and some actual story!

John is at home, watching the news on TV, when his phone rings.

He mutes the TV. The reporters seem to find some savage delight in telling the world, every day, that Bane is still at large. Sure, he held up an entire city with a nuclear weapon, but he makes for great news. They've reached the point in the segment where they bounce a few theories off each other—Bane's dead, he's in the sewers, he's in Europe, he's running for governor for the state of Hawaii—and John figures he's not missing much.

It's Gordon.

“Hey,” the older cop says. He sounds tired, and John almost feels like a jerk, for a second, leaving him to clean up the city on his own.

“Hi,” John says. “You okay?”

“Never better,” Gordon says, like the cynic he is. John smiles, but it's quickly wiped off his face when Gordon continues. “Look, I need to ask you to do something. It may be difficult for you.”

“Sure,” John says.

On Gordon's end, he can hear a snappish voice in the background. Gordon's reply to the snapper is muffled. Then he's back.

“Sorry,” he says. “Can you come down to the station?”

“Sure. What for?”

“You'd be doing me a favour,” Gordon says. John sighs.

“I'll be there in twenty minutes.”

He makes it there in fifteen. The first cop he talks to greets him warmly—they all do whenever he's here, slapping his back and smiling at him, John the hero who saved the cops—and takes him to an interrogation room, where Gordon is already sitting at the table. Two men in suits stand off to one side.

“Am I under arrest?” John asks when the door closes behind him. He's smiling, but even as he says it he considers with a twinge that he very well could be.

Gordon glances up from the papers he's looking at. “Of course not. Come on in, Blake.”

John joins them at the table. After a pause, he takes a seat. It makes him feel like he's in trouble for something.

“Agent Hudson,” Gordon says by way of introduction, waving a hand at the nearer of the two men. “And Agent Choi.”

“From what agency?” John asks.

The two men exchange a glance.

“CIA,” Hudson answers.

“We have some questions for you,” Choi adds.

John turns to Gordon. “You said I wasn't under arrest.”

Again, lighthearted, but what is the punishment for harbouring an internationally-wanted terrorist, anyway?

“You're not in trouble for anything, Detective,” Hudson says, and attempts a smile. It makes him look like he ate something that isn't agreeing with him. Gordon sighs, and takes over.

“It's about the time you spent with Bane during the occupation,” he says. “We're having some trouble pinning down which men he considered intimates, men who would know his plans. Or where to find him.”

“Oh,” says John.

“Here.” Hudson shuffles through the papers and sets them out on the table in front of John. They're pictures, rows of mugshots of sullen-looking mercenaries. “See if you recognize any men in there who Bane might have spent more time with than the others.”

“What makes you think they'll know where he is now?”

“It's our best lead,” Choi says, scowling. “Look at the pictures.”

John shuts up and does. Most faces he doesn't know. There are four men Bane did talk to a lot, and he's pretty sure he could pick them out of this pile if they're in here, but he doubts they'd be any help to Hudson and Choi. First of all, no one knows where Bane is except for John (and Harvey). And second, most of Bane's men would sooner die than compromise their leader. Bane inspires a whole lot of loyalty in his men.

He shakes his head. “I don't recognize anyone in here.”

Hudson puts another photo on the table in front of him and points. “What about this men?”

There's a tiny pang in John's chest: it's a slightly grainy picture of Bane, with Barsad tailing close behind him.

John's been trying not to think about Barsad. All he knows of Barsad's fate is that he was shot, and John didn't see him being rounded up with the other terrorists. Common sense fills in the blanks.

Barsad. A part of John actually misses the guy.

“Is he a bodyguard?” Choi demands, when John doesn't answer right away. “Would he have overheard anything Bane was planning?”

“Does Bane look like a guy who needs a bodyguard?” John snaps, needled by the man's brusqueness. He's trying to have a moment, here. He takes a deep breath. “That's Bane's right-hand guy. Barsad. He doesn't matter. You'd never catch him, and even if you could, he's dead.”

Gordon, slumped in the opposite chair and rubbing at his temple, raises his head. Choi immediately pulls out a phone and starts punching stuff in.

“Barsad?” Hudson says, looking at the picture with renewed interest. “That's his name?”


“He's alive,” Choi says bluntly, not looking up for his phone, “and he's in custody.”

John's stomach drops right through the floor, down to the parking garage below.

“Oh,” he says. Hudson starts sweeping up all the photos into a manila folder while Choi speaks into his phone, headed for the door. Alarmed, John half rises from his chair. “What are you gonna do—torture him?”

“No, no,” Hudson says, forcing a smile. Choi rolls his eyes and leaves the room. “The US government doesn't—we have a guy who'll talk to him.”

“I want to talk to him.”

“Thank you, detective, but we're taking over from here. Commissioner,” Hudson says, nodding respectfully to Gordon. Then he leaves, too.

John kicks the table leg. Gordon blinks.

“What's the matter?”

“I thought he was dead all this time,” John says, furious at himself. “Shit, I haven't even looked for him.”

“Why would you?”

“It's— I have to go,” John says, thinking that he needs to get to the cave so he can tell Bane about this news at once. “Sorry. Uh—I'm glad I helped.”

Gordon stops him at the door, a gentle hand on his arm.

“Don't be a stranger, Blake,” he says, looking suddenly old and tired. And old. “I know the occupation was rougher on you than on most people, but ... don't isolate yourself, okay?”

“I won't,” John says. Gordon gives him a quick smile like he almost believes it, a bracing pat, and lets him go.

Harvey greets John first thing when he returns to the cave, scampering out of the dark and arching herself again his legs. He'd left her overnight because she seemed to enjoy hunting the cave fauna so much, and he kind of hates leaving Bane all alone. He smiles and stoops down to rub her tattered ears. He's starting to see the appeal of the whole cat thing.

“Hi. Where's Bane, huh? Sleeping again?”

She gives one of her creaky little meows and strolls away. When John heads deeper into the cave, he finds Bane standing knee-deep in the pool, boots on the rock nearby and cargo pants rolled up, going through a series of stretches and breathing exercises. It hurts, if his expression is anything to go by.

“Hey, hey!” John is splashing through the water before he can think about it, wading messily to Bane's side. “What, uh, what are you doing?”

“Stretching,” Bane grunts. He relaxes his spine and lowers his arms. “I need to condition my body.”

“For what?”

“Healing.” Bane looks down at his hand, and John sees that he's trying to make a fist. His fingers curl stiffly, not reaching his palm.

The pain is paralyzing him. It started in his back and it's affecting all his limbs now. The evidence of it is unsettling. The indomitable warlord that John met almost half a year ago is fading. He brought Bane here to ... to help him, to repay a debt, return a good favour, that's all—but the thought of Bane dying is terrifying, all the same.

Bane drops his hand to his side and looks up at John, as if confused by his body's failings.

“I should be well by now,” he says. “I should be ... training you.”

“Come on,” John says, giving his arm a little tug.

To his relief, Bane narrows his eyes but goes along with John. They clamber out of the pool. This short walk leaves Bane panting harshly. To distract him, John says, “Training me for what?”

Bane sits heavily on the nearest ledge. He gestures loosely at the cave around them and gasps, “Taking up the suit.”

“That's—” John's cheeks burn. Stupid, is what it is. Batman was trained in ninja arts and had all the resources and weapons money can buy. John is an ex-cop who knows a pitifully small amount of defensive t'ai-chi. “I'm not—he didn't want me to be Batman. He left me his technology so I could, so I could be a better detective, work outside the law, help people ...”

Bane gives him the sort of withering look this idea deserves.

“I know how Bruce Wayne's mind worked,” he says. “And I know how happily you risk your life for this city.”

“But I'm not even—look at me,” John says helplessly, spreading his hands. “If I were your size, sure—”

“Barsad was nearly my equal. He was your size.”

Was. The past tense kills John. For weeks Bane kept speaking about Barsad as if he were still alive, even insisted that they leave a message for him in the sewers (“at Batman's house”, in what Bane assured him is an obscure language) before moving to the cave. But Barsad's name has come up less and less over the past few weeks. Now, on the day that John finds out he's alive, Bane concedes that he's dead.

John almost opens his mouth to say that Barsad is alive, but suddenly he's afraid Bane will want to storm every prison in the state getting him back. He's in no shape for that. Not to mention John's aversion to law-breaking.

“Barsad's different,” he says finally. “He had the right training.”

“So could you.” Bane struggles to stand up, one hand pressed over his stomach. “If I were ... stronger ...”

“Stop,” John says, pushing him back down. He nearly trips over Harvey, who has reappeared to lie on John's sneaker and suck the water from his shoelaces but bolts for safety when Bane moves. John continues, “Look, you're never going to get stronger unless we fix your mask, and that means taking it—”

Bane's hand comes up to the grille protectively. He glares at John.

“—off,” John sighs.


“Fine,” John snaps. His socks are wet and he has a headache. “Suffocate and die, see if I care.”

He stomps off to where he keeps an extra set of clothes and, with great foresight, another pair of shoes. It's not the first time he's stood in the water down here, intentionally or not. He changes his pants and socks and shoes and feels marginally better when his feet are dry again.

Take up the suit. It's ridiculous. It's stupid, is what it is; it's—exactly what John has trying to put out of mind, too busy tending to Bane to give it any real thought. He can't be Batman. He's no one, he's just some ex-cop, he's not ... Bruce Wayne.

No one is Bruce Wayne.

But Bruce believed in being a symbol. Batman was never a person: he was an icon. In that suit, that—body armour, maybe John could do it. Maybe he could do anything.

When he returns to the pool's edge, he finds Bane sitting on the same rock ledge, but his face is turned away. His breathing is lighter. John hurries forward, alarmed, and then he sees it. At his feet lies the mask.

Re: Untitled Sequel: 2c/? (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Untitled Sequel: 2c/? (Anonymous) Expand
He hovers, torn momentarily. Bane groans softly in pain and tilts his head even further away from John, one arm pulled over his face to shield himself. John picks up the mask.

He can see now why Bane is having such a hard time breathing: it's the way the teeth of the mask are crumpled into the grille, partially sealing off air flow. Apart from that, John learns nothing new. Only two of the bristling tubes are connected, feeding anesthetic gas to the mouthpiece. The rest are as broken as ever. He fumbles with them for a bit, just to give his hands something to do, wishing the stupid things would just reconnect on their own. He wishes, ridiculously, that Bruce had been a little gentler in that fight.

When he looks up again, he nearly drops the mask. Harvey blinks at him from Bane's lap, nestled in as though she belongs there. Bane doesn't seem to notice her. He's breathing easier than he has in six weeks.

“Here,” John says, edging cautiously closer and setting the mask down on the ledge at Bane's side. Bane doesn't move. Harvey rubs her mutilated face against his leg tentatively, seeking love. It's the mask she's afraid of, John concludes. It's always been the mask.

After a second, he asks warily, “Can I see?”

“No,” Bane rasps, face twisted firmly away. Disappointed but not surprised, John turns and walks away a few steps, shoving his hands in his pockets. He can hear Bane strapping the mask back on.

He needs help with the last few, finer clasps, though his face is fully covered again. When John looks down he finds Harvey on the floor now, staring up at Bane with every hair on her spine bristling in shock, like she can't believe her new friend has just turned into the monster with the metal face. John smiles at her bewilderment.

“Well?” Bane asks.

John sighs. “I don't know. I can't fix it.”

“I thought not.” Bane stands, wavering for just a moment. He shuts his eyes. When he opens them again, they shine with feverish determination. “No one alive can help me but myself.”

No one alive. And for the first time all day, it clicks. To save Bane, John has got to get to Barsad.


Re: Untitled Sequel: 2d/? (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Untitled Sequel: 2d/? (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Untitled Sequel: 2d/? (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Untitled Sequel: 2d/? (Anonymous) Expand
Barsad first knows the plan has failed when he drifts to murky consciousness with his hands shackled at his sides. He can't see anything, but the voices nearby tell him he is not dead, nor alone.

“... let him die.”

“That's not up to you.”

“Let every piece of shit from Bane's army die. Why are we wasting our time and efforts on them?”

“He's awake.”

“Good, I hope he hears this. Asshole had a bomb strapped to his chest when they brought him in, did you hear?”



“It was an ammunition belt. Not a bomb ...”

Let me die, Barsad wants to say. Their plan has failed. Bane and Talia are probably dead. He has nothing left. Let me die. But he can't speak. There's a tube in his throat.

He fades out.

The gunshot wound Barsad received isn't anything he would normally consider serious. His vest took the brunt of the shot, but the concussive force of the bullet broke a couple of ribs and one perforated his lung. He's still surprised at how little time the Americans give him to recover. After one week in hospital, he's transferred to a prison and thrown like a stray dog into a cell.

His cellmate is a black man at least twice his weight, who eyes Barsad from the upper bunk for a moment. It only takes them that moment to come to a silent agreement that neither of them will be any trouble for the other. Barsad takes the lower bunk. He spends that first night listening and learning as much as he can.

The prison is fairly disorganized. There are a lot of looters, thugs, mercenaries, and other roughs who've been rounded up in Gotham and sent to prisons all over the state, but there's still a lot of processing to do at Barsad's prison, given the number of inmates they've just taken on. Barsad keeps his head down and his mouth shut over that first day, blending in with all the other blue-uniformed inmates, watching and planning.

The guards make sure he goes straight to the dining room from his cell and back each mealtime that day. Perhaps they'll stop watching so closely if he stays quiet, unobtrusive. Nobody in here has to know who he is.

His hopes for a quiet, solitary stay are dashed when a joyous cry greets him in the dining room for dinner, the third and last meal of the day. Ekene drops onto the bench at his side, thumping his shoulder.

“Hey, deadshot! You're alive!”

“Not so loud,” Barsad warns him viciously in Yoruba. Ekene shuts up. It takes a moment for the other men at their table to stop eyeing them curiously. Barsad speaks under his breath. “What do you know? Is Bane alive?”

“I don't know.” Ekene replies in the same tongue, sensibly. “But you're here now, so we can bust out and find him, huh?”

“You've been here longer than I have. Tell me what's happening.”

Ekene tells him everything he knows, which ultimately isn't very much. At least one of Bane's other officers is here, but in another dorm. He, Ekene, has made a few friends of the other inmates, which doesn't surprise Barsad. Irritating gnat though he may be, Ekene is good at ingratiating himself with the right people. His friends have told him he'll have to wait for permanent assignment before he can get a job here or take out any books from the library, so the days thus far have been long and boring, and it looks to be a long time before they're permanently assigned, given the general upheaval. The guards here are not so bad and, Ekene adds happily, no one has fucked him in the showers yet.

Barsad shakes his head irritably. He has been to a detention camp in Russia: this place is a sunny picnic compared to there. “Nobody is going to rape you. Just keep your head down and don't make enemies.”

“I won't have any now that you're here,” Ekene says, thumping his shoulder again. “Eh? You could put any guy here on his ass!”

Ekene is young; he doesn't understand. He must think it a fine thing to be seen associating with Bane's right hand man, a dangerous terrorist. If Barsad isn't careful, Ekene will have the whole prison on his head by nightfall.

Re: Untitled Sequel: 3c/? (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Untitled Sequel: 3c/? (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Untitled Sequel: 3c/? (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Untitled Sequel: 3c/? (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Untitled Sequel: 3c/? (Anonymous) Expand
Re: Untitled Sequel: 3c/? (Anonymous) Expand
How about "Contention"? Fighting for a shared resource. It is similar to contend or contender which echoes the fighting theme of the "No Holds Barred" title.

“Tell me you have good news,” John says as soon as he answers Gordon's call.

He's in Wayne Manor. It's easy to take the lift from inside the cave up to the room with its secret panel, but figuring out how to access that panel from within the room is an impossible puzzle. John is taking every single book off the shelf in front of the panel, half-expecting one of them to release some trigger mechanism. He's already tried prying the shelf away from the wall, to no avail.

“You still can't talk to Barsad,” says Gordon.

“Did you tell them I can get him to talk? They're probably not having any luck.”

Gordon sighs. For the fifth or sixth time, he asks, “Why is this so important to you, John?”

John stops what he's doing and scrubs a hand over his face wearily. It's been more than two weeks since he first asked this favour, and being evasive isn't getting him anywhere. Bane is no better; maybe worse. They need Barsad.

“He's a friend,” John says finally.

Gordon's skepticism is telling in his silence.

“He was ... the only one who was nice to me, sometimes,” John says. “When I was ... a prisoner.”

Gordon sighs again, apparently accepting that. “Okay. Well. You see the papers this morning?”

“No. Why?”

“Take a look when you get a chance. There was an explosion at the state prison. Three staff dead, at least two inmates, a few more unaccounted for. Anyway, they've sealed the place up tighter than Fort Knox. Even if I could make a case for Gotham PD needing to question Bane's number two man—and our mystery agents are adamant that they've got it covered—there's no way they'd let anyone but their own guys in to see him. He's a terrorist. Papers won't even say how the explosion happ—”

Jesus Christ!” John nearly jumps out of his fucking skin when he turns and finds Barsad sitting cross-legged on the baby grand, watching him.

“What?” Gordon demands.

“Nothing!” John's voice is nearly a yelp. His gun is in his hand; he throws it to the floor, drags a hand through his hair, and clears his throat. “The cat scared the hell out of me just now, is all. Uh, so you really don't think you can get me in?”

“I really don't. I'm sorry, John.”

A minute ago John would have kept pushing. Now he says, “It's okay. Thanks for trying. I'll call you later this week, okay?” And he hangs up.

Barsad is still just sitting there. He must have ditched his prison uniform, because he's wearing blue jeans and a windbreaker over a GCU sweatshirt. His face is a mess of bruises and cuts. He doesn't say anything.

“How long have you been in the room with me?” John demands, when he thinks he's recovered enough.

“A long time,” Barsad admits.

John grunts, annoyed that he'd been startled so easily. It's like nothing Barsad taught him has stuck. Batman wouldn't be startled by anything, he tells himself.

“You look good without a beard,” he says finally. “Suits you.”

Barsad touches a hand to his stubbled but defined jaw, frowning. “The prison guards took a dislike.”

“You look like crap, otherwise,” John says, gesturing at his face. Barsad doesn't offer an explanation. After a minute, John tries, “Uh, how was prison?”

“Bane is alive,” says Barsad. “He left the message in the sewers.”

“Yeah,” John says.

The tension leaves Barsad's shoulders. Between the Gotham U sweatshirt and his almost-clean-shaven appearance, he looks closer to John's age than his real age, and yet somehow no less dangerous.

“That's all I wanted to know,” he says, and he slides off the piano to his feet.

“What—where are you going?” John demands. “Bane's not in the house, he's—hey!”

Barsad's already through the doorway. John catches him up in the hallway, gets in his way. Barsad stops short, eyes flickering dangerously in a way that makes John take a step back.

“Bane needs you,” John says.

“He has you,” says Barsad, emotionless and inflectionless—more so than usual.

“No, he needs you,” John repeats firmly. “His mask is messed up. I don't know how to fix it. You're the only person who can help him.”

Barsad tilts his head, considering John.

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When John returns to the mansion in the morning, Barsad looks much more like himself.

“Hey, you got your scarf back,” John says, gesturing. “Good for you. Where's your gun?”

Barsad raises a hand to the red kerchief. He's also wearing a pair of black cargo pants and a ragged military-style coat over a utility harness. He seems a lot more relaxed than he was in the cave, more like his old self.

“Lost,” he says. “I recovered another bullpup.”

The new rifle looks identical to the old one, not that John knows a whole lot about rifles. Best of all is what Barsad found hidden in a smashed-up tumbler that somehow ended up down in the sewers: Bane's massive, heavy shearling.

“I'll have to wash it,” John says, picking it up delicately. He has kinda-fond memories of falling asleep curled up under this coat. It smells like blood and sweat and wet dog. Underneath that—Bane. “He must be happy.”

“I don't know. He's barely woken.”

They're standing in one of Bruce Wayne's guest bedrooms, where Bane rests. Harvey's already left John's side to take up her post on his chest.

“Have you slept?” John asks, taking a seat on the edge of the mattress next to Bane so he can examine the mask. Barsad shakes his head.

“No time. He needed supplies.”

He seems to have gotten over his annoyance, if that's what it was, at finding that John was taking care of Bane. Moreover, he's accepted that John is hopeless at this and he's leapt with all his old fanaticism into the task of mending Bane. He looks more alert than yesterday, but the shadows under his eyes are even darker.

“You need to sleep,” John says. “And eat.” He hefts the plastic bag at his side. “I brought groceries.”

“Thank you,” says Barsad, not moving to take anything.

“Maybe you can make one of those liquid shakes for Bane. I tried, and I think he's been taking them, but I didn't know what you put in them.”

“Bring me a blender and I'll make his protein drinks,” Barsad says.

John gives up; he's too curious. The mask looks no different to John since Barsad started working on it, and he wants to know. “So how's the mask? Did you fix it?”

“I adjusted the flow of the anesthetic gas,” Barsad explains. “The canisters were nearly empty. That's why I went scavenging.”

He tosses a canister across the room to John. It's unmarked, a small metal can that apparently houses Bane's anesthetic gas.

“I never thought to check,” John says sheepishly.

“Bane sleeps a little easier today.” Barsad looks at his fallen leader from the chair where he's perched. “You must have had a difficult time bringing him here from the sewers.”

“He did all the hard work,” John says.

“You've made him sentimental while I've been gone,” Barsad chides. “He was determined to know who'd beaten me so he could return the favour. It took some convincing for him to believe they're still in prison.”

“So it was other inmates?”

“Loyalists to Bane's cause,” says Barsad, “who foolishly thought I could be persuaded to betray him. They called me a traitor. Bane is gravely offended on my behalf,” he says, without smiling. “Have you been having sex with him?”

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The Proving Ground: 6a/?

It has a name! Yay! Thanks for the suggestions!

John's finished packing. For all intents and purposes, he's ready to go. There's just one last order of business.

Gordon looks surprised to see John on his doorstep. “Blake, come on in,” he says, holding the door open wider.

John steps inside, but shakes his head. “I'm not staying long. I just wanted to ask another favour.”

“Sure,” Gordon says warily.

“Can you look after Harvey for a while?”

“Harvey?” Gordon echoes. Then, spotting the lump under John's coat: “The cat?”

“Yeah.” John unzips his coat enough to let Harvey poke her head out. “I'm leaving Gotham for a bit. I don't know how long. Her food's in the car. And her litter box, and toys ...”

“Where are you going?”

John drags a hand through his hair. “I don't ... really know, yet,” he confesses.

“Going to find yourself, huh?” Gordon says, though he still looks a little suspicious. “You don't have a neighbour who'll drop in and feed her?”

John shakes his head again. He's not sure he'll even have an apartment by the time he gets back. “She likes to have company. I know you're at work a lot, but all she really needs is a little attention at the end of the day. She ... she likes to be petted. And ...”

He trails off when Harvey starts purring inside his coat, seemingly for no reason. He looks down at her. She's not a pretty cat, he thinks. Stumpy little legs, stubby little tail, slightly squashed face. Her coat's grey, not a nice silver grey but dull rock-grey, crinkly and growing in off-white where there were burns. Her face still looks awful, with the empty eye socket and tattered ear on one side, her gnarled whiskers and twisted, scarred muzzle. She's ugly.

She purrs, rubbing her cheek against him.

John told her he wouldn't leave her again, after he got her back from Bane. Cats don't care about broken promises, but John cares. He knows what it's like to feel wanted for a short time, to be told all the right things, only to be let down and dumped on someone else's doorstep, yet again. He knows how it feels to be left behind, just when you think you might have finally found a real home.

“You know what, never mind,” John says, his throat suddenly constricted for no reason. He can't leave her. He just can't. “Sorry. I'll figure something else out.”

Gordon squints at him. “Are you doing okay, Blake?”

“Yeah. I'm fine.”

“Your friend Barsad is out of prison,” Gordon says.

John makes himself look startled. “Already?”

“He escaped. I wondered if you might have seen him. He doesn't have many friends left out there.”

“I don't think he'd call me a friend,” John says, not lying. “I haven't seen him.”

“Well, if you do.” Gordon shrugs. He still looks troubled. “I wanted to show you something, actually. You might have some insight.”

John glances around for a clock. Barsad was very insistent about their departure time. “I don't really know if I have time ...”

“Just give me a second,” Gordon says, and he leaves the hallway and disappears.

John stands there with Harvey in his arms. Gordon is back in a few minutes. He's holding out a flash drive.

“I was going to email this to you anyway,” he says, and gives it to John. “Open that when you're alone.”

“Sure,” John says, slipping it in his pocket.

“And have a nice time wherever you're going, will you? Take it easy.”

John laughs. Taking it easy is probably the last thing on the agenda. “Okay.”

Gordon stands in the doorway and waves him off. John can't help hoping, with a pang, that this won't be the last time he sees the old detective.

Barsad's only comment when he sees Harvey in John's arms is, “The cat is coming with us?”

“I'm not leaving her,” John says, bracing himself for a fight. But Barsad just shrugs, as though it doesn't matter to him.

“She won't like the plane,” he says.

He's right.

They travel by cargo plane. Once it's off the ground, they're allowed to leave the hold and sit in a row of shabby passenger seats. There are no other passengers; nobody travels commercially by cargo plane these days. John can see why. It's awful, in his opinion. He's never traveled anywhere by plane in his life. He's barely been outside of Gotham. It's too confining and too noisy and definitely way too bumpy.

The Proving Ground: 7a/?

Ahhh slow chapter.

Climbing the mountain to the temple is one of the worst things John's ever had to do in his life.

It didn't seem so bad, from the ground. At ground level there was scrubland, some tough plants growing in the gritty soil, clinging to life, and the slopes didn't look so intimidating. Now they're up high, sometimes scaling rock faces. When John looks down, he can see an expanse of blue glacier below.

Even Barsad seems exhausted, though it's hard to say what he's been running on—it hasn't been sleep. He keeps going stubbornly, pulling John to his feet when he falls; but mostly, pushing Bane to keep going. That's the worst part. Bane can barely coordinate his limbs to climb. Barsad alternatively chivvies, bullies, encourages, and pulls him along. He swears at Bane and then carefully aids him, both liberties John is sure he wouldn't take under normal circumstances.

It's not a question of strength, because Bane is more than a match for any other man even in this state. It's his spirit. The fire that drives him is flickering at a lower ebb than ever. He keeps lying down, wanting to sleep. When Barsad literally drags him to his feet, cussing and spitting, John wonders if Barsad's as scared as he is.

The only one not troubled is Harvey, curled up in John's pack with some blankets.

Improbable as it seems, there is a tiny village partway up the mountain. The smell of smoke and goats reaches them before it comes into sight. Barsad is their ambassador; he greets the villagers respectfully and communicates that they're from the League. At once they're led to a hut and given smoked meat, cooked rice, and tea. The warm food sits comfortably in John's stomach, but they've barely finished before Barsad is roughly urging Bane upright again. Bane, of course, hasn't touched the food or drink, and spent the entire respite slumped against the wall with his eyes closed.

“Come on, man,” John begs, “let us rest for a little while. You're killing him.”

“There's snow coming,” Barsad says, implacable. “The longer we rest, the more deeply he sleeps. Soon he won't wake up. It's not far from here,” he adds. He doesn't tell John he can stay behind if he likes. He knows that without John, Bane won't move an inch.

John's legs are numb. He's a little surprised when he manages to stand, wobbly, on both feet. Barsad gives him a quick, weary smile before tugging up his scarf and turning to lead Bane.

He's right: it's not far. The snow starts to fall after an hour. An hour after that, it's coming down in a howling sheet; and then the walls of snow part for a brief second, and there's the temple.

It's a colossus of wood and stone, built right into the face of the mountain itself. John can only catch a glimpse before the snow veers to drive into his face and cling to his eyelashes, and he has to drop his head, but he preserves the image in his mind, following the path that was briefly visible. It's a wonder, a monument to human architecture. Bruce Wayne once walked this same path, he thinks.

Bane and Barsad are suddenly at his side again. Bane is hovering, waiting to make sure John is still behind them. He's been making this trek in a soporific daze, but the sight of the temple seems to have revived him a little. When he sees John, his eyes—the only visible part of him—crease at the corners. He says something that's doubly muffled by the mask as well as his scarf.

“You're beautiful,” Barsad shouts over the wind, leaning close.

“Thanks,” John shouts back.

“I was translating. To me you look like a scrawny American who won't last a day here.”

“You're as scrawny as I am, you know that?” John yells. There's a flicker of good humour in Barsad's eyes. He's coming back to life, too, strengthened by their nearness to the temple that made him a warrior. John is relieved, even as his stomach does a little half nervous, half pleased flip. Bundled in a dozen layers, red-cheeked from wind burn, Bane thinks he's beautiful. Probably delirious.

The Proving Ground: 8a/?

Small bit. Thanks for the lovely comments. <3

In the morning, Barsad is gone.

John wakes to Harvey licking his toes under the blankets, apparently revived, and Jinhai watching him sleep. He shudders and rolls over.

“Uh,” he croaks groggily. “How long have you been standing there?”

“Joachim wishes to meet with you,” Jinhai says.

“Who's Joachim?”

“He greeted you.”

The guy who tried to punch John in the face. Disgruntled, John rolls out of bed and gets dressed.

He stops outside Barsad's door before following Jinhai down the hall. The door is open. The bed is still made and unmussed; the torches are burnt out and the brazier hasn't been lit. John turns to Jinhai, standing behind him.

“Where's Barsad?”

That's when Jinhai tells him. Barsad is gone.

“Gone?” John echoes. “What do you mean, gone?

“He is gone,” Jinhai says. “Come.”

“Gone where?”

Jinhai shrugs, the universal sign for hell if I know. John frowns. It occurs to him that Barsad could already be taking breakfast with the other ninjas, maybe waiting for John.

But they don't see him when they cross a room full of men cradling cups of tea. Joachim is seated in an adjacent room at a low table on the floor, in front of a steaming cup of tea of his own. There's one for John too. As he sits across from the other man, Jinhai sets down two bowls of porridge.

“Thanks,” John says. To Joachim, he says, “Where's Barsad?”

“Gone,” says Joachim.

This is John's first indication that life with ninjas is going to be trying.

He eats the porridge, because he's starved and freezing again. There's a wide open window—if “window” is the right word, because there's no glass panes anywhere—behind Joachim overlooking a mountain view that John is too chilly to appreciate. Joachim eats more sedately.

“Are you the leader here?” John asks, between bites. Joachim shakes his head.

“Barsad told me what happened to Talia al Ghul in Gotham,” he says. “She was our leader. I merely kept the temple for her. Now Bane will lead us, as he has done before.”

John perks up. “He's okay, then? Can I go see him?”

“Not yet,” says Joachim. “If it is acceptable to you, your training will begin now.”

There's a dark glint in his eye that says John's going to start training whether he finds it acceptable or not. Barsad's like that, too. The only time he didn't force John to spar with him was when Bane strictly ordered him; otherwise he showed no mercy.

He's probably somewhere in the temple, John decides, meditating or whatever it is Barsad does. Mainly, he wants to see Bane, but he can see there'll be no getting around Joachim right now.

“Okay,” John sighs, draining the last dregs of tea. “Train me.”

Joachim wants to test him first, to see how much he knows. He does this by pairing John with novices, boys barely capable of growing facial hair who look like they've never cracked a smile in their lives. John thinks it's a joke, at first; and then the first one puts him in a joint lock that brings tears to his eyes.

Okay. If they're going to hurt him, he can hurt them too. He wipes the floor with the three that Joachim pits against him one at a time. They've got the self-discipline down, and they know some martial arts, but they make a dance out of it, too artful to be effective. John learned a long time ago that fighting isn't about looking good; it's about inflicting as much pain as possible, as quickly as possible. He's not above ripping hair out of scalps or using his knees. The boys put up a good defense, but John's graceless brutality overwhelms them fast. They've never fought someone like him.

The Proving Ground: 9a/?

I am SO sorry for the delay! Stiffen the Sinews consumed my brain, but it's complete now and I'll try to get more updates for this story written.

Barsad wakes from a deep meditative state with his eyelids frozen shut. He has to rouse himself very slowly, his muscles frozen in place, the blood tepid and sluggish in his veins. Stiffly, painfully, he uncurls, takes off his gloves and presses his hands to his eyes until he can blink again.

He'd found himself a shallow cave on the mountainside, enough to shelter him from the wind, though not the temperature. Half of him is numb: the other half sings with pain. His hollow stomach aches for food.

He feels—better.

He needs the pain. He needed to know he could still take this. He is strong—a warrior—a servant of the League of Shadows. And in that prison he'd been brought low and made weak.

Barsad has tortured men in the past: often men he didn't even know, for the sake of duty. And he's been tortured, in various colourful ways. He's been starved, whipped, burned, cut on, had bamboo splinters shoved under his nails—and he didn't bat an eye. So what was different about this time? The simple fact that he wasn't expecting it? The knowledge that Bane would not be coming for him? Or perhaps it was the method of torture itself. He'd heard waterboarding described, never performed it himself, never even given it much consideration. He despised it. He despised the simplicity of it, that there was no pain which could be meditated past. That it tricked his brain into believing he was in danger, against all rational thought. He hated the combined effect it had when he'd been deprived of sleep for a week.

He would die before saying a word about Bane; but what he'd done was almost as bad. He'd asked for it to stop. Only one time, but he'd said it, almost without his brain's knowledge or consent, and the shame consumes him bitterly. It's worse than any pain from the cold.


The pain helps, though. All his exposed skin is raw. It's almost enough to purge the feelings of ignominy that continue to cling to him. He needs to move on—learn from it, grow stronger from it, forget it, and continue on his path. There's still a trace of anger left, flickering in his belly like a flame, but it doesn't burn nearly as hot as it did before.

If he stays here much longer he'll die. He's suffered enough: his mind is clear once more. He can deal with his lingering emotions later. He gets up, stumbling and falling into the snow repeatedly, and makes his unsteady way back to the temple.

It's night by the time he makes it back. The first thing he does, after intercepting a disciple in the halls and ordering a hot bath drawn for him, is go straight to Bane's room to make sure he's all right. Bane is lying awake. He seems unsurprised to see Barsad, who places himself in a chair between Bane's bedside and the fire crackling in the grate.

“You are half dead,” Bane observes. “Do you feel better now?”

Barsad nods, still shivering. Bane grunts, satisfied.

“John was concerned for you.”

“Why?” Barsad says, bemused.

“He didn't understand.”

“He wouldn't,” Barsad says, limiting himself to short sentences. His face hasn't completely regained sensation yet. “Soft.”

Bane grunts again. He stares into the fire contemplatively. His face is wrapped in bandages, and Barsad knows that he must be in less pain, but he won't feel better until Bane has a new mask.

He thaws out gradually. The warmth of the nearby fire is exquisite. Then Bane says, “What was your wife like, Barsad?”

It's an unexpected slap. They don't talk about Barsad's family—ever. That's behind him. He keeps his face impassive.

“She was beautiful,” he says, without tone or emotion. “Gentle. Clever.”

Bane exhales heavily through the bandages, still staring at the fire rather than at Barsad's face. “Do you still miss her?”

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The Proving Ground: 10a/?

A week passes. Then another. John is settling into a routine.

In the morning he practises on the poles, or whatever else Joachim thinks will help him find his zen place, and works out. He runs laps in the freezing-cold courtyard, he starts lifting increasingly heavy weights. He's in good company with the other disciples, who are mostly younger than him but are also at the beginning of their training. John even has a slight advantage, being from the police force.

After lunch Barsad shows up from wherever and wants to fight. He doesn't seem to care if John finds his zen place or not—maybe he thinks John incapable of sitting still long enough to be zen—so he goes straight to stretching, then sparring, then weapons training. (Weapons training includes, of all things, archery lessons. John's incredulity at the practicality of using a bow and arrows in Gotham keeps fighting with the thought of being able to accurately hit a target with a fucking bow and arrow.)

At night John limps to Bane's room and hangs out for a while. Sometimes when he comes in, Bane is lying supine on the bed, and he just listens to John without speaking much. Other times, John finds him walking around the room or exercising. He needs the chemicals administered to the cloths on his face frequently, but he's doing much better like this, growing stronger by the day. He wants to know everything John is learning, every detail.

John is showing him a sort of arm thrust that Barsad taught him earlier that day when he has to lower his arm with a wince. He's sure he'll get tougher given a little more time, but Barsad doesn't give him any time to heal from his injuries before giving him new ones. Every muscle hurts, but right now it's a knot in his shoulder. Bane notices.

“You are in pain.” He stops pacing and studies John.

“I'm fine,” John says. “I just need to sleep it off.”

Bane rumbles and moves closer. “Lie down on the bed.”

John doesn't even think about disobeying. He just lies down and rolls onto his stomach. He grunts when, a moment later, Bane slings a knee over his hip and settles on top of him. He lies still while Bane peels off his shirt and touches his blunt fingers to John's shoulder.

“Here?” he says, and without waiting for a response, he digs his fingers in. He finds the knot of muscle unerringly, and John groans in pain, clenching his teeth and arching against Bane. Then Bane does this sort of sweeping motion with his fingers, digging and pushing, and—the tension in John's shoulder miraculously unlocks and begins to trickle away. Bane does the same thing for a few minutes, petting and massaging John's shoulder back to rights, and his touch makes John melt into the sheets.

“How'd you ...?” he starts sleepily.

“Talia used to do this for me.” Bane moves away from the shoulder, and gets to work on John's neck. John gasps and shivers and melts all over again. It makes sense, that somebody with as much knowledge in causing pain to the human body would also know how to inflict the most pleasure. What surprises John is the restraint. Bane's hands are gentle, not squeezing or pushing too hard, just the right amount of pressure. He moves to John's other shoulder carefully, as if afraid of doing damage.

“Soft,” Bane murmurs, apparently to himself. “I never noticed how soft you are.”

He gives John a full back massage, occasionally sweeping his palms up and down John's sides, touching with interest. When he's reached John's lower back, and John is a puddle in the sheets, Bane rolls him over onto his back and lays a hand on John's stomach. His eyes rove over John's shirtless chest, drinking in the sight.

When John notices this, he's suddenly wide awake again. He hasn't seen interest like that in Bane's eyes since ... well, it's been a while. His heart beats faster. Barsad would tell him to go for it, to pull Bane down on top of him and thoroughly distract him.

The Proving Ground: 11a/?

In honour of Bane's return to full strength, the men call off training for the rest of the day and prepare food in the main training room. It's as close to a party as serious-faced ninjas can get. The general air is jovial and John finds himself relaxing. He sticks close to Bane at first—he hasn't made a lot of friends and most of them aren't speaking English—but they get separated soon enough. Men flock around Bane, seemingly just to bask in his presence, and John's surprised to find himself an object of interest too. Everyone is curious about the boy Barsad has taken on as a disciple. Between their broken English and John's limited grasp of their language, they manage to reach a rough understanding.

These guys really aren't so bad. They're devoted to Bane, there's no doubt about that. The two men Bane beat before Barsad are given preferential treatment by the others—even though they lost, they were honoured enough to be considered worthy opponents. The second one, a big guy called Haru, makes his way over to John's group, and pulls John aside when there's a lull in conversation. John shakes him off, irritable at this manhandling.

“I have watched you train,” Haru says in a deep, steady voice. “You have great potential.”

“Thanks,” John says, dismissive.

“I could teach you.”

“No thanks.”

Haru gazes at him. He seems to be waiting for John to realize that he's talking to a man whom Bane himself deemed worthy of fighting. John stares back stubbornly.

Haru says something else, in his own tongue; a question. John stares. Haru repeats himself, slower, and this time John catches Barsad's name and the word “ninja”.

“Yes,” John says firmly. “Barsad's my ... ninja teacher.”

Haru makes a sound of understanding. He nods, respectfully, and goes back to his friends.

Where is Barsad, anyway? John's been looking out for him, but he can't recall seeing Barsad since Bane wiped the floor with him. He looks around for Bane, figuring Barsad will be lurking at his side as usual, but Bane's not around, either. Frowning, John leaves the room. He ends up poking through a few different rooms before a noise, a loud, repeated smacking sound, draws his attention.

He finds Barsad in a small training room. He's hitting a hanging weight, a punching bag, every few seconds, and his knuckles smack into the material wetly. The bag creaks and sways from the ceiling. The only other sound to be heard is Barsad's short, clipped puffs of breath.

“Hi,” John says.

Barsad ignores him. Circling around him, John sees that his hands are only loosely wrapped. Blood has soaked through the wrappings on his knuckles and is slowly staining the punching bag, a blossoming pink splotch.

John comes back around to his front.

“Hey, maybe you should stop,” he suggests. Barsad's eyes are cold and remote, fixed on a point far beyond John and the punching bag. “Jesus, Barsad. At least let me tape your hands—”

But Barsad doesn't stop hitting the bag when John reaches, and John is afraid to get in the way of his fists. He backs off.

“Fine,” he says. “Come hang out with us when you're done.”

Bane is back by the time John returns to the festivities. His eyes crinkle with fondness when he lays eyes on John, and he leaves Joachim's side to join John.

He lowers his head. “What is this I hear about you sharing Barsad's bed behind my back?”

“What?” John jerks his head away from Bane's. Then he realizes that Bane looks more amused than annoyed. “Who the hell said that?”

“Haru asked you if Barsad is your nenja. You said yes.”

“That's not what he asked!” John splutters. “I didn't—what's that even mean?”

Nenja is a word for a mentor, a role model,” Bane says. “Someone who would take a younger man, a wakashu, and teach him martial skills. The wakashu is his pupil as well as a submissive lover.”

John's face turns uncomfortably hot. Now they all think he lets Barsad fuck him. Great.

Bane chuckles.

“They were curious because Barsad does not take pupils normally. They think he must desire you.”

“He doesn't,” John says.

“I know,” Bane says calmly. “Barsad does not take lovers, either.”

The Proving Ground: 12a/?

When Barsad returns to his room, he extinguishes every light before closing the door. He finds his way to the bed by memory and sits down cross-legged.

The dark presses in on him. Every sense is muffled. He closes his eyes.

He is strong.

The silence roars in his ears.

He is better than this.

The dark is a blanket, smothering him.

He is strong.

He tries to make his mind blank. Blank and quiet. It's difficult. In the back of his mind is a little shrill of panic, impossible to block out. Better had the Americans crippled him than this—this childish fear of the dark and the wet. In his cell there had been nothing; no light, no noise, no sensory stimulation at all, only the walls of his own mind to rail against. Nothing but haunting old memories—unless he appeared to be falling asleep. Then he would be woken and dragged out immediately to be interrogated.

No sleep, nothing but the dark and the drowning and the tricks his mind played. For days.

He forces himself to be calm, even though the darkness is suffocating. He breathes deeply just to make sure he can. For the first time in his life he's been having nightmares, all those old memories brought to the surface now, and he hates it. He intends to banish them, if not through meditation then through lack of sleep.

The slightest brush of sound has him off the bed and ready for battle in a heartbeat. When no other noise is forthcoming, he lights a lamp. The cat is on the floor, peering up at him with its one eye.

“You,” Barsad says dully, taking a seat on the bed again. The cat bounds lightly up to his side, pushing her head against his bloodied knuckles. He strokes her ears obligingly and hears her begin to purr.

She is as trusting a fool as her master, always seeking affection even after it brought such terrible violence upon her. She was probably looking for somebody to pet her when she came across those men. Probably purring right up until they put her in a bag and set it on fire. She creeps into his lap, and he can feel some of the tension leave his body. He focuses on the light, and keeps petting her.

He hears Bane coming a moment before his door swings open. The cat takes one look at him and flits under the bed.

“Gather your things,” Bane says. Barsad is halfway to his feet, thinking they're in danger, when Bane adds, “You are moving to the room across from mine.”

Barsad hesitates. Then John appears, slightly out of breath, right behind Bane.

“You can't just tell him like that,” John snaps at Bane. “You have to ask.”

Bane's eyes narrow. “Why? He will do as I say.”

Barsad begins to collect his meagre possessions, slowly. “Why am I moving?”

“The men think you are John's lover,” Bane says. “From now on, as far as they are concerned, you are. Each morning the men will see John leaving the corridor where your room is and they will believe he slept there, rather than in my room.” He's got a sort of swagger to him, an air of triumph; but suddenly these both fade and his voice lowers to a rumble. “This should please you, Barsad. I know how you fear for my image.”

He knows, Barsad thinks, staring back at him; but then, of course he does. John told him, no doubt. Why, then, does Bane look ... angry? He'd seemed so content after beating Barsad in the training room. If John has decided to share his new room, Bane should definitely be content.

“When I have to leave, John will sleep in your room,” Bane continues. His eyes are hard. “Which means you will sleep there, as well.”

Barsad bristles. Expose John to his nightmares?

“Why do I have to sleep with him just because you're gone?” John demands.

“Because he is the only man in this temple I trust,” Bane growls, answering John but staring Barsad in the eyes. “If any men mean to act against me they may start by searching my room, and nobody can find you there alone, John. I will not allow it.”

“Will I not be going with you, when you leave?” Barsad asks. He knows, after all, the sort of trips Bane is likely to be taking with the League. In the past he's always been at Bane's side. It's strange to realize Bane intends to leave him behind.

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