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What a Dog Does to Wolves

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Keeva swallowed, trying to push down the lump in her throat. He was there, in the crowd, speaking to his men as they watched people pass.  Her heart hammered against her ribs, her hands shaking.  But this was important.  The people of the city could burn to the last for all she cared.  But there were innocents there, those that had nothing but love to give and had done nothing to deserve annihilation.  She had worked at a dog daycare and boarding facility before Bane came.  People that spend thousands of dollars on boarding packages for their dogs left them in their terror.  Others had come for their animals, taking them and not much else as they tried to flee.  But there were so many left, and she was running out of food. 

Before too long, she’d have to loose them in the city to fend for themselves. She had tried giving them to the police, the resistance, but no one helped.  Some even looked at the dogs as a source of food.  A shudder of memory went through her, remembering how the bat had cracked against the man’s skull.  Again she swallowed, and squared her sloped shoulders.  The winter air prickled her skin, but she had come without her coat on purpose.  There was no doubt in her mind that Bane’s guards wouldn’t hesitate to cut down anyone that might pose a potential threat to their leader. 

So when she approached, she moved slowly, arms down at her sides. It was the man that stood to Bane’s right that noticed first.  A corner of his red scarf caught the wind, his shadowed eyes flicking over her.  Caucasian female, not much taller than five feet.  Her short, dark hair was a faded dark red, chocolate brown showing at the roots.  Freckles marked a round face with a square jaw, full lips bisected by a healing split that was sure to scar.  The greenish yellow of a healing bruise circled her left cheekbone.  Her eyes stood out the most, the left such a dark brown it was almost black, and the other a stormy blue. 

The clothes she wore were far from suited to the weather, and left little to the imagination. There was no room for a hidden weapon, and from the cautious and pointed way she approached, Barsad became certain that it was entirely on purpose.  As she drew closer, he caught Bane’s eye, pointing with his own gaze.  The moment the larger man turned his attention, the girl started and froze like a deer in the headlights.  The others had noticed her now as well, waiting for Bane or Barsad’s cue.

Swallowing visibly, and her hand tightening on the folded paper clutched, she started moving again. Bane made no move to bring the others before him, but Barsad stepped wordlessly to the front, meeting her a few steps down.  Her eyes locked on his gun, and he saw her pupils dilate, her breath puffing out in the air.  Then she looked up, and the expression on her face was nearly startling in its familiarity.  The cold determination actually sent a prickle down his spine, reminding him eerily of their Sister, their Leader.  Barsad knew that this girl would not be turned away easily.

The eyes that had looked lazy and tired from far away, now sent a new chill down Keeva’s spine. She knew the look.  A dog staring down prey, and she knew that she was the prey.  The look was actually reassuring.  He didn’t see her as a threat, he was trying to measure her, to see if she’d spit out what she wanted without any prompting.  Her tongue darted out, quick and pink, to wet her lips, praying that she didn’t stutter.

“I want… I want to talk to Bane.” Her voice was clear as a bell, with the accent of a city native.

Barsad let the corner of his mouth quirk up with a hint of a derisive smirk. “And what makes you think you’re worth his time?”  His voice surprised her, making her think of her one-time neighbors, with their home smelling of spices and their door always open to her.  The Middle-Eastern lilt softened him somehow, his eyes sweeping her again.

I’m not, but I’m trying to help those that are.”  The words came easily, and Barsad knew that her purpose would be easily learned.  It was near and dear to her heart, that much was clear.  “I don’t care if the city burns, but I want him to…”  She stumbled, and hissed curses under her breath.  “I want him to get the dogs at my shelter out.”  Anxiety wrapped iron claws around her chest, and her hand twitched, and if reaching for a familiar hand or body that usually stood beside her.

But she saw Bane’s head turn, slightly tilted in curiosity. “Do you know how many people try to bargain with me?  Offering me their riches in exchange for their lives?”  His accent evoked no memories, alien and unfamiliar.  It was made tinny and sharp by the mask he wore, which put her in mind of a giant spider crouching over his mouth.

“I have nothing,” Keeva said, trying to stand a bit taller. It was a lie, technically, but she wasn’t giving anything away unless she had to.  Barsad stepped to the side, flagging her with his rifle as he glanced to his Brother.  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her flinch, trying to inch to the side and away from the gun.  When she couldn’t, she stood her ground.  “And my life isn’t worth that much anyways.”  There was a sneer in her voice as she said it, arms curling around herself.  But she didn’t look away, even as her hands shook under Bane’s continued scrutiny.  “I don’t want to bargain for my life.  I want to bargain for theirs.”

Bane turned to face her then, taking a step forward as Barsad moved seamlessly back. There was something in the mismatched eyes, something hard and unyielding, even as her body curved, shoulders hunching as she tried to make herself small.  This close, Keeva realized that his eyes were blue, paler than and twice as sharp as her own right eye.  The tingle that rolled down her spine had nothing to do with the cold, even though the tip of her nose and her ears were starting to go numb.  It was like he was looking through her, seeing every part of her, every flaw. 

“And what, exactly, were you planning on offering?” A physical flinch, something old and learned.  Conditioned behavior.

“Nothing. Just the fact that the animals don’t deserve to die.  Burn every last one of the people, just…”  Her voice caught, and she felt the sting of tears.  She had more, but fuck if she wasn’t going to try everything else before she brought that up.  But she just stood straighter, hands falling to her sides as tight fists.  “Just let the dogs go.  Most of them got taken home, but…”  Another catch in her throat.  “You’re about burning out corruption, right?  Well they don’t have a part of it!  They’re not corrupt!  They’re dogs!  They’re—they’re good, and they don’t deserve to die like the rest of us!”

He took a step closer, and Keeva stumbled back, feet catching on the steps. A strong hand caught her by the bicep, fingers sinking against soft flesh.  Her head jerked up, staring at Barsad, her eyes wide and full of fear.  Then pain burst bright and sharp at the back of her head, white flashing in her vision.  She sagged, feeling herself dragged as Barsad shifted, eyes watching the rock clatter back down the steps.

A man was surging towards them through the crowd, and had eyes only for the girl sagging and bleeding where the stone had struck the back of her head. Bane, Barsad, and the other armed guards seemed invisible to him.  Half his face was covered in bandages, dirty with city grime and old blood.  He was shouting, pointing, and there was a knife in his hand.  People screamed. 

A blur of blue-gray fur and black fabric hit the man from the side, white teeth sinking into his outstretched arm. Then he was screaming, the dog leaping from him and running right at Barsad.  He lifted his gun without thinking, and then the girl was thrashing away from him to throw her body between him and the dog, wrapping her arms around it.  The thickly muscled animal was completely different the moment her hands made contact with it, catching on the fleece coat it wore.  Its body language changed, nosing her with concern and whining.

The man was screaming again, standing and clutching a bloody arm. There were more around him, spitting vicious words and trying to push through the panicking crowd.  Bane’s eyes passed over it all in a second.  He moved forward, ducking into a crouch.  Keeva felt him, spun around with wide, dazed eyes.  The dog bared her teeth, the hair on her back standing on end.  “You’re coming with us.  Calm the dog.”  His tinny voice cut through the throbbing in her head, and she blinked to focus on him. 

“Calm—what?” She shook her head.  “Piper.  Friend.”  She could feel her tongue fumble around the words, like she was drunk, her fingers shaking as she laid them clumsily on Bane’s chest.  “Friend.”  Her eyes fluttered, rolling.  Barsad glanced back in time to see Bane gather the girl into his arms, the dog right on his heels as he stood and turned.  The mob kept coming, but a few well-placed shots slowed them.  As the others closed ranks, Barsad fell in behind Bane, the dog glancing back at him once with a quick flash of teeth.  Then she was following Bane and her master back into the building.

 

000

 

Barsad leaned his back against the door, hands loose on his weapon, knowing he wouldn’t need it. Not here.  Bane was bent over the cot, the dog sitting beside him, her chin resting on the edge.  It wasn’t all that strange to see Bane tend to injuries.  He knew more than enough to be a decent field medic, and over the years, had patched up many of those allowed into his inner circle.  The girl kept slipping in and out, but had given Bane her back to let him clean the gash at the back of her head. 

The smile pulling at his lips was hard to restrain. Barsad had seen the same hands that now dabbed gently with a piece of gauze, turn just as easily to snapping a man’s neck.  The dog, Piper, kept looking over, touching Bane’s elbow with her nose, snuffling once or twice before she returned her attention to her master.  “She put herself between your weapon and the dog,” Bane said, the echo of his deep voice muffled by the blankets tacked over the windows. 

“Yes, Brother,” Barsad said. He hadn’t expected that.  He hadn’t expected a great deal of what had happened, let alone something so selfless from a Gothamite.

“It was… unexpected.” Their thoughts often ran along the same lines.

Barsad had been with Bane long enough to know when there was no show, when all the trappings of power were laid aside, and he was just a man. A man with more ambition and drive than most, to be certain, but still a man.  It was also not the first time that their thoughts aligned. 

“Not many would lay their lives on the line for dumb beasts,” Bane murmured, sitting back on his heels.

“I very much doubt she sees them that way, Brother,” Barsad heard himself say. “She was full of fear approaching you.  But these ‘beasts’ of hers… are apparently more important.”

With his back to Barsad, Bane’s face was hidden, eyes locked on the girl. Or woman, rather.  Her face was smooth and young, but her body was full of plump curves under the nearly threadbare clothes.  As Bane stood, the dog leaped onto the cot, crawling onto the woman and laying her head on her chest, eyes warily flicking between the two men.  Bane extended his hand, palm open and flat.  The dog nosed it expectantly, nuzzling above and below his fingers before sighing indignantly.

The snort of laughter was mangled by the mask, but Barsad knew the sound by heart. “I’m sorry I have nothing for you, little one.”  That got a snort out of Barsad; the dog was hardly little, the thick muscle putting her at at least sixty pounds.

“Only you would call such a monster ‘little’, Brother,” Barsad chuckled, and was rewarded by a rare twinkle of a smile in his Brother’s eye.

“Do you not remember the ovtcharka in Russia, Brother?” Bane said.  “They were easily twice her size.”

“Still a big dog. She could kill a man if she wanted.”

“No!” the woman started, eyes snapping open. Instead of flailing, Keeva’s hands went to the weight on her chest and stomach, finding short fur and a familiar worn collar.  The panicked breath slipped out of her, and her eyes closed in a moment of relief before her head turned.  She had to blink several times before the other two shapes in the room came into focus.  One was tall and slightly bulky with some sort of vest and jacket.  The other towered over him, with broad shoulders and thick legs stuffed into massive combat boots.

Sitting up made her head start pounding again, and her hand flew to the back of her head. It was wet and sticky, her sharp inhale mingled with curses.  Then, they blinked at Bane.  “You… helped me?”  There was no disguising the shake in her voice, or the obvious confusion on her open face.  Her eyes drifted to the bloody gauze, still pinched between Bane’s fingers, then back to the smear of blood on her palm.  Then her face closed off, wary and sharp.  “Why?”

“You’re suspicious of our motives?” Bane said with an arched brow. He moved away, turning his back as he tossed the gauze into the trash, and shrugged off the massive leather coat.  His shoulders were just as broad without out, but now Keeva could see the defined bulges of muscle, thick traps leading up to an equally thick neck.  A thick, roping scar peeked out from beneath the mask, following the line of his spine and vanishing under his shirt.

“Yes,” she said, hands settling on Piper’s shoulders. The pit bull turned, putting herself between Keeva and the two men, watching.  “And you brought… you had me bring Piper.”

“You were right,” Bane said. Coming back, he dragged a chair with him.  He sat down facing Keeva, leaning forward and resting his arms on his knees.  One of his thighs was nearly as big around as her head.  “Animals should not be punished for the actions of humans.”  His eyes slid to the dog.  “And she cares very much for you.  It takes something… special… to evoke such a thing, even in a creature as naturally loyal as a dog.”

Barsad saw the girl’s brows furrow, her head tilting slightly to the side. She was scrutinizing his Brother, trying to read him.  While she had come to them full of hope, she was still wary to be met with agreement.  “I… She was a fighting dog.  I got…”  A slow breath, some of the tension leaving her shoulders.  “I got involved with the wrong people.  I ended up at a dog fight.  She’d lost.  They were hitting her.  She kept crawling back to them, tail wagging, but they…”  Anger flared, that same harsh edge coming back to her eyes.  “I called the police and stole her in the confusion.”

Looking again, Barsad could see the scars on the dog, specks of pale skin on her neck and face, a few on her haunches. Both ears were tattered, but she looked at the woman with the utmost trust, taking her cues from her master.  And the girl loved the dog, loved her enough to risk her life.  Then Bane was speaking again.  “Her injuries are healed.  Those men; they were not who you stole her from.”

Only years of practice kept her from flinching when he mentioned the ‘healed’ wounds. But he couldn’t know, couldn’t have guessed.  Keeva shook her head.  “No.  He—They… they acted like they wanted to help the dogs in the shelter.  Turned out they were going to… to…”  She swallowed down her disgust, scratching Piper under the collar.  “They were going to eat them.  I know food is running out but… No.  Just… no.”

Bane’s eyes crinkled, and Keeva was startled to realize that he was smiling. “The bandages.  That was you.”

“Well… yes. It was before I moved all the animals.  And I had to after.”  Leaning down, she kissed the top of Piper’s head.  “I should have killed him.”

The smile vanished, and Bane leaned in closer, eyes narrowed. “You would kill for them.  These dogs.”  Again, it was like he was staring through her, taking in every flick of her eyes and twitch of her face.  Breath caught in her throat, a shiver spreading out through her body.  Maybe the mask made his eyes look more intimidating.

“Dogs fight and kill for people, why shouldn’t someone fight and kill for them?” The words came to her easily, but came out on a trembling breath.

“So why not try to kill me?” Bane prompted. “It’s because of me that your dogs are in peril.

Keeva blinked. She supposed some might see it that way, but…  “No.  It’s because Gotham is a fucking shit-hole.  I don’t know what prompted you to come burn it.  But…  This place has caused me nothing but pain.”  Her voice began to rise.  “It should burn.  I want you to burn it.  Just…”  It fell just as quickly, head dropping, unable to hold his gaze any longer.  “Just not them.  Please.”

It had been more than a decade since Barsad had joined Bane’s cause. It had been more than ten years of battles in countless countries across the globe.  He liked to think he knew his leader well.  Now Barsad’s eyes darted between the two of them, watching his Brother take in the young woman.  He wasn’t looking for a lie; there was nothing but angry honesty about her now.  Her fear and suspicion was ebbing, overtaken by her need to protect.  Barsad was well aware that his Brother, for all that he was capable of extreme harshness and brutality, harbored the same instinct, a need to protect what little good was left in the world. 

The look passing over Bane’s face was one Barsad had only seen in a few select cases, nearly all of them in the presence of their Sister, their leader. Now, with this young woman hunched over her dog, pleading with a terrorist, not save her city or her life, but lives of a few dogs.  How did such selflessness survive in Gotham?  He knew without answered questions that she wasn’t completely innocent.  She had suffered and been hurt by the city, and wanted it to burn.  For all her pain, she still cared, still wanted to help.

“You want me to simply release them outside the city?” Bane said. “Just… shoo them across the bridge?” 

“I—What?” Keeva didn’t dare to hope, didn’t fucking dare to think that he might actually be thinking about giving her what she asked.

“The dogs. How do you propose to get them out?”

“I… I’ve had contact with a group outside,” Keeva said, voice quiet. “They… they were willing to wait at a location to take the dogs if I could get them out.  Are… are you going to help?”

“There will be a price.” The words were sharp and clipped, eyes still like a hawk.

“I’ll pay it!” Keeva put Piper to the side, swinging her legs off the cot and sitting up straight.  She was close enough that she could’ve reached out and touched Bane.  Instead, her hands gripped the edge of the cot until her knuckles turned white.  Whatever he asked of her, she would do it.  Nothing else mattered.

“You don’t even know what it is.” Bane left the chair, crowding into Keeva’s space, the heat of his body curling around her.  “You told me yourself that you have nothing to bargain with.  I could ask anything of you.”

Reaching back, Keeva put a calming hand on Piper, who had sat up, a growl rumbling faintly in her chest. At the touch, the growl faded.  Keeva turned back, breath catching as she realized how close Bane was.  Fear curled in her stomach, familiar and cold.  Men could visit all sorts of terrible things on a woman.  But she still met his eyes.  “Take whatever you want from me.  If I have it to give, it’s yours.”  Her words were nothing but a whisper between them, her breath warm across the exposed parts of Bane’s face.

Barsad watched Bane’s hand come up. It lifted slowly, the girl’s eyes tracking it as her breath hitched and caught.  She was unable to hold in the little gasp as the massive hand cupped her cheek, the thumb tracing down beneath her chin.  “Then you belong to me.  I will help you, and you will give everything that you are… to me.”

He was so close, his hand calloused and warm. The pounding of her heart was reaching all the way down to her toes, a heat tingling its way down her spine.  Fuck.  Now was not the time to be reminded of how intensely attractive dominant men were.  His hand curled slightly, cupping the whole side of her head.  His thumb caught her bottom lip and Keeva sucked in another breath. 

“Yes,” she breathed. Her voice caught on her tongue, awkward and fumbling.  Bane smelled like leather and smoke, layered over something distinctly masculine.  She had something to offer, she knew she did, but her voice caught, so used to keeping what she had secret.  “Anything.”  But she couldn’t just submit, not like that.  “You have to promise.”  Her voice was tiny, less than a whisper.  “I’ll do anything and everything you say, but you have to promise.  Give me your word.”

Bane made a noise, a quick exhale of breath that rattled through the mask. Barsad recognized it as a laugh.  His hand dropped, and he stood, stepping away.  Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the paper he had taken.  “Tell me your name then.”

Letting Piper crawl back into her lap, Keeva curled her arms around the large head, hoping the familiarity would calm her racing heart. “Keeva,” she whispered.  “Keeva Brogan.”

“Keeva.” He said just her name, a bit slowly, as if letting the feel of the syllables roll around his mouth.  It sounded… good, in his low, rough tones.  “These contacts outside the city… how did you communicate?”

It took a few swallows to wet her dry mouth. “Old Ham radio.  It… it was my grandfather’s.  I… I was supposed to check in after I gave you the message.”  A giddy sort of joy was starting to take the place of her wariness.  It was actually happening!  Price be damned, it was happening!  “I can do it from any radio, but I need to get back to the shelter.  Get everything ready.”

“You had a plan?” Barsad asked.

“There are twenty-three dogs, and I’ve… I have the supplies to contain them and get them to the point. Just no transportation.”  Her chest clenched.  “It’s… it’ll take resources.  Why… why would you do this?”  It was too good to be true, it had to be. 

Bane didn’t answer, and with his back to her, only Barsad saw the look passing over his face; a shadow in the eyes. “You have my word, Keeva Brogan,” he said.  “I will arrange what you need, and then you are mine.”  Barsad saw the man’s hands twitch, a little flutter of the fingers.  His shoulders shifted, as if trying to dislodge a weight. 

Mine. The word hung in the air, full of implications that made Keeva’s chest feel tight.  If he kept his promise, she would do anything.  “Whatever you say,” she agreed, nodding.

Bane nodded, turning back with a neutral expression, a mask over his mask. He looked to Barsad.  “Find her some proper clothes.”  He passed the paper over.  “Go with Barsad, little one.  He will get you what you need.”  Barsad took a step forward, and Piper instantly raised her hackles, growl sharp and loud.

“Sorry!” Keeva hurried to her feet, half stumbling.  Color rose to her cheeks as she stepped up to the smaller man, and laid a hesitant hand on his chest.  “Friend,” she said, looking back to the dog.  Piper stopped growling, but her lips kept twitching, wary.  Keeva didn’t look at Barsad when she spoke again.  “Put—put your arm around me,” she whispered.  He didn’t move.  “If she sees you do that, and that I’m okay with it, she’ll stop.

“Are you okay with it?”

The question startled her so much that she turned back, looking up into the hooded eyes. They were gray, like a darker version of the clouds that now hung in the sky.  They weren’t a predator’s eyes now, not like Bane’s.  But they were sharp, smart and appraising.  He was… really asking.  “I…”  Words sputtered, dying on her tongue.  The terrorist was really asking if it was okay to touch her.  That was… unexpected.  “Yes.  Thank you.”

Lifting his hand slowly, Barsad kept his eyes moving between woman and dog as he laid one lean arm across her shoulders. Her hand trembled as it lifted up to cup his where it rested on her shoulder.  “Friend, Piper,” she said again.  The warmth of him soaked into her through the single shirt layer, and it took more willpower than expected not to lean into him, to press close to that heat.  Piper cocked her head, then leaped off the bed and trotted to sit at Barsad’s feet, tail wagging.

Resisting his first instinct to reach down and offer a hand to sniff, Barsad let his arm drop away. He didn’t miss the way Keeva instantly shivered, arms coming to wrap around herself.  She dropped to her knees, peppering the dog’s face with kisses.  “Good girl,” she praised.  Looking up, Barsad saw the first hint of tears in her eyes.  “I’m going to miss you.”

“You’re sending your own dog away?”

“I’m not that selfish,” Keeva said. Then, she snorted, the same derisive sneer crossing her face.  “Well, I am.  But not for her.  She’s good with one of the people I’m in contact with.  She’ll be okay without me.”

The pain was so clear on her face, so bare, that Barsad felt his eye slide away. It was vulnerability not meant for others.  Silence hung and settled.  “Come with me,” he said, nodding to the door.  “You take better care of the animals than yourself, don’t you?”  Her head ducked as she followed him out of the room, eyes catching on Bane once before they were out in a hallway, Piper trotting at their heels.

“I couldn’t come in a coat. You wouldn’t have let me get close enough to talk.”

He chuckled. “Smart girl.”

“Do… do you know what he’ll do with me?” The question just spilled out.  “Fuck.  Sorry.  Forget I—”

“He won’t rape you.” The words were just as blunt as her question, but there was no hurried regret.

“I didn’t think that he—”

“All women have that fear,” Barsad said. “And with the way my Brother speaks…”  He shrugged.  “He has wants like all men, but he will force nothing on you.  And he will see to it that no one else does.”  He glanced over at her as they turned a corner.  “You agreed, expecting sexual violence.”  Keeva drew in on herself, unwilling to meet his eyes.  “Your devotion to them is admirable.  But none will hurt you here.  If you belong to Bane, they will fear reprisal.  Those that do not… will have me to contend with.”

He led her to a darkened room, and when he turned on the lights, it was full of wooden crates and cardboard boxes. He felt her watching him as he moved through the rows, occasionally bending down to rifle through and pull something out.  “You don’t even know me,” Keeva finally said, still standing by the door.

“I know my Brother,” Barsad said. “He sees something in you worth protecting.  I have… I have been with him for a long time.”  There was reverence in his voice now, clear as day.  He returned to her, holding a sweater and an oversized coat.  Both looked like military surplus.  “Your devotion is admirable.” 

The face that had previously been unreadable and sharp had softened. Keeva took the sweater first, hurrying to pull it over her head.  The coat was too large for her, making her appear even smaller than she already was.  “Not… not a lot of people think so,” she muttered, smoothing her hands down the sweater.

“A lot of people are very foolish.” He smiled at her. 

Oh, fuck, he had a nice smile.  It crinkled his droopy eyes and showed a set of straight white teeth.  Weren’t terrorists supposed to be awful and ugly?  It had been way too long since she’d had a decent lay, that was all.  Right.  Definitely.  “Thank you,” she said quietly.  Piper came over to investigate, sniffing the new clothes.  Keeva knelt to brush at the dirty fleece of the dog’s coat.  Her eyes slid over as Barsad crouched beside her, hand flat and outstretched.

When he spoke, it wasn’t English, the lyrical words soft and coaxing. Piper cocked her head, turning to sniff the outstretched hand.  Slowly, carefully, he reached out, scratching the side of the dog’s neck.  Almost instantly, Piper leaned into the touch, head turning to the side and her back foot starting to thump the ground.  Barsad laughed, a quiet sound.  Despite herself, Keeva’s face split into a grin. 

Kalb jayid,” he said, stroking over the tattered ears as her tail took up a rapid beat against Keeva’s bent knee.

He couldn’t be all bad, if he was so good with dogs. “She trusted Bane right away,” she heard herself saying. 

“She must have seen that he was helping you,” Barsad said. “She loves you, and protects you.  She must have seen that in him as well.  Me grabbing you like I did, then pointing a weapon at you, probably didn’t make too good of a first impression.”  He chuckled as Piper dropped, rolling onto her back to present her belly.  “My Brother is also quite fond of animals.”

“They’re better than people, most of the time,” Keeva said. ‘Look at me,’ she thought.  ‘Having a friendly conversation with a terrorist.’

“You’ll get no argument from me.” Barsad pushed to his feet after one last pat to Piper’s belly, and then held out his hand to her.  Not sure what possessed her—she could have gotten up on her own just fine—Keeva took his hand, and he hauled her effortlessly to her feet.  Considering how chubby she was, she felt instantly self-conscious, pulling the sweater down over her, as if wasn’t already halfway to her knees.

 

000

 

It was much easier to make contact with a better radio, and the joy in the voices on the other end set Keeva’s heart pounding. They asked about her, if she would be getting out as well.  Keeva didn’t answer, launching into plans and reminding them of what they needed.  Barsad waited for the regret to come, for her to struggle and break down.  It didn’t happen until someone new was put on, a woman with a rough voice but kind words.  Keeva told her to expect Piper with the others, and to take good care of her. 

Barsad watched her hands tighten around the loose skin of Piper’s neck, and heard her voice catch, stumbling over her good-byes. When she turned off the radio, she rubbed her eyes and sniffed, pushing back from the table.  She had fashioned a leash from a length of cord, and Piper was tied to her belt.  It was unnecessary, as the dog refused to leave her side.  Barsad knew that it wasn’t for now, it was for when the animal was taken away to safety.  But she swallowed her tears, walking calmly with him down to the garage.  He heard her cry only once, as she sat in the back with Piper in her lap.

 

000

 

With Bane’s resources, everything unfolded perfectly. Keeva had carefully measured out enough sedative for each animal, and they all slept soundly in their crates, some doubled up with other dogs they got along with.  She gave Piper sedative last, hidden in a spoonful of stale peanut butter.  She held her friend as she slipped into sleep, and managed to keep her own breathing even as she laid the animal out on a blanket in her own crate, tucking the blanket around her.

The people that came into the sewer tunnel were unarmed, and were ready for the very armed men that were to escort them out.  Keeva stood beside Barsad the whole time, as still and silent as a statue.  But her eyes were bright and wet as the last load of crates vanished around a bend, and the breath she let out was wet and ragged.  Just like that, it was done.  The tunnel would once more become useless for escape, closed off for good.  She could feel Barsad walking beside her as they returned to the truck, sitting beside her on the drive back.  His knee made contact with hers and he didn’t move it.  Despite herself, Keeva found it comforting.

 

000

 

The rest of that day was a blur. She felt empty, like she was simply floating through the day.  She remembered eating in a huge room with Barsad and lots of other similarly dressed men and women.  Some eyed her curiously, but she was too busy holding down all the feelings buzzing in her mind to pay it any mind.  More than once, Barsad put a hand on her shoulder, steering her with him or just drawing her attention back to the moment. 

Keeva remembered lingering on the edges of what might have been meetings, where Barsad spoke to multiple groups of people in multiple different languages. Her hands remained stubbornly in her pocket, curled tightly around the worn nylon strap of Piper’s collar.  When the day finally came to an end, Barsad put his hand on her shoulder again, walking her back down the hall.  She was aware of the whispers that followed this time.  Especially when he drew her into a room with a mattress shoved into a corner.

But before she could panic, his hand left her, and he drifted to the opposite corner of the room, ducking behind a curtain. At the click of buckles and the sound of shifting fabric, Keeva realized that he was undressing.  Her eyes fell to the small duffle bag clutched in one hand, full of the few personal things she’d had at the shelter.  There would be no dogs to keep her warm at night now, no Piper curled against her chest.

Leaning back against the closed door, Keeva slid to the ground. All the feelings she’d pushed down that day rushed back to her, tears instantly blurring her vision.  Her shoulders shook silently as she hugged her legs up against her chest, hiding her face in her knees.  Behind the curtain, Barsad heard the muffled sobs, and paused, dragging a hand through his hair.  When he emerged, he moved slowly, trying to make enough noise for her to notice his approach.  But she still jumped when he laid a hand on her shoulder.

“You need to sleep,” he said gently. He paused then, wondering how to broach the next subject.  “It…  Without power, it gets very cold at night.  Most of us pair off and share beds with one or two people.”  Her head snapped up, a hand rubbing at her eyes.  Well, that got her attention.  “I suppose that…  I can speak to one of our Sisters, see if they—”

“No,” Keeva heard herself say, then blushed. She didn’t know anyone here, but Barsad had been kind to her, and had never once looked down on her for her pain.  The idea of sharing a bed for warmth wasn’t an unfamiliar one, back when she’d had a family and the power had been shut off in their tiny apartment.  But that had been family.  Barsad was… a man.  An attractive, kind man.  No, she was being stupid.  “Sorry.  You probably already have an arrangement.  It’s stupid to ask.  Sorry.  Forget… forget it.”

Shifting, Barsad sat in front of her, crossing his legs under him. “Yes.  But that will not be a problem.  Honestly, Bane would rather you share with either him or myself.”  The color rushing up her cheeks really should be adorable, and he scrubbed a hand over his face to hide a smile.  “If you would not like to share with any of our Sisters, he would trust you to no one besides myself.  He tries to maintain order in the ranks, a code of conduct, but…”

“He can’t be everywhere,” Keeva said, voice small. She had seen how many people had flocked to Bane’s cause.  They couldn’t all be like him and Barsad. 

“Besides, my arrangement is with Bane anyways.”

More blinking, her mind taking a moment to comprehend the implications. “Oh.  You two…?”

“Share a bed, yes,” Barsad said simply. “There is only one other he might trust at his back when he sleeps.  And… they cannot be with us.  They have other duties.”

Keeva’s brain was stuck, eyes looking past Barsad to the mattress behind him, layered with a mismatched array of blankets. She was now imagining the two men spooning, Bane’s arm wrapped around Barsad’s waist.  As tall as Barsad was, Bane dwarfed him.  And then she was thinking of what it would be like to lay between them, wrapped in their warmth.  Heat rolled down her spine to curl between her legs.

“I understand if such a thing makes you uncomfortable. One of us can easily find another partner.  But sleeping alone is not an option.  And now that you are his, he will not let you go unprotected.”  He was so matter-of-fact.  She imagined that there were some cultural differences, and of course there was necessity.  An island on the east coast during winter was a harsh and unforgiving place. 

“What… does that mean exactly?” she asked, finding the nerve to glance at Barsad’s face for a moment.   “Being… ‘his’.  It is like… working for him?  Being part of his cause, or…?”

“Yes and no,” Barsad said. “We are all his soldiers, his people.  But I am ‘his’ in a way the others are not.”  For just a moment, his voice had softened, and Keeva’s natural curiosity started to prod her.  But she kept silent and let him speak.  “I came to him a man done with the world, ready to die.  He saw some use in me still, and gave me purpose.”  The smile was brief but definite, the fondness of it undeniable.

“Being… of use?” Keeva bit her lip, hard enough that the split reopened.  She swore, but held up a hand when Barsad straightened, a moment of concern crossing his face.  “I think… I can help.  Maybe?”  She was avoiding his gaze, knowing there was about to be a flood of questions.  Plucking the scab away with her nail, she pointed to the split.  “Watch.”  Her eyes closed, and her breathing slowed.  Curious, Barsad leaned in, keeping his eyes on the split, a small rivulet of blood running down her chin.

A shudder passed through her, and, before his eyes, he watched the split close, the soft flesh knitting back together to form a pale, indented scar. Keeva opened her eyes, forcing herself to breathe slowly as the room spun.  It didn’t help, and she slumped forward, Barsad catching her by the shoulders, staring down at her dark head.  “Sorry,” she mumbled.  “Haven’t eaten in a while.”  She had to brace herself against him to push back up.  Without his armored vest, she could feel the hard planes of muscle under his shirt, and pulled her hands back quickly.  He was staring at her now, wide-eyed.  “I can… help others, too.  It takes more energy, but…”  She shrugged helplessly.

A month ago, she would have died rather than show anyone what she could do. She would have been giving up that secret would have meant being put in a lab somewhere, poked and prodded and enslaved to whatever scientists were observing her.  She had done what she could for all the dogs, taking in a few injured strays.  Fear returned.  They could sell her.  Terrorists always needed money, right?  What if they sold her to some government for experimentation?

“What of old injuries?” Barsad cut in. “Things that have already healed.  Can you do anything for them?”

“I… no, I’m sorry.” His face fell, so clear and open that it hurt to witness.  “I mean… if a bone healed badly, if rebroken, I might be able to put it together right?  I’m sorry…”  A thought occurred to her.  “Is… are you asking about… Bane?  I saw the scar on the back of his neck.  Is his back…?  I’m sorry.  Not my business.”  She hunched in on herself again.

“It’s alright. People are always curious about him.  It is not my story to tell, but…”  He licked his lips, scooting forward and reaching out for her hand.  When she flinched away, he let his own drop.  “Can you do anything for pain?”

He was hatching a plan, hopeful. “A little?  It’s mostly calming inflamed tissue, which is a kind of injury.  Is… is he in pain?”

Barsad scrubbed a hand over his face. “Again, it is not my story, Keeva.  I will speak with him.”

Hearing her name in his softly accented voice was… pleasant. Feeling hopeful that she could actually be of use should have been silly.  Being of use to the people that had revealed the truth about the one good person to really come from Gotham, who had plunged the city into total anarchy, should not have softened the edges of her fear.  The smile on her face was loose, fatigue settling into her bones.  She had only just eaten that day, and recovered enough energy.  Even healing such a tiny split had taken a great deal from her.  She only realized that she had been wavering when Barsad caught her shoulder again.

“You need to sleep,” he said firmly. Crawling over to her side, he put one arm around her waist, holding firm even when she jumped.  “Come on, now.”  She turned a curious look on him, probably questioning his tenderness. 

He just shook his head and helped her back to her feet, and over to the mattress. She sunk down with a muttered curse, but her eyes closed the moment her head hit the pillow.  Shaking his head, Barsad pulled off her boots, making a mental note that she would need new ones.  They had the look of combat boots, but had been made more for looks than anything else.  As he would not be laying with her just yet, he used her coat as an extra layer, making sure that she was really asleep before he pulled his own coat back on and slipped out into the hall.

 

000

 

Bane was hunched over a desk when Barsad found him. The desk was of a decent size, but his Brother’s bulk made everything seem tiny in comparison.  “Brother?”  He closed the door quietly behind him, moving silently across the floor to stand beside Bane. 

“She is settled, I take it?” Bane didn’t look up, still pouring over what appeared to be reports on construction progress.

It took more restraint that Barsad would admit not to bounce on his heels. “She’s a bit more interesting than expected, actually,” he said.  He knew Bane would catch the lilt to his tone, and smiled when the larger man looked up.  “She is a healer.”

One of Bane’s brows quirked. “She has medical training?”

Barsad shook his head. “Gotham has been known for its… stranger denizens.  Those with odd and sometimes dangerous abilities.”

Bane turned in his chair to better face his Brother, the papers forgotten. “Meta-humans, I believe.  And our new recruit…?”

“She can heal. She showed me on herself, closing that split on her bottom lip.  She also claims to be able to do the same to others, though it appears to take a great deal of energy.”  He reached out, touching Bane’s shoulder.  He felt the same tension that Bane always carried at the end of the day, muscles tightly knotted.  “She asked about you; she saw the scar on the back of your neck.  She doesn’t think she can fix everything but, she did offer to try to mitigate the pain.”

Bane considered the open excitement and hope on his friend’s face. It was always Barsad that was most eager when a new possibility for pain management came to light.  Bane had long ago resigned himself to the chronic pain of his badly healed injuries.  But Barsad… Barsad cared and fussed, doing all he could to ease his leader’s discomfort.  “She thought to ask, thinking I was hurt?” he finally said.

“I think… I think she’d worked hard to stay hidden. She was afraid, but still brought it up herself.  She wants to be useful, I believe.”

“I did not expect her to have much sympathy left for humans,” Bane said.

That made Barsad chuckle, a welcome sound after the long day. “I don’t think she does, Brother.  But you helped her.  You’re special.”

It was Bane’s turn to chuckle, his mood softened by the fond look in Barsad’s eyes. With a soft groan, he pushed to his feet, his hand cupping the back of Barsad’s neck.  “Special, am I?”  Barsad had to push up on his toes, but Bane leaned down to meet him, pressing their brows together.  He didn’t need to say anything, his eyes closing and a relaxed breath leaving him as Bane’s thumb brushed along his jaw.  “Return to her.  I won’t be long.”  Taking one last breath of his Brother’s scent, Barsad let himself step back, smiling over his shoulder before he left.

 

000

 

Keeva was aware of the other body sliding under the blankets with her, a quick rush of cool air following them. Instinctual fear forced her back to wakefulness, body going rigid.  Barsad’s back bumped against hers, broad and warm.  With the blankets around them both now, it was much warmer, sleep pulling at her eyes again.  But she forced herself to stay awake, all her attention locked on the man beside her.  But his back never shifted, though he did press close, his legs brushing hers.  As his warmth seeped into her, she became more and more aware of how cold her fingers were. 

‘Fuck.’ Just then, she could imagine nothing better than turning and pressing her hands to Barsad’s solid warmth, or slipping her chilled toes under his legs.  Even with the added heat, she shivered.  The heat on her face had nothing to do with temperature, once more winding its way down her body.  It was stupid.  Being without human contact for so long was just making her sensitive, that was all.  Yes.  It had to be that.  Plus, he had promised that he wouldn’t touch her if she didn’t explicitly say yes.  So he wouldn’t do anything if she turned to face him, right?

Trust was not a common thing in Gotham. Trust made you weak, gave others the advantage.  Keeva could remember when she had been willing to trust anyone until they gave her a reason not to.  She had wanted to believe that there was good in everyone.  She had been wrong, of course.  But still, she slowly turned over, scooting closer and pressing her face into Barsad’s back, her hands folded between them.

“Are you alright, rafiq?” he mumbled, voice already low with coming sleep.

Nodding, Keeva’s brow bumped his back. “Hands are cold,” she mumbled, too fatigued to ask what he had called her.

A bit more awake, Barsad chuckled, the sound serving to soothe a bit of her tension. “I can feel that,” he said.  Then, when she curled them away, he added quickly.  “Not to worry.  It’s not a bother.  I could warm them better if you let me turn around, but you’re more comfortable like this, yes?”

“I—thank you. Yes.  I mean, yes, I’m good like this.”  She pressed her hands to his back again, feeling him lean back into her.

“Are your feet cold as well?”

Cold was putting it mildly. It felt like she had little ice nubs for toes, and Barsad’s very warm legs were very close. ‘Fuck it.’ When she edged her feet closer to his legs, he hooked once ankle over them both, drawing them between his calves.  Even with layers of clothing, Keeva instantly sighed.  “Thank you,” she mumbled again.

Barsad nudged back into her hands with a roll of his shoulders, nuzzling into the pillow. “Sleep well, rafiq,” he mumbled.  Keeva lay awake for a while after that, wary and waiting for him to move.  But he drifted into a quite series of soft snores, just little rough huffs of breath.  And with their combined warmth kept in by the layers of blankets, her eyes soon began to droop.  The weight of the day bore down on her, and with no more energy left to cry, she finally slept.

 

000

 

Bane was soundless as he slipped into the room. The single lamp cast everything in a pallid electric light.  Barsad’s rifle lay on the floor beside him within easy reach.  And on his other side, a tiny lump of humanity huddled against his back, dark head just barely visible over the covers.  A smile twitched his lips behind the mask.  It was good she had sense enough not to let her society’s rules hinder her.  As Bane moved to undress, hanging his clothes in the usual places, Barsad’s snores stopped, and he stirred enough to lift his head.  A smile flickered in his lidded eyes.  With Keeva pressed between him and the wall, there was plenty of room left for Bane. 

For as long as Barsad had known him, Bane always put himself closest to the door. He was the largest and the strongest, he reasoned, so he could hold off any possible threat long enough for Barsad to grab his weapon.  There had been no attacks, and no rumors of a strike from the resistance just yet.  It would come, they both knew, as people grew desperate.  Barsad’s eyes tracked his leader back and forth across the room, watching him check the locks twice before he finally doused the lamp and came to bed.

Lifting the blankets for him, Barsad let out soft breath of satisfaction, Bane’s arm sliding around him. The weight of it was a comfort beyond any drink or drug.  Closing the blanket over his back, Bane tucked Barsad’s head under his chin, observing Keeva huddled against his back, one hand curled in the fabric of his shirt.  Even in the shadow, he glimpsed the new scar on her lip.  He hadn’t doubted his Brother, but seeing the truth of it with his own eyes…  The hand draped over Barsad lifted, the tip of his finger brushing, feather light, over Keeva’s lip.

She shifted and mumbled, and he drew the hand quickly away. Laying beside Barsad was probably enough for her.  But that didn’t stop him from letting his arm drop over her lightly, arm extended just a bit more than normal.  The rise and fall of her even breathing pressed her hip into his hand with each inhale, still plump and soft.  He thanked his restraint for helping him keep from sinking his fingers against the softness, so different from Barsad’s lithe, hard muscle.  The aches of the day settled into his bones, but eased with the shared heat, and Barsad’s familiar breathing against his chest.  He let his eyes fall closed, and eventually, he slept.

 

Chapter Text

 

Coming awake wrapped in warmth had Keeva thinking she was back at the makeshift shelter, dogs curled around her on either side.  But as her senses returned, she realized that she was still pressed up against the solid warmth of a well-toned human back, heat radiating from the other body.  She swallowed down the embarrassed groan, remembering the previous night.  But her clothes were still on, and Barsad hadn’t rolled over in his sleep.  But… it felt like he’d changed into a different shirt.  Opening one bleary eye, Keeva found herself staring at a worn gray sweater, instead of the black, long sleeved shirt Barsad had had.  She was also quiet certain that Barsad’s back hadn’t been anywhere near this broad.

A tilt of her head revealed the back of Bane’s masked head, small canisters visible in the dim light.  And there she was, pressed into the delicious warmth of his back, her legs tangled with his as they had been with Barsad.  But his legs were much longer, and her feet where somewhere around his knees.  His breath rattled through the mask, slow and even.  He slept in it?  That sounded… uncomfortable, to say the least.  Hopefully he wouldn’t notice if she just…

“Barsad had duties to attend to,” Bane said without moving.  “It is still early.”

‘Well, there goes that idea,’ she thought bitterly.  She extracted her legs from his, scooting back and giving him more room.  Instead of ignoring her or going back to sleep, Bane rolled, a soft groan hissing through the mask.  The idea of giving him her back made her a bit uneasy, so she stayed as she was, watching him settle on his other side, head propped up on a folded arm.  He observed her calmly, his other hand resting on the mattress between them.  This close, she could smell him again, that masculine musk edged with something that made her think of fireworks.  When his hand lifted towards her mouth, she jumped.  But he never touched her, merely pointing to the new scar.

“You didn’t mention this ability of yours,” he said.  Sleep had roughened his already deep voice, the baritone making something in her quiver.

“I… I had to make sure you’d really help,” she said, voice small. The anxiety was coming off her in waves now, and he curled his fingers into his palm to keep from reaching out.  His hand might not comfort her as it would Barsad. 

“You fear being turned over to the authorities,” he said, matter-of-factly.

“Yes.”

“And you feared that I would do so for… monetary gain?”  Though his words rang true, Keeva still looked away, guilty.  He moved on.  “Barsad said that you can mitigate physical pain?”

She had to look up at that, her hands hugged tight against her chest.  “I… yes?  A lot of pain is damaged nerves or inflamed tissue.”  She licked her lips, aware of how his eyes followed the quick movement.  “Are… Barsad said it wasn’t his story, but… he was asking for you, wasn’t he?”  Her gaze was hesitant, but it was better than cowering.

“Yes.  I wear this mask to manage pain.  I suffered many injuries that went untreated for too long.  Much has been repaired, but too much damage was done, so the pain remains.”  He paused then, eyes searching her face.  There was a brief moment of vulnerability, the barest flash before his walls went back up, and he was just scrutinizing her again.  He saw her recoil, ducking her head.  He made a soft sound, like a click of a tongue against teeth.  His hand reached out, tilting her chin back up, making her look at him.  “You have nothing to fear from me, Keeva.”

Oh, fuck, her name sounded good when he said it.  Her throat bobbed against the backs of his knuckles, heat not so much curling as flaring to bright and violent life between her legs.  Fuck, his eyes were pretty.  Sharp and intelligent.  She wanted to reach out and trace the lines of his mask, feel the skin around his eyes.  The breath that puffed through the mesh in the front of his mask was soft and odorless, making her painfully aware that she hadn’t been able to brush her teeth properly in weeks.

Her hand was halfway to his mask before she could think, and she froze, feeling his fingers curl around her wrist.  Instantly, her heart was hammering and blood was rushing in her ears.  It would take him no more effort to crush the bones in her wrist than it would for her to snap a twig.  But he didn’t squeeze, didn’t growl a warning.  Through the skin-to-skin contact, Keeva stretched out that part of her mind that she used for healing. 

What she touched was hot and sharp, flaring along his spine.  Her own muscles spasmed, making her arch back, too surprised to make any more noise than a sharp intake of breath.  Yanking her hand from Bane’s grip, she doubled back over, curling into a ball, breathing ragged.  How had he been standing?  Muscles twitched and made her jerk again.  Just as quickly, it began to fade, accompanied by the usual rush of fatigue.  Stupid.  Her limbs felt like they’d been filled with lead, and the room was spinning.

A large arm slid under her, hand splaying over her twitching back.  Black crept into the edges of her vision as she was hauled upright and braced against something warm and solid.  The hand left her back in favor of pressing two fingers to the pulse point in her neck, her head lolling to the side.  The touch made the sensitive skin of her neck tingle, goosebumps rushing down the backs of her arms.  Keeva tried to shy away, realizing that she was being cradled against him, his thigh against her back.

Whatever he tried to say was lost to the rushing in her ears.  “’S fuckin’ stupid,” she mumbled, wincing as her back twitched again.  “Too fuckin’ weak but I tried anyway…”  She blinked up at the masked face above her.  When it finally came into focus, Bane’s bright eyes were staring, wide and very nearly startled.  “What happ—no.  No, nevermind.”  When she went to sit up again, she was steadier, and his hands fell away from her.  Shivering at the loss of warmth, she found her sweater at the foot of the bed and pulled it on.  Bane didn’t say a word, but his eyes never wavered.  “Did… did it work?” she finally asked, peeking at him through her hair.

It had.  The usual dull roar of pain was nothing more than a rumble in the back of his mind, similar to the buzz that usually remained in his joints for a few hours after waking in the cold.  Pain had been constant for years, fluctuating as his medicine was adjusted.  To have it at such a low ebb without being fuzzy from drugs, was a great deal more than startling.  For once, he found himself at a loss for words.  Could it really be so simple?  Just a touch? 

“Yes.”  The word was a whisper, made into a sharp hiss by his mask.

Keeva sagged, putting her chin on her knees as she hugged her legs against her chest.  “Good,” she said, still catching her breath.  “That’s… that’s good.”  She didn’t know what to do with the look he was giving her.  It was far too close to wonder for her liking.  “I don’t… I can’t fix what’s wrong.”  Her lip caught between her bottom teeth, and she swore as she snagged the remaining scab.  Her stomach growled, loudly.

Blinking, Bane came back to himself, rising from where he sat with an ease that made him feel years younger.  The back pain still lingered—it always would—but the tension in his knees, shoulders, and wrists was gone, muscles loose and relaxed.  Opening a drawer, he came back and pressed a rectangular gray package into her hands.  Cyrillic letters were printed in bold black lettering, and she frowned at it.

“Eat.”  Before she could ask any questions, he had taken it back, opened it to reveal a beige bar of… something, and pushed it back into her hands.  Bane snorted as she took a delicate sniff, testing.  But her hunger got the better of her, and the protein bar vanished in moments.  Scarred lips twitched behind the mask.  “How did you discover these abilities?”

He looked so relaxed sitting there, one leg up and folded at the knee, his elbow balanced there and the rest of his arm hanging.  The other leg was bent in towards the other, hand resting on the ankle.  His clothes were battered and worn, repaired and patched in places.  He looked… like a person.  A huge, strangely masked person, but…  It was so far removed from the terrifying figure from television that Keeva almost wanted to laugh.  Her nerves still jangled being so close, nervousness seeming to win over the initial attraction. 

“Car accident,” she said, remembering that he had asked her a question.  “I was a very stupid teenager and got into a car with a drunk driver.”  Her hand reached down, hooking around the hem of her shirt and sweater.  There was a pause before she lifted it, showing a wide pale scar across her plump stomach, dipping down below her waistband.  “Piece of the dashboard kinda… skewered me.  I was the only one conscious, and not knowing anything, I pulled it out and… well, you can imagine how that went.”

“If it damaged your liver, you could easily have bled out.”

Keeva let go of her shirt, but her hand slid under it, tracing the scar.  “Pretty sure it did.  I just remember there being so much blood… And then it just… stopped.  I stopped bleeding.”  The memories were still fuzzy towards the end, even years later.  “I remember putting my hand on my stomach and it was just… slippery.  No wound or anything.  Passed out after.  The scar looked old enough that the paramedics thought it was old.  I was still cut up from all the glass, so I just looked lucky.”

“You were,” he pointed out, and she laughed.  It wasn’t what most would call a beautiful laugh, bubbling into a sort of cackle.  But it was so innocent and honest, somehow clean of the suffering Gotham must have inflicted. 

Keeva wasn’t used to being interesting.  She’d spent good portion of her life doing her best not to be.  Even then, there hadn’t been many people that showed genuine interest in her, other than trying to get into her pants.  So here was the self-proclaimed ‘Reckoning of Gotham’, sitting on a mattress across from her, asking her questions about her life with rapt attention.  He actually wanted to know the answers, and what she told him seemed to be genuinely interesting.  The smile wouldn’t stop, and she ducked her head, trying to smooth it from her face. 

Behind the mask, the corner of Bane’s mouth twitched.  For all her edges, there was still softness there.  Carefully guarded and exposed only by fatigue.  He had many more questions, but she was already so nervous and flighty, it might not be a good idea to prod.  He could be exceptionally patient, and was very good at getting what he wanted.  The too large sweater shifted as she lifted a hand to tuck her hair behind her ear.  Barely an inch of wrist was exposed, but it was enough to see the top of a tattoo, something looping and organic twisting around her wrist like a bracelet.  Barsad had tattoos.  Bane was particularly fond of tracing the lines of them with his fingers, but he tucked those thoughts away quickly.

Keeva fidgeted under his continued stare, tugging at her sleeves and folding her legs under her.  He had to have more questions; why wasn’t he asking?  Without thinking, she bit her bottom lip again, chewing gently.  “You… you can keep asking,” she mumbled, not looking at him.  “I mean, if… If I’m gonna be useful, you might as well learn what you want to know.”

“There’s a great deal I want to know about you,” Bane agreed, a smile tugging at him again when she blushed.  “But you are in no position to be demonstrating your abilities.  I know enough for now.  There is still time to rest, if you wish to go back to sleep.”  His fingers twitched just enough to indicate the head of the bed.

She shrugged.  “Too cold.  ‘M awake now.”

“I would lay with you.” 

The words came from him so casually, that she was starting actually believe he didn’t have any sort of sexual designs on her.  She didn’t trust him, but…  There wasn’t even a trace of awkwardness in him.  And he shared a bed with Barsad, maybe her being female really didn’t make a difference?  There was no telling what part of the world he was from, his accent still completely unfamiliar; who knew what things were like there.  Maybe platonic bed-sharing was actually a thing?  Another shiver crept through her, and she remembered how warm she had felt, leaning up against his back.  She’d felt… safe.

“You know this is weird as fuck for me, right?” she said, risking a look at him.  Panic was tightening her chest again, and without Piper at her side, she had nothing to anchor her.  “I mean…the city burning, getting destroyed, fine.  But…”

A quick exhale came through the mask.  “But sharing a bed with a strange man gives you pause.”

“I know it’s weird, but I don’t trust people,” Keeva said.  “People are usually pretty shitty.”

“Your trust is earned, not given.”

She blinked, again taken by surprise.  “I… Yeah.”  There was a faint crinkling at the corners of his eyes, and it took her a moment to realize that he was smiling.  It was brief, but it had been there, and the thought that he had been smiling at her was what made her look away.  Silence settled between them, and she shifted slightly, worming her legs back under the blankets for some of the warmth.  She knew that the day would warm up, but to be in a warm bed again…  “Fuck it!”

Bane watched as she squirmed back under the blankets, drawing them up under her chin.  Her mismatched eyes lifted to his, a stubborn set to her jaw.  Without any idea what to say to him, she just held his gaze for a moment before her head lowered, arms folding against her chest as she scooted back towards the wall.  He let the silence remain as he eased back down with a soft groan, his legs sliding against hers as he laid down, facing her this time.  There was very little to amuse himself with in Gotham, but the way color spread across her freckled cheeks, combined with the surprised widening of her eyes was filling that role just fine.

She put him in mind of an angry song bird.  Small and slight, but puffed up with anger or cold.  When it became clear he wasn’t going to give her his back again, Keeva closed her eyes and lowered her head, her feet as close to his legs as she dared, drinking in the heat.  The memory of his pain tugged at her, even as warmth began to lull her again.  Did he really withstand that every day?  Walk around conquering cities while every inch of him was protesting?  That strength of will boggled her mind.  And he was feeling that even with a constant supply of some kind of painkiller.  The urge to reach out again made her curl her grab handfuls of her own shirt.

A shift of the bed made her open her eyes.  Bane’s hand was laying between them again, spread flat on the bare mattress.  She stared at it, and then back up at him, her brow wrinkling in confusion as she shifted back just slightly.  When she bumped into the wall, Bane exhaled, eyes closing for a moment.  “Touch is not something you have to fear from me.”

His tone had changed, so very different from that speech he’d given.  The command was gone, leaving only low, soothing tones, if slightly tinny.  Keeva recognized the tone.  It was the same she’d used with nervous dogs, doing her best to ease their tension and earn their trust.  “No offence, but I’ve heard that before.  Maybe not in those words exactly, but…”

Bane’s eyes hardened, and he stuffed down the welling rage.  “You will not be hurt here,” he said, voice edged with a bit more vehemence than he intended.  His voice softened.  “Not by me.”

Fuck.  Those fucking eyes.  They were so fucking intense and honest.  “You…”  Keeva bit her lip, frowning.  Slowly, one hand uncurled and inched across the space between them.  “You really mean that, don’t you?” she breathed, the tips of her fingers brushing his.  This time, she didn’t reach out for his pain, instead watching his face.  Bane’s hand shifted, his forefinger tracing the line of her own.  She watched, lip still caught between her teeth.  Then he pulled back, breaking contact.  Keeva stared intently, eyes flicking between her hands and his face.  She was looking for the lie, he realized, waiting for him to show his ‘true colors’.

He reached in again, letting his hand slowly cover hers.  Her arm twitched, as if she was thinking of drawing back, but she stayed.  Staring, she felt a little curl of heat in her belly as his thumb rubbed circles on the back of her hand.  It didn’t… it didn’t make sense!  He’d beaten the Batman, who had, by most accounts, had appeared invincible.  Bane wasn’t supposed to be… whatever this was.  But the gentle stroke of his calloused thumb was soothing, and the rhythmic rattle of his breath through the mask added a layer of white noise.  It became harder and harder to keep her eyes open.

Watching Keeva’s face slowly relax back into sleep, Bane studied her face.  She had looked so young at first, but there were faint lines on her brow, and the barest hint of them at the corners of her eyes.  Mid-twenties, younger than Barsad.  Where Barsad was all sharp cheek bones and a strong jaw, Keeva had round cheeks and a soft chin, plush lips slightly parted in sleep.  The freckles weren’t just across her cheeks and nose, scattered over her forehead and chin.  Three small beauty-marks formed a triangle on her left cheek, a thin, nearly invisible scar cut across the tip of her nose.

As she began to dream, her eyes danced under her lids, hand clenching but not drawing away from his.  She was so small.  For all the softness he’d seen on her hips, stomach, and chest, she would be small next to Barsad, and tiny next to himself.  He wanted to draw closer, to fold protectively around her as he did for Barsad when the other man’s nightmares became too much.  But she was still scared, a feral cat welcoming the comfort he offered but not ready for more than a touch.  He allowed himself a quick brush of his knuckles across her cheek before drawing back and turning over.  It wasn’t long before she had migrated across the bed to nuzzle gently into his back.

 

000

           

Bane was gone when Keeva woke again, but the room wasn’t quite as cold.  As her senses returned, she kept her eyes close, listening.  Before, any movement from her would tell the dogs that it was time to get up and move, so she had grown used to laying perfectly still when she first woke, to get as much time in bed as possible.  But apparently, something gave her away.

“There’s food,” Barsad’s voice said from somewhere nearby.  Opening her eyes, Keeva blinked.  Barsad sat a few feet away on a folded blanket, an overturned crate serving as a table.  His back was to her, but he patted the other folded blanket beside him.  A steaming bowl of something sat on the table, and Keeva was out of the blankets at sitting down in a blink.  Barsad chuckled, pushing a large tin spoon over to her.

The oatmeal was plain, but it was still hot, and that very nearly made up for tasting like wet nothing.  He didn’t miss her sigh of pleasure when she set everything down, her bowl all but licked clean.  Then she folded her hands in her lap and pointedly did not look at his own food.  Keeping his smile to himself this time, he rummaged in his coat and handed over another of the protein bars.  The quite noise of surprise she made when it dropped into her lap was… well, cute.  Barsad wasn’t used to there being ‘cute’ things around.  He could understand his Brother’s urge to protect her.

“You know you both stare a lot?” Keeva said, when she was halfway through the bar and he hadn’t stopped watching her.

“Neither my Brother or I are used to having something so pretty to look at.” She jumped, eyes sliding towards him warily.  He frowned.  “Forgive me.  It was not my intent to make you uncomfortable.”

Uncomfortable?  Not… exactly.  It would be a lie if she told him it wasn’t nice to get complements from someone as attractive as he was.  And his complements were actually complements, not crude shouts from across the street.  “It’s… it’s not…  You didn’t,” she finally managed.  And if she was going to get blown up with the city, what harm was flirting?  Glancing back, she saw that Barsad was smiling.  Fuck.  Her own lips twitched up briefly.

“Good,” he said with a nod, gathering up their dishes.  He pushed to his feet, shuffling in socks over to the desk where the lamp sat.  “I trust my Brother was a gentleman?”

The snort of laughter was involuntary.  “I’m… not sure ‘gentleman’ really applies to him, but… yes?  He didn’t… do anything I wasn’t okay with.”  Coming back to the crate, Barsad spread out a cloth, and lay several hand guns out, along with a bottle of something, and rods of various lengths with little circular brushes at the ends of a few.  Some were soft looking, the others made of copper wire bristles.  Keeva didn’t know much about fire arms, but it looked like a cleaning kit. 

“When it comes to more… personal matters, he doesn’t do anything without express permission and consent.”  He started taking the guns apart, breaking them down into pieces and laying them out in such an orderly fashion it looked like some kind of diagram.  He felt her scrutinizing him now, and knew that the question was on her lips. 

It really sounded like Barsad was speaking from personal experience.  And now, on top of imagining what he and Bane might look like with less clothes, she was imagining them with less clothes together.  That… was not at all unpleasant.  Her hands fidgeted in her lap, keeping her eyes down.  It was not polite to just ask stuff like that.  Even if she really wanted to know.  It could end up sounding gross, like she was fetishizing it.  After dating several women, Keeva knew how that felt, and didn’t want to put that on someone who’d been so nice to her.

“You can ask,” Barsad said, cutting into her thoughts. 

“Can you guys read minds?” Keeva huffed, frowning.  “You and Bane keep… keeping saying things I’m thinking.”

That laugh again, low and rough, hooded eyes twinkling.  “We’re very good at reading people, Keeva.  You’ve had no training to hide your emotions, so they show easily.”  He lifted a hand when she ducked her head.  “It’s not a bad thing.  It’s refreshing not to have to look for clues to decipher a person’s true intent.  You say what you mean and your face shows it.”

“It’s rude to just ask people things like that,” she insisted.

“I promise not to be offended,” he said with a smirk.

Quirking a brow, she snorted out a laugh and shook her head.  “I don’t really need to know.  What you two do together or apart is really none of my business.  Just… if you two are... a thing... why are you flirting with… with me?”  She scowled at how stilted her words were, chewing on her lip.

“Because I want to,” he said plainly.  “I know that it hurt you to let your friend go.  It is better to give you something else to think about while you come to terms with it.  Though, if I’m honest, I’d probably flirt anyways, even if you weren’t sad.”

“You’re… blunt,” Keeva observed.

“When I want to be,” he agreed.  He sprayed some kind of aerosol into the barrel of the gun he was working on, folding a small square of white fabric and threading it through a loop at the end of one of the metal rods.  Pushing it through the gun, it came out grimy, and he clicked his tongue, passing it through a few more times before starting with a fresh square.

“Are all these yours?” she asked.  He looked a bit like one of the ‘crazies’ with a million guns, convinced that the government was out to get him.  In Barsad’s case, Keeva wouldn’t doubt that there might have be multiple governments actually actively hunting for him.  And yet he smiled.

“Yes.  I prefer rifles and shooting from a distance, but you can’t go wrong with having spares.”  He looked her over.  “Have you ever shot one before?”  Despite stringent gun laws, illegal guns were easy to get ahold of in Gotham.

Keeva shook her head.  “Knives scare people more.  And if you’re close enough, you can stab them before they can get the gun up and shoot.”  She reached a hand into her shirt—and presumably into her bra—and pulled out a folded knife about the size of her hand.  The flip-assisted blade popped out, the edge well maintained.  “But, um, I wouldn’t mind learning?”  She spun the knife around in her hands, the motions easy and practiced.

“Ah, are you trying to get time alone with me?” he teased.  Most men would have been put off by the way she kept spinning the naked blade.

“We are alone, Barsad,” she said.

He liked the way she said his name, picking up on the slight accent that other Americans missed.  “We are,” he agreed, but didn’t press, not looking up from his guns.  Keeva got the feeling that there was an invitation there, but she pushed the thought down.  “I can probably arrange something, if you like.  Bane won’t want you going out for a while, though.”

Her eyes narrowed.  “Why?”

“Before today, when was the last time you had a proper meal, Keeva?” he asked.  “I’m assuming whatever you could scrounge went to your dogs, yes?”  She gave a mumbled reply, nodding.  “Bane takes care of those who serve him.  You’re too weak as you are now to use your abilities, or go out where your safety cannot be guaranteed.  And with what he told me about this morning… you are invaluable to him.”

All this honesty was amounting to a sort of culture shock to Keeva.  These terrorists were supposed to be the ‘bad guys’.  But they were treating her with more care and respect than anyone in Gotham ever had.  Instead of feeling caged or trapped, she felt… protected.  The feeling was light and floaty in her chest, making her breath stutter.  “Oh,” was all she said.

The lost look in her eyes pained him.  She understood his meaning, but seemed to still be grappling with the ‘why’ of it.  Was she really so unused to someone caring for her wellbeing?  Even if Gotham was a harsh place, had she really caught no one’s eye?  How could someone not look at her small, open face and want to protect it?  His vehement hate for humanity at large surged back, and he scowled down at his gun, as if it were all to blame.

“What did you do to pass the time?  Before.” 

“Hm?  Well… other than the dogs, I did a lot of reading.  I like music too, but I can’t play or sing.”  She bit her lip.  “I can crochet.  Hats, socks, blankets, gloves, that sorta thing.”  Blinking, Barsad laughed suddenly, and she tilted her head at him.  “What?”

It took him a moment to stop laughing, and he laid the gun barrel and cleaning rod down, getting to his feet.  Dragging a large crate out from under the table, he rummaged in it for a moment before he held up a skein of olive drab yarn, two aluminum knitting needles stuck in it.  Keeva stared at it, brows furrowing in confusion.  When Barsad brought it back over, she saw that there was a half-finished hat hanging from the needles. 

“Who—?”

“Bane.”

“He knits?”  Her eyebrows rose.

Barsad sat back with a chuckle, eyes twinkling as he watched her stare at the pile of yarn and needles.  “He does.  Says it keeps his hands busy.  I think he just likes making things.”

“I can’t knit for shit,” Keeva said, craning her neck to examine the tightly worked loops.  “Grandma could knit like nothing I’ve ever seen though.  This is really good.”  The starts of cabling could be seen, worked with such precision that she was actually a little envious.  Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Barsad fingering the red scarf wrapped around his neck.  The yarn was faded with time, well-worn and loved.  “Did he make that?”

“Yes.  Some years ago.”  The fond softness in his eyes was calming, his hand touching it again.  “He’ll like that you know how to crochet.  He approves of making things with your own hands.”  She brightened visibly.

“Right?  It’s so satisfying to look at a solid thing that you made yourself.  You can work your ass off at a job doing things, but it’s really different to see a thing as a result of all that work.”  Her smile lit up her face, eyes crinkling at the corners, the very beginning of laugh lines in her cheeks. 

“Crochet is the one with… with just the one hook, right?”  She nodded.  “I’ll see if any can be found.”

“You don’t have to do that!” Keeva rushed out.  “I can keep busy other ways.  Don’t… don’t trouble yourself.”

“It’s not trouble,” Barsad said.  “You said you can make hats and the like?  That’s useful, my friend.  We don’t let talents go to waste.”

Searching his face, she found nothing but that maddening honesty.  “Well… thank you.”  There wasn’t really anything else for her to say.  Such open kindness put her off balance, her usual skills serving only to make her look unnecessarily suspicious.  The flirting wasn’t helping either, but she wasn’t about tell him to stop.  It was different from what she knew, and it wasn’t like there were really going to be consequences if anything happened. 

“Of course.  Here, hold this.”  He pressed one of the cleaning rods into her hand, the smell of gunoil washing over her, pungent but not unpleasant.  He took it back a moment later, his warm fingers brushing hers.  The silence that settled was comfortable, the knitting removed from the table and ending up in Keeva’s lap.  She was careful of the needles, making sure that they didn’t drop any stitches. 

A while later, there was a knock at the door, and someone said something on the other side in Arabic.  Barsad set down the gun he was working on, walking to the door and pulling it open.  Two men Keeva didn’t know came in, one dragging a low metal tub.  The other was carrying two huge steaming buckets.  There was a brief conversation, and the tub was put behind the curtain that hid the other side of the room.  The buckets were emptied into it with a splash, and the other men left, both of them shooting curious but non-threatening looks in Keeva’s direction.  One of them passed a plastic bag to Barsad before closing the door behind them.

When the bag was presented to her, Keeva found a bar of soap, a travel-size shampoo bottle, and a razor.  When she looked up, he was pointing to the drawn curtain.  “I’d hurry if I were you; the water won’t stay hot long.  I’ll find you something to dry with.”

“Oh, I… thanks.”  Her knees protested the long period of inactivity as she stood, but the heat of the bath was impossible to ignore.  She hadn’t done more than wipe down with baby wipes, and those had run out weeks ago.  The grimy feel of her skin and hair overrode her modesty.  There was a curtain, anyways.  Another lamp was hung from a hook on the wall, the vague shape of her shadow cast on the curtain. 

Goosebumps raced across her skin as it met the chilly air, and she sucked in a breath as she put her toes in the water.  It was close to scalding, and her skin prickled with the heat.  It was glorious.  The cold air didn’t go away, and there wasn’t enough water to lay under, but she ducked her head into the water, wetting her short hair and working shampoo through it.  Barsad was moving in the room behind her, but he never came too close.  The water fogged as she scrubbed herself, making sure to get the important things first before the water became too grungy.

A towel flopped over the rung that held the curtain, and she stood, pulling it down and scrubbing at her hair before wrapping it around her shoulders.  Her shudder was loud enough to rattle her teeth, and she hurried to step out of the tub.  When she did, she found that her clothes had been pulled under the curtain and replaced.  There was even a pair of boots.  Standing and staring in confusion was far too uncomfortable, so she dried herself as quickly as possible, pulling on the black army fatigue pants.  They were a bit big in the waist, but there was a belt as well.  The only issue came when she lifted the sports bra.  It was decent, but she knew right away that it wasn’t going to fit.  Her own bra was probably downright nasty, though.

The shirt was black, too, and it was actually a woman’s shirt.  The same sweater she’d worn before went over that, and then she put on the warmest pair of socks she’d ever felt.  She was still swimming in the clothes, but they were clean and warm.  Barsad turned, looking her over as she came out from behind the curtain, toweling her hair over again.  It was cut longer on one side, and the shorter parts stuck up at odd angles, like a disgruntled bird.  There was an embarrassed sort of look on her face when she held out the sports bra.

“It’s, um… it’s too small. Sorry,” she mumbled. 

“It’s…?  Oh.”  He took the unused garment, frowning at it.  “An underestimation on my part.”  His tone was so light, that Keeva didn’t feel bad laughing.

“Most people do, actually.  Whenever I’m sized, they keep trying to stuff me into a C-cup.  If… if you know anything about bra sizes and stuff.”

“I know that if my boots are too small that my feet hurt,” he said. 

“Kinda the same thing, I guess?” she said with a shrug.  “I can just wash mine.”

The door opened behind her, and she only twitched a little.  Turning, she saw Bane filling the doorway.  He didn’t actually have to turn sideways when he came in, but it was a close thing.  He was wearing and armored vest and the same massive shearling coat she’d seen him in before.  The door swung shut behind him with a tug of his hand, and then he was holding the other out to her, a cracked smartphone screen lighting up.  It looked tiny in his hand, but the picture glowing there drew her in like a magnet.  It was an image of Piper.

She plucked the phone out of his large hand, standing before him and staring.  A white triangle on the image told her it was a video, and with a breath to steady herself, she hit play.  Piper had her head out the window of a moving car, eyes bright and happy.  It struck Keeva like a blow, driving the air from her lungs and drawing tears to her eyes.  Covering her mouth with her hand, she hit the button on the side, turning off the screen.  Her shoulders hunched, and a large hand reached out to lay gently on one of them.  Bane, she knew, her awareness of his pain lingering at the edge of her mind, and her arm lifted, hand tightening around his arm.

A pit yawned open in her chest, so deep that she felt as if she could drown.  Her knees wobbled.  The hand left her shoulder and slid around her waist as Bane stepped forward.  Wordlessly, he took the phone from her hands and passed it to Barsad.  His hand flexed on her waist, pulling her up against his chest.  The armor of his vest was unyielding, but it was easy to grab onto, smelling of smoke when she hid her face against it.  For so long, Piper had been her only reason, the only thing keeping her from just jumping off the highest building she could find.  Now that reason was gone.  She had saved Piper and damned herself.

It hurt.  Keeva didn’t want it to hurt.  She wanted to be happy that Piper was safe, that she would live a safe and happy life.  Instead, all Keeva wanted was to have her dog with her again, the comfort of her strong body and the grounding feeling of her cold nose.  She hated herself for it, but wanted it all the same.  Clenching her teeth until her jaw creaked, she swallowed down the sobs.  She didn’t deserve to cry; you didn’t cry when you had made the right decision.

But her knees wouldn’t take her weight, arms shaking with effort as she tried to push away.  For the first time, Bane ignored her, keeping his arm anchored where it was, his other coming up to cup the back of her head.  His fingers sank into her wet hair, stroking through the strands.  Barsad said something soft; Keeva couldn’t tell if it was English, Arabic, or something else.  But he left. 

Some dim, emotionless part of her was aware that she should have been scared to be left alone with Bane.  But he just kept stroking her hair, holding her against him as her shoulders shook with silent tears.  It had to look pathetic to him, a child in need of codling.  “Sorry,” she got out, voice wet and thick.

He took a step back from her, his hands moving to cup the sides of her ribs, keeping her supported as he bent his own knees.  They weren’t exactly eye-to-eye, but it made her look at him.  “I have had few friends in my life, but I have lost enough to know the pain such loss inflicts.  You have not had my life, you have not been forced to move on and be strong.  You feel pain, and you react.  That is not something to apologize for.”

Keeva blinked at him, brows coming together as she tried to understand.  He was so strong, but didn’t seem to see her as weak for letting her pain show.  He walked around all day in near-agony, how could he look at her pitiful sadness and not feel scorn?  She hated herself for it, and this… this man just accepted it.  Another swell of tears rose a lump in her throat.  “Can… can you hold me again?”  She had not right to ask for such intimacy from a stranger, and she shouldn’t want it from him to begin with.  But he was strong and solid and safe.  Even as she silently berated herself for her stupidity, she kept her mouth closed.

Bane could see she expected him to deny her, to say something amounting to ‘get over it, move on as I did’.  He wouldn’t.  It would do nothing for her but hurt.  And he didn’t… he didn’t want her to hurt.  She was battered and scarred from her life in Gotham, tainted by its poison.  But still so kind, so giving of herself.  It defied imagining, that something so kind and pure could exist in the same place as such anger.  Hesitantly, his hand lifted up and touched her cheek, thumb sweeping through her tears.  So soft.  He had known so little softness, and yet in this pit of decadence and human refuse, it was offered to him, in a way, asking for his presence. 

The intimate touch set Keeva’s nerves jangling, but she was so desperate for some comfort, that she pushed past them.  Letting out a breath, she leaned into his hand, letting it cup her cheek.  She had forgotten how cathartic human contact was.  And Bane was so large that it felt like nothing could touch or harm her ever again.  What a lovely fantasy.  But the world was ending for her, so why not indulge?  Her eyes closed as his hand slid into her hair again, the hiss of air across her face coming before the touch of his brow to hers, the plastic of the strap bisecting his brow just a bit cooler than the skin under and around it.

She pressed back, leaning her brow into his.  Then her lips brushed the tubing over his mouth, and he jerked back, hiding the motion as he straightened.  Arm curling around her narrow shoulders, he led her back to the mattress, pushing on her shoulders once to get her to sit.  She did without protest.  More sobs were waiting, just sitting in the corner of her mind and waiting for her to let go.  Keeva knew that if Bane touched her again, if he offered that comfort again, there would be no holding it in.

With her eyes on the floor, she knew that he was moving around the room, boots scraping the concrete.  They were underground.  At least she thought so.  They had been on the steps to city hall when she’d approached them, but none of the rooms she’d seen with Barsad had actually looked like anything in city hall.  There had been rumors of him in the sewers before, and she hadn’t seen any windows…  Her thoughts stopped as his boots appeared in her line of sight.  Looking up at him from the ground was enough to rouse a tiny tingle of fear, especially with the strange, intense look he was giving her.  It was a look people gave puzzles, or a particularly confusing person. 

Then he crouched, something popping quietly in one knee, a groan softened by the mask.  It was with the same slow, hesitating move that he reached for her again, watching her.  He was giving her a chance to change her mind, she realized, and the thought warmed her.  Men usually took without thinking, and usually only stopped when she said to.  Bane was giving her every opportunity to say stop, to change her mind.  Instead, she took hold of his arm and tugged, pulling him to sit beside her.  Or rather, her tug indicated where she wanted him, and he sat down.   Again, the arm came around her cautiously, hand flattening to her back and sliding along to curl over her ribs.

When she leaned over, the vest was gone, and she bumped against the muscle of his chest.  There was more of a human smell to him now, and she took it in with a shakey breath.  Just as expected, the tears started anew, and her hand lifted to grab a fistful of his shirt.  He wore a sweater not unlike hers, made of itchy, dark wool.  “Thank you,” she mumbled, wool scratching at her lips.

He shifted, staring down at her.  It wasn’t as if he had never been thanked before.  But Keeva’s words were so coated with self-loathing, hating herself for seeking comfort.  That didn’t sit well with him.  Her breath was shuddering and wet, but she never made a sound beyond that.  She was used to suffering in silence.  Empathy was not something he often felt, with how far removed he felt from most other humans.  But this… this he knew.  Retreating to a place inside yourself, doing everything you could to hide pain from others.  She wasn’t as good at it as he was, surely, but…

It was also surprising that she had reached for him.  Barsad was kind when he wished to be, and could switch between deadly and completely non-threatening in a blink.  Bane was always threatening, intimidating even when relaxed.  And yet Keeva had reached for him, let him comfort her.  She was too scared and distrustful of people to be the type that gravitated towards the biggest and strongest for survival.  She was the type to run rather than work with others.  But she’d had no options, and put her own distrust aside for the good of others.  She could be of use to the League beyond just her healing, though the latter already had Talia very interested.

When she finally drew away from him, he found himself missing the feel.  She fit against him in a way Barsad didn’t, her softness molding to the hard planes of his body.  His hand lingered on her back for a moment before he pulled it away.  He saw her eyes moving back across the room.  Following, he frowned slightly when he saw his knitting sticking out of the top of the crate under the table, not where he had left it.

“Barsad told me that you knit,” she mumbled.  “I crochet.  Well… I used to.”  She offered him a lopsided smile, face red and slightly splotchy.  “You’re really good, by the way.  I can’t knit to save my life.  But give me a hook and I can make anything.”  The smile was forced, an attempt to change the subject.  He let her have it.

“Far too often we find ourselves sitting and waiting,” he said.  “It is a productive way to pass the time.”

“Repetitive motion soothes me,” Keeva said.  Her hands were fidgeting with the flaps of the pockets on her new pants, playing with the buttons.

“I noticed,” he said.  There was the hint of a smile in his eye when he glanced over.  “When I put my hand in your hair you very nearly turned into a purring cat.”

Keeva flushed and laughed nervously, pulling a hand over the back of her hair.  Despite the cool temperatures, it was drying quickly.  “Yeah… I’ve… I’ve always been like that.”  She paused a moment, thinking on her next admission.  But what didn’t secrets matter anymore?  “It helps calm me down.”  Large fingers cupped the back of her head, lifting just enough to card through the fine strands.  The change was immediate, her shoulders slumping back and her head pressing into his touch.  “That’s not fair,” she mumbled, but her shy smile remained.

“I never said that I was a fair man,” he said, and she realized that he was joking.

“You’ve been very fair to me,” she said.

“Because you deserve nothing less,” Bane said.  “You did not speak of your abilities, yes, but you came to me with an honest goal, and did not try to deceive me.  What you withheld was for your physical safety.”

Tucking her hands under her legs, she considered him with a cocked head and slightly narrowed eyes.  “You’re… weird.”

“You call basic decency ‘weird’?”  His brows lifted.

“You’ve seen where I live, right?”

“Ah.  I see your point.”

Keeva scrubbed a hand over her face.  “Yeah, when I was dating, I called it a win if he didn’t try to feel me up in the car.”  She made a face.  That just sounded sad.  Bane’s low, growling breath still startled her, and her head jerked up.

Bane drew back slightly.  “Forgive me.  Those that touch another person without permission… irk me.”  There was an edge to his voice, something fierce and primal.  It made her certain that ‘irk’ was actually a very watered down version of what such things made him feel. 

“That’s… really comforting actually.”  Fuck.  She hadn’t meant to say that.  Now he was going to think she’d seen him as a rapist and that was not

“Barsad told me what you expected,” Bane said quietly.  “I’ll admit… I was angry at first.  But you have grown up among filth, and know nothing of me.  Your instincts for self-preservation are nothing to be angry about.”  He turned to her again.  “I will never touch you in such a way without permission.” 

“Thank you, I—”  She broke off, smile wobbling. 

The thought blared liked a fog horn in her mind.  ‘What about with my permission?’  But she shook it off.  He was just telling her he wouldn’t touch her inappropriately.  Right?  Because now she was having all kinds of inappropriate thoughts.  Like imagining his hand in her hair again, pulling instead of petting, the hand on her waist lowering to pull her hips forward… fuck.  Having dealt with nothing but dogs and violent humans, every little bit of kind physical contact was lighting up her nerves.  She might have been willing to through caution to the wind, but there was no way he was thinking along the same lines. 

“Are you doing alright?” she asked quickly.  “I’ve eaten, and I could probably try to help with…”  She made a slight motion to his back with one hand.

Bane kept the smile hidden.  She’d read his words correctly, but was too flustered to respond.  That was fine.  Her blush was enough.  If she never extended the invitation, it would change nothing.  She was still very pretty when she got flustered.  Instead he asked, “are you certain?”

Keeva nodded, turning to face him, legs crossed under her, hands on her ankles.  “Yes.  I haven’t felt this full in a while, so I should be fine.”

“Should?”

A dismissive wave accompanied her pursed lips.  “If I get tired, I’ll lay down.  And it took me by surprise.  I’ll be ready this time.  And it should last longer, too.”

What she offered was still strange to him.  He had learned to make the pain bearable, to tolerate it.  To think that it could be so weakened felt like a fairy tale.  But he still turned to face her, holding out the hand without the wrist brace.  “Very well.”

But Keeva reached for the brace.  “I’ll take it one thing at a time.  Your joints bother you, don’t they?”  It was also less skin to expose herself to.  If he had taken off his shirt she didn’t want to think about what she might have done.  He nodded silently, letting her cradle the weight of his arm.  Her short fingers were nimble, plucking off the thick leather brace.  “Skin contact makes it easier,” she mumbled.  It also gave her a proper look at the wrist.  It was a mess of knotted scars, lingering around the joint.  The horror that came across her face was expected.

“Machete,” he said.  “I got lucky.  The blade was dull.”

Keeva felt the stirring of anger in her stomach.  “I hope they’re dead,” she muttered, slipping her fingers along the joint.  A twinges of ache echoed in her wrist, but she was ready for it, folding it in with the rush of endorphins that always accompanied a healing.  Bane’s relieved sigh made her smile, and she pulled her own throbbing limb back, clutching it to her chest.

“They are.  Not by my hand, though.”  He seemed bothered by that.

“Well, it’s good.”  She flexed her hand, opening and closing her fingers as the pain faded.  “Better?”  He nodded, and she returned the brace.  “What else?”

Bane shifted to sit sideways, hand reaching for his boot.  Unlacing that, he pulled the pant leg out of the boot, hauling it up and over his knee.  Moving to kneel in front of him, cupping her hands around his knee and trying not to think about how it was almost as large as her face.  What she felt there made her cringe, extending her leg in preparation of her own pain.  The cartilage there was worn thin, and the ache sank into her slowly, a deep, quiet pain, that must have bothered him most when he was in motion. 

“Better?” she asked again, looking up as he sighed softly.

Bane didn’t trust himself to speak, the lack of pain still too raw and new.  It also felt as if he acknowledged that it had worked, that it would vanish like smoke.  He was not a superstitious man, but he’d had his hopes dashed too many times with pain not to be wary.  So he just nodded instead.  Even though the baggy clothes, he saw her leg jump and twitch as the pain hit her.  When she drew her hands from his knee, she was breathing a bit harder.  But before he could ask she was moving behind him.

Without thinking, his hand snapped out, grabbing her upper arm and startling a squeak from her.  It had been different when she’d been sleeping.  She didn’t know enough to fake the even breathing of slumber, he could trust her not to touch what she shouldn’t.  Keeva tilted her head, chewing her bottom lip in thought.  “I can… work from the front if you like?” she offered hesitantly.

“That… would be preferable,” he said, voice a low rumble. 

Moving more slowly this time, Keeva moved before him again, this time moving a bit closer, his legs stretching out on either side of her.  Rising up on her knees, she met his eyes.  There was no other place to look, and she felt her breath catch in her throat.  Her hands were just as slow as his had been, reaching slowly towards the stretched out neck of his shirt.  Cool, small hands slipped under the fabric on either side of his neck, Keeva forced to draw closer as she flattened her palms onto his back. 

If she had been taller, they would have been nose to nose.  All she’d have to do was tilt her head up and his mask would be within easy reach of her mouth.  She shoved the stupid thought down, closing her eyes and taking several long, slow breaths.  Despite bracing for it, the pain still made he cry out, shoulders hunching and her hands digging into his back.  And she pulled.  This pain wasn’t something she could take completely, but she pulled and pulled at it, trying to draw as much of it into herself as she was able.  Large hands anchored on her hips, and a head dropped onto her shoulder.

“Fuck.”  It was a hiss between her teeth, sharp and spitting.  She cut the connection but her hands remained, clutching him as she slumped forward.  Bane’s hands left her hips and slid up her back, feeling the muscles twitching wildly, tendons standing out in her neck.  “Fuck fuck fuck.”  As her brow brushed is neck, he felt the cool dampness of sweat, and lifted a hand to her hair.  Keeva whimpered at the touch, but didn’t push him away as he stroked her hair, strands tugging gently as they slipped between his fingers.

Chapter Text

After the healing, Keeva slept. She curled under the blankets with leaden limbs and Bane left her alone.  She didn’t mind.  While she had no idea what he did during the day, he had to be busy.  When she woke again, there was a full bowl of rice, mixed vegetables, and what she assumed was chicken.  Laid beside it was a fork and a blue aluminum hook.  Despite the fatigue wrapped around her bones, and the lead weight in her heart, Keeva smiled.  She didn’t taste the food much, but the tingle in her mouth told her it was spicy.  A larger size of sports bra had been laid out for her, and it fit well enough when she put it on under her clothes.

Barsad returned just as she was starting to wonder what she should do with her dishes. His smile was so gentle she nearly flinched.  But he just set his rifle down beside the door and sat down beside her.  He was wearing the same gear as he had the first day, with the bulky vest over his jacket.  When his hand brushed hers, it was chilled.  He’d been outside.  “Are you feeling better, rafiq?”

Keeva was starting to enjoy the sound of his voice, the accent rounding out certain sounds and sharpening others. “What does that mean?” she deflected, though she was curious.

His mouth opened, and then he paused, thinking. “I suppose… brother?  Though not like a sibling, more…”  A frown creased his brows.  “What is the word?”

“Comrade?” Keeva offered.

“Yes,” Barsad said quickly. “Sometimes words escape me.”

“With as many languages as I heard you speak the other day, I’m not going to blame you for forgetting a word here and there,” she said, and her small smile was genuine. It faltered, slowly trading places with the hard-thinking look he was growing fond of.  “Why… why would you consider me your comrade?”  Still sitting, she turned to face him.  “You and Bane have obviously been through a lot together before this.  Why would I be your comrade?”

“Because you helped him.” The answer came without hesitation, his face open.  He didn’t need to put on a face, or school his expression.  In this, he could be fully honest with her.

The devotion Keeva saw in his eyes made her ache. What would it be like to have someone care so deeply about you?  To be willing to do anything you asked, to think nothing of themselves and work only for your goals?  She swallowed the bitter lump in her throat.  “He’s very lucky,” she finally said.  “To have you, I mean.”

That easy smile came back. “I like to think so.”

Hand snapping to her pocket, Keeva hurriedly pulled out the crochet hook. “Thank you for this!” she said. 

“It wasn’t me,” Barsad said, the light in his eye turning to a mischievous glint. Her eyes lowered, a smile pulling at her lips.

“He’s… surprising. He talks about kindness but he’s…” 

“He is what his past made him. He uses that to achieve his goals,” Barsad said.  “Who he is after that, beyond what needs to be done…”  He closed his mouth and shook his head, not quite sure where he’d been going with that line of thought.

“He’s more.”

The words took him off guard, and his brows came together. Keeva glanced away under the gaze.  “I mean…  Actions mean a lot, but…  What you do for a job, a cause… that’s not all that you are.  You can exist beyond it.”

He couldn’t have stopped staring even if he wanted to. His own response tumbled out without a though.  “How old are you?”

Startled, she blinked. “Twenty-six?”  Her age wasn’t in question, his question was.

Leaning back, he shook his head. “I did not to think to find any sort of wisdom in Gotham. Especially from someone so young.”

To his surprise, she laughed. “You’re full of shit, Barsad.”

“Oh?”

“I’m not wise.”

“Those words were profound.” He leaned back in.

“They were honest.” She was always so dismissive of herself.

“The two are not…” A pause for words.  “Mutually exclusive.”

Keeva shrugged, still not looking at him. “I just know that he’s not just the big scary criminal from the TV,” she mumbled.  “He’s…”

“He makes an impression.” She smiled again, and he answered with one of his own.  She was filled with questions then, wanting to know what kind of first impression Bane had made on Barsad.  But she barely knew him, for all that he called her rafiq and smiled and flirted.  And… people didn’t become ‘terrorists’ without reason.  Those reasons usually came from heartbreak.  She wasn’t about to ask him to open his heart to her, even if he had already seen her tear her own out.  Her hands plucked at the pilling on her second-hand socks.

“I don’t have to stay here, all the time, do I?” she asked in a small voice. “I mean, I don’t much care for people, but just staying it one room…”  She shouldn’t be scared to ask.  If she turned out to be in that sort of situation, it was going to change everything. 

“Not at all.” He turned to face her.  “I’ll have to explain a few things.  There’s… call it Bane’s inner circle, the ones he’s been with the longest, those of us that believe in him and what he’s doing.  Then, there are recruits.  Some come to join the inner circle, but others…”  A scowl flickered.  “They flock to us and the promise of money or violence.  Our work is too important to turn them all away.  So there are those that we would not expose you to, those who we do not fully trust.”

“You don’t have to protect me, Barsad,” she said, prickling. “I—”  She broke off, pain flaring in her eyes before she had time to hide it.  “I’ve been a single female living below the poverty line in Gotham since I was sixteen.  I know how to hurt someone enough that they let go.”  There.  That was easy, and didn’t dump everything out in his lap.

Barsad recognized the pain, and passed over it. If she wanted to share, she would.  “Would you be willing to show me?” he asked.  She glanced up, peering through the curtain of her hair.  “What you know.  We have a training area, and it isn’t too busy this time of night.  If you are to be one of us, you will have to train, regardless.  But I want to see what you know already.”

Oh. That made sense.  “I mean, it’s nothing special.  Just knowing where to hit so that someone that gets grabby will let go.”  Her knife was clipped to her belt now, and it felt strange to have it in the open.  But also… good.

“Bane won’t expect you to do any fighting,” Barsad said. “But it’s still good to know a few things.”

 

000

 

So they ended up in a large empty room with mats on the floor. They remined her of the mats she’d used in gym class, they even smelled the same.  Even though the temperature hadn’t changed, she shucked her coat.  She was no athlete; bad food cost better than healthy food, so the paunch of her stomach remained, thighs and hips striped with stretch marks.  But she still knew how to hurt another person.  She wouldn’t be running any marathons, but it was something,

Turning, she realized that Barsad had shed quite a few layers. He was down to what amounted to a man’s tank top, plain black tattoos spreading out from his chest and onto his shoulders.  And there were scars.  Fuck.  Keeva wasn’t sure why she found scars attractive.  They were a mark of pain, but also survival of that pain.  Maybe that was it.  Fuck.  The tattoos didn’t help.  He was watching her.

Keeva dropped her coat and sweater in the corner, rolling up the sleeves of her shirt. The tattoo that Bane had glimpsed on her left arm was laid bare, lace dripping down her arm in clean black lines.  Cuffs circled her arm and wrist in places, fresh flows of lace bleeding down from them to stop just before the back of her hand.  Under the shirt, it went all the way to her shoulder.  A solid black band circled her right forearm.  She could feel his eyes draw over the ink, and shifted on her feet.

Barsad approached, and she moved forward, meeting him in the middle of the room. “So it’s hold breaking you studied most?”

Keeva nodded. “Yeah.  Also why I cut my hair short.  Harder to hold on to.”  She slid a hand through it, brushing the longer side back.  It had gotten longer than she liked it.

He nodded. “Alright.  I’m going to grab you, slowly, and you’ll show me how you would break the hold.”  His feet shifted, widening his stance.  “Don’t hold back.  Hit me how’d you’d hit a real attacker.”

She shifted nervously, but nodded. All the things she’d made sure she taught herself seemed so paltry and small now, so inconsequential.  Barsad probably knew several different ways to kill a man with his bare hands.  Then he was stepping around her, hand reaching out and sinking into her hair.  As his fingers curled into a fist, tugging, Keeva let him pull her towards him.  Then she spun, breaking the hold on her hair and jabbing her thumb hard into his soft side before moving quickly away.  He grimaced and rubbed his side, but nodded.

His next grip was on her wrist, his palm warm and dry. Without hesitating, she spun her wrist towards the place his fingers met his thumb, the weakest part of the grip, and tugged away.  He smiled.  “You’re quick,” he said.

“You’ve never seen me run.”

“You don’t have to be fast all time, just at the right time.”  He came close again.  “I’m going to grab you by the neck this time.” 

She nodded and didn’t even blink as his hand lifted. Even so, he took his grip slowly, letting his fingers slide around her, flexing ever so slightly.  The skin of her neck prickled, and they both felt her shiver, the chill turning to heat at the base of her spine.  The breath she let out was traitorously shaky.  When was the last time she’d trusted someone enough to hand over this much control? 

He wasn’t expecting her fist to come up with quite so much force, but it snapped into the back of his elbow, pressing the joint harshly in the wrong direction. Despite himself, he hissed, yanking back.  There was a worried and frightened look on her face as he shook out his arm.  “That’s good,” he said.  “And how would you handle this?”  With both hands, he grabbed fistfuls of the front of her shirt.

Keeva ducked her head and pulled back, arms extending out in front of her as she pulled herself from the shirt altogether. Barsad blinked and then laughed.  Goosebumps rushed across her skin, and she crossed her arms over herself.  At least the high waist of the fatigues hid the rounding of her belly.  The sweep of his eyes was brief, but unmistakable.  A pawprint was tattooed in red, blue and purple below her left collarbone, and words crawled along the other.  He tilted his head, lips moving as he tried to read them.

“Gaelic?” he finally asked.

“‘He who is not strong, must be clever’,” Keeva translated, nodding.  “How many languages do you speak?”

“Fluently?” He actually had to think about that.  “Arabic, Farsi, English, Russian, French… I can get by in Urdu and Spanish.  Some Mandarin, German, and a little Polish.”

“I can say ‘may I please pet your dog?’ in French, Spanish, and German,” Keeva said, and he laughed.

“That is not at all surprising,” he said. He was trying to remember the last time he’d smiled so much.  He saw her shiver again and moved closer, offering her shirt back.  “Do you know how to break away when someone has you pinned down?”  He knew asking that could possibly draw up unpleasant memories, but it was important to know.

Keeva tugged the shirt back over her head, sleeves still rolled back up. “Not much more than the basics,” she muttered.  “But I know what it feels like to rupture another person’s eyeball with your finger.”  The admission came easily, and the usual sense of panic that might have accompanied it simply didn’t come.  And he didn’t look at her with horror or pity.  Instead he smiled.

“It’s always the most unassuming ones that are the most dangerous,” he said, a wicked glitter in his eye. “You know how to take advantage when someone underestimates you.”  The approval on his face made her smile, ducking her head.  “You always look away when I complement you.”

Well, fuck. Yeah, she did. “I guess I’m not used to compliments,” she said, not wanting to meet his eyes.  They were deceiving, the tired, relaxed look lulling her into giving away things she should be keeping close.  And while not as piercing as Bane’s, they were just as intelligent.

“My compliments are also facts,” Barsad said pointedly. “Now, I’d like to show you a few ways to throw someone off when they have you pinned.”

Keeva couldn’t help herself. He teased her so much and she wanted to get him back.  “Your excuse to get on top of me is a lot better thought out than most guys,” she said, the corner of her mouth curling in a smirk as her eyes swept over him appraisingly.  A line of Arabic curled around his left bicep where it met the shoulder.  God, she loved tattoos.

Barsad was in her personal space faster than she expected, his chest brushing hers and a hand on each of her shoulders. “Careful, Keeva.  Most people would… make assumptions.”

Oh. Oh, fuck.  There was an edge to his voice now, turning the easy cadence into something sharp and commanding.  A tremor rolled through her, fear and excitement tangled too closely to tell the difference.  “I’m getting the feeling you’re not most people,” she said, voice more breathless than she expected. 

Testing. Measuring.  The interest in her eyes was plain to him, but she was still flighty, feral, and untrusting.  Barsad couldn’t blame her.  “I’d like to show you how to get out of a pinning hold without ruining my eyes, if it’s all the same to you.  If you feel uncomfortable at any point, we can stop.”

“Alright.” She swallowed visibly, and he dropped his hands but stayed close.

“Lay on your back.”

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.  Command edged his voice again, heat swirling between her legs in a slow pulse.  The situation was completely non-sexual, but all she could think about was him telling her that back in the room, standing over her as she did as she was told.  Heat spiked when her eyes slid from his, and noticed someone standing in the door, gripping the lapels of their coat.  Bane.  Bane was watching.  Keeva very nearly froze in place, a tremble starting in her hands.  How long had he been there?

Barsad tapped her jaw with his finger, drawing her attention back. “No, you’re focusing on me.  And this lesson.”

Bane could only just hear them, but he kept his eye on her body language.  Barsad could read people well, but Bane still watched.  Her eyes fell on him for a moment, widening and her lips parting with a quick inhale.  Then she laid back, stepping away from Barsad before she laid on the mat, staring up at him.  Bane knew that this was a moment of teaching.  But he was still human, for all he played the monster.  It was hard not to imagine his brother, with his wicked words and tongue, crawling over Keeva in their bed, leaving a trail of lovebites along the pale column of her throat.

Crouching upright on his knees beside her, Barsad continued with his instruction. “Always try to get a leg between theirs.  Some will think caging yours with their own is the best way to subdue you.  It is not.”  He put a hand on her knee feeling the muscles in her leg jump.  “You can use your legs to injure, or to push them off.  There’s more strength here than you think.”  She was up on her elbows, watching him. 

He continued. “Smarter men will try to get between them.”  His hand stayed where it was, feeling like a brand through the fabric.  “If they do, plant your feet to either side.”  He took her ankle, bending her leg to plant her boot flat on the floor.  She mirrored the position with her other leg.  Barsad could feel Bane’s eyes on them both.  “Pushing up with your hips can put them off balance enough to get a leg between theirs again.”

“Eye-gouging sounds easier,” she mumbled, her body electrically aware of his hold on her ankle. “But I do know how to get someone off.  At least in theory.”

“And if they are holding your neck?”

More images. Remembering the slow way hand had circled her throat moments before.  He could have directed her motions that way, moved her as he pleased.  How the muscles had shifted in his forearm as he flexed his fingers.  She swallowed to keep her breath from hitching.  “They can’t hold my hands.  If I can’t reach their eyes, dig my fingers between the bones of their wrist.  And if you’re fighting dirty, rip off a fucking nipple.”

Bane’s snort was lost under Barsad’s harsh laugh. The girl was a wildcat, made vicious by necessity.  For all that she was soft and untrained, she had the spirit of a warrior, the will to survive no matter the cost.  Then his Brother was speaking again.  “I’m going to pin you.  Get me off or make me let go.”

Keeva couldn’t help herself, a vulpine grin spreading across her face, showing a chipped front tooth. “Are you trying to flirt again, Barsad?”

“Am I—?” He looked confused for a moment before it dawned on him.  “No, that was not my intent.  But if someone was to offer,” he shrugged, shifting to balance on the balls of his feet, like a cat getting ready to pounce, “I would probably not decline.” 

Keeva felt her eyes widening, and the color rising in her cheeks. He took advantage of her pause, lunging at her.   Panic rolled through as his weight came over her, his hard body between her legs, pressing her down with his weight.  Her hand jabbed up into his neck, and he coughed sharply before batting her hand aside.  His longer reach let him put a hand around her throat, the other holding his weight off her airway.  But he squeezed, and an entirely inappropriate physical reaction made her jerk.  Just then, she could remember what it felt like to trust another person with her body, to be able to surrender all thought and decision to another person.

Fuck.

Her smaller hand clamped around his arm, small fingers easily pressing between tendons and making him suck in a pained breath. Then she heaved upward with her pelvis, getting a knee between his legs as she rolled them.   It only half worked, but she was able to get out from under him and scramble to her feet.  Backing up, her back struck a wall.  No, not a wall.  Bane.  Keeva spun and jerked to the side, not giving the recovering Barsad her back.  When had he moved from the doorway?

The urge was there, just under the surface, to reach out a gentle hand and hold her by the throat. To see if she’d react the same to him.  Instead, he let his eyes sweep her.  She’d picked up faster than most that to read him, she needed to watch his eyes.  She saw him look her over, and her pupils dilated, nostrils flaring.  She shivered, eyes flicking between the two men.  Were they both really…?

“She’s fast, Brother,” Barsad said, rubbing his forearm as he walked over.

Somehow, Bane was faster than Barsad, dragging Keeva into his chest by the front of her shirt, his other hand fisting sharply in her hair. Instantly she yanked back, twisting to break the hold in her hair as she ducked her head through the loose collar of the shirt.  She skipped back, shirtless, but he followed, his hands grabbing the ends of the discarded garment’s sleeves.  Before she could turn and properly run, he had it over her head and around her, yanking her back into his chest so hard that the air was driven from his lungs

Without a thought, Keeva dropped again, heart pounding. This time his hand caught her neck in earnest, hauling her back up so that she had to rise up on her toes, the soft flesh of her belly pressing into the rough nylon straps of his armored vest.  There was cold metal there, too, somewhere.  Her hands caught his wrist, intending to dig in.  But it was the one with the brace.  He held her there just a fraction of a moment longer, feeling her pulse hammer under his hand.  There was fear in her eyes yes, but it wasn’t alone.  He let go, offering the shirt to her.  But he stayed where he was, making her choose to move out of his space.

Adrenaline was still singing in her veins as she pulled the shirt back on for the second time in the last ten minutes. She could still feel the tingle in her scalp where he’d pulled at her hair, and her entire neck was alive with nerves where his hand had circled, pulled, held.  It shouldn’t excite her.  But she’d always been that way.  And here, now, there were no consequences, so why should she chide herself for it?  When her eyes slid over to Barsad, his own gaze was dark.  Not angry, but…  He was looking between them, at first one and then the other.  Then the two men’s gazes met and held, something unreadable passing between them.

“You are quick on your feet,” Bane agreed after a moment, looking back to her.  “Would you really like to train?  To learn to fight?”   His eyes were hard and piercing again, reading her like a book.  “It would not be so simple as any class you might have attended before.”

He was challenging her, testing her. Trying to get the measure of her.  Keeva knew enough to realize that.  She lifted her chin.  “I gave myself to you when you gave me what I asked for,” she said, thankful that the shake in her hands stayed out of her voice.  “I’ll be whatever you want me to be.  Healer, fighter, both; it’s up to you.”  She knew all the things he could ask of her, and honestly, with as wet as he’d just made her, she wasn’t sure she’d say no if he actually pursued some of the darker possibilities.

The moment shattered as someone burst through the door, shouting urgently in Arabic. It was an olive-skinned woman, wild hair tied back with a scarf and curls sweated flat to her brow.  There was blood across her face, and the urgent tone in her voice didn’t need any translation.  Bane’s large hand closed around her forearm.  “Come.”  It was all he said, Barsad already putting his layers back on.  As they followed the woman out into the hall, shouting could be heard.  Keeva recognized the scream of a gunshot wound, something heard far too often in Gotham.  It was so eerily familiar, and she knew why Bane was bringing her.

A man and another woman were hurt, the woman that had alerted Bane flying to the hurt woman’s side, clasping her hand and saying something sounded like an attempt at reassurance. The woman was hurt the worst.  Keeva saw the blood coating her leg, making the olive drab fatigues a sick sort of brown with blood.  Anyone with half a brain knew that she was going to die without help.  Bane didn’t have to say a word.  This was what she had agreed to.

The small, plump woman stepped away from Bane, crouching at the hurt woman’s side, lifting the leg. The woman screamed, but didn’t lash out, only clinging to her lover, face ashen.  The bullet had gone straight through.  Keeva’s knife opened the fabric of the pants, and her small hands slid around to cup both entry and exit wound.  The pain hit and she screamed, the wound searing through the muscle of her leg, warm blood soaking her clothes. 

Bane watched his soldier stop screaming, color returning to her face as Keeva went pale. Blood started to pool around her leg, and murmurs started to fly through the small crowd that had gathered.  Finally, Keeva sagged back, chest heaving and whimpering with every breath.  Bane took a step forward, but she was already dragging herself over to the man, her jaw stuck out in stubborn determination.  Mercifully, his wound was also a through-and-through.

Keeva stuck her hands into his bloody shirt, and screamed through clenched teeth as pain cut through her shoulder. It was getting harder to breathe, her nerves screaming as they scrambled to repair the damage she was taking on.  The man said something, staring up at her with wonder.  Then a large hand cupped her shoulder, letting her lean against the solidness of Bane’s side.  “Well done, Sister!”  He didn’t quite raise his voice, but it was loud enough for the others to hear, marking Keeva as one of them.  She wasn’t the only meta-human in the League, but she was new, and therefore interesting. 

Mindless of the blood soaking her clothes, Bane scooped her up like a ragdoll, carrying her from the room as the more standard medics moved in for examination. Her vison blurred as he carried her, down some hall she hadn’t been through yet.  Black ate at the edges of her sight, the thumping rhythm of Bane’s steps doing nothing to keep her awake.  She was so cold.

Running water.

Fast, clipped words.

The tug of fabric, clothes pulled over her head and down her hips.

Heat.

Awareness rushed back, hitting her so hard she cried out again, sitting bolt upright. She was in a tub, deeper and larger than before, the room around her brightly lit.  She was naked, a knot of raw flesh on her left thigh slowly leaking blood into the water.  Blood ran down her arm just above the water, curling in rivulets over her breast.  Bane crouched closest, watching her closely, and she wrapped the arm not attached to the mangled shoulder around herself.  Something in the shoulder was… wrong.  But it was fixing itself.  Slowly.  Painfully.

“I didn’t… I didn’t know I could do that much,” she finally said.

Bane didn’t respond, still watching her. She’d gone in without so much as a push or word from him.  His people had been hurt—people she didn’t even know—and she had helped them.  She had given herself to him, not the League, but she had done what she thought he’d wanted.  Even knowing what it would mean for her.  Even with that, Bane didn’t think it was all for him.  For all that she claimed to hate humanity, she was kind.  She had been hurt and betrayed, but she was soft and gentle, and didn’t take pleasure in the torment of others.  He smiled behind the mask.

Hunched over, another tattoo was revealed, a rough-hewn crystal formation between her shoulder blades, made of plain black lines and minimal shading. There had been tattoos in the Pit, crude things.  Barsad’s had always been a fascination for him, stark in color, but indistinguishable from his skin by touch.  A lapse in judgement made him reach out, his hand sliding over her damp back.  Instead of flinching away in pain or shock, she leaned into the touch, letting out a whimpering sigh.

“Iron,” she mumbled. “Going to need a lotta iron.”  She could hear the slur in her words, and knew it was from blood loss.  Her body would replace it in the healing, but she had never used so much energy before.

“You did do well,” Bane said again. 

When she turned, the longer side of her hair dripped with water, dark circles showing under her eyes. “Hope so,” she mumbled.  “Hate to disappoint.”  The smirk was weak, but it was there all the same.

“Even full of holes, you make jokes,” Barsad chuckled. He was leaning against a table, that same soft look in his eyes.  She turned to him, mismatched eyes searching his face.  “You’re going to be very cold from all the blood loss.  Is… that something you can heal, or…?”

“Think so,” Keeva said, her shrug rippling the water. Her shoulder felt less wrong, but the wound in her leg still felt raw and painful, her mind drifting on the endorphin flood.  The water was orangish now.  “That’s why I need the iron.  It’ll help.”  But she could feel herself drifting.  All she wanted to do was lean back.  But that was stupid, she’d drown.  Her face screwed up.  “Wanna get out.”  She was beyond caring about nakedness, and the arm covering her breasts dropped away. 

Testing her shoulder, she found she could move it with little grinding, and minimal pain. Both hands lifted to grip the sides of the tub.  Curved, smooth, white.  Not ceramic, so probably one of the older metal types.  Bane’s hand on her back lifted, griping the back of her neck, and she went still, gaze sliding over to him.

“You’re not able to move under your own power.” Then he was quiet, staring at her face.  Up on her knees now, Keeva blinked at him, confused.  “I’m going to carry you.”

Oh. He was giving her a heads up that he was about to touch her, giving her foggy mind a chance to catch up.  She glanced down at herself.  What did it matter at this point?  They’d already seen her naked to strip off her clothes and get her into the bath.  She looked at him and nodded.  He stood, rolling up his sleeves.  The vest had vanished along with the coat, and his arms slid into the water without hesitation.  He took a moment to make sure he had a grip, one arm under her legs and the other around her back.

Used to being heavy for her height, Keeva was slightly startled at how effortlessly he seemed to lift her. Every nerve on her body was raw and open with the healing, and the touch of his bare forearms and hands set them blazing.  His fingers sank into the soft flesh of her thighs, and could have easily left marks if he wanted.  Or maybe if she asked?  He set her down in a chair, the metal on her bare skin making her shiver.  Just as quickly, a blanket was draped around her shoulders, and she was picked up again.  This time he held her longer, turning sideways to carry her out into the hall.  Barsad followed, as always, on his Brother’s heels.

 

000

 

Keeva was laid out on the mattress, still cocooned in the blanket. It smelled like Bane, and like Barsad.  Something smoky and chemical clung to Bane, while gun oil always seemed to linger around Barsad.  Hunkered down into it, she closed her eyes and drifted.

Barsad watched her, hands folded in front of him. “She moved without question,” he murmured.

“I saw. She is kinder than she wants to believe.”  Bane was changing into one of his thermal shirts, the warm material hugging every dip and rise of his physique.  Barsad would admit to enjoying them a bit more than he probably should have.  “This place has not destroyed her.”

“It’s a pity we couldn’t have met her sooner.” Barsad’s sigh was almost wistful.  “Think of what she could have become.”

“I hope to send her away with our Sister.” He didn’t say ‘before the end’, but they both knew it was there, hanging over their heads.  He looked at Barsad out of the corner of her eye.  “I saw how she reacted to you.  You saw it too, didn’t you?” 

Barsad’s brows rose. It wasn’t that he doubted that Bane had seen, it was that he had taken note.  “Her first reaction to my hand on her throat wasn’t fear,” he finally said.

“I think I know someone who reacts in a similar fashion.” There was mischief in Bane’s eyes now, seeing a bit of color rise in the other man’s cheeks.  The fondness in his voice was easy to miss with the metallic quality of the mask.  “I think she would enjoy training with you.”

It was the smaller man’s turn to smirk. “You always like watching.”

Reaching out, Bane cupped the back of Barsad’s neck, his grip hard as iron. But when he pulled Barsad in, he touched his brow gently to the other man’s.  The grip was grounding for Barsad, a twinge of pain to keep him present.  And the closeness, as close to a kiss as Bane would ever come, was always welcome.  The soft hiss of his breath, the slightly metallic and chemical smell that lingered if he pressed in close.  Barsad’s hand lifted, palm flattening against Bane’s chest. They held the position for just a moment before stepping apart.

“Stay with her,” Bane instructed. “There are a few things we need.”

“As you wish, Brother.”

 

000

 

Keeva came back to herself with a weight draped over her side. Shifting made her aware that she was still naked, though bundled in the blanket.  She was prone, and the weight across her waist was an arm.  Shifting back, she felt a chest, and breath in her hair.  Too small to be Bane.  “How long…?”  Her words trailed off into a yawn, Barsad’s arm drawing away from her.

“Three hours.” He sat up behind her, blankets falling from him.  He tucked them around her.  “There are clothes.”

“Can… can I have my pajamas?” she asked, craning her neck to look at him.  Sitting up would involve more rearranging of blankets than she had the energy for.  “Please?”

Fuck, she sounded so pitiful. But not the sort of weakness that he saw in Gotham, the kind where people watched bad things happen, over and over, and still did nothing.  She was just tired, seeking the comfort of the familiar.  He thought about the way he didn’t sleep well when Bane went off on a mission without him, or when needs put them in separate phases of a plan.  He found familiarity in his weapons, a comfort in the smell of gun oil and the feel of metal and polymer in his hands, the solid thump of recoil.  He took comfort in those things, so he found it no trouble to drag her small duffle within her reach. 

A hand emerged from the blankets, her dark head lifting. The blankets slipped from her shoulder, exposing the fresh pink scar, the size of a golf ball, through her shoulder.  Barsad frowned, hand reaching out, brushing it.  Keeva stiffened, but didn’t flinch away, instead touching the wound on the other side of the shoulder, then flexing the joint.  She fingered the small pink starburst on the front of her shoulder.  “I’ve never been shot before, but I assume the exit wound is much more spectacular.”  That quirk at the corner of her mouth pulled at her scarred lips in an unfairly attractive way.

“I wouldn’t be able to make a comparison without seeing the entry wound, but… probably.”

Slowly, Keeva sat up, her back to him. She thought she could feel his eyes, sweeping up the wide curve of her hips to her ribs before she pulled the oversized thermal shirt over her head.  The flannel pajama pants were red plaid, printed with…

“Are those bulldogs wearing top hats?”

The words sounded so absurd coming from a mercenary—a terrorist—that Keeva let out a bark of laughter. The pants vanished under the covers, and after some wiggling, she sat up, extending her legs on top of the blankets.  “Wearing top hats and smoking a pipe,” she said.  She liked seeing Barsad smile, she found.  She liked the way his tired eyes would crinkle up and his thin mouth would twitch.  There were ghosts in his eyes, little flashes of darkness.

But then he would smile. “That’s ridiculous.”

“Just because you live a life deprived of the finer things doesn’t mean I have to.”

“Flannel with bulldogs and top hats and pipes are ‘finer things’?”

“They make me happy,” she said softly. “And making big, bad mercenaries laugh and talk about bulldogs in top hats is pretty nice.”  She considered him, lip caught unconsciously between her teeth. 

His hand lifted, thumb catching her chin. “You’re going to chew a hole in that, you bite so much,” he said, quickly dropping his hand away.  He didn’t bring up the fact that he would very much like to be the one doing the biting.  She was such a contrast from Bane—soft where his brother was hard—but her tongue was just as sharp.

The contact sent shivers down her spine. Instead of ducking her head, Keeva planted her feet on the floor, preparing to stand.  He watched her take a breath and push up, steadying herself before she took a few steps forward.  Then she folded nearly in half as she bent backwards, several pops from her back resulting in a satisfied groan.  Her shirt slid up to expose more of her belly, streaked in places with silver.  Then she came back up and folded the other way, resulting in just a single, softer pop.  With a grunt, Keeva sat down again, spreading her legs out to either side.  It took a while, but she made a satisfied sound as she managed the splits.  Then she flattened her torso to the ground, legs still out wide to either side.

She was… bendy.

Keeva rested her brow against the cool, clean concrete of the floor, taking slow breaths. Her life had never been normal.  But all this…?  She had basically just been shot twice a few hours ago.  Yeah, weird shit happened in Gotham, but what she could do…  It was one thing to be able to heal a cut or a nasty bruise on her own.  Those were small, and took such little energy.  But today…

“Are they alright?” she asked, still flattened to the floor.

“What?”

“The man and woman that were shot,” she clarified.

“Farouq and Adina? They’re perfectly fine.  Not even a scar.”

Without thinking, Keeva lifted a hand to her shoulder. There was another knot of fresh scar tissue on her leg, she knew.  “Don’t know why I do.  Maybe I need more practice.”  She made a face.  “Not that I want it, but…”  Sitting up, she shook her head, returning to a more normal sitting position.  “What… what did you—he tell them about me?”

“You’re not the only meta-human among us,” Barsad said. “Some think you’re magic, though.”

“Wait, is magic an actual thing?” she asked, brows furrowing.

“Would you really doubt me if I said it was?”

Keeva opened her mouth, then closed it again. “I… don’t know.  I mean… the Joker wasn’t magic.  But he’s hardly the weirdest thing in the world.  There’s an alien flying around Metropolis in a red cape, so who fucking knows what else.”

Barsad had heard those stories, too. “There are many things in this world that most people would struggle to believe without seeing them with their own eyes.”

“Oh, now you’re going to play the mysterious, cryptic mercenary?” she teased.

“Was I not mysterious before?” He clicked his tongue in exaggerated disappointment.  “And I was trying so hard!”

Well, shit. If she’d met Barsad in a more normal capacity, or even just when he passed through on some mission, Keeva was pretty sure that she would have tried to jump him.  She had a thing about voices.  Where Barsad’s words were soft and fluid, rolling off his tongue, each of Bane’s were sharp and clear, each syllable uttered with exacting pronunciation.  Both of them were… compelling. 

He’d had the opportunity to hurt her. She had willingly put herself in his control, and he done nothing but teach her.  Keeva was aware that she shouldn’t be so touched by basic decency, but it was so fucking rare.  People weren’t usually decent to her, so when someone was…  No, that was unhealthy.  There had to be more than just the fact that he hadn’t hurt her when he could have.  If she was really honest, she knew that wasn’t it.  He engaged her in conversation, spoke to her like an equal, offered guidance and protection…

Silence enveloped them, and Keeva felt her hands twitching. Her eyes moved to where the hook lay on the makeshift table not far off, and then the crate where Bane’s knitting had been tucked away.  The quick walk to retrieve the crochet hook chilled her feet before she returned to the bed, spinning the hook around her fingers.  It have her something to do, and kept her from acting on the foolish urge to reach out and touch Barsad’s hand.  It had been so long since someone touched her without ill intent.

After a moment, he moved to the table, laying out a positively massive rifle, its barrel hanging off the side of the crate. It was almost as long as Keeva was tall, far too bulky for any kind of quick combat.  A sniper then.  The end of the barrel was huge, and it was easy to imagine the sort of devastation a single round from it could inflict.  Again, she was reminded how dangerous these people were, and again, she found that she didn’t care.  Of course, the image was ruined, just a little, when Bane came back, a covered tray in one hand and a plastic grocery bag in the other.  It looked almost… normal.

A wooden chest was dragged over, some military jargon stenciled on in white. Bane set the tray down, and tossed the bag into Keeva’s lap.  It was soft, and when she peered in, there were several skeins of dark wool yarn.  Without thinking, her hand reached out, catching a bit between her fingers.  Soft, high quality, something she would probably have never been able to afford on her own.  Gratitude and self-consciousness warred in her chest, but she looked up and smiled.  “Thank you.”

There was a brief crinkle at the corners of his eyes. “Eat first.”  He pointed at the tray, the moved to the other side of the room.  He didn’t bother to duck behind the curtain to change, but she ducked her head anyway.  But she caught a glimpse of his bare back, a thick, ropey scar going all the way down his spine.  She knew the pain there, and swallowed her questions.  Each item he removed was folded and put away with meticulous care.  He did step behind the curtain to change out of the fatigues with the build in knee-guards.

Uncovering the tray revealed what could only be liver, fried with onions. It really was a pity that she hated liver.  But she was still woozy, and she knew that liver was an excellent source of iron.  So she ate it, piling onions into each bite to mitigate the metallic taste.  Bane left again, returning with two more trays.  Barsad found a corner of his work station for his, but stood, following Bane to the chair by the table. 

As Keeva watched, Barsad unfolded a rod from the wall, hanging an opaque IV bag from one of the hooks. With practiced motions, he tied off Bane’s arm above the elbow, waiting until the vein rose to the surface before slipping the needle in.  Keeva looked away at that, shivering.  She didn’t care for needles when it came to humans.  She could give a dog a shot easily, but people…  Her eyes came back up when she heard a quiet hiss.  Barsad had done something and the mask was coming off.  Bane took a few shuddering breaths, nodding to the other man who set the mask beside them on the table.

There was a tension in his muscles, and Barsad squeezed the IV bag a few times until Bane relaxed. Oh.  Pain medication so he could eat.  “I could—” she began.

“No. You are too weak.  Finish your food.”  His voice was just as precise and strangely accented, but it was a shock to hear his voice without the edge of the mask.  And he was handsome.  A huge scar cut across a set of beautifully plush, full lips, nose broken and crooked.  Stubble darkened his defined jaw, tan lines making circles around his eyes, the rest of him pale and sun-starved.  Keeva looked away; she was staring.  She hadn’t expected someone so beautiful.  His sigh was heavy, and then she heard him turn, uncovering a tray piled with food.  That made sense; with as large as he was, he had to consume more calories than most people to maintain his bulk.

Barsad’s food remained covered. He left briefly, returning with what appeared to be a shaving kit.  Bane’s shoulders relaxed at the familiar presence behind him, though he was aware of Keeva’s curious glances.  Practice made Barsad quick, shaving Bane’s head with a straight razor, waiting until all the food had been eating before working on his neck and jaw.  For a long time, Bane had done it all himself, not trusting anyone enough to literally hold a knife to his throat.  Despite his growing fondness for Keeva, instinct jangled his nerves to have another person present.  He was exposed like this, tethered to the Venom being dripped into his veins.

But she was as weak as he was just then, finishing her food with slow bites and letting out a heavy sigh when she was done. Barsad finished, and packed the kit away.  Bane brushed his teeth, and then settled back into the chair with a quiet sigh.  Keeva snuck one last look at his face before the mask was put back on, her eyes lingering on his lips.  She felt like she’d been intruding, stepping into a place and time where she wasn’t supposed to be.

Bane’s voice cut into her thoughts. “Do you require patterns?”  She blinked him back into focus, face quizzical.  He nodded his head at the bag beside her. 

“Oh! No, I can make hats and socks from memory.  Cowls, too.”  Leaning over, she pulled a worn piece from her back, a wide tube of thick yarn that she pulled over her head, demonstrating how it sat above the nose.  “Doesn’t require arranging like a scarf, and doesn’t take as long to make.”  She removed the cowl and drew one of the skeins out, fingers gentle.  “I can make hats fastest, if you want.”

His head tilted slightly, as if thinking. The arms crossed over his chest only made his shoulders look broader, one large hand visible over a forearm that was easily larger than her calf.  “Make one of each,” he finally said.  “There is a wound ball to start with.  Is the hook of a proper gauge?”

The fact that the feared terrorist knew about crochet hook sizes tickled her. “You got it right actually,” she said, lifting up the hook.  “It’s the size I prefer to work with, and I can make some tight stitching with this weight of yarn.”

“Excellent.” He looked to the side.  A clock was ticking silently on the wall.  It was after eight.  The temperature had starting dropping already; they were in for an especially cold night.  The others were already grouping in large rooms, laying out sleeping bags together to fill the room with their combined heat.  When he looked back, Barsad was taking apart his rifle, and Keeva had a blanket draped over her shoulders, a few rounds already started. 

He watched her fingers. Short but nimble, they drew loops of yarn over the hook, drawing it through to make a new stitch.  There was less tension in her shoulders, and there was a bit of color returning to her cheeks.  A proper doctor would have to be brought in, to learn and carefully document the exact extent of her abilities.  He was already going through names, people he could trust around her.  Her fear of being turned in was well founded.  There were certainly several organizations in the United States alone that would pay handsomely for a specimen like her.  The thought of that stirred his anger, a muscle ticking below his eye.

She looked so soft and small, wrapped in his blanket and working away. It stirred familiar urges, moments of joy and pride tangled with the dark memories of the Pit.  No matter what the rest of his life and made him, the urge to protect innocence remained.  Keeva was by no means the innocent child that Talia had been, but she was still soft and gentle in ways that surprised him.  That set her apart from Talia.  The softness in her had been poisoned, burned away by the League and what Bruce Wayne had done. 

They were both built around a core of steel, something unyielding that kept them going, no matter what life threw at them. Talia would scoff to be compared, but he knew she would not be angry.  She encouraged what he had with Barsad, and told him to take pleasure where he could.  So long as their work came first, she begrudged him nothing.  She would be meeting Keeva soon enough, probably at the first medical examination.

The familiar sounds of Barsad cleaning the massive Barrett rifle were soothing. It had amused Bane to know end when he learned that leaner man preferred the oversized gun to the easier to maneuver rifles that other snipers favored.  For all that he fought best at a distance, Barsad was a wild thing, hard and vicious, but loyal to a fault.  Bane could have ordered him to slit his own throat and he knew Barsad would obey without question, as he obeyed in all things.  It had been a while since they’d had any decent length of time alone together.  And seeing the way Keeva was reacting to them both was making the lack of contact ware on his nerves a bit more than usual.

He let his eyes close, just listening to the quite of the room. Keeva would swear occasionally under her breath, probably having to go back and redo a row or two.  He knew that frustration.  Behind the mask, his lip twitched.  The memory of her pulse hammering under his touch was so vivid he could imagine he still felt it under his fingers, along with the flutter of her breath.  Barsad was right, her first reaction had not been fear.  She was aware of the reaction as well, ducking away and trying to hide when one of them affected her.  

Even just sitting like he was, his blood heated, mind bending her before him, looking back over her tattooed shoulder. Or Barsad, putting his lips to her pale, soft skin, leaving marks behind to be sure that she remembered.  The scene he opened his eyes to was much more innocent, and he was glad for the mask for a moment.  Keeva was rubbing her eyes and yawning, fatigue finally winning the battle.  It looked like she had completed the crown of the hat, and Barsad was putting his rifle back together.  A chill was settling in the air.

His back ached, and he glared down at his boots. Bending over to unlace them…  Then Keeva was back in his line of sight, the quite shift of her movement having been inconsequential.  Now she crouched before him, head tilted to catch his gaze.  “I can help,” she said.  He had barely opened his mouth before she spoke again.  “You won’t let me help your pain, so let me do something useful.”

After a moment’s consideration, he waved a hand. Barsad glanced over his shoulder, watching Keeva crouch before Bane like a dog sat before its master.  Her fingers were quick with the laces, as if unaware of the thoughts she was stirring.  But she was very aware.  It had been a long time since she crouched willingly before a man.  To hide the heat it rose in her, she made it quick and efficient, just helping Bane by unlacing and removing his boots.  But she felt his gaze, burning into her bent shoulders and inclined head.  For a moment, she imagined him sinking his fingers into her hair, tugging her up and making her look at him.  But he let her draw away once the boots were set aside, and she moved back to the bed.

The bed had been made at some point, and she crawled in under the covers. But when she went to move closer to the wall, as she had the first night, Bane broke his silence. “No.  It’s going to be well below zero tonight.  You will sleep in the middle.”  His tone brooked no argument, and had what little blood she’d regained rushing to her cheeks.  But she did as she was asked, putting herself in the middle of the bed.  The main light turned off, and Barsad slid in between her and the wall.  She was facing out into the room when Bane turned off the light, becoming a hulking piece of darkness that slowly approached.

She pressed back as he lowered himself, slipping under the covers with them. Barsad’s chest was warm and solid, his arm laying over her side.  Bane pressed close, his heat creeping over them both and chasing away the chill.  The pounding of her heart made her chest feel tight, lungs squeezed until her breath fluttered.  As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she saw Bane’s face turned down to her, watching.  Barsad’s breath tickled her neck, making heat and gooseflesh race across her skin. 

Bane’s hand lifted, cupping her chin. His thumb dragged over her scar, catching on her lips.  It took all the restraint she had not to dart her tongue out and taste his skin.  As if matching the other man, Barsad’s arm stopped simply draping, wrapping around her waist and pulling her flush to his chest.  Bane’s fingers left her chin, tracing the column of her throat, lingering as it bobbed with her nervous swallow.  Her head was spinning, trying to peer through the dark and read his face.  Would she see the same hunger that was coming to life in her blood?

She knew now, that if one of them made a move, the other would not be far behind. They were a unit of a sort, a pair of hunters stalking the same prey, ready to share in the feast.  She pressed her legs together, looking away, but not moving to push his hand away.  The breath on her neck was maddening, the possibility of Bane’s hand so crystal clear it might as well have been a lit neon sign.  Keeva wasn’t sure she’d be able to say no if they pounced.  Aware of the hunt now, her heart beat faster, pulse jumping under Bane’s fingers.

He smiled. “Sleep, Keeva.”  Then he dropped his hand and rolled over, pulling the blankets up over his shoulder.

‘Fuck.’

 

Chapter Text

Keeva had woken in bed with others before.  When she was small, she and her two siblings had shared a bed for warmth during the months when their apartment building had lost power in the winter.  But coming awake to the embrace of two men, to have their arms around her and their legs braided with hers, was something else entirely.  She had been so starved for human contact that so much at once set her heart pounding.  But she was so comfortable, wrapped in warmth and safety. 

Bane had turned over in the night, his arm around both her and Barsad, her face pressed to his chest.  Barsad had tucked her head under his chin, one arm against her back, and the other still anchored around her waist, keeping her pressed close.  Any movement on her part would wake one or both of them.  She bit her lip, remembering Bane’s touch, so light and gentle, but full of promise of something very different.  Keeva squeezed her eyes shut, trying to calm her racing pulse.  But Barsad shifted behind her, erection pressing into her backside.

‘Oh, for fuck’s sake...’  It was enough to break the tension that had been twisting inside her, so real and humanizing.  Beyond what they did, they were still just people.  But she couldn’t begin to explain Bane’s actions the previous night.  Flirting with Barsad, that she understood.  It was banter, an easy back and forth.  He never pushed like he wanted more from it, but never put ‘more’ outside the realm of possibility.  That was… manageable.

Bane was a whole other animal.  He acted and spoke with precision and control, every move seeming perfectly calculated.  That meant that his brief touch to her lips and throat had been for a purpose.  If that was true…  The idea that he might actually want her was absurd.  It had to be.  But another explanation wasn’t exactly forthcoming.  He was testing, his teasing silent where Barsad used words.  Keeva lowered her head, brow bumping Bane’s chest.  Not breathing him in was impossible.  Without the mask near her nose, the smell was just him.  Masculine musk and a hint of the same smokiness that lingered after a gun was fired. 

Intense curiosity washed over her.  She could imagine what he did, but she wanted to know more.  He had taken the city; what did he do to keep it?  She didn’t know why the military hadn’t stormed the place, and was left wondering.  Her dogs were out, there was nothing left for her to care about in the city.  She knew the definition of words like ‘mercenary’ and ‘terrorist’.  She knew what they meant.  But these people, none of them fit the narrative that the media liked to parade.  She supposed that all terrorists were people underneath, but…

It was the kindness, she knew.  The soft spot for animals.  That was what had let her begin to trust Bane.  He had been the epitome of power and fear before, and she had approached him prepared for the worst.  He wouldn’t let a single child leave the city, but the dogs, they were who he’d freed.  Whatever else he was, she judged him by that action.  It wasn’t like bad people couldn’t love animals, she knew that.  A grumbling noise left her as she stuffed the thoughts away.  They weren’t helping.  She just had to go step by step, day by day, and just react as things happened.

Behind her, Barsad stirred, rolling onto his other side.  Bane’s arm tightened over them both.  It was an odd sort of… tender possessiveness.  It seemed more like he wanted to be close, rather than just needing to control where they were.  Keeva snuck a look up at him, and found him still sleeping.  Or rather, his eyes were still closed.  The mask hissed and rattled with his breath, a gentle white noise that she found comforting.  She closed her eyes again.  Then his hand moved, leaving Barsad.  She thought he was turning back over until his hand slid into her hair.  His fingers straightened and curled, gliding through the strands.  Keeva flushed but sighed, not needing to look up to know that his eyes were open.

It lasted only a few moments, and he was slipping from the bed, making sure the covers tucked back around them.  To Keeva’s displeasure, Barsad rose as well, and she cocooned herself in the remaining warmth, unwilling to open her eyes.  The light came on, and she buried deeper before giving up.  Rubbing the sleep from her eyes she sat up, blinking at the shapes in the room.  Bane was eating, hooked up to the IV again.  It wasn’t just the scar on his face.  His jaw was uneven in places, evidence of badly healed brakes.  His nose was more crooked from the side, a divot in his cheekbone showing another break.  It took nothing from how beautiful he was.

Barsad drew her eye, clothes folded over his arm.  The pants were the same, if a bit more worn.  There was the addition of her own clean bra, and a thermal shirt and leggings.  Ducking behind the curtain, but only half caring—they’d both seen her naked yesterday, anyways—she dressed, glad for the warm underlayers.  When she came out, Bane was holding her boots out to her, mask once more in place.  “You will walk with me, today.”  He was wearing the vest and the large shearling coat again, looking even larger and more imposing than usual.

Keeva’s eyes widened fractionally, taking the borrowed sweater and pulling it on again.  With the proper support, she knew she looked chestier than before.  She knew it was stupid to think about, but they drew attention.  Avoiding attention had sort of been her ‘thing’ before.  She stopped at that, a smirk pulling at her lips.  She was going to be walking with Bane, avoiding attention had effectively become impossible.  Anxiety reared its head, an old enemy that she was used to. 

Her arms crossed over her chest in a protective gesture, and she fought not to hunch her shoulders.  She wasn’t even out of the room and she felt out of place, set against someone like Bane.  He was… a fucking warrior, and she…  Her jaw clenched.  She was Keeva.  Yes, she was useful, but there was no doubt that Bane became the center of attention wherever he went.  And she was new, not a guard and with rumors of magic surrounding her.  With her at Bane’s side, attention would be on her as well.

The hand dropping onto her shoulder made her jump.  “You’re going to the mess hall with me first,” Barsad said.  “Well, what amounts to a mess.”

People, lovely.  But she straightened.  She had no idea how others reacted to Barsad, but she couldn’t exactly stay down here forever.  Her few brief forays into the rest of the place made her think it was a kind of warehouse, built with underground facilities.  Bane’s room was underground, on the same level as the training room.  Thinking about that made heat start dripping down her spine, and she turned gladly back to her anxiety.  The three of them left the room, out into the dimly lit hall.  They went the opposite way, a hint of memory telling her they’d gone this way when the two injured had been brought in.

Barsad wasn’t carrying a rifle, but a pistol was clearly visible on his hip, and Keeva was pretty sure she’d seen him stuff a knife into his boot.  Her fingers brushed her own knife, clipped again to her belt.  She would be safe.  It was just a pity that Piper wasn’t there.  It was easier to interact with people through dogs, and Piper had been so friendly that everyone loved her.  And if someone was unkind to a dog without cause, it was a good indicator of character.  Walking behind her, Barsad saw the tension in the set of her shoulders, the way she kept her arms folded in front of her.  He wondered how long it had been since she dealt with people in any sort of positive sense.  He was well aware of what prolonged isolation could do to your people skills.

Keeva looked up when he fell into step beside her.  He didn’t say a word as he met her eyes, but he winked, a quick flash of a smile on his lips.  Alright, if he was there, it wouldn’t be so bad.  She would have gathered them both, if she was honest.  However little she knew of him, Bane gave her a feeling of safety.  She only got an explanation when they reached a set of doors, the hum of human conversation beyond them.  Bane turned, a quick, efficient move.  “They need to see you as one of them,” he said. 

“As much as we’d like to keep you to ourselves, you should get to know a few of us,” Barsad said, his teasing tone making Bane shoot him a brief look.  “Don’t speak of his pain.  Some know, others guess, but give them nothing.  You are simply our new healer.”

“Won’t they ask why I’ve been holed up with him?” Keeva said.

“There will be assumptions,” Barsad said.  “There are rumors enough about me; you will face some of those as well.”

“They’ll think I’m sleeping with him,” Keeva said.  Barsad nodded.  She bit her lip, brows furrowing in thought.  “Will thinking that make the… nastier ones leave me alone?”  While Barsad smiled openly, and the corners of Bane’s eyes crinkled briefly.  She took that as a ‘yes’.  “Let them then.  I’ll be vague and evasive.  Neither confirm nor deny.” 

Barsad squeezed her shoulder.  “You catch on quick, rafiq,” he said. 

Bane nodded to them both, turning back push the doors open.  Barsad and Keeva followed, breaking away from him and falling into the line that circle around the edges of the room.  Mismatched tables had been pulled into haphazard rows, filled with people of nearly every imaginable ethnicity.  They all looked up, most of their eyes following Bane.  Standing at Barsad’s elbow, Keeva watched him climb a set of stairs to a sort of observation desk.  There was a table there, and he sat down, watching from above.

A hand on her elbow, Barsad steered Keeva through the line, some kind of dark stew ladled into their bowls.  It smelled heavenly and full of spices.  His hand left her elbow and she followed him to a table.  He didn’t sit at an empty one, as she would have chosen, instead sitting across from a familiar looking woman.  When she closer, Keeva recognized her.  She had been the one that altered Bane to the injured yesterday, and the one that the injured woman—Adina—had clung to.  The woman opened her mouth to speak to Barsad, but then recognition crossed her dark face as she laid eyes on Keeva.  Her smile revealed white, slightly crooked teeth.

“I never got a chance to thank you, Sister,” she said in thickly accented English.

“Is she doing alright?” Keeva asked.  “Adina was her name, right?”

“Yes!  She was able to return to duty this morning, thanks to you.  I am Sarah.”  She held out a hand missing the pinky.  Her hand shake was firm and brisk. 

“Keeva.  And I’m glad.”  Her smile was genuine; she had forgotten that it actually felt good to help people that were in real need.

Sarah caught Keeva’s hand with both of hers this time.  “I am indebted to you, Keeva,” she said seriously.  “I would have lost her.”  The love was so plain on her face that something in Keeva began to ache.  She turned her hand and clasped Sarah’s.

“I’m so glad I could help,” she said, and found she meant it.

Sarah released her hands, looking to Barsad as Keeva began eating.  “Where did Bane find such a treasure, Brother?”

“She found him,” Barsad said.  “She has no love for the city.”

Turning, Sarah spat onto the floor behind her, muttering something in Arabic.  “You will be useful here, Sister.”  She nodded so confidently before going back to her food, so assured of her own words. 

A smile pulled at Keeva’s lips despite herself, and she started eating.  The spice was heavy, making sweat break out on her upper lip.  But it was the best food she had had in ages, and she devoured it all.  Her stomach full and heat creeping out into her limbs, she felt… happy.  It had been a while.  Her eyes lifted.  Bane was standing now, hands braced on the railing as he looked down.  Guards flanked him, armed.  They looked tiny in comparison, and she smirked.  Even if she had no idea how he fought, she knew how fast he was.  A little thrill went through her at the memory. 

Movement behind her made her spin, not liking the way her back was exposed.  To men had come up, their attention split between her and Barsad.  They said something to him in a language she couldn’t identify, and she couldn’t see his face to gauge his reaction.  But she saw the hand on the table curl into a loose fist, and a shiver prickled her skin.  A third man sat behind her, making her spin to face him.  His wide, pale face was full of curiosity, but something about the sunken eyes and half smile set her teeth on edge, the hair on the back of her neck prickling.

He slung a companionable arm over her shoulder, making her flinch and stiffen.  “So you are new healer!”  His accent was sharp and Slavic, and the smell of old cigarettes rolled off him in waves.  Barsad said something, possibly in Russian.  “Of course not!” he snapped back.  Then he was speaking to her again.  “Am I bothering you?”

“Yes.”  Keeva’s heart was hammering in her chest, body on fire where the man’s body touched hers.  “Let go,” she said, rolling her shoulder in an attempt to shrug him off.

His grip tightened, and panic raised bile in the back of her throat.  “I am just being friendly!  We must welcome you!”

Surging to her feet, Keeva jerked away.  “So say ‘welcome’,” she spat.  “Don’t go touching people without their permission!”  Only Barsad saw that she had unclipped her knife, thumb on the catch, ready to flip the blade into the open.   He also saw Sarah slide silently to her feet, watching carefully as she began to move behind the man. 

“American girls are so sensitive!” the man grumbled, lip curling.  He took a step forward, hands balled into fists.  He stopped abruptly, eyes widening.

Keeva kept the tip of the knife pressed against the soft spot between his legs.  Fear screamed for her to run, the sweat on her plams making it hard to grip the handle.  But there was no running from this.  Barsad was just out of arm’s reach, and while he would probably be able to get to her if something bad happened, it would take a moment.  Moments were precious in situations like these, and a hell of a lot could go very wrong in a very short span of time. 

She kept her eyes on the other man.  “If you ever expect me to shove your guts back in, listen when a woman tells you something,” she hissed.

Above it all, Bane watched intently.  He couldn’t see exactly what Keeva was doing, but it had frozen the big man—Pytor, if memory served—in his tracks.  But he saw the quiet sweep over the immediate crowd, and had seen Sarah with her hand on her own knife, Barsad ready to draw his pistol.  But Keeva had stopped it all.  When she stepped back, letting her back bump into Barsad’s chest, Bane saw the knife in her hands, held at the level that would make any man pause.  He smiled behind the mask.  No wonder she had survived on her own so long.

Barsad’s hand settled on her shoulder, and he could feel her nearly vibrating.  Whether in anger or fear didn’t matter, she showed no weakness, easily standing her ground against some more than twice her size.  The group dissipated, some laughing at Pytor who skulked off, scowling.  “So good at making friends, rafiq,” he joked, while his hand squeezed her shoulder reassuringly.

“I hope he’s useful some other way,” Keeva muttered.  “You can’t have hired him for his brains…”  She shoved shaking hands into her pockets.  A shout from above drew their attention.  One of Bane’s guards was gesturing up. 

Hand lowering to her elbow, Barsad steered her through the crowd and towards the stairs.  The narrow stairs made her thighs burn, and she was breathing a touch harder when she reached the top.  Bane carried himself differently outside the room she realized, back ram-rod straight and stance wide.  And somehow, he was wearing another mask, this one a veil over his eyes, making them hard and unreadable.  Every inch the powerful leader, the undefeated warlord.  Power.  He positively radiated power.  Fuck.  It really shouldn’t be so attractive.

“You may have made an enemy today,” Bane said to her.

She shrugged. “It’s no great loss.”  There, just for a moment, a crinkle in the corner of his eyes.  “But I’ll be perfectly civil if he does the same.”  He nodded, as if accepting her words. 

Then, “walk with me.” 

As he turned, he gave some sort of signal to the guards, and then fell in behind them, Keeva at Bane’s side, and Barsad walking ahead.  No matter how small Bane had made them look, the guards were not small, both with obvious combat experience.  They watched from the rear, eyes burning holes in her back.  They probably took great pride in being Bane’s personal guards; did they see her as an interloper?  Someone unworthy of their leader’s attention? 

But they kept walking in silence.  As they passed through the large space of the main floor, Bane stopped and talked.  Sometimes English, sometimes Arabic, Russian, and other languages she couldn’t name.  But he was earnest with each one, occasionally placing a hand on the speaker’s shoulder.  Each of them looked at him the exact same way.  Reverence was the only word that Keeva could come up with.  And she was starting to understand.  He didn’t talk down to them—at least not in English.  He didn’t necessarily treat them as equals, but he didn’t belittle, didn’t intimidate.  She was also fairly certain he joked once or twice.

At some point in every conversation, eyes slid to her.  But Bane must not have acknowledged her at all, because looks were all she got.  Slowly, the pounding rhythm of her heart slowed, and her palms stopped sweating.  She finally got a chance to look around, too.  The main floor of the warehouse had become a sea of tents, all of them what she assumed military surplus.  There were fires in barrels, and generators puttered away to keep a few space heaters running. 

There were more men than women, but all the women there looked like they could kill any one of the men with their bare hands.  It made sense; only the toughest and most able women would survive as mercenaries.  They were the ones who smiled at her, who gave her silent little nods.  Keeva knew that look.  Solidarity.  How could they?  She was a soft American woman, untrained in everything except the most basic self-defense.  These women looked like armies unto themselves.

Eventually, they descended into the underground again, and found themselves in the training room.  It wasn’t empty this time, with clusters of people by the weights in the corner, and a few paired off to spar.  But Bane—thankfully—didn’t seem intent on starting up another lesson.  Keeva wasn’t sure she could have handled that just then, displaying how pathetic she was among so many skilled fighters.  Instead, Bane lead her to a door on the other side of the room.  What they walked into could only be a clinic.  The smell of antiseptic filled her nose enough to tingle.  She realized that the other two guards had fallen back, staying outside the door.

There was shuffling from behind a fold out screen, and a woman’s head emerged, head a mess of ash-blonde curls.  “Oh?  Hello there.”  Another unplaceable accent, but she looked fairly Anglo-Saxon.  “You must be Keeva Brogan.”

“This is Dr. Magnuson,” Bane said, turning to Keeva.  “Tomorrow, you will receive a full physical.  I thought it best to introduce you.”  The woman stuck out a hand.  Keeva shook it dumbly.  “She will have any medical needs tended to, and will help us in documenting your abilities.”  He’d been ready for her hackles to go up at that, so was prepared for the fear that flashed in her eyes.  “She is very aware of what would happen if any of that information were to leave this compound.”  His eyes pinned the doctor, and she squirmed, avoiding his gaze.

Keeva wanted to be angry.  Being examined by a doctor had been her greatest fear for years.  Even now, just the thought made her stomach lurch.  But if she was to be useful, if she was to keep her word to Bane…  She swallowed, hard, and then nodded.  “Alright.”  It was all she could manage, resigned and stiff.  “You said tomorrow?”

“In the morning,” Magnuson chimed in.  “Preferably before you’ve eaten anything.” 

“If I do any healing without food, I get really weak,” Keeva said.

“Ah.”  She tapped her pointed chin, then turned to Bane.  “She is assisting you, yes?”  A silent nod.  “Very well.  I’d like to monitor the both of you while she does… whatever it is she does.  Is that… acceptable?”  The nervousness was creeping back in.

“Yes.  Time?”

“Oh, whenever’s easiest for you, Mr. Bane,” the doctor said hurriedly.  He made her nervous with just his presence.  Keeva wanted to find it cruel, or unnecessary, but if the doctor was afraid of Bane, she was less likely to share anything on Keeva with any other interested parties.

“O-eight-hundred then,” he said.  Then to Keeva and Barsad, “come.” 

Glad to leave the room, Keeva followed at a trot, Barsad on their heels.  He was the only one walking with them after that.  Keeva’s shoulders stayed hunched and her arms wound around her middle.  She was delicate in a strange sort of way, ready to do a man serious bodily harm one moment, and then nearly shut down the next.  But she had never wavered, standing tall as fear stormed inside her.  She was a survivor, through and through.

 

000

 

There was another attack.  One of Bane’s patrols had come across a pocket of resistance fighters, and the cornered had lashed out.  Three people were dead by the time they made it back the warehouse, the huge garage doors thrown open and the icy wind blasting through.  Keeva stood at Bane’s side, the shouts and screaming washing over her.  This was where she was needed.  Her mind tried to spit out excuses; trying to make the people unworthy.  But she had given herself to this.  There were medics among the soldiers, and she took a deep, steadying breath before approaching the one who appeared to be in charge. 

“Who’s… who’s hurt the worst?” she asked, hoping that the man spoke English.  He looked at her for a moment, utterly baffled.  Then he saw Bane standing a few feet behind her, and realization dawned.

“Come!”  He put a hand on her shoulder and dragged her through the crowd. 

When he let go, Keeva stripped off her sweater and tied it around her waist, rolling up her sleeves.  The man on the stretcher had a bundle of rags pressed to his throat, lips crimson as he tried not to drown in his own blood.  Even as panic roared, Keeva reached out, slipping her small hands under his.  A wound across the side of his neck, a nicked artery, torn muscles…  Her own scream choked on blood as the side of her neck opened.  Her body convulsed, and she turned to the side to cough a splatter of blood onto the pavement.  With shaking legs, she stood, taking the rag that was offered and wiping at her neck.  This time she tried to focus, feeling the flesh knitting together, hoping to smooth out the scar.

When she wobbled, the medic reached out, catching her shoulder.  Awareness of something bright and warm washed over her, and as she wavered, she reached for it.  Energy rushed through her, chasing out the fatigue and dizziness.  Beside her, the medic made a noise of confusion, and when she looked, he was shaking his head and blinking.  Before she could ask if he was alright, he was dragging her to the next man, who had lost two of his fingers.  Keeva’s hand only throbbed and bled as she knitted the flesh over the stumps, and then it was on to the next.

And so it went.  She would heal and heal until she started to waver.  Each time she did, someone would reach out for her, offering a word and a steadying hand.  Somehow, it would balance her.  She set bones, screaming as her body took the pain and reformed itself, and was sweating by the time it was over.  But she was conscious.  Her clothes were stained with blood, and she felt like she’d been trampled, but she wasn’t about to slip into unconsciousness.

It was Sarah that found her, slipping an arm around her shoulders and leading her from the main floor.  The stairs were agony, but Sarah’s arm going around her waist steadied her.  “Easy, habibi,” the woman murmured.  “You did well.  I have you.  Just a few more.”  They ended up on the observation deck where Bane had been that morning.  He was there again.  Sarah helped her to a chair, and pressed a metal canteen into her hands.  “Drink.”  Keeva complied, water running down her chin and throat bobbing. 

“Keeva.”  Bane’s voice drew her out of her thoughts, and she looked up as he crouched beside her.  Reaching out, he tilted her head to the side, using a damp cloth that smelled of alcohol to wipe at the blood on her neck.  There was no injury beneath it, and she showed no pain when he pressed gently against the bloody places on her clothing.  Setting the cloth down, he brushed her hair back, holding it away from her face as he stared into her eyes. 

“’M alright,” she said.  “More practice.  I focus on myself and close things over.”  She touched a neck with her hand, blood drying and crusted around her short nails. “Sorry I keep bleeding on the clothes you give me.”

“We will have to find you a uniform for such activities.”

“Make it red,” Keeva muttered, and Sarah snorted behind her. 

“You need rest,” Bane said, mouth twitching behind the mask.  There were dark circles under her eyes again, but she was able to stand on her own.  He nodded to Sarah.  “Return her to my quarters, make sure she rests.  Stay with her until you are relived.”

“Yes, sir.”

Keeva still required a hand on her arm as they went back down the stairs, but she was able to walk unaided back underground.  She could feel Sarah watching, the curious glances always fleeting.  “You wanna ask questions, right?” Keeva finally said.  When she looked over, the older woman was staring pointedly ahead.  “It’s fine.  You’ve probably been with Bane for a while; you had to work for his respect.  I climb out of Gotham’s shit hole, and suddenly I’m staying with him.  That has to be weird for you.”  Dark eyes flicked back to her, uncertain.  “I mean it, ask.”  She had seen Sarah stand when the man had been bothering her, had seen her reaching for her weapon.  Keeva felt like she could trust her, just a little.

“How…  Where do your abilities come from?” Sarah asked hesitantly.

“No idea,” Keeva said with a shrug.  “They just… happened.”

“You weren’t… in a lab?”  The word for ‘experiment’ seemed to escape her.

“I mean, my childhood is kind foggy, but I mostly remember playing in the shitty parks in Gotham,” she said with a shrug.  They reached the room, and Sarah unlocked it, letting them both in.

“There are stories,” Sarah continued, taking up a post to the side of the door, hand on her belt near a massive machete.  “About people like you.  They’re called…”  Another frown.

“Meta-humans,” Keeva supplied.  “At least here.”

“Yes.  At least half the people back home say such people are cursed, and the other half say they are blessed by God.”

Keeva retrieved her crochet and sat down on one of the chairs, her back to a wall.  “People here usually think the same thing, but with less pretty words,” she muttered.  “It could have been worse though.  I could have been stuck setting shit on fire with my mind when I was angry.”

“Setting… shit…  I don’t… oh!”  Sarah chuckled.  “Yes, that would probably make people angry.”

“I mean, I’m sure Bane could find a use for me if I could throw fire, but…”  She looked down at her hands as they worked, starting on the body of the hat.  “This… this helps.  There was never any help for me but myself, and now I can… I can do something.  It matters.”  When she looked up, Sarah was smiling, but looked a bit confused.

“You grew up here,” the other woman finally said.  “Your family is—”

“Don’t have a family,” Keeva said bitterly.  “All gone.”

“Not… not even—how you say?—found family?”

“I had the dogs.  And the people I worked with.  I worked taking care of peoples’ dogs when they were at work or went on trips.  I like dogs better than people.  Most of the people I worked with felt the same way.”

“What happened to them?”  She seemed to genuinely want to know.

“Don’t know.  I know I was the only one that showed up after… after the Stadium,” Keeva said.  She hoped Sarah wouldn’t ask about the dogs; she didn’t know if she was allowed to tell people about what he’d done for her or not.  To her surprise, Sarah smiled.

“Bane shows no weakness, but he likes animals.  Dogs in particular,” she said.  “I like cats, myself.”  Keeva’s look was careful.  “My brother was one of the people that helped transport your animals,” Sarah explained.  “You gave up your dog, too.”

The reminder hurt, even if it hadn’t been on purpose.  “I did.”  She didn’t elaborate, voice tight.  Sarah must have heard something in her voice, because she fell silent, letting the quiet settle around them.  Every now and then, she looked up at Sarah.  Eventually the older woman’s eyes fell on the bed.  It was made, but the three pillows were a bit of a giveaway.  Keeva didn’t have to look up to know there was curiosity in Sarah’s look now.  But she didn’t offer anything; if Sarah asked, she would be vague, as promised.

But she didn’t pry, either respecting Keeva’s privacy or fearing her leader, Keeva couldn’t be sure.  She also wasn’t about to ask how Sarah had come to this.  Anyone in this line of work couldn’t have a very happy beginning story.  “You said your brother was here?  I mean, Bane calls people ‘brother’, but…”

“My sibling, yes,” Sarah said.  “Amid.”  Her smile was fond.  “He’s one of the youngest.  Eighteen.  I couldn’t leave him when I left, and he’s very smart.” 

The smile she got from Keeva was genuine.  “It’s good you’re watching out for him.”

“We all watch out for each other here.”  Her expression soured, thinking of Pytor.  “Well, most of us.”

Keeva’s lip curled at the memory.  “Yeah, that was… unpleasant.”

“Most men are,” Sarah said, and Keeva remembered that she was with the woman, Adina.

“You’re not wrong.  Women are easier sometimes.”  That got her a look. 

“So… you are interested in…?”  Her voice was hesitant.

“Not exclusively, but yes,” Keeva said. 

“So you can also appreciate the form of our leader?”  The hesitation was gone, replaced by a bright and glittering mischief.

Taken off guard, Keeva blushed, but kept looking at her crochet.  “Yes.  He’s… not unattractive.”

Sarah’s laugh was a cackle.  “Not my type, but I can see the… as—aesthetic appeal.  You should see the way they fawn over him,” she said.  “Some are jealous.”

“Of me?”  Be vague, remember?

“Well, If I were to sleep between two beautiful women every night, I would think I had died and gone to paradise,” she said.

“Oh, yes.  That… would make sense.”  It did.  Waking up like that was… rewarding.  “But I don’t really know them.  They’re… nice, in their way.”  She couldn’t trust them exactly.

“Not the way most would describe our leader.” 

Keeva knew that.  He had hurt people in Gotham, likely hundreds more before.  She knew nothing about him, and despite being attracted to his power and dominance, he was frightening.  “Being a killer doesn’t necessarily make you a bad person,” she finally said. 

“You are well educated,” Sarah said, a surprised smile on her face.

“Not really,” Keeva said dismissively.  “I just know things aren’t black and white.  The line between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ isn’t as clear as people like to think.”

“Whatever else he might be, Bane is a good leader.”  Sarah nodded her head like that was all there was too it. 

Keeva let that be it.  They had treated her with respect and that was all she would respond to.  She knew nothing of their pasts other than what they wanted to share.  If they offered more, that was up to them.  She’d made a promise, and intended to keep it.  Being truly useful was a novelty to her, and the idea that people could be grateful to her for her abilities…  She smiled to herself, hesitant to accept it.  After a while, her eyes began to droop, her hands slowing with the stitches.  She didn’t realize how much she’d been drifting until Sarah caught her as she slumped forward.

“Let’s get you to the bed, habibi,” the woman said gently.  Pulling Keeva’s arm around her shoulders, she helped her over to the mattress, kneeling to peel back the covers before helping her lay down.  “Rest now,” she said, smoothing a hand over the blankets.  “I will stand watch.”  Keeva mumbled something, trying to smile as she rolled onto her side and curled into a ball.

 

000

 

“She could haff killed me!” Pytor snapped, arms crossed tightly over his chest.

“You look alive to me,” Barsad said sharply, eyes narrowing.

Pytor ignored him, directing his gaze at Bane’s back.  “You told me to test her, I test her.  She was not supposed to put knife to—”

“I gave you no indication as to how the girl would react to you,” Bane said, voice low and even.  “I merely told you to push, to see how far she’d go.”

“She would haff castrated me!  In middle of mess hall!”

“Yes, she would have,” Bane agreed, still not turning.  For all her willingness to heal, Keeva was sharp as a razor, acting to survive without a moment’s hesitation.  She assessed what would most quickly dissuade an attacker, what would make them stop in their tracks.  Behind the mask he smiled.  “You played your part, brother, return to your duties.”  It couldn’t have been one of his inner circle that tested her; they respected his protection of the girl far too much.  It had had to be one of the others.  A risk, but one that had played in his favor.

Pytor surged forward, jerking to a halt when Barsad swung up his rifle—smaller than the fifty-caliber one he usually favored—jabbing the muzzle into the larger man’s chest.   Barsad didn’t make a sound, just stared, eyes lidded and sharp, finger on the trigger.  Slowly, Bane straightened from the desk, turning to face the man.  “Do you have something more to say to me, brother?” he said evenly.  His eyes met the other man’s, and he stood perfectly still, arms loose at his sides.  He waited.  Seconds stretched into minutes before Pytor spun, spitting something in Russian as he left. 

Barsad didn’t lower his gun until the door closed again.  “I don’t like him,” he muttered in Arabic.

“He has a few useful connections,” Bane responded in kind.  “Good with a rifle and with his fists.”

“Not much else.”

Bane snorted.  “Perhaps not.  How are the injured?”

Returning to his spot to the left of the desk, facing the door, the corner of the sniper’s mouth twitched upwards.  “Not injured.  She did better this time.”

“With hiding her abilities, it is unlikely she had any serious practice,” Bane mused. 

He came around the desk, he sat down, pulling the file towards him.  Birth records, stints in the hospital for perceived injuries that had turned out to be nothing.  Her parents were no one of note, both dead before she turned sixteen.  The car accident she had described had killed all other occupants of the vehicle, as well as the driver of the car they had hit.  Two brothers, both killed in connection to minor crimes. 

There was only one thing, something that had apparently been expunged from her record.  Her one and only run in with Gotham Police.  A crime reported.  A young, up and coming football star was accused.  Nothing had been done, not even an arrest.  The victim instead accused of lying.  It was a common enough story in the United States, but it still needled him. 

But, it also proved just how strong she was.  A survivor, before all else.  Fierce.  The familiarity was more than a bit starling.  He closed the file and returned it to the drawer before locking it.  She would likely be asleep now.  The fact that she’d been able to get past three people without passing out had been a pleasant surprise.  It could have to do with the fact that she was eating more regularly now, or she could be getting more practice.  It could be both.  Rolling his shoulders, he tried to shift some of the tension that had settled there.  The pain was coming back.

He didn’t want to become reliant on her.  But taking the edge off the pain without drugs, without tethering himself to the side effects and risks of withdrawal…  He mentally shook himself.  She reacted well to him, eager to be useful.  She had an odd sort of loyalty, keeping her word.  It had been rash to help her as he had, but something in her eyes had caught his attention, something familiar.  That desperation, willing to sacrifice everything for her goal…  No, he would not draw those parallels. 

 

000

 

Keeva felt hung over when she woke up.  Which was stupid, because she hadn’t had a drop of alcohol in years.  Her stomach was growling, and a look around the room revealed that Sarah had left.  Instead, Bane was sitting on the stool, head bent and hands moving.  A few blinks cleared the sleep from her eyes and she saw the flash of knitting needles.  The hand she scrubbed over her face hid her smile.  She saw there was a bottle of water beside the mattress, and a covered tray.  She couldn’t see the clock from where she was.

“What time is it?”

He looked at her for a moment, then pointed at the tray with his chin.  “Eat.”

‘Laconic bastard, isn’t he?’  Crossing her legs under her, Keeva ended up nearly drinking half the bottle before she took a breath, uncovering something with beans and chopped potatoes.  Again, it was full of spices, the heat burning down her throat and chasing out some of the background chill. 

The little groan of pleasure at the first bite made Bane’s mouth twitch behind the mask.  He didn’t eat all the same things as the others, but he knew that the food wasn’t that good.  She ate in silence after that, occasionally sneaking looks at him.  She would be getting especially curious by now.  While especially well known in his own circles, he was still unknown to the general public.  That was fine with him.  But a woman as sharp as Keeva seemed would undoubtedly have plenty of questions.  Weather she would ask them or not was another matter.

“Is… is everyone alright?” she finally said, words hesitant, as if unsure if she was allowed to speak.  “From earlier.  I know some died but…”

“You exceeded my expectations.”  The way her eyes brightened, and she ducked her head to smile proved that she responded well to positive reinforcement, possibly because she had had so little in the past.  It would be so easy to get her to do anything he wanted.  His power allowed him many things, but compelling a woman to lay with him was not one of them.  If they wanted to come to him?  That was up to them.

“That’s… good.”  Praise was new.  She’d been good at her job with the dogs, and promoted quickly.  But this… this felt different.  Bane didn’t seem like the type to pay compliments unless he truly meant them.  Or if it served a purpose…  Wariness prickled in the back of her mind. 

When she looked back up at him, he saw the poor attempt to hide her wariness, and made sure that his smile didn’t reach his eyes.  Even untrained, she had a sharp mind.  That just meant shaping and training her would be all the more rewarding.  It had been many years since he’d been able to use his intellect in a way he really enjoyed.  Bruce Wayne was intelligent, to be certain, but he had been no real opponent.  Talia’s work meant that there was no longer time for chess, and he found himself wondering if Keeva played.

Adjusting the needles to make sure no loops slipped off, he returned his knitting to the crate.  He pushed to his feet.  “Come with me.”  He watched her stuff her feet into her boots, his gaze making her rush a bit.  The remaining blood crusted around her neck and mouth was coming off in small, dark flakes.  “You will bathe and then be fitted for proper gear.”

“Oh, thank god,” Keeva muttered, falling in behind him.  “I was afraid to ask.  This itches.”

“Afraid?”   She blinked at his back, not having expected to explain herself.  Seeming to sense her hesitation, he clarified.  “Did you fear my reaction to such a simple request?”

Oh.  Well that dived right into the middle of her issues, didn’t it?  She was glad his back was turned, so he didn’t see her flinch.  “It can’t be easy to get a bath set up,” she mumbled.  “I didn’t… didn’t want to be a bother.”

“While daily bathing isn’t possible, I’d hardly expect you to walk around covered in blood and grime.” 

He made it sound so simple, and she felt exposed, like he’d cut into her and was peering into her past.  Asking for simple things had sometimes gotten fierce reprimands.  To think that a masked terrorist that had brought an entire city to its knees would be the one to treat simple requests the way they were supposed to be.  The strangeness made her smile. 

“Thank you.”

It would take some time to get used to her particular type of honesty.  His people were honest with him, but it was always tinged with respect and reverence.  Keeva’s…  She respected him, yes, was perhaps even awed by him.  But whenever he did something she deemed worthy of gratitude, she seemed so surprised.  Distrustful, even, as if not daring to believe that such things were really happening to her.  She might not realize it, but that gave him a great deal of power.  To be positive where so many others had failed, it could blind her to other things.

Could, but probably wouldn’t, he reasoned.  She seemed wary of everything, and would likely examine every interaction they had with a critical eye, trying to guess his motivation.  Again, her sharpness made him smile.  It didn’t take long to reach their destination.  There were rooms that had been refitted as what amounted to public bathing spaces, but he had his own, the room where he and Barsad had taken her after the first healing. 

The clawfoot bathtub was large, the piping of the showerhead exposed where it was fastened to the wall.  Keeva saw and IV stand in the corner, and thought of Bane’s face, the scars and old breaks…  He was an attractive man, despite all that.  Hell, with it.  But she had always been strangely fascinated with scars.  Bane shed his coat, hanging it on a hook.  The form-fitting thermal shirt he wore was as frustrating as the first time.  She stood near the door, hands clasped in front of her, picking at blood under her nails.

Bane started the water running.  Keeva remembered that there was no curtain.  Fuck.  ‘They both saw you naked before, and didn’t do anything!’ she reminded herself.  But that had been two men watching over her.  This, one-on-one with Bane, was somehow different.  She felt heat in her cheeks and knew that color was rising.  Then she swallowed, and squared her shoulders.  She could make this another test of her own, retain some fragile control of the situation.  If he touched her, he would go back on his word, and whatever sort of trust he was trying to foster would be shattered.

Striding forward, she didn’t look at him, going around to the other side of the tub to adjust the temperature of the water.  When it was running at a comfortable heat, she grabbed the hem of her shirt and peeled it and her sweater over her head.  Boots came next, then pants, and then her underwear.  Her single daring glance in his direction revealed him watching her with a slightly raised brow and the faint glimmer of a smile in his eyes.  She amused him.  Anger prickled, but she didn’t falter, turning the middle knob and starting the shower.

After noting that toiletries were within her reach, Bane moved back, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning against the wall, still facing the tub.  She didn’t meet the challenge of his gaze directly, and he didn’t expect her to.  But she didn’t give him her back, either.  Keeva faced the door as she stepped under the spray, her sigh of utter contentment impossible to suppress.  If given a choice between the finest chocolate money could buy and a hot shower, the shower would win every time. 

The bar of soap was simple, with only the faintest scent.  It felt good to scrub, the water coming down her body orange before it swirled away.  She would have liked to shave, but she didn’t think she could put herself on display for that long.  Every inch of her was screaming to just duck down into the tub and hide herself, goosebumps racing over her skin.  But she let him see; all her fat, hair, blemishes, and scars. 

There were lots of scars.  As her skin turned pink under the hot water, marks started to show on her forearms, pale under the ink of her left arm.  Self-harm scars, he thought at first, but no.  They were haphazard, some older than others, layered over years.  Defensive wounds left to scar.  The scar on her stomach cut down low along her abdomen, cutting into the dark V of curls between her legs.  Her knees were knotted with them, splotches of discolored skin, scraped bloody over and over.  He wondered how many were hers, and how many belonged to others. 

Washing her hair didn’t take long, but she rushed anyways, not liking being blinded by the water.  The moment she turned off the water, cold rushed in, and she wrapped her arms protectively around herself, a shudder making her teeth chatter briefly before she tightened her jaw.  Bane pushed away from the wall, and she flinched, turning at the waist to face him, blinking water out of her eyes.  Then his hand lifted, a towel offered.  An actual towel.  Keeva blinked dumbly at it, then reached out.

It felt almost like he made sure their hands touched when she took it from him.  She kept her eyes on his face while she dried, and never once did his look down.  As she stepped out of the tub onto the cold floor, he didn’t move away, and she had to edge around him.  Again, he was invading her space and making her chose how to react.  Turning away from her, Bane felt her watch him as he crossed the room, going to a bag sat on one of the many shelves.  He returned, and handed to her.

It was the first set of clothes she’d been given, oversized but warm.  She scrubbed at her limbs with the towel and stuffed herself back into her clothes.  Straightening, she pushed her hair out of her face.  “What did you mean by ‘proper gear?’” she asked, the silence weighing on her.

“It’s not as if we have a uniform, but you need to be outfitted properly.”  He started to the door, and Keeva trotted to keep up with his long strides.  “I will be changing locations in the next few days.  That will involve travel.  No matter what precautions are taken, you should be armored.”

Despite herself, Keeva couldn’t help but imagine herself in full medieval plate, left over images from a childhood love of fantasy coming to mind.  “Armored?”

“We do not know the extent of your abilities for certain yet.  What if your heart were to be damaged?”

“Oh.”  He had a point.  She’d been mostly aware during her worst injury, and while not able to focus an ability she hadn’t been aware of, her mind had certainly been on the wound.  If she got shot in the heart…  She honestly didn’t know if her body would fix herself.  “That makes sense.”  A thought occurred to her, and a little shiver of fear rolled through her.  What if someone’s heart had stopped?  Could she restart it, fix the damage done to it?  She bit her lip, brows furrowing.

The room Bane lead her to was full of rows upon rows of shelves.  They might have held filing boxes at one point, in the building’s previous life, but now they were stacked with all kinds of things.  Folds of fabric that could be clothing, blankets, or anything else.  Boots took up an entire wall.  But there wasn’t time to look.  Bane took her by the elbow, pulling her to the back wall.  A small, olive-skinned man with a thick black mustache looked up from a clipboard.  He said something that sounded at first like Arabic, but was at the same time unfamiliar.

“Stand up straight with your arms spread,” Bane translated, arms crossed.  A wary look entered her eyes.  He came behind her and lifted her arms for her, squeezing slightly to tell her to stay still.  Then he stepped away.  The man came forward with a measuring tape in hand and the nub of a pencil gripped between his teeth. 

The first thing he measured was around her bust, his touch brief and business-like.  He said something to Bane, the mercenary’s eyes narrowing as he responded in clipped, sharp tones.  The man ducked his head and continued in silence.   Keeva tried to pin Bane with a questioning look.  “He made a presumptuous comment about our relationship,” he said stiffly. 

Keeva pressed her lips together, glad when the man stopped measuring and went to start writing.  “He said something about my tits, didn’t he?” she sighed.

A look.  “Yes.”

“Yeah, most people don’t ever really see tits my sizes unless it’s in porn,” she muttered, tone and expression resigned.  He was giving her another look.  “What?  I’m assuming that you’re at least aware of how mass media tends to portray women, even if you don’t actively consume it.”  She suddenly felt like she had said far too much, and her shoulders hunched, scowl deepening.  Great, she had made herself even more self-conscious.

Bane actually wasn’t sure how to respond.  It was the most she’d said to him since she woke up, and she was being incredibly candid.  She also obviously hadn’t meant to, and was upset with herself.  “Most people are incredibly narrow-minded,” he finally said.

That got him a look.  She was well aware that he hadn’t looked away when she’d bathed, and that he’d seen her naked.  Now she was probably wondering if he’d liked what he saw, judging by the color gathering under her freckles.  When was the last time he’d met someone who blushed so easily?  He couldn’t remember.  Then she scoffed, a quiet exhale of breath through her nose.  Was she dismissing his words?  Dismissing the idea that he might have found her physically attractive?

He did, for what little that it mattered.   Finding a woman pleasing to the eye was entirely different from acting on that appreciation.  The little man finished writing and scurried off into the rows of shelves.  There was the scrape and clunk as he moved a step ladder around, going up a few levels to get what he needed.  Keeva stared resolutely ahead.  She felt silly now.  Her words had just tumbled out and she had no idea how to take his response.  Her toes curled inside her boots until she rocked back on her heels, silence dragging.

Eventually, her mind drifted back to the untranslated reprimand Bane had given what she guessed was their quartermaster.  There had been no hesitation.  The moment the words left the man’s lips, Bane had shot back, correcting him and putting him in his place.  He had—sort of—come to her defense.  That was… nice.  The paranoia that this was all crafted to gain her trust was getting annoying.  But since it had served her well for so long, it was impossible to shake.

Barsad was… easier.  He flirted openly, speaking plainly, and while surely intelligent, he didn’t seem to work the same way Bane did.  They cared about each other though.  In some capacity, Barsad loved Bane.  That much was clear.  Whether like a leader, lover, or friend… she couldn’t be sure.  There was… something there, though.  She realized she’d been chewing the inside of her cheek when she tasted blood in her mouth, and swallowed a curse.  She didn’t bother with healing the tiny wound, letting the metallic tang ground her.

Before long the man returned, arms full of a battered cardboard box of what looked like clothes.  He paused looking between Keeva and Bane, unsure of who to hand the box to.  Since it was going to be her things, she took a step forward, holding out her hands.  The man still looked to Bane for confirmation.  Instead of an authoritative nod like Keeva expected, he raised a brow, and stayed silent.  Again, the man dithered, uncertain.  So she stepped forward and took the box with a dry, emotionless “thank you.”

Bane’s large hand cupped her shoulder, and she stiffened; she hadn’t heard or noticed him move.  It was eerie, a man of his weight and bulk moving like a fucking jungle cat, invisible until he struck.  She should not find that appealing.  Nor should she like the way hand tightened on her shoulder, directing her to follow before he pulled away, fingertips ghosting the back of her neck and staring her shivering all over again.  She felt like he was trying to get some point across with all the physical contact, and she was missing it.

The whole return walk, she frowned at his back, trying not to follow the minute shift in his shoulders with each step or…  She jerked her eyes back up to the back of his head.  She would not be the one ogling the ass of Gotham’s Reckoning.  Even if what her glance had shown her had been very nice. 

‘Dammit.’

Looking down at the box in her arms, she had to swallow a cackle.  She was staring at bullet-proof vest.  It said, ‘Gotham Police’, on it in bold white letters.  The city really had gone to shit.  And here she was, staring at the ass of the man who had started it all.  The man who was going to end it.  She didn’t think about the end, yanking her mind back from the edge.  Whatever use she was, whatever she could become to Bane and his people, she would not let herself hope that there was anything beyond this city for her.  And with Piper safe hundreds of miles away, she didn’t have anything worth escaping for.  She’d made her decision, and given herself to Bane.  What happened to her was up to him, now, anyway, so why concern herself with it?

 

Chapter Text

The new gear fit well. Several sets of thermal long underwear, wool socks, and gloves were at the bottom, and Keeva couldn’t help but sigh and wiggle her toes when she layered the socks over a thinner pair of her own.  The sweaters weren’t military, but they were plain and warm.  The dark grey one with thick, interwoven cables was instantly her favorite.  And the cargo pants—fatigues, the military versions were called—had so many pockets she didn’t know what to do with them. 

It was a small miracle that they’d found boots her size. Keeva had tried to find men’s boots in her size before, and knew that her feet were small.  But with a belt, everything fit well.  The Kevlar vest squished her chest uncomfortably, but it was far from unbearable.  It was also a good sight better than possibly having to restart her own heart.  The knit skull cap helped keep her hair out of her eyes, as well as protecting her ears from the general chill.  Her own down vest—black and patched in three places—matched well enough that she wore it over everything when she and Barsad went to the mess hall again that night.

Tension tightened her jaw until it ached, her eyes constantly moving over the crowd. Barsad’s hand touched her back and she jumped before giving him an apologetic look.  Barsad waited before they sat down—their backs to the wall, and with a view of all entries and exits—before speaking.  “He won’t bother you again,” he said.

The look she gave him was hard, and a little sad. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Barsad,” she said quietly, before taking a mouthful of what she thought was curry. 

He straightened beside her, turning in his chair. She wasn’t angry with him; she was just… resigned.  He could see it in her face now; she’d been let down so many times she expected nothing from anyone.  Barsad knew better than most how easily bad things happened.  Despite the best intentions, innocent people still got hurt, still died.  Despite growing up in what most considered ‘the civilized world’, she knew how cruel the reality of life was.  It had beaten her down over and over again, and she’d kept getting up.  He found himself not wanting to see her get pushed down again.

“Pytor has a bad left wrist.” Keeva paused, spoon hallway to her mouth.  “Refuses to wear a brace.  Hit the left, and he won’t be hold on.”  He paused, brows furrowing in thought.  “Give me your dominant hand, the one you’d hit with.”  Blinking a few times, she did as asked, watching curiously. After checking several pockets, he pulled out a pair of brass knuckles, and slipped them over her spread fingers.  “Make a fist.”

Doing as she was told, Keeva curled her hand around the metal, feeling the coolness between her fingers. “It’s a little big,” she murmured, lifting her hand to look.

Taking her hand in both of his, Barsad examined her technique, and the fit of the weapon in her hand. “Finding a smaller one would take time.  You keep this for now.”  His eyes lifted, catching hers.  “You’re right.  I can’t promise he won’t bother you anymore.  But you can at least have a means to defend yourself until I can train you with other weapons.”

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    He was so serious, jaw set and mouth a hard line.  Keeva tried to see past it, to the weakness she had grown used to seeing under promises of friendship or fortitude.  It wasn’t there.  Just that steely determination.  Her chest felt… lighter.  He was being honest, not trying to soothe her with impossible promises.  Then the whole of what he said settled in.  “Wait, other weapons?  I thought I was supposed to be a healer?”  She wasn’t averse to learning more, but she was curious.

“Blades are all well and good, but you should know how to shoot.” There was something shy in his half smile.  “I probably should bring this up to Bane, first.”  He knew his brother was testing her, getting a feel for her and how she carried herself.  But you couldn’t just toss a mouse in among tigers, no matter how bad an attitude the mouse had. 

The frown shifted from confusion to concern. “You won’t get in trouble for that, will you?”

Well look at that; the mouse full of concern for one of the tigers. Genuine concern, too.  Barsad shook his head.  “No.  If I taught you without his knowledge, maybe.”

“Does…?” She trailed off, chewing on her lip.  She ate a few more spoonfuls.

Does…?” Barsad prompted.

Her eye on him was critical, as if weighing her options. “Does Bane always… stare so much?  Or is it just me?”

“Ah.” He chuckled.  “Only when he’s interested in something.  Or someone, in this case, I’m guessing.”

Keeva’s lips pursed, pulling to the side. “Interested how?” she prodded.

“Now, even I can’t always tell for certain,” Barsad admitted. His food was nearly gone, and he set down his spoon.  “He won’t look away from someone that could be a possible threat.”  She actually giggled.  “No, I don’t think you’re in that category, either.  Could you give me context?”  To his surprise, she blushed, looking down.  He let her take a few bites before she answered.

“He let me bathe. Wash off the blood from earlier.  Stared at me the whole time I showered.”  She spoke under her breath, eyes staring intently at the shrinking pile of curry and rice.

“Ah.” That would be Bane’s fascination with her, drawn to the softness she still carried despite Gotham’s best efforts.  She was willing to help, putting herself in pain for the sake of strangers, all because he had done one thing for her.  There was attraction to be certain, but Bane had never been one to act quickly on such things.  Barsad knew the steps of the dance, how it started, and could see the beginnings of them.  “It’s likely he was trying to see how you act when nervous or uncomfortable.”

“I acted like a crazy person and just took my shower,” Keeva muttered. “It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen me naked before.”

“Pragmatic approach,” Barsad said honestly. Most women, even if exposed for medical reasons, shied away from the sight of strange men.

“Not really,” Keeva admitted. “I just couldn’t stand to give him the satisfaction of making me back down.”  It was half true.  She refused to become some wilting flower, just because she belonged to Bane now.  But she was now more confident that he would keep his word not to touch her without invitation.  She knew getting a proper read on someone so enigmatic would be next to impossible for someone like her.  It would probably be difficult even for someone of equal intelligence.

“Have you always been so stubborn?” Barsad chuckled, nudging her with his elbow.        

It was easier to smile at him with his laid back tone and lidded eyes. “Stubborn?  I’m pretty sure staring down a very large man that could break me in half with one hand while completely naked is actually considered stupid.”

“Not necessarily,” Barsad mused, voice taking on an almost whimsical quality. “It could all be part of your master plan to seduce him and steal the revolution out from under us.”

Keeva blushed, but didn’t let that stop her. “Hm, maybe, but I see two main problems with that plan.”

“Oh?” More of that teasing smile, and somehow it just spurred her on.

“First, I want this shithole set on fire,” she said, a bit of an edge creeping into her voice.  “Second, I am not seductive.  In any way, shape, or form.”

“The direct type, then?”

He made it so easy to relax, to just let all the tension slip away. His teasing made it easier to wrap her mind around things, poking fun at them until they stopped being so scary.  “Usually.  Dancing around something you both want always seemed silly to me.”

“So if someone wanted to kiss you, they should simply ask? Instead of trying to romance the moment out of you?”

“Yeah, that sounds about right.”

“Hmm. Noted.” 

His smirk was positively devious, and Keeva swallowed down a nervous giggle. Fuck.  She felt like a teenager.  This wasn’t fair.  Even one-on-one she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was somehow facing both of them, like one was gathering information for the other.  She remembered the training room, the way their eyes had met, something she couldn’t even begin to name passing between them.  With how… larger-than-life Bane seemed, it was strange to imagine him having a normal—sort of—relationship with another human being.  She wanted to know more about them, both together and as individuals, but asking about their pasts seemed… intrusive.  She decided to try a safer route.

“How long have you known Bane?” she asked. There.  That was nice and safe, right?  Nothing specific about his past, or what had lead him to this point.

Barsad actually had to think about that. With as much and as far as the League of Shadows had them traveling, it was hard to measure time by the seasons.  Winter in the Ukraine was very different from winter in Viet Nam.  He sighed, crossing his arms and tilting back in his chair.  “Close to ten years, maybe?” he finally said.

“That’s a long time,” Keeva said lamely. A long time to fight beside a man, get to know him.  She frowned when silence started again.  “Look, what’s okay to ask about, and what’s off limits for you?”  She turned in her chair to face him fully.  “I want to get to know you, but I don’t know if there’s stuff you’d rather not talk about.”

“You really are direct,” he mused.  “Just ask.  I’ve done my best to let go of the past, so it can’t keep its hooks in me.  If you find a line, I’ll let you know.”  To be honest, he hadn’t expected that particular kind of respect from her.  Whenever someone from a civilian background joined, they had lots of questions, not caring if they were personal or rude.  Keeva wasn’t exactly innocent to the ways of the world, though.  “Can I as you questions in return?”

“Seeing as Bane has probably gone around and tried to dig up as much as he can on me, I don’t see why not.” Keeva shrugged.  Barsad didn’t move a muscle; she was even smarter than he’d thought.  Some parts of Keeva’s past were dark and uncomfortable, nasty little corners she didn’t like to linger in.  But they were a part of her; she’d survived and overcome them.  There was no shame in that.  “Why don’t you start?” she said.

“Alright.” He thought a moment.  “Is your family Irish?”

Keeva laughed. “What gave it away?”  She had missed the red hair that her mother had had, instead taking after her dark-haired father.  But the pale, easily burnt and heavily freckled skin were fairly typical.  The name was kind of a give-away, too.  “Both parents from Boston, Mass.  Somehow thought Gotham would be a good place to raise children.”

Family was a universally sensitive subject, Barsad had found, so he skirted around it. “Not too often you see someone so very white scarf down curry without blinking.”

“Fuck, I used to be awful!” Keeva said, smiling while she winced. “Tabasco used to be too much for me.”  Barsad snorted.  “Right?  It’s so weak, but I used to hate it.  But being out on my own, I couldn’t be picky.  Lived above a Korean place I worked at for a while, and finding something bland there was like trying to find a rich man with common sense.  I adapted.  My last neighbors were an old Iraqi couple, and they kept inviting me over for dinner.  I think I was a sort of stand-in for their adult children that never visited.”

Aah, that would explain some of the plumpness.  Home cooked meals by doting pseudo-parents?  Definitely.  He found it quite attractive, but most women didn’t like comments on their weight, so he kept it to himself.  “Aah.  That would be the fastest way to squash out that bland Irish palate.”

“I’d still kill for fried potatoes with garlic,” she muttered, reaffirming how much she liked making him smile. “I don’t trust a man who doesn’t like garlic.  I don’t trust people in general, but not liking garlic eliminates any chance.”  No, making him laugh was much better.

“Fair enough. I can think of worse ways to judge a man,” Barsad agreed, the smile lingering in his eyes.  He smiled so easily at her, and she felt the knot of tension in her belly starting to uncurl.  “Your turn,” he said.

“Alright. Lets see…”  She bit her lip, a little bit on purpose, remembering his previous comment.  “First gun you ever shot?” 

“Terribly boring and stereotypical, I’m afraid,” he said with a shrug. “My father had an ancient AK-47 in the house.  He took me with him to watch over the herd one day, while he commanded the dogs.  There were wolves that night.  I didn’t hit any, but they were scared off.”

The idea of Barsad as a shepherd’s son was strange, but she smiled at the thought. “How old were you?”

He shrugged. “Nine?  Maybe younger.  I wasn’t prepared for the recoil.”

“Is it bad that the mental image makes me want to giggle?” Keeva said sheepishly.  “I’m just imagining this skinny kid with this gun that’s too big for him…”

“You’re not far off,” he admitted.

“God, now I’m imagining you and Bane as children.” They were both still wearing their military-esque uniforms, and Bane’s mask, just in miniature.

“Bane’s childhood was… less than idyllic.”

For Barsad to bring it up, Keeva guessed that it was considerably worse than her own. She filed that away for things not to bring up in conversation.  She skimmed right over it.  “So, sheep or goats?”

“Ah-ah! My turn again.” 

Keeva held up a hand in a dramatic gesture of defeat. “Of course!  My apologies.”

“What was the name of your first love?”

That wasn’t quite what she had been expecting, but it gave her a chance to observe him again. “Emily,” she said.

“A woman?” His look of surprise was mild, and more interested and curious than anything.  One more worry fell away, or at least moved to the background.

“A girl. We were both eight.  We got married on the playground and decided we would live in Narnia.”  It was one of the more pleasant—and clear—childhood memories she had.

“Narnia? As in the books by C. S. Lewis?”  He was leaning forward slightly, showing every indication that he was enjoying the conversation.

“You’ve read The Chronicles of Narnia?” she asked, actually surprised.  “You didn’t strike me as the fantasy type.”

“I’m not,” Barsad admitted. “But there aren’t always a lot of options when you’re constantly on the move.  Something not to your normal taste is better than nothing.”

“True,” she agreed. It was starling how easy the conversation was.  She still knew so little about this man, but there were none of the awkward pauses she expected in conversations with new people.  And neither of them faltered, the conversation continuing in an easy back and forth; inconsequential stories and safe topics, skirting around bigger issues as they felt each other out.  It was only when she stretched her arms over her head that she realized they were the only ones left in the mess.  She had barely noticed the cold creeping in either.  “Shit, what time is it?”

“You swear so much,” Barsad chuckled, rising to his feet.

Keeva stood, leaning back until her spine cracked. “If you tell me that it’s ‘unladylike’, I swear to god, I will punch you.” 

“Wouldn’t dream of it, habibi,” he said, again mocking in his seriousness. 

But the word stuck in her mind, making her tilt her head and frown at his back as he led her back to the hall. Sarah had called her that, too.  Keeva only knew enough to recognize when someone was speaking Arabic, but didn’t know any words.  She thought it was a term of familiarity, like ‘friend’, but couldn’t be sure.  And it wasn’t like she could Google it.  Her phone was shut off and useless in the bottom of her duffle, alongside a flash drive of movies, books, and music.  She had little hope of ever being able to open the files again, but couldn’t quite bring herself to get rid of it.

‘You could just ask him,’ she told herself. ‘It’s not like it could be his native language or anything.’

“What does that mean?” she pushed herself to ask. He just glanced over his shoulder.

Habibi?  Oh.  Friend.  Or at least it can mean that.”  They turned the corner.

“One of those words with multiple meanings?” Keeva guessed. “Like how ‘partner’ can mean someone you work with, or a spouse?”

Reaching the door to Bane’s room, Barsad paused, not reaching for the door. “Yes.  Like that.”  Stepping away from the door, he moved into Keeva’s space, watching wariness spring to life in her eyes.  “You prefer when people are direct, yes?”

“I do…” Keeva said cautiously. It wasn’t that he made her uncomfortable being so close.  It was the opposite.  He radiated this gentle sort of quite, a respite from the tumultuous world and life that she was so well acquainted with.  It made her want to lean in, to press closer to him.

“Then I would very much like to kiss you.” He was prepared for shock, possibly her instantly drawing away from him.  The dilation of her pupils and the parting of her lips were a pleasant surprise. 

“You… what?” She’d heard him perfectly, and grasped the meaning of his words, but…  “Why?”  Her arms crossed over her chest—a barrier—but she didn’t draw away, instead scrutinizing his face.

“Because I would like to know what it feels like to kiss you.” He left a gentle emphasis on the last word, as if trying to say that he wasn’t just looking to kiss someone, but her specifically, for some reason. 

Again, surprise, painted clearly across her face, eyes slightly narrowed in doubt. “Just a kiss?” she repeated, catching her bottom lip between her teeth. 

His eyes narrowed, and he stepped closer, backing her into the wall as his hand caught her chin, thumb catching at her lip. Her breath stuttered against his thumb, but her arms had drifted to her sides, no longer trying to keep a barrier between them.  But he knew that if he looked, there would be tension in her legs, a deer ready to bolt.  “Nothing more,” he said in answer, voice dropped to a whisper.  His hand slid down her arm, trailing a line of fire under her warm clothes.  He was so very close, smelling of spice and gun oil.  It was a good smell. 

When his fingers brushed hers, they were just as chilled as her own, and Keeva wove them together without thinking. Thoughts raced, threatening to drown her.  Why shouldn’t she?  It wasn’t like she was taken, or particularly adverse to the idea of kissing him.  The city she hated was dying outside, the source of so much of her pain rotting away.  Why shouldn’t she let her old inhibitions go with it?  Why not take a moment to enjoy herself?

Barsad wasn’t expecting her to move so quickly. But her hand came up and grabbed his collar, yanking him down as she came up on her toes.  Chilled, full lips pressed to his, his arm slipping instinctively around her back, keeping her close even as he crowded her flush against the wall.  Everything was filtered out but the warmth of his breath and the prickle of his beard, the other hand sinking into her hair.  The tip of his tongue teased the seam of her lips, and she surprised him again by tilting her head, angling it as her tongue darted out to meet his. 

Slowly, he deepened the kiss, letting her give what she liked, and taking no more than that. The faint smell that clung to her took him a moment to recognize, and he smiled against her mouth as he realized it was Bane’s soap.  That was enough to start all kinds of thoughts spinning in his head.  That made him draw away, slowly breaking contact and stepping back, giving Keeva room. 

He’d stopped. He had been the one to pull away, to stop things from going farther.  Keeva was not used to that, and found herself actually a little disappointed.  Recognizing that, she blushed again, fighting the urge to bite her lip again.  She wasn’t sure she’d be able to let him stop if he kissed her again.

Keeva sagged back against the wall, not quite breathing hard, but very aware of the pulse fluttering in her neck and heart hammering in her chest. The twinkle was back in his eyes, easy and laid back.  He opened the door, gesturing her inside.  Keeva dumbly complied, trying to peer past the smile, to understand.  Questions buzzed in her brain, but she felt that if she gave them voice, whatever spell was hanging in the air would be broken.  The safety she felt would shatter, and Barsad would once more become the grim shadow behind Bane, a flash of red in the dark before a single shot ended your life. 

It had been… good. The sharpness of his hunger inflicted only with her permission.  And that sharpness lingered, pricking her as she changed behind the curtain, brushing out her hair.  When they curled under the covers, his back was to her, putting himself between her and the door.  Even with the lights doused and the room nearly pitch black, she stared at his back, chewing her lips.  It wasn’t so much the kiss that suck in her head, as the way his body had pressed to hers, pulling her in while pinning her in place against the wall.  He had been warm under the chilled skin, inviting her in, wanting to drown in him.

She was awake when Bane returned, shuffling quietly about the room. It seemed to wake Barsad, but he said nothing, simply crawling over to Keeva’s other side to put her in the middle again.  It wasn’t long before Bane slid in with them, his massive form so cold he could only have been outside.  Without a word, his arm slid over them both, pressing close.  Keeva had to swallow a giggle when his cold ankle brushed hers.  Deadly mercenaries with cold toes?  But she let their legs tangle, Barsad reaching across her and murmuring something quiet under his breath that she couldn’t understand.

Their arms created a cage around her, their heat chasing what little chill that remained from her bones, easing her towards sleep. She was getting used to the sound of Bane’s breathing through the mask, she realized, her own breath falling into the same rhythm.  His chest rose and fell under her hand.  She fought the urge to lean in and nuzzle to his chest, to fling her arm as far around his wide chest as it would do.  In the dark, she smiled to herself at the thought.  Could she throw him off balance that way?  By wrapping herself in him and pressing close to the warmth he offered?

She bit the inside of her cheek until it bled, but hardly felt it. She wanted to.  To just let go and let herself take what was given.  He smelled of smoke, of the city.  Somehow, mingled with his smell, it didn’t bother her.  Knowing that the arm draped over her had reached for Barsad reminded Keeva of the kiss, and she frowned.  It didn’t feel like intruding, like she was stepping over a line or treading on whatever they had together.  Whatever that was.  Barsad had asked only for a kiss, but people rarely didn’t want something beyond that.  Was Barsad thinking of her that way?  He’d seen her just as naked as Bane, so he had plenty to imagine.

Dr. Magnuson crashed back into her head, shattering any sort of relaxed warmth that the men to either side of her had brought.  The warmth was suddenly too much, bodies too close…

A large hand slid into her hair, fine strands tickling over Bane’s knuckles. Unable to resist, Keeva tilted her head upward, but it was too dark to read his face.  His hand left her hair long enough to brush, feather light, down over her eyes, making her close them.  “Sleep,” he mumbled, barely audible.  And then he returned to his stroking, petting her like one might a nervous cat.  Keeva wanted to be indignant, to tell herself he was treating her like a child.  But she didn’t think that was it.  She had told him that it calmed her, and, turning awareness on her own body, found her muscles bunched and tight.  He must have noticed, and was now using what she had taught him.

‘Fuck it.’

Bane wasn’t surprised by the mildly indignant huff. Her leaning into his chest and resting her brow against it didn’t take him off guard exactly, but it hadn’t been very high up on his list of possible reactions.  Neither was her long, slow inhale, which could be nothing else but her breathing in his scent.  Barsad did that, when things were quiet enough for them to find time together.  They had nothing but time now.  Keeva’s shoulders sagged as she exhaled, breath warming his chest.

Nothing but time.

 

000

 

Keeva never heard an alarm of any kind, but Bane and Barsad rose in unison, while she grumbled at the loss of warmth. Curling into a ball under the blankets, trying to soak up what remained of their warmth.  She knew she didn’t have long, and forced herself out into the light before her name could be called.  Sitting up, she grabbed her folded clothes from where she’d left them at the foot of the bed.  Barsad was shaving Bane’s head as she shuffled past, his full tray of food already half empty.  A glance at his back was all she spared before going behind the curtain and dressing.

Dread was an icy stone in her stomach by the time she finished getting ready. She barely tasted the food put in front of her.  The clock’s ticking was loud enough that she found it painful, hands shoved deep into her pockets, curling around the brass knuckles from Barsad.  The cool metal warmed in her hand, and Bane lead her from the room once his mask was back in place.  He could feel the tension rolling off her in waves, her steps dragging but not sluggish.  He barely even had to imagine the sullen look on her face, the way it tugged at the scars on her lips.  She might not realize it, but she kept poking at them with her tongue, as a child might with a loose tooth, mapping the unknown and new.  She probably also didn’t know just how much that little flick of the tongue drew his eye.

“You’re going to chew a hole in yourself,” he said, hearing her suck in a surprised breath behind him.

Keeva narrowed her eyes at the broad shoulders. “Okay, are you psychic?” she grumbled.  She had, in fact, been chewing on her bottom lip.  “Or does that mask have a camera back here that feeds directly into your brain?”  There was that rough, rattling noise that meant he was chuckling. 

“You’re nervous. I’m assuming you’ve always had the habit.  The pull of new scar tissue is probably making it happen more often.”  His observation was calm and assured, and not once did he look back at her.  It wasn’t just that he was so sure of himself, it was that he was right.

“That’s not a ‘no’ the psychic thing,” she muttered.

“No, it’s not.” He stopped walking, and finally turned.  He took a proper look at her now.  Her full lips were set in the firm line of someone trying their utmost not to scowl deeply.  What faint lines were beginning to take hold on her face were more evident, tension in her shoulders where she forced herself not to slouch.  Her eyes met his, mismatched and wide.  “You still fear this,” he observed, with the slightest tilt of his head towards the door that led to the training room, and then to the clinic.

“Yes,” Keeva admitted, the word sounding like it was forced out. “Never liked doctors in the first place.  And I’ve developed a bit of a natural aversion to anyone or anything that could expose me.”

“Dr. Magnuson is trustworthy,” Bane said simply.

“You don’t really expect me to trust her just because you say so, do you?” There, at the end, her voice wavered.  The stubborn expression faltered.

“No,” Bane said honestly. “One does not discard years of instinct on the word of another.”

“Even if I belong to them?” Keeva challenged. Instantly her stomach dropped, fear tightening her chest. 

But Bane didn’t move, watching her coolly. The fear was so obvious on her face, her body drawing in on itself, terror in her eyes as she braced for retaliation.  “If I wanted you a subservient pet, bending to my every whim without question, I would make you one,” he said, voice low even, and somehow threatening.  Without another word, he turned, walking without looking back and forcing her to follow at a trot.

 

000

 

Dr. Magnuson was waiting for them, more bright and chipper than any human in Gotham had any right to be. Keeva wanted to glower and be difficult in protest.  “We’re going to start with questions,” she said.  “I can have Mr. Bane—”

“He stays,” Keeva cut in. “He’s probably gotten you my medical records already, if they still exist.”  His look was unreadable, but she found herself smiling at him.  “I might not know him well, but he strikes me as a very thorough person.”

The doctor blinked. “Well… yes.  Just want to clear a few things up.  Have a seat?”  She gestured to a metal table that looked like it had been a morgue table with some kind of vinyl cushions fitting to the flat surface. 

Keeva climbed the step stool and sat down facing the room. “Fire away.”

“Right. Are you sexually active?”

“Not for the last six months,” Keeva said.

“Were you taking any medications?”

“Had a prescription for an antidepressant, but couldn’t afford it, so no.” She had loved her job, but it hadn’t been the best paying occupation.

“Birth control?”

“Not necessary,” Keeva said, bracing for something condescending.

“Because of the lack of sexual activity?” Dr. Magnuson prompted.

“No, because I don’t have a uterus.” She was so blunt, and the doctor looked so surprised, that it was hard not to smile.

“I… see. Care to elaborate?” 

Pulling up the hem of her shirt, Keeva exposed the scar on her belly, tapping it with her finger. “Car accident.  I got hurt, but my healing saved me.  Didn’t fix everything though.  The piece of dashboard that cut up my liver also basically cut my uterus in half.  I went to an… unlicensed doctor after my periods stopped.  Exam revealed that the tissue was mostly dead.  They took it out but left my ovaries for the hormones.”  She let the shirt fall back, trying not to squirm under their eyes.

“I’d kill for an ultrasound machine,” Magnuson muttered. She turned do Bane.  “Would that be possible?”

“Perhaps,” he said, unmoving. “I will inquire.”

“What other questions do you have?” Keeva said, eager to be done.

“Do you smoke?”

“Tobacco? No.  Smoked weed once with a few friends, that’s it.”

“Do you drink alcohol?”

“No.” There was more vehemence in that answer than she intended, and she knew it had been noticed.  “I used to.  Too much.  Stopped.  Been seven years.”  She kept her eyes on the ground.  “And no other drugs either, unless you count over the counter painkillers.”

“Diet and exercise?”

“Up until… this whole thing,” she waved a general hand around the room, including Bane in the gesture, “I was running around with dogs for up to twelve hours a day. Diet was pretty shit, unless I was eating with my neighbors.  Mostly rice, eggs, beans.  Frozen veggies when I could afford them.”

To her credit, the doctor was nonjudgmental, just taking down her notes. “Thank you.  Now, going back to sexual history…”  She glanced up, as if to gauge Keeva’s reaction.

“Men, women, those who identified otherwise,” Keeva said with a sigh. “All my partners were tested prior to engaging in any sort of sexual contact.  I’ve never had anything worse than a UTI.”

“Ah. Thank you.”  She set down her clipboard.  “I’d like to take your vitals now.” 

Keeva submitted grudgingly, sucking in a breath at the cold stethoscope. Her blood pressure was a little high, and she was slightly overweight for her height.  He reflexes all checked out, and she may or may not have ‘accidentally’ kicked the overly chipper and friendly doctor.  There was also a good chunk of time where she went over all the major injuries she had suffered and healed since the manifestation of her abilities.  Bane’s face remained passive throughout it all, just watching with his arms crossed over his chest.

Finally, Dr. Magnuson seemed done with her initial exam. She wheeled out a small cart with some machine with a black screen, and a mess of wires ending in little white patches.  Some of the wires were different colors.  Keeva crossed her arms over her chest and shrank back, eyeing it suspiciously.  “This is an EEG machine,” the doctor explained.  “I want to measure both of your brain waves while you,” she pointed to Keeva, “do whatever it is you do to help his,” pointing to Bane now, “pain.  Sound good?”

It did not sound good, but Bane had already stripped himself of his shirt and was moving to stand by the table.  Dr. Magnuson misunderstood Keeva’s hesitation.  “I can hook you up behind the partition, and put a hospital gown on you if you like, dear.”

Keeva shook her head. “It’s fine.”  It took a moment to shuck all her upper layers.  “Can my bra stay on?” she asked, shivering slightly.

“Yes, that’s fine. Right then, stand together, please.” 

Soon both Bane and Keeva had several little wired patches stuck to their chests, and then to their temples. While Bane’s head was freshly shaved, Keeva knew the petroleum would linger in her hair.  Without a shirt, she could feel heat radiating from Bane, and fought not to lean into it.  Magnuson left them alone for a moment, turning on the machine and fussing with it for a few moments until she was satisfied.  She turned on the spot, clapping her hands together. 

“Right, let’s get to it, then.”

It was only then that Keeva saw the wildness in her eyes, the panic. Little glances in Bane’s direction gave her away.  She was still scared.  But he wasn’t even looking at her any more, his blue eyes turned to Keeva.  Just then, she could understand the doctor’s fear.  Without the rest of his face, Bane’s eyes seemed all the more expressive to her, full of intelligence and…  ‘Cunning’ was the only word she could come up with.  Just imagining the kind of brain he carried around on top of all that brawn made her shiver a little.

They were eye-level with her sitting on the table, the wires leading away from both of them to the slowly beeping machine. Even level with him, Keeva felt small and frail, though she knew she wasn’t.  There was muscle under the fat; you couldn’t wrangle fifty-plus pound dogs without developing some tone.  But Bane…  A shiver rolled down her spine, and she found herself struggling to lift her hands.  The doctor’s gaze burned into the side of her head, intent and curious and infuriating.

Bane cupped her elbows, pulling her arms up the rest of the way until she was loosely holding the back of his neck. His skin was nearly feverish to the touch, and without thinking, she spread her chilled fingers out, soaking in the warmth.  Eyes closing, she reached out again, looking for the pain she knew was there.  Bracing for it was pointless, and she sighed out a single breath before catching hold of his pain and pulling.

The gentle pressure of her hands turned into a clawing grip, her whole body going rigid as her back jerked and tried to arch. Keeva fought it, tears pricking the corners of her eyes.  This time, she tried to take more.  She’d done better with healing the active, bleeding wounds; why couldn’t she do better with Bane’s inflamed nerves and muscles?

It was as if all the air was sucked out of him, leaving a huge gaping hole in his chest. It was different from before.  The lack of pain was like a physical presence in his body, empty, strange and unfamiliar.  Muscles that had tensed to compensate for missing pieces jerked at the sudden relaxation, and he fought the urge to lean forward, to brace his hands on the table to either side of Keeva’s legs.  She wasn’t letting go either.  It had been over so fast the last time, and she had slumped against him like a half-drowned kitten. 

This time, he saw awareness in her eyes, jaw set. Her hands moved, down his trapezius muscles to his shoulders.  Tendons stood out in her neck, her short nails biting into his skin.  Tears rolled down her cheeks, lip bleeding where it caught between her teeth.  It was almost like a morphine high, that first rush of relief when the painkillers took hold, dulling everything.  Somewhere in the background, the doctor’s machine was beeping loudly, and he struggled to pull his mind back to it, to form the words to ask the necessary questions.

Darkness started to eat at the corners of her vision, and Keeva forced herself to break away, falling back onto the table in a heap. She realized that she hadn’t been breathing, and sucked in greedy lungfulls of air, the ceiling tiles spinning above her.  Her skin tugged where the wires had been pulled taught.  Pain throbbed in hot pulses along her back and wrist, and trying to sit up made her feel like she was going to throw up.  She was woozy enough she couldn’t tell whose hands lifted her back into a sitting position.

Garbled conversation floated through to her, and she reached out blindly. Keeva could feel herself slipping, the pull of fatigue eating at her awareness.  Her energy was gone, depleted.  Her hand touched flesh, the wrist too cool and slender to be Bane.  Desperate to stay awake, Keeva gripped as hard as she was able, reaching for the warmth of the body.

Dr. Magnuson yanked her arm away with a startled cry, staggering back a few steps. Keeva toppled forward, and Bane had to catch her limp form around the middle.  He held her weight easily as she sagged, losing her battle with unconsciousness.  Bane’s head snapped over to the doctor, who was staring at her wrist with wide, horrified eyes.  Following her gaze, he saw nothing but pale, healthy skin.  Still holding Keeva, he took a step forward.  The Doctor yelped again and jumped, eyes snapping up.

“What. Happened?” Bane ground out, eyes narrowed.

“I don’t…” She trailed off, flexing the wrist and then investigating with the other hand.  “I don’t know, sir.  I thought…”  Shaking her head, she cleared her throat.  “I felt something, is all.  It… startled me.  She’s… powerful.”

“I assume you will require time to compile your findings?” Bane said, not quite convinced.

“Hm? Oh, yes.  Could I take a few blood samples?” 

Bane recalled the young woman’s shudder when she’d seen Barsad hook him up to the Venom IV. It might be better to let the doctor take the blood now, rather than risk any sort of panic while Keeva was awake.  Lifting her with both arms, he laid her out on the table and moved to stand on the other side, watching carefully.  “Proceed.”

 

000

 

It was better than the last time. His joints weren’t even registering pain, the ache of his back dull and slow.  It had been many, many years since he experienced any kind of wonder.  Of course it would take Gotham, a festering sore on the backside of the world, to give him this.  This place that had caused his Talia nothing but torment…  Cautiously, he undid the buckles of his wrist brace, setting it to the side and flexing the joint.  Nothing.  Not even the slightest twinge.  Just the pull of scarred skin.

Keeva had shifted from unconsciousness to sleep, redressed and buried under blankets. Whatever dreams she had were mild, resulting in only quite murmurs.  The moment with the doctor still ate at him.  But he’d pressed, and she’d given him nothing more, unable to describe the sensation that had startled her.  She had also promised to speak to him the moment she had any sort of result or slightly solid theory.  A knock at the door pulled him from his thoughts, and he turned, frowning slightly.  He still had half an hour before he was needed anywhere, and Sarah was due to—

“My friend?”

Bane was across the room and opening the door in three swift strides. Talia stood alone in the hall, smiling up at him.  He pulled her in without a word, and a quick glance down both directions of the hall.  When he had locked the door and turned around, Talia was crouched beside his bed, peering down at Keeva.  Something in the image chilled him in a way he couldn’t articulate, and he moved to stand behind her, silent and waiting.

“This is her? The healer?”  Talia’s head tilted as she pushed a lock of hair back from the pale, freckled face. 

“Yes.” Standing, Talia turned to him, and was smiling.  But there was no light in her eyes.  There hadn’t been for years.  Still, he knew the expression was as close as she got to genuine.  “And it works?”  Reaching up, she touched the mask briefly.  “She helps with your pain?”  Bane nodded.  For a moment, there was a flicker, some little spark in the depths of her dark eyes.  “I’m glad, my friend.” 

He had missed hearing those words in her voice. Even if the childlike trust and admiration had long since left them, they were familiar and grounding.  He let himself smile.  “The first time lasted for four hours and twenty-three minutes,” he said.  “I’m just in the second hour now.”

Again, Talia turned back, head cocked like an inquisitive bird. “Treasures are often found in the mud, aren’t they?” she chuckled.  He wanted to move around, to stand where he could see her face.  These days, it was harder and harder to read the woman who was as close to a daughter as he’d ever have.  That hurt more than anything.  Bane’s hands clenched, feeling strange without the ache in his wrist.  She was destroying herself.  “I heard about the attack.  We lost people,” she said.

“We would have lost more,” Bane said.

“But we didn’t, thanks to this little mouse, hm?” Again, Talia crouched, pulling the blankets back to get a better look at Keeva’s face. 

Something in Bane flinched, and he stepped forward. “Let her rest,” he said evenly.  “You can meet her later if you wish.”

Talia stood slowly, turning to smile at him, hand lifting to cup his cheek. “I’m glad you found this.  I’ll take you up on that offer.”  Her hand dropped and she moved past him, Bane following in her shadow.  She paused at the door, lips pressing together and brows furrowing ever so slightly.  “My friend?  Find… find something.  Something to occupy yourself here.  I know you hate waiting.”

“I’ll wait as long as you need me to,” he said quietly.

She gave him another smile that did not reach her eyes. “I know you will.”  Then she was gone. Bane stared at the door for a long time, trying to find another reason for the anxiety buzzing in his veins.  But he knew the reason.  The look in Talia’s eyes since Wayne had been taken out of the picture… unsettled him.  Her goal was within reach, the goal that had tormented all of her waking hours since the death of her father.  A death that left so many things unresolved.  She was hurting.  Talia was hurting and he was powerless.  She had become so sharp, the shadows deepening under her eyes and her words turning sharp.  And she especially hadn’t been the same since…

Keeva stirred, and he was drawn back to the bedside, crouching without effort, knees folding easily. Her eyes fluttered, but did not open.  Reaching out, he brushed his knuckles over her cheek, lingering a moment on the soft skin.  A small hand slid from under the covers, grabbing clumsily at his, tugging weakly in an attempt to draw him in.  But sleep took over again, and her hand slipped. She was not like Talia.  Suffering had not hollowed her out just yet, there was light and kindness in her still.

Again, his fingers were drawn to her lips, full and pink, so very soft and inviting. He wanted to bed her just as much as protect her.  It wasn’t the softness that drew his desire, however.  It was that all her barbs and barriers seemed to fall by the wayside under his touch.  She was sharp and cutting, and downright hateful towards the human race.  But she still submitted willingly to his touch, letting him into her space.  Barsad liked to make him fight for the privilege, where she seemed to want to give it to him.  He had power over her, something separate from her just ‘belonging’ to him as agreed.        

As he watched, her eyes danced under closed lids, dreams making her lips move, quiet sounds escaping her. Brows coming together, her hand balled into a fist.  She shifted to lay on her back, breath coming a little faster.  Under the blankets her legs started to kick, her sounds growing more frantic.  Bane had been around enough soldiers to know a nightmare when he saw one, and he knew waking someone from one could be a risk to one’s heath.  All the same, he reached out, gripping her shoulder with a firm hand and shaking gently.  “Keeva.”  His voice wasn’t loud, but it was enough.

Keeva came up swinging, trying to wrench away from the hand pinning her down. The back of her hand hit something hard and metal, and then both her hands were gathered together.  Fear followed her to wakefulness, and she whimpered, yanking fruitlessly.

“Be still, Keeva.”

That voice… It wasn’t him.  Blinking through the beginnings of tears, the dark and flesh-colored shape of Bane’s face came into focus.  “Shit,” she mumbled, words still slurred with sleep. “’M sorry.”

Bane released her as she sat up. “You slept peacefully before,” he observed. 

Aware of his eyes searching her face, Keeva hugged her arms around herself, hands squeezing her forearms. “Sorry,” she said again.  “Did I—?   No, of course I didn’t hurt you.”

An amused huff of breath. “No.”  He reached out, pushing the sleeve back, exposing her scarred, tattooed forearm.  When she made to pull away, his hand closed around her wrist, firm but not painful.  “These are not self-inflicted.”  He stroked one with his thumb, and felt goosebumps rise along her skin.

“No, they’re not,” Keeva said, relaxing slightly in his hold. She let him turn her arm so that her wrist faced upwards.  The scars were fairly uniform, in shape if not in pattern.  All of them long and narrow, slashed across her skin, some deep and others shallow.  His fingers slid over them slowly, callouses catching on the soft skin.  But it wasn’t unpleasant.  The inside of her wrists and arms, as well as her palms and fingers, had always been sensitive.  Touches from a man that ran as hot as Bane did were actually rather welcome.  “Are you going to ask?” she finally said into the silence.

Bane made a non-committal noise, pausing before lifting his head. “Your report with the Gotham Police was still intact,” he said.

“Ah.” Her arms pulled away from him, and she hugged her folded legs up against her chest.  “Surprised it wasn’t all destroyed.”  She wouldn’t look at him.

“An effort was made to hide it.”

Keeva huffed out a humorless laugh. “Of course they did.”  With a shake of her head, she uncurled, rolling her shoulders as if trying to dislodge unpleasant thoughts.  “Wonder what happened to him?” she thought aloud.  “Not that it matters.”

“You hurt him.”

Keeva’s smile was edged with razors. “Kinda hard to play football with just one eye,” she said.  The grim satisfaction was dark and sharp enough to mask the other feelings, the hurt and fear.

“You should have taken them both,” Bane said, the venom in his voice taking her by surprise.

Bane’s eyes were like ice, and she could easily imagine his full lips set in hard line, matching the sharpness of his gaze. He wasn’t looking at her exactly, but thinking of her, she guessed.  His anger on her behalf was… warming.  “Thank you.”

Her words jolted him, but he only blinked and cocked his head. “Thank you?  I had no hand in any fate he met.”

“I know,” Keeva said. “I mean…  You didn’t question me.  You didn’t ask what he did, or if I had led him on.  You just… believed that he deserved what I gave him and worse.  No one… no one’s ever done that.  They’ve only ever made excuses for him.”

“There is no excuse for trying to force yourself on an unwilling partner,” Bane said sharply. He was many things.   Many, many awful things.  Rapist was not among them.  Hurting and killing others for survival—for food, water, shelter—that he understood.  He had killed for all of those things in the pit. 

The urge to just hug the giant of a man was nearly overwhelming. No one had ever just accepted her word and her fury as fact.  Instead of flinging her arms around him, Keeva reached out slowly, telegraphing her movements as she reached for his hand.  His fingers slowly uncurled as her smaller hand slid into his, squeezing.  “Thank you,” she said again, barely a whisper.  Her body was leaning ever so slightly towards him, open and unguarded.  The action was so innocent, full of unquestioning trust.  Bane knew then, that most of her reservations about him were gone.

 

Chapter Text

Despite the inviting warmth of Keeva’s trust, Bane had duties to attend to. Her eyes bored into his back as he left, closing the door quietly behind him.  Barsad was waiting in the hall, leaning against the wall and smoking.  Banes eyes narrowed slightly, and the sniper laughed, stubbing the cigarette out on the wall before returning what was left to his pocket. Bane had opinions about unhealthy habits, and had never had a problem making those opinions known.  But he knew that Gotham would bring out everyone’s vices, including his own.

Barsad fell into step beside his leader, Sarah passing them in the hall on her way to Keeva. He had the sense to wait until they were in what amounted to an office, a pile of reports waiting for Bane’s attention in the middle of the desk. 

“Our little healer is very direct. She kissed me.”

Over the years, Barsad had discovered that there were few truly amusing things, that could bring a smile to your face in even the deepest misery. The startled noise Bane made when truly taken off guard was one of them.  As a true rarity, he savored the moment.  Barsad’s grin brightened under Bane’s scrutinizing eyes, and he knew his leader was taking a moment to assess if he was joking or not.

“I asked first, but she pulled me in.” He knew he was sending Bane’s mind running, spinning detailed imaginings of the moment.  “She smelled a bit like you, and her lips were very soft.  I think she would have said yes if I asked for more.”  He was playing with fire, and he knew it.  Provoking Bane could be fun.  At least for Barsad.  It came as no surprise when the larger man crowded into his space, caging him against the wall with his arms.  “Would you like to know how she tasted, brother?”

There, that sound. That restrained, shuddering groan.  To bring a man as serious and composed as Bane to such a raw display was one of life’s greatest pleasures.  Lifting a hand, Barsad stroked Bane’s cheek, smirking when one large snapped out to grab his wrist, but didn’t make him pull away.  “She would again if I asked, I’m sure,” Barsad continued, Bane’s grip on him tightening.  “And if you were to ask, brother?  I’m quite certain the little thing would melt.”  Leaning in, his breath fanned over Bane’s exposed neck.  This pushing was dangerous, Barsad knew, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Bane didn’t look up. This was foolish, and he sucked in a slow breath to try and calm himself.  “She has been hurt,” he said, regaining control and stepping back.  “I do not know to what extent, but…”  Bane’s hand moved along his own forearm.  “The scars?  From fending him off after she destroyed one of his eyes.” 

He knew he’d read her right, that there would be nothing but willingness in her if he made a move. But every move had left her rigid and panting, looking unsure if she wanted to give in or bolt.  Bane didn’t want the urges so evenly split.  And her belief in him was blind, as pure and innocent as she was not.  He was not above using that trust to get what he wanted, but not like that.  He would lie and cheat, coerce and force.  But not to get someone into bed.  He enjoyed battle, enjoyed the fierce vitality that filled him when he bested an opponent, either mentally or physically.  There was pleasure to be found in violence.  But not…

“That doesn’t not mean she couldn’t want you,” Barsad was quick to point out.

As was often the case, the slightly younger man was right. He shot Barsad a look as he returned to the desk, sitting down without his usual grunt of discomfort.  Talia’s words returned, her urging him to find something to enjoy and to occupy his time.  His eyes traced over the same sentence several times, but all that solidified in his mind was the way Keeva’s tattoo dripped down over her arm, drawing the eye to her nimble fingers.  That morphed into the way she would purse her lips and pull them to the side, or catch one between her teeth.  It was… distracting.

The grumbling sound he emitted got a chuckle out of Barsad. It had been long enough for him to know when Bane wanted something.  Normally, nothing would stop him from pursing the interest.  He was a hard, callous man, delighting in control, something he had had very little of at the start of his life.  But Keeva’s past caught at him, holding him back.  It was admirable, but misplaced, Barsad felt.  For all the gentle kindness still lingering in her soul, Keeva was as tough as iron. 

Crossing the floor, he leaned his lower back against the desk. “You know it’s not good for you to spend that much time fretting,” he said reasonably.  “The possibility is distracting you.  You’re wondering if she would say ‘yes’, and all that wondering is going to take up your time.  If she says ‘no’ let it be done.  If not…”

As the possibility hung in the air, Bane knew that he was right. The thoughts were clearly not going to leave him anytime soon.  And being distracted would make his work suffer.  There wasn’t as much now, with the city defeated and waiting out its end, but he wasn’t about to let anything he did suffer.  He would not fall short now, not when they were so close.  Just because the goal was in sight, didn’t mean that it was guaranteed.  He’d had victory snatched from his hands too many times to let it happen now.  Of all times, now was not the time for a distraction.

“You’re correct,” was all he said, and didn’t have to look up to know the smug look that was spreading over his second-in-command’s face. Barsad was the only one he would tolerate such behavior from.  The man had proved himself time and again, and had earned a bit of leeway.

“I’ll see you this evening, then, brother,” Barsad said, squeezing Bane’s shoulder lightly.

“Indeed.”

 

000

 

Keeva had finished her first hat and was halfway through the second. The repetitive motion helped her calm her racing heart.  Sarah had engaged her in conversation, but her heart had been racing so much that Keeva was certain she hadn’t been terribly good company.  The radio on Sarah’s hip had crackled with words Keeva didn’t know, and the other woman had said good-night.  Alone, Keeva tried to think of the last time she’d been able to open up to someone as much as she had with Bane.  There were memories of distant friends, who had either died or moved on to better things outside Gotham.  She was aware enough to know that it was sad that her friends fell into only those two categories.  There was no life to go back to after this.  Not for her.

There was no memory of a man she’d been able to trust as she did him and Barsad. On the one hand, she was very aware that she hardly knew them, and shouldn’t trust them anywhere near as much as she did.  On the other hand, they had shown her nothing but their own strange brand of kindness.  Never a touch without her permission, nothing taken that she did not willingly give.  That, combined with the attraction, made things messy and confusing.  If Barsad asked to kiss her again, she would say ‘yes’, she knew that.

And Bane… her attraction to him was something else. Barsad drew her in with wit and words, talking to her like an equal.  His easy smiles and flirting put her at ease, letting her talk to him without any sort of obligation.  Bane… Bane drew her like a magnet.  Laconic as he was, his voice drew her in, soothed with clam precision.  She was aware enough of herself that she knew his power attracted her as well, the respect he commanded with his presence alone.  The strength of both body and mind was an intoxicating mix, making her want to ask more, to know him.

And his fucking hands.  She had seen them bring death and violence, and usher out a wave of criminals to rip apart the city.  It was those hands that had destroyed the Batman, someone that had gone up against so many enemies and come out on top, if not unscathed.  But the feel of one of those hands at her throat, or his thumb tracing over her lips, refused to leave her, replaying over and over in her head.  She couldn’t kiss him, not really, but she wanted to.  If she couldn’t have that, she wanted to touch him.

In her distraction, she missed a stich, and was all the way into the next round before she noticed. Cursing, she pulled the stitches out with a bit more violence than necessary, glaring at the pile of kinked yarn in her lap.  On some calm, adult level, she knew that very little harm could come of asking, at least of Barsad’s intentions.  He’d asked only for a kiss, and he had been the one to step back, but…  She had been too taken by surprise to ask him if he would ever want more.  And Bane… fuck.  The two of them were maddening. 

Time ticked on and she was able to finish the second hat, weaving in the tail end and folding it with the first. The satisfaction of completion soothed her, and put some of her nervousness to rest.  She needed to get more comfortable in what would be her home for the time being.  Bane had mentioned moving, but sitting in the one room most of the day was going to drive her insane.  At the same time, venturing out alone wasn’t at all appealing.  She’d have to ask Sarah if she could shadow her some time, to see what it was exactly that the woman did.  Assuming it didn’t involve fighting, anyways.

She ended up laying in the bed with the light on, staring up at the ceiling. One hand slid under her shirt, tracing the familiar raised shape of her scar.  It was one of the few things she liked about herself; she was a survivor.  The city had tried its hardest to beat her down, and yet here she was, spitting in its face.  Maybe she should sleep with one of them, another ‘fuck you’ to the city that she had grown to hate.  The spiteful thought made her smile, but the expression dissolved as she closed her eyes, remembering Bane’s fingers on her lips, and Barsad’s beard tickling her skin.

Sitting up, she yanked the ball of yarn back into her lap and started on a cowl, using two strands at once to make the material extra thick and warm. She made it larger than she usually would, to accommodate larger heads and possible other layers.  If someone wanted something more fitted, she’d have to measure them, first.  Eventually, the feel of wool sliding through her fingers, and the familiar grip of the hook smoothed out the edges of her tension.  Here, like this, she couldn’t really do anything about it.  But it wasn’t like it could just stay like this.  Dancing around the issue wasn’t something she liked doing, so she’d have to confront it sooner or later.

The hours ticked on, marked by row after row of stitches. Sarah came back with food, but had to leave after delivering it.  Keeva ate in silence, the spicy food chasing some of the chill that was starting to set in.  It was going to get colder as the days passed, and she was glad for the scratchy wool sweater and thermal underwear.  When she finally went to bed, she was wearing both thermal leggings and the thermal shirt under her pajamas, curling into a tight ball on her side.  She had left the light on, face buried in her pillow and the blankets pulled up over her ears.  As tired as she was, sleep wouldn’t come.  She’d gotten used to warm bodies laying beside her in the night; first the dogs, and now Bane and Barsad.

After a while, the door creaked open, and a single set of feet walking into the room. The heaver tread told her it was Bane.  Instead of the usual rustle of clothes and the clicking of the buckles on his vest, he stood in silence.  Keeva stayed still, her vision obscured by the blanket pulled up over her face.  His steps moved away, a sigh hissing through the mask.  Unable to help herself, Keeva sat up, drawing one of the blankets around her shoulders and rubbing at her eyes.  Bane was rolling his head from side to side, hand on the back of his neck until it popped.  His coat was hanging on a hook on the wall, his vest still strapped in place, the shirt under it worn through and patched at the elbows.

He turned to face her the moment she sat up, and she blinked at him. “Need any help?” she heard herself say.  When his head tilted, and he raised a brow, she ducked her head.  “I mean, if your back’s stiff again, I could help with the buckles… or your boots, or something…”  She trailed off, scratching the back of her neck.  It was an excuse to touch him, and a poorly veiled one at that.  The sheer power of the draw he had on her made it hard to be her usual direct self.

Bane’s mind called up the image of her kneeling before him, removing his boots, and a smile curved his lips at the idea of having her there again. When he started advancing across the room, Keeva pulled herself quickly to her feet, letting the blanket fall back.  He stopped in front of her, lifting both arms slightly to expose the buckles along the sides of the armored vest.  The leather of the straps was supple with use, and well taken care of.  With the top of her head not even level with his shoulders, she didn’t even have to duck to go under his arm to undo the other side.

Rising up on tip-toe, she lifted it over his head, and returned it to the spot she’d seen him take it from every morning he put it on. When she turned back, he had sat down, legs open and hands resting on his thighs.  It was a commanding pose, for all it looked so casual for him.  He looked at ease, almost… kingly.  It took a very special sort of man to make a simple metal stool look like a damn throne.  He watched her approach, something in his eyes hinting at a smile.  He was enjoying this.  Boldness came to her, and she stepped a bit closer than necessary, nearly standing between his legs before she knelt down slowly, hands brushing his knees before she started pulling at the buckles and laces of his boots.

The look burning into the top of her head thrilled her, but she kept her face downturned and smile hidden, pulling off the first boot and going for the other. And besides engaging him, besides teasing, she liked it.  Liked being put to use.  Then his hand slid into her hair, stroking through the tousled strands.  A shiver rolled through her, even as she leaned instinctively into the touch.  If he would just tell her what to do, it would be so easy.  She wouldn’t have to worry about intentions, or what the future might be.  She’d just have to do as she was told. 

The second boot came off, and his hand left her hair, slipping down to cup her chin. Upward pressure drew her back to her feet, standing between his spread legs.  His hand didn’t leave, going around to cup the back of her neck, grip firm but not threatening.  Keeva knew that her quick inhale and hitch of her breathing was obvious, and wondered if he could feel the way her pulse was pounding.  The hand on her neck slid up into her hair, slowly curling into a fist and tugging slightly.  Another hitch in her breathing, louder this time, and her hands came up to brace on his legs, ready to push away. 

“Did you enjoy kissing Barsad?” Fear flared for a moment when she mistook the heat in his eyes for anger, but his other hand settled softly on her hip, thumb moving in slow circles, a gentle contrast to his hard voice and the grip in her hair.  “Be honest with me, Keeva.”

Fuck. Hearing her name in his clean, articulate voice, hissed through the mask made her shiver, and she bit her lip, nodding.  “Yes,” she breathed.

The corners of his eyes crinkled briefly, the calmness of the minute expression soothing her slightly. “Would you like to do it again?”  He pulled her a bit closer, closing the distance between them, her wide hips pressing against his thighs, flesh soft under his hand.

“Yes.” She still couldn’t manage anything more than a whisper, her pulse pounding in her ears, hands itching to move to his chest, to map out every plane and angle.

Smiling again, Bane’s hand left her hair, coming back to her lips. Soft and full, and such a pale delicate pink.  They parted at his touch, pulling to the side as he swiped his thumb across them.  Her hands balled into fists on his legs, as if fighting to keep her hands in place.  The idea that she wanted to touch him urged Bane on, hand tracing her jaw before it lowered back to her neck.  She didn’t resist when he pressed two fingers to her pulse, feeling it race under his fingers, her throat bobbing as she swallowed.

When his thick fingers followed the column of her throat, tracing her delicate windpipe, Keeva shivered. If he wanted, he could crush her easily, just a little pressure on her larynx, and she’d be done.  The thrill of that power so close, brushing her skin and leaving a trail of fire in its wake, burned its way down her spine, heat curling between her legs.  Her body was intensely aware of where it touched his, of the slight pressure of his thighs against her hips, as if keeping her from running.  And what fear hummed in the background wasn’t enough to paralyze her.  She almost wanted to let her mind slip away, let him tell her what to do.

Refocusing her eyes, she found him studying her, eyes moving here and there over her face, reading her. Swallowing down her nervous excitement, Keeva let out a breath.  He was looking for signs that she was scared, that she was only standing like this and letting him touch her because she was scared of him.  Fear was there, yes, but not in the way that she feared for her safety if she pushed him away.  It was a strange, aching sort of thrill, setting her nerves alight and making her aware of every tiny movement.  Letting out a breath, she met his eyes, lifting her hands to flatten on his chest, and forcing her shoulders to relax.  If he thought she was doing this out of fear, he’d stop, and she wasn’t really sure she wanted him to stop. 

Keeping her eyes on his took effort, his stare intense and unyielding. His chest rose and fell under her hands as they slid upwards, curving over the thick muscle of his shoulder.  Using him for leverage, Keeva pulled herself up on her toes, pressing her lips to the cool metal tubing of the mask’s grill.  It was all she could think of to convey that, yes, she okay with this—whatever it was—without starting to babble like a mad woman.  A growl rumbled behind the mask, and she pulled back quickly, searching his eyes and frowning.

“Should I not—?”

“You play with fire.” His words cut through her, hand tightening on the back of her neck again.  He felt her tremble, and saw her chest rise with a quick intake of breath.  But she didn’t pull away, waiting for his next move.

“Are you telling me to stop?” Keeva said.

“I am warning you.”  The hand on her hip tightened as well, sure to leave a mark in the soft flesh now.  If she was searching for something gentle, something soft

Was he reacting to her? A strange sort of pride thrilled her, keeping her where she stood.  “Of?” she said, voice lowering and a smile pulling at her lips. 

She didn’t know when to stop.   Bane kept his smile hidden behind the mask, pushing to his feet.  As he stepped forward he pulled, forcing her into a backwards shuffle until she was pinned between him and the opposite wall.  This time, he closed off all avenue of escape, trapping her there with him.  And she didn’t startle, didn’t start struggling.  Something bright flashed in her eyes, hands flattening against the wall behind her.  But she didn’t try to press away from him, eyes wide with anticipation and lips slightly parted.

How had something so perfect fallen into his hands? Life had taught him that he was not, nor would he ever be, a lucky man.  Yet here Keeva was, able to take his pain and quivering before him.  Again he touched her lips, and she turned her head again, as if to bite, but settled for a small press of her lips, her wide eyes locked on his, still trying to get his measure.  He let the smirk show that time, and felt her shiver.  Letting go, he stepped back, hands dropping away from her.  “Go to bed,” he said, jerking his head in the direction of the mattress.

Keeva blinked. Whatever she’d been expecting, it hadn’t been that.  She wasn’t sure if she was disappointed or relieved.  Before she could decide, Bane had stepped away from her, taking the delicious warmth of his body with him.  “Are you—?” she began.

“Bed,” he repeated, with more emphasis. Keeva fought the urge to make a face at him, but turned, a great deal more confused.  But with her pulse still racing, she was certainly a bit warmer.  The blankets were nearly stifling, her body buzzing with energy and the urge to move.  He was infuriating.  He had to see the effect he had on her; he was too intelligent to miss it.  So this… this teasing was on purpose.  Bane was enjoying it, in pushing her to the edge, where she couldn’t fight back with her usual barbs and bluntness.  Words were usually easy for her, lies and jokes a shade away from second nature.  But Bane rendered her nearly mute with just a look.  Keeva wasn’t sure if that was good or bad.

Curling into a tight ball, Keeva hugged her arms around herself, ordering her eyes to close. Bane moved around the room behind her, her ears tracking him.  He was quieter without the boots, but the quiet swish of fabric was there if she paid enough attention.  Listening forced her to calm her breathing, and eventually, the tension in her shoulders loosened, and she uncurled slightly.  She wasn’t aware she’d been drifting until the opening of the door startled her back to wakefulness.

It was Barsad, Bane’s meal tray balanced on one hand and the bag that held the shaving kit in the other. She sat up, and he smiled at her sleepy expression.  Bane was sitting in the usual place, and his eyes followed Barsad’s every move.  Their gazes met, and once more Keeva witnessed something pass between them, something intense and personal.  She bit her lip, looking to the side.

Bane’s voice cut in before she could get too deep into her own thoughts. “Keeva.”  When she looked back, Barsad was readying the IV bag hanging from the bar swung out from the wall.  “Come.”  Bane beckoned her with a curl of his fingers, and she was moving to him without a thought.  His hand splayed out on her lower back, guiding her to stand next to Barsad.  His hand stayed where it was while he used the other to indicate the plastic bag hanging from the bar.  “This is the liquid form of what I use in the mask.  But you have already surmised as much I take it?”

Keeva shrugged, very aware of the warmth of his hand bleeding through her layers. “It made sense.  You have to eat, and the mask obviously doesn’t allow it.”  Her brows furrowed with thought.  “I’ve eaten.  If the healing’s worn off, I could help again?”

“Your energy runs out. This does not,” Bane said.  “Barsad will show you how it is done.”

Something must have shown on her face, because Barsad moved a bit closer. “I’m not going to make you do it right away.  I’m just showing you.  For now, you’ll have to get used to the needles.”

Oh. Lovely.  As Barsad rolled up Bane’s sleeve and tied an elastic band around his bicep, Keeva realized that his hand was still on her back; not a light touch, but not pressing in either.  The amount of trust he was showing dawned on her suddenly, and she swallowed.  Part of her reasoned that it was a necessity, that if she were do function as a healer for him, she would need to have knowledge of these things.  This moment showed visible weakness, and even if necessity didn’t equal trust, she wasn’t about to throw it back in his face. 

So she leaned in, watching as Bane extended his arm, making a fist until the vein in the crook of his arm stood out. He felt Keeva suck in a breath as Barsad brought the needle to his skin, but she didn’t look away.  Instead she paid careful attention to the positioning of the other man’s fingers and how he pressed the needle-tipped tube to the skin covering the vein.  A little shudder rolled through her as it slipped in, hearing Bane’s faint intake of breath and watching the muscles of is arm jump.  She looked up at him, something like sympathetic concern in her eyes. The urge to reach out and ease his discomfort was strong enough that she had to bite her lip to keep from asking.

As fleeting as the look had been, Barsad had seen, and smiled to himself. “Look here, habibi.”  Bane’s hand dropped away from her as Barsad lead her around to the drip mechanism attached at the bottom of the bag.  A semi-opaque green liquid dripped slowly into the little plastic cylinder, filling the thin clear tube that extended to where the other needle met Bane’s arm.  “You want the drips to come about like so.”  He adjusted a small mechanism, the drips coming at about two per second.  “Understand?”

“I think so?” she said.

“It takes some getting used to, especially if you don’t like needles,” Barsad said. “Did you need her for anything else, Brother?”

Instead of a simple nod or shake of his head, Bane’s eyes traveled the length of Keeva’s body, settling finally on her eyes. “Not at the moment,” he said softly. 

Frustration flared back to bright life in Keeva’s core, heat rolling under her skin. As Bane turned to eat, Barsad caught her eye one last time as she returned to sit on the edge of the bed, and winked at her.  There was no escaping the fact that she was blushing again.  When he turned away, she found herself watching him prepare the shaving kit.  There was no can of shaving cream, no standard razor.  It was a proper barber’s shave; full of ritual and incredibly personal.  It was hard not to try to sneak a look at Bane when the mask came off, her eyes drawn again to his scarred, full lips before she forced herself to pull up her crochet again.

As she counted her stitches, she heard the quite swipe of the razor and Bane consuming his meal. He did not speak or look around, totally focused on his task.  From what she could tell, he had only two opportunities a day to pack away all the nutrients necessary to maintain his considerable bulk.  She also couldn’t shake the fact that she was intruding on a particularly intimate moment.  Sometimes when she glanced up, Barsad would be cleaning the razor, and would level that sleepy, warm gaze in her direction.  Whenever their eyes met, he smiled.

Keeva didn’t look up again until she heard the cover being placed back on the tray. Bane’s head was freshly shaven, and he was facing out into the room now while Barsad lathered his face and neck.  He spread the cream on slowly, fingers tracing the lines of Bane’s cheekbones and jaw, their eyes appearing to never look away from each other, a smile trying to hide in Barsad’s thin beard.  Keeva felt entirely too warm, and told herself it was because there were two more bodies in the room.  It was a lie, and she knew it, but peeled off her sweater all the same, rolling up sleeves on her thermal undershirt.

When she eventually looked up again, Barsad was finishing with the other’s face, one thumb pressed to Bane’s lips as he shaved the last of the cream from his upper lip. When he moved to the neck, Keeva’s quick intake of breath was audible in the room.  Barsad saw the corner of Bane’s mouth twitch, but neither of them spoke.  It was a moment the two of them had never shared with another person until now.  Her repeated but furtive looks meant that she understood the intimacy of the act, and if Barsad was reading correctly, that was exactly what Bane wanted.

So he took extra special care with each stroke of the blade, leaning a bit more into Bane’s space than usual, murmuring the occasional quiet word as he adjusted the position of Bane’s head. She would always look up at that, unable to contain her curiosity.  With his back to her, Barsad was grinning, the look reminding Bane, as it always did, of a jackal just gorged on a meal; relaxed and sated, yet somehow, still anticipating the next moment.

When Barsad tilted Bane’s head back to shave along his windpipe, he stepped forward to stand between his legs. Keeva knew that she was staring, but was unable to break her gaze away, remembering the warmth of Bane’s thighs pressed to either side of her hips.  As she watched, Bane’s arm extended, hand coming to rest on Barsad’s hip, an easy, possessive gesture. 

“You’re teasing her on purpose, Brother,” Barsad said in Arabic, smiling.

“And you’re playing along,” Bane responded in kind, his smile staying in his eyes.

Barsad laughed and shook his head. “You are a cruel man.” He didn’t move from where he stood, instead leaning against Bane as he reached past him for the towel to clean the foam gathered on the razor.  As he did, Bane hooked a finger in the other man’s belt at the front, in full view of Keeva.

“You would have me no other way, Barsad,” he rumbled.

It was a rare occurrence, to hear his name in Bane’s true voice, and the shiver that rolled through Barsad was completely involuntary. The quiet, restrained noise he made sent a stab of heat through Keeva, chest tightening around her pounding heart.  When the last stripe of foam had been shaved away, Barsad slowly set down the razor, using the towel to wipe away any remainders.  Then he smoothed a lotion over his hands, sliding them slowly over Bane’s neck and face.  There was no denying the intimacy of the touch, or the way Bane’s eyes fell closed and he sighed out a satisfied breath.

Keeva gripped the edge of the bed with both hands, squeezing the mattress and blankets tightly. The need to touch made her fingers itch and prickle, her mouth suddenly feeling dry.  She knew what Barsad’s lips felt like, and she wondered if she would be able to feel the scars if Bane kissed her.  Bane’s eyes stayed closed until the mask was back in place.  Barsad removed the IV and disposed of the used needle, but Bane never let him move.  Still holding his belt, Bane’s other hand lifted, dragging down the zipper of Barsad’s jacket.  Suppressing another shiver, Barsad finally looked to Keeva, the same jackal’s hungry grin darkening his eyes.

Unable to move, but body desperate to engage, Keeva couldn’t take the silence any longer. “What do you want from me?”  The words tumbled out, voice strangled by the frustration burning between her legs.

Bane turned to face her, but did not let go of Barsad, peeling the jacket off his shoulders and letting it drop. His eyes speared her where she sat, her tiny startled jump immensely satisfying.  “Is there something that you want from us, Keeva?” he asked, the mask returning the familiar mechanical rasp to his voice.

“No!” she said quickly. Then, almost immediately after, “yes…  I don’t know.”  She really had no idea how to hide what she was feeling, her desire so honest in her face and eyes that Barsad’s smile softened.  But only a little.  She was still a delicious little morsel that he wanted to devour. 

“No idea at all?” Barsad teased, the weight of Bane’s hands on his hips a pleasant and familiar one.

‘Damn him.’ It took conscious effort to speak, and a few measured breaths.  “No,” she admitted, “not no idea.  Just…”  She hugged her arms around herself.  “It’s… a lot to think about.”  That didn’t feel like an adequate explanation, and her brows furrowed.  The slick heat pulsing between her legs was proving difficult to ignore.  Neither was the easy command of Bane’s hands which had started the process of relieving Barsad of his own protective vest. 

Despite the pleasure starting to coil at the base of his spine, Barsad didn’t look away from her. Her eyes kept dropping from his face to Bane’s hands.  He had a very intimate understanding of the appeal.  “What is one thing you would like?” he asked.  “One small thing.  Just say it aloud.  Could you do that?”

Just one thing? Probably.  The hold she had around herself loosened, hands shifting to clasp in her lap. ‘Yes, I can do that,’ she told herself.  “I wouldn’t… I wouldn’t mind kissing you again,” she finally said.

He smiled at her, and she fought not to squirm, pressing her thighs together. “Would you be willing to possibly give Bane a demonstration of that?” he asked.  Sometimes Bane forgot just how easily Barsad spoke.  Words flowed like honey, slow and measured until he decided to be quick and sharp.  The coyness he could embody was also quite appealing.  He could also tell that Keeva was seriously considering the idea.  Barsad knew exactly how to tip her towards a decision.  “He enjoys watching.”

With the teasing Bane had put her through so far—both intentional and unintentional—it was exactly what she needed to hear to make up her mind. She wanted to tease him back.  She pushed to her feet, shivering at the edge she saw in Bane’s eyes as he looked to Barsad.  That look was heavy with intent, and she wondered if she should excuse herself and give them privacy instead.  But by then she was within reach, and Bane’s arm came around her, hand feather light on the small of her back.  Some of the tension melted when she realized that, again, he was giving her the option to back away, to change her mind.

Coming close to Barsad, he was reminded just how short she was. After seeing Barsad pass through the throng in the warehouse before her second mass healing, she knew he was far from among the tallest.  Under six feet, certainly.  But with her own height only just above five, she still had to look up to him.  A quick flick of her eyes saw Bane’s other arm around Barsad a bit more firmly, his fingers sinking against his hip.  Barsad’s touch to the side of her neck was feather light, following the seam of her shirt over her shoulder and down her arm.  His fingertips were cool as they brushed along her bared forearm and then her palm, making her shiver and twitch.  Again, he didn’t hold, offering escape if she wanted.

Keeva found she didn’t. The intensity of Bane’s stare was palpable, even though she wasn’t looking at him.  A little thrill of power went through her, knowing that she could tease him like this.  That power made her feel bold, and she met his gaze as she put her hands on Barsad’s stomach, flattening against the lean muscle.  Bane’s eyes narrowed as her hands slid upwards, a smile on her lips as she stared right back.  Keeva only looked away when she felt her hands curve over the top of Barsad’s shoulders, grabbing small handfuls of the fabric near his collar.

This time, Barsad couldn’t resist holding her. Nothing constrictive, just enough to make her think of more.  The soft swell of her hips was pleasant enough to make him sigh, flexing his fingers against giving flesh.  Keeva was unable to resist one last look right in Bane’s eyes before she pulled Barsad down, rising up on her toes to meet him.  As easy as it was to start the kiss, it was even easier to give control over to him, his teeth plucking at her lips until they parted.  The wet slide of his tongue against hers nearly made her forget Bane was there.

But then he growled. She could hear the sound start in his chest, rolling up the back of his throat before shuddering through the filters in the mask.  The sound went straight to her cunt, and she couldn’t help the answering little groan against Barsad’s mouth.  She could feel Bane’s hand twitch on her back, seeking her hip for a firmer hold, but restraining himself.  At the same time, Barsad’s body moved, jerked closer by Bane’s reflexive grip.  There was possessiveness there, she knew, something he might be wanting to extend towards her.  The fact that he didn’t just yet was a relief.

Like before, it was Barsad that broke the kiss, this time with a soft groan and a slow lick of his lips, as if trying to savor the taste of her. It was impossible not to smile back, even if she knew hers was hesitant and shy.  Bane’s shoulder moved, telegraphing his hand lifting to slide into her hair.  He turned her head towards him, getting a better look at her expression.  Dilated pupils, lips parted with slightly elevated breathing, and a flush still burning under her freckles.  But no signs of regret or fear.

Her slightly giddy laugh felt too loud in the still room, and she took half a step back. Both of them let her go, but Barsad was smiling at her.  “That wasn’t so awful was it?” he said, the easy tone he used the very same he’d had during their conversation in the mess.  That eased her further, and she no longer felt the need to wrap her arms protectively around herself.

Instead, she smiled again, tucking the long side fringe of her hair back behind her ear again. “Not at all,” she said, and meant it.  Bane was a bit surprised when her attention turned to him.  “And you… enjoyed that, too?”

Despite her meeting his eyes before, Bane hadn’t been sure how much she’d really had of him in her mind during the kiss. The fact that she thought to ask him after gave away the effect his watching had had on her.  He smiled, but there was nothing soft about the expression in his eyes.  Not trusting his voice to adhere to his usual iron-clad control, he nodded slowly, letting his audible exhale give weight to the gesture.

The knowledge that she could have power over such a man—even in so small a way—was almost as arousing as the kiss itself. It turned into a giddy sort of joy, the smile widening her lips until she felt it in her cheeks, and looked away, feeling silly.  She didn’t have to say a word.  Barsad knew the feeling coursing through her veins, the ghost of an adrenaline high after a long fight.  When she looked back, her stance was relaxed, even if the blush remained.  “Should I… excuse myself?” she asked plainly, the laughter lingering in her eyes as she looked between them.

Bane frowned for a moment until Barsad laughed, a little color on his face now as well. “No, it is far too late for that, I’m afraid,” he said easily.  Bane still seemed reluctant to let him go.  “We’re changing locations the day after tomorrow.  Tomorrow will be packing.  You’ll need to rest.”  He looked at Bane.  “And so do we.” 

Mischief and heat glittered in the bright blue eyes, as if he were thinking of arguing. But he released Barsad, letting them both stand.  Then his hand came out again, expression becoming pensive.  Cupping the back of Barsad’s head, he leaned down to touch their foreheads together.  With a brief sigh and longer smile, Barsad mirrored the motion.  “Go to bed,” Bane murmured.  “I won’t be long.”

The idea that the touching of foreheads was their version of a kiss stuck instantly in Keeva’s mind, and she knew that it wouldn’t be leaving her any time soon. But the weight of confusion and frustration wasn’t there as she laid back down, Barsad sliding in between her and the wall.  Facing him, it was impossible not to smile shyly again, the innocence of the expression almost startling on her face.  She swallowed down a giggle, and adjusted the pillow under her head.  The light shut off a moment later, and the weight of another blanket was laid over them.  Keeva hummed happily, unbothered by Barsad’s arm draped loosely over her side.

Cold rushed in as Bane peeled the covers back, instantly chasing it out as he laid at her back. She could feel him, just behind her, heat radiating off him like a furnace.  Was it the mask’s medicine that did that?  His hand cupped her hip, and stilled.  She realized he was asking without words.  All it took was a little roll of her hips, leaning into him just enough that his hand fell across her, pulling his arm after it.  Instantly, his fingers tucked under her other side, pulling her against his chest.  Barsad’s hand laid over her forearm, thumb idly tracing the line of a scar while he pressed close again, encasing her in warmth.

Sleepiness came easily now, tension melting out of her. She was safe there.  Even in her own home, with Piper in the bed, multiple locks on her front and bedroom door, and her knife under her pillow, Keeva had never felt so safe.  She wasn’t sure if that was sad or not.  But she was sure that this was worth something, worth whatever confusion and frustration it might make her feel.  Even if it didn’t last, she was going to soak up every last moment of it.

 

000

 

It was early still, and Barsad was content to remain as he was. Keeva had shifted in the night, rolling over and her head cradled by Bane’s arm.  Her breath was deep and even, no longer dreaming but still deeply asleep.  Her short hair exposed the pale column of her neck, a beauty mark tucked behind her ear.  With as sensitive as she had shown her neck to be, he resisted the urge to touch, instead leaning in and breathing in the smell of her hair.  Clean and simple, with traces of Bane’s own soap still lingering among her own natural scent.  He hummed quietly, and felt Bane’s hand shift on his hip.

“Good morning, Brother,” Barsad murmured, eyes opening slowly. “Sleep well?”

Bane was silent for a long time, his eyes slipping down to Keeva’s relaxed, sleeping face. “The pain is only just now returning,” he said at last. 

It took conscious effort for Barsad not to start upright, eyes widening. “Really?  You are certain?”  He shook his head.  “No, no, of course you are.”  Then he smiled, the relief and softness of it catching at Bane when he looked up.  “I am glad, Brother.”  His arm left Keeva, reaching out to squeeze Bane’s shoulder.  “So she is getting stronger?”

Bane carefully smoothed a bit of hair from Keeva’s face. It stuck up at odd angles, whatever style she’d had it in starting to get overgrown.  “She is.”  The knowledge was heavier than he’d expected.  Talia would want to know.  She would want copies of all of Dr. Magnuson’s findings, she would want more tests done.  Even in the frenzy that Gotham had whipped her into, her inquisitive mind would never rest.  No matter how far she drifted from him, she hung onto the hope that she could help him.  Some little scrap of who she’d been before falling into Ra’s al Ghul’s hands, before the Lazarus Pit.  Before the world had squeezed what little light was left from her.

Barsad knew that look, and his smile faded. The pensiveness only ever showed itself that clearly when Bane was thinking of Talia.  Barsad had only known Bane after he’d been excommunicated from the League of Shadows, but the bond the man shared with Talia had been plain.  They cared deeply for each other.  Bane had told him once, he had expected to die for her that day in the Pit, and Barsad knew that Bane would have died for her again.  Even against her father’s wishes, she had helped Bane, making sure he had access to the best doctors and scientists, always trying to improve the Venom that kept him going.

But time had changed that. Death had changed Talia in more ways than one.  She was no longer the sharp, clever girl that Barsad had been introduced to all those years ago.  There was nothing in her eyes any more, nothing but hatred and pain.  All Barsad could do was watch as Bane’s little girl drifted further and further away, dragging him along like a dog too stupid to run away.  Reaching out, Barsad’s hand slid over Bane’s masked face, finger catching on the tiny patch of cheek that was visible.  The contact was enough, drawing Bane back.

“Brother.” Barsad traced his thumb along the edge of the mask below Bane’s eye.  “I am glad you made the bargain.  Even if some might have called it foolish.  I am glad.”  There were soft parts to Bane.  Small and well hidden, but still there, remnants of the person he might have become if not punished for his father’s sins.  “She is good for you.”

“And for you, it seems,” Bane said. The deflection was easier, safer.  Barsad was closer to him than anyone, and sometimes it was unnerving, even after all these years.

And Barsad let him, the wicked grin curving his lips again. “I was not the only one to benefit from such a display,” he said quietly.

Bane blinked slowly, almost cat-like. “You had forgotten how much you enjoyed it, didn’t you?”  His touch to Barsad’s lips was soft, just as gentle as it had been with Keeva.  He had seen Barsad kissed before, back before, when there had been lulls between work, when they’d had real time together.  “I am glad that she could give you that.”  There, another glimmer of the softness under what the world had made him.

Unable to resist a playful nip to Bane’s fingers, Barsad chuckled. “I believe she did it as much for your benefit as for mine.  You’re just a bit more… intimidating.”

Bane raised a single brow. “Me?” he deadpanned, in a manner that made it impossible for Barsad to hold in his laughter.  Keeva grumbled, nuzzling into Bane’s bicep before going still again.  She was so soft, cuddling so close without hesitation.  And she had thought of him, while kissing Barsad.  The mask felt tight and itchy with the surge of annoyance.  As used to it as it was, sometimes it felt like it was strangling him.  He wanted to know her taste, to know her smell beyond what little scraps came through the vents.

“She talks back, still,” Barsad pointed out. “I’m quite certain she saw our display on the television, both at the stadium and at Blackgate.  She knows how terrifying you are.”  He let the rest hang.  Despite what she knew him capable of, she didn’t hide herself or her nature, talking to him as she would any other man.  Well, not just any other man, but…  She didn’t seem to see him as some fearsome beast, a monster wearing the skin of a man, or at the very least not just that.  There were so few people that Bane let see beyond that, Barsad could probably have counted them on one hand.

Between them, Keeva grumbled, the mumble of their voices slowly pulling her awake. With her brow close to resting on Bane’s chest, she was able to hide the foolish grin that curved her mouth the moment she remembered the previous night.  And as much as she wanted to stay wrapped in the delicious warmth of the two men, nature was calling.  “Gotta get up,” she mumbled.

As they disentangled, Barsad made sure that Keeva saw his exaggerated pout, and she rolled her eyes at him. “Don’t you start,” she grumbled, shoving her feet into her boots.  No matter how warm her socks were, she wasn’t walking to the bathroom on the concrete without boots.  “Bane puts off twice as much heat as I do, easily.”

“But he’d nowhere near as soft, habibi,” Barsad said, grinning.

“I’d say he’s plenty comfy,” Keeva muttered, cheeks heating as she looked away. The compliments he gave so easily would take forever to get used to, if she ever did.

“Glad you think so,” Bane said blandly, as if they were talking about the weather. His deadpan delivery, as if just making a simple observation, made her blush harder, hurrying out into the hall.  Folding his hands over his chest, Bane chuckled softly, closing his eyes.  “I can see the appeal in teasing her.”

“You’re a smart man, Brother. I know you can see the appeal in a great many of her qualities.” 

“None of the injuries I have suffered have damaged my eyesight,” Bane said. He would have to have been truly blind not to see the appeal in Keeva.  Her body soft from every angle, mismatched eyes sharp and constantly appraising.

“Do you have plans for her, Brother?” Barsad asked, some of the mirth leaving him.

“She will have to be stronger,” Bane said firmly. “Her desire to be useful will make her easy to teach.”

That wasn’t what Barsad had meant at all, and Bane knew it. But Bane would never put his own desires first.  Sometimes Barsad wanted to kick him.  Instead, he rolled over, climbing on top of the other man and putting his hands to either side of Bane’s head.   The other man’s eyes snapped open “Do not let this opportunity slip away, Brother,” Barsad said sternly, a tone he rarely used, uncaring of the bruising grip settling on his hips.  “Or I will devour her myself.”  Bane’s fingers tightened, digging into Barsad, pressing into his hip bones, making the smaller man hiss.  But Barsad’s eyes were unwavering, giving weight to his words even as mischief glittered there.  Keeva wasn’t the only one that liked to play with fire.

 

000

 

Keeva took her time brushing her hair and teeth, and washing her face. She had learned to enjoy little things a long time ago, and being able to splash her face with warm water was definitely one of the better ones.  There was a cracked mirror hanging over the sink, fracturing her reflection into several pieces.  The face staring back at her was a bit less bruised, and with a new scar, but still mostly the same.  She didn’t feel the same.  Her hair was longer than she liked it, and she fussed with it for a few moments before she gave up.  Someone would have scissors around this place. 

Or Barsad could shave her head. She giggled at that thought.  Passing the tub on the way to the door, Keeva paused.  She only imagine what Bane had been thinking when he watched her bathe.  She had a very vivid imagination.  Whatever he might have wanted, he had just stood there, drinking her in.  Even now, she could feel the way his gaze had crawled over her, like some damn feast for the eyes.  Lust she knew, but like every other part of him, Bane seemed to do things more intensely than anyone she’d ever met.

At the door, she paused, dropping her head against the door and closing her eyes. It had been years, but she wanted a damn drink.  Or to hit something.  Either way, she wanted to go and go and go until her brain was too tired to keep nitpicking at everything.  Squaring her shoulders, she stepped out into the hall, making sure that the light was off behind her before stepping into the hall.  A quick glance proved that she was alone, and she hurried back.  Food had been brought in her absence, a bowl of something brownish with indeterminate meat and mushy vegetables, spiced within an inch of its life.  Whatever it was, it was hot, and that meant more to her than flavor.

“We’re moving tomorrow,” Barsad said, after once more showing her how to equip the IV drip. “Two groups.  One with a decoy of Bane, and the other by bike.”

The hit at the stock exchange, and the subsequent televised chase with the Batman came to mind. They had said that Bane himself had been there…  She eyed him thoughtfully.  “Was that you on the television?” she asked.  “They said a ‘masked man’ was the one who hit the exchange, but…”

“My brother is a man of many talents,” Barsad said, a hint of pride in his voice. “You’ll be riding with him.  As much as the bikes might draw attention, an armed motorcade will be far more likely to draw the ire of our enemies.  Someone of Bane’s likeness out in the open will also make a tempting target.”

Keeva didn’t know shit about military strategy, but it made sense to her. “Never ridden on a bike,” she admitted.  A bicycle was one thing, but the idea of going that fast without being buckled in had always made her more than a little nervous.  But it wasn’t like she had any better ideas.  Going underground, where the first rumors of Bane had come from, didn’t appeal to her either.  She hated being underground.  Closed in spaces didn’t bother her normally, but…  She shook her head to clear it, going back to her food.  She felt considerably warmer when she was done, the heat of the broth seeping outwards from her chest.  “Can I ask where we’re going?”

“Certainly,” Bane said, wiping his mouth with a napkin. When he remained silent, and turned a smirk in her general direction, Barsad snorted, Keeva rolled her eyes.

“Alright, where are we going?” she tried again. That smirk of his pulled his lips in a way that sent a shiver down her spine. If he hadn’t been born to the life he had, people would probably never pay him any attention, they’d be too focused on what it might feel to kiss those beautiful plush lips.  Barsad brought him what he needed to brush his teeth before turning back to her.

“Warehouse that was converted to apartments,” he said. “Closer to the water.”

“Who would want to live in that?” Keeva thought aloud. “The insulation has got to be terrible.  The heating would cost a fortune, especially on the riverfront.”  She shivered at just the thought.

“Not to worry, habibi,” Barsad said jovially.  “We’ll keep you warm.”

“It’s a miracle I haven’t scared you away with my icicle toes,” Keeva deflected, even as a smile curved her lips.

“Why do you think Bane got you such thick socks?” Barsad teased.

“Out of the goodness of his heart, surely!” Keeva said, sounding dramatic but only half joking.

With a quiet click and a soft hiss the mask was back in place, only the barest crinkle at the corners of Bane’s eyes to give him away. It couldn’t be a slip up either.  She couldn’t believe that someone like Bane would be so normal as to let his facial expressions give him away without his knowledge.  If he was letting an expression show, it by choice.  That level of self-awareness was actually quite awe inspiring.

Pushing to her feet, Keeva approached Bane, letting Barsad dispose of the IV. Then she held out her hands, palms up and slightly outstretched.  “May I help?” she said, a little tug at the corner of her mouth as she made sure to word her question properly.  He didn’t answer her for a moment, as if pausing to consider.  “I’ve gotten better, right?” Keeva said.  “I mean I did pass out with the doctor, but that was because I was trying to take more than usual.  I’ll just do what I did before, and not try to show off this time, I promise.”

Behind her, Barsad was grinning. “Very well.”  Bane lifted his hand, gesturing her in with a twitch of his fingers. 

Pushing up her sleeves, Keeva stepped in, feeling heat at the back of her neck at standing so close, and in a position so similar to the day before. Cupping the back of his neck, she felt the muscles jump under the skin at her cool fingers, and she murmured a quiet apology.  Reaching out, she was able to get a better read on the pain than before, looking without touching or disturbing.  Her chest tightened, thinking of what horrible things might have happened to cause such compounding injuries.

This time, she started slowly, going for the heavy cluster of knots at the base of his spine. Her own muscles twitched, and she locked her knees as she growled into clenched teeth.  Up the spine, touching poorly healed bone and inflamed tissue around missing cartilage.  Barsad saw the trembling in her thighs a moment before Bane did, darting in and holding her up with a strong arm around her middle.  Bane’s hand slid into her hair, pulling her head forward as he dipped his own, the bisecting strap of his mask pressing gently into her forehead as the pain bled away.

But there was more pain there, Keeva could feel it. She knew she could take more, but she had promised.  Her hands dropped, bracing on Bane’s thighs as she tried to regain control of her breathing.  She felt beaten and bruised, but could already feel her body going to work, mending itself.  “Better?” she breathed heavily, eyes closed. 

Leaning back, Bane nodded. But she didn’t look up, head falling to the side to rest against his collarbone, breath warming his skin through the shirt.  “Yes, thank you,” he answered, and saw the corner of her mouth pull upwards in a weak smile.

“Good,” Keeva whispered. Then, a bit more confidently, “good.”  The tiredness in her bones was already waning, leaving behind a deep sense of satisfaction.  Barsad released her slowly and she stepped back, somewhat reluctant to draw away from their touch.  Then she smiled, eyes full of pride.  Barsad squeezed her shoulder, and again, Bane nodded his thanks.  He said so little, scarcely more than a few syllables, but he wasn’t the type to waste words.  He said what was necessary, and little else.  But those few words still managed to reach her, through all the walls she’d built around herself.       

 

Chapter Text

Bane and Barsad’s room had been stripped down to the bare bones when Keeva returned that night. She had worked with Sarah that day to prepare the motorcade, and to make sure that the bikes to be used by the other group were in working order.  The man that they had found to double as Bane was actually a decent likeness, an armored vest and massive coat hiding his lack of bulk.  It was enough to make her do a double-take, having to narrow her eyes and make sure that it wasn’t him at a distance.  And she had seen the man up close. Very close.

Keeva dropped the bag she’d been given—containing a riding helmet and a leather jacket—beside the door. The room felt larger without the crates and furniture, the mattress somehow smaller all alone in the corner.  Beside her, Barsad cracked his neck and groaned in quiet relief.  Bane was still busy, probably locked away in whatever counted as an office there.  The entire compound was still buzzing, but all Keeva wanted to do was sleep.  Adrenaline had been in her system on and off all day, every little task making her worry about the outcome.

And the worry just made her feel silly. With so many minds and pairs of hands working on it, she was sure that they were prepared for just about anything.  She hoped that it was just anxiety about riding a damn motorbike through a wrecked city.  The only things left in the room were two duffle bags, the smaller of them hers.  Her Kevlar vest was laid on top of it, along with a pair of leather gloves.  Looking at it, she shivered, pushing her hands through her hair.

Barsad noticed the way her shoulders sat a bit higher than usual, a conscious effort to enforce better posture, as a slouch would give her mood away. Her hands fidgeted, when the left her hair, and she drifted over to the bed to unlace her boots.  Even with her eyes turned down, she didn’t seem to be actually seeing the laces, fingers plucking awkwardly at them.  Her pensive expression was also a dead give-away. 

“Don’t get too worked up,” he said easily, hanging his jacket and vest on the hooks still drilled into the wall. “It’s barely a twenty minute ride.”

“A lot can happen in twenty minutes,” Keeva said, still staring at her feet. “Dogs can really fuck each other up in seconds if they feel like it.” 

“Fair point,” Barsad agreed. “But we are hardly frenzied dogs, habibi.”

Finally, Keeva looked up. “Not you. Them.”  She waved a hand towards the door, a vague motion meaning the city beyond.  “It’s Gotham.  In here…  Here I was safe.  Going back out…”  She found herself hugging her legs up against her chest, ducking her head to press her face into her knees.  It had to say something strange about her, that the city where she’d been born and raised scared her more than a terrorist group.  She almost wanted to laugh.

The mattress dipped beside her as Barsad sat down. His hands and nails were dark with engine oil and dirt, a single dark smear of it across one cheek.  “If everything goes to plan, you will leave it eventually.”  It wasn’t a lie, not really.  It was planned that they would leave, before the end.  But nothing was certain until it was over.

The words seemed impossible to Keeva, even without knowing what Barsad was thinking. She had been part of Gotham for so long, she wasn’t sure that she could ever let go of it completely.  Or if it would let go of her. No matter what she said or did, it had made her the person that she was, forged her through fire.  If she hadn’t been born in Gotham…  Keeva had no idea what sort of person she could have been.  To not be able to separate herself from the city, not being able to imagine herself as anything more, was just as frustrating as the worry. 

“I fucking hate it,” she muttered, feeling like a petulant child. “Bane’s right.  It needs to burn.”  The anger in her voice was inseparably tied up to her pain, and it showed when she looked up. 

“It will,” Barsad assured her. “Nothing can stop that now.”

People would die. Men, women, and children would die in flames, thousands snuffed out in an instant.  She should care.  She should be doing something, fighting with the resistance to stop it, to find some way to get people out.  But those same people, those same, supposedly good people, had seen her suffer and done nothing.  They raised children to stand by while others hurt, while a corrupt system beat down the innocent just as much as the guilty.  Children that would turn around and hurt others.  And the police, the supposed heroes, had mocked her.  Had called her a liar.

It had been years since the incident. Her pain had turned to hatred, and hatred waned into a quiet bitterness.  Now the anger came back, burning through her.  Her breath shook as she exhaled, only an effort of will keeping her from clenching her jaw.  “Good,” she whispered, angry tears threatening to blur her vision.  Everything hit at once, and she dragged a hand over her face, sagging.  “Fuck.”

With no training how to veil her face, her thoughts very nearly played out across her face, and Barsad felt his chest tighten slightly at the angry, vulnerable expression she showed him. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked. 

“No,” Keeva said quickly. Then she sighed, peeling off her outer layers.  “Not… not just now.  I just wanna sleep.”

“As you wish.”

 

000

 

It felt as if she had only just closed her eyes before she was brought back to wakefulness by a firm shake to her shoulder. “Habibi, it’s time to go.”  Barsad’s voice, his face blurry as Keeva blinked against the overhead lights.  Bane was already dressed, looking quite different in a black leather riding coat, elbows and shoulders heavily padded for protection.  With his helmet in hand, he was a whole other kind of intimidating.  She shivered, and quickly turned to her vest and jacket.  The Kevlar went on under the oversized leather jacket, her hair brushed out of her eyes.

Looking up, she didn’t feel ready. Without realizing it, she’d been hiding.  Being with Bane had been an escape from everything, and now she’d be going back out into the world, even if it was only for a short time.  The fear of returning shamed her, and she squared her shoulders and stepped forward, swinging the strap of her duffle over her back and tightening it until the bag was snug against her back.  Once she was wearing the gloves, Keeva lifted the helmet and turned back to the others.  She felt tiny and out of place, but she kept her shoulders square and her back straight.  It was time to go, whether she was ready or not.

 

000

 

Her bag ended up strapped tightly to another bike, the buzz of voices fading into the background. Keeva didn’t know shit about motorbikes, and she felt silly just staring at them lined up near one of the garage doors.  Too keep her hands from shaking or fidgeting, they were stuffed into the pockets of her coat, the right curled tightly around the now familiar shape of the brass knuckles.  It wasn’t like she was walking into a fight, but her nerves were still buzzing.

Barsad came up behind her, the hand alighting on her shoulder making her jump. When she turned, she was scowling at her own nervousness, brows furrowed.  “It should be less eventful than the stock exchange incident,” he said, and Keeva’s brows quirked.

“That wouldn’t take much,” she pointed out.

“So negative, habibi!” he chastised, smiling.  He squeezed her shoulder again, trying to be reassuring. 

Bane’s approach drew her attention. The addition of the helmet completed the illusion.  Well, not exactly an illusion, but it was still a very different silhouette.  And it was hot.  ‘Fuck. So that’s a thing for me now.’  Keeva tried not to swallow too visibly, and missed the calm, appreciative look that Barsad drew over the other man.  Bane beckoned her silently, and she put on the helmet the way she had been shown.  She didn’t like it, closed in and tight, but she knew enough about accidents to know it was better to have one.  She didn’t know if she could heal herself if her skull got cracked open like a piñata.

It wasn’t the same bike from the hit on the exchange. There had been room for a hostage to perch on that one, but for an extended ride, and an actual passenger, a change had been needed.  It wasn’t exactly a two-seater, but the body was longer.  With a hand on her shoulder, Bane directed Keeva to straddle the seat, and sat behind her, the bike dipping on its shocks under his weight.  She was small enough that he had no trouble seeing over the top of her head, even with her helmet.  And with his much longer legs braced on the pedals, there would be no sliding forward.

He felt her jump and start back against his chest as the engine came to life under her, hands twitching as she tried to find something to hold onto. Bane directed her hands with his own, showing her how to brace herself without getting in his way of the controls.  She pushed back against him when his arms came around her, and her head jerked up at the rattling of the garage door rolling upwards.  The blast of cold air beat against her insulating layers, finding its way under the edge of the helmet and tickling her neck.  Bane leaning forward and telling her to hold on was the only warning she got before they shot off into the pre-dawn dark, three other bikes behind them. 

Keeva knew Barsad was on one of the other bikes, but they didn’t stay together long. The moment they hit the actual streets of Gotham, they all separated, the sound of their engines fading away.  Even with their own engine roaring, Keeva could feel the strange silence of the city pressing in on her.  She was so used to the noise, the bustle and rhythm of the city, that seeing and hearing it the way it had become was deeply unsettling.  When she was small, rare trips out of the city had meant sleepless nights for Keeva, without the usual background noise to lull her.  The silence of it now was somehow even louder. 

So she closed her eyes, focusing on the rapid hum of the bikes engine, of the air rushing past, and her back against the solidness of Bane’s chest. Without the world speeding past, her fear slowly fell away, stripped by the wind.  The turns still made her tense, but she learned to lean with Bane, to feel the centrifugal force holding her in place.  When she opened her eyes again, she was seeing the sunrise, straight down some grimy, trash lined side-street. 

The sky blazed with color, golden orange and pink bleeding into the purple and deep blue left over from the night, a few of the brighter stars still standing out. She felt a smile curving her lips, even more tension slipping away.  Motion flickered in the corner of her vision at the corner where the street met the main road again.  Bane made a noise of alarm behind her, the bike jerked, and then suddenly she was airborne.  The world spun, and then became nothing but pain.

 

000

 

Both bodies were strewn out in the road, scattered from the still rumbling bike that now lay on its side, tires torn to shreds. The man driving it had known how to catch himself with a roll, but still lay motionless, one arm bent at an odd angle.  Officer Taylor approached the second, much smaller body, their chest heaving as they struggled to breathe.  It was only when he pulled off the helmet that he realized it was a woman.  Mismatched eyes stared up at him, wide and confused, blood coloring the inside of her lips.  Her wet, rasping breaths told him a punctured lung, both her legs twisted unnaturally.

For a moment, Taylor thought of his daughter, Beth, and something twisted in his chest. This girl looked so young; how could she have gotten tangled up in this?  Had she been homeless, lured by the temptation of food and shelter?  A shout behind him make him jerk around.  The others with him had pulled the helmet off the driver, and now they recoiled, the mask still clinging to the man’s face as plain as a nametag.

“Fuck!”

Taylor looked back to the girl, who wasn’t looking at him anymore. Who was she, to have been riding with Bane, of all people?  Her head lifted from the ground, and Taylor realized that she was trying to look for Bane.  He tried to squash the questions, to stop his damn soft heart from making what he had to do any harder than it was already going to be.  They couldn’t waste bullets, could risk drawing attention.  The knife flicked open in his hand, and he knelt.

 

000

 

Time slowed for Keeva, her focus sharpening to the sensation of metal pulling across her throat. Something warm gushed over her neck, and she tasted salt in her mouth.  The face above her came into focus, twisted with pain.  But he still watched her.  He just sat there and watch her die, shaking.  He was sad, Keeva realized, as black began to eat at the corners of her vision.  He was sad that he’d killed her.

“What are you waiting for?” someone shouted, sounding so very far away. “Just shoot the fucker!  You think you can take Bane in a fight?!”

Bane.

Keeva’s hand closed around a wrist, the joints naked in her mind’s eye. The warmth of life flowed through the arm, up into the chest and the rapidly beating heart.  Old breaks, worn cartilage in the knees and left shoulder.  She pulled.  Beside her, the man crumpled, and she gasped as her lungs inflated, the gash across her throat zipping closed.  Her legs cracked audibly as she kicked them out straight before the bones could heal wrong.  More shots, and men screaming.  Keeva rolled onto her side, pushing up onto her arms and coughing a splatter of blood onto the pavement.

‘Bane!’ With her body still sucking in air, desperate and rapid, she couldn’t speak, couldn’t call out.  Her head turned so quickly that her neck ached.  Bane was standing, two bodies at his feet.  One arm hung useless from his shoulder, his skin flushed in anger.  But he was looking towards the building across the street.  Keeva scrambled to her feet, closing the distance between her and Bane with hardly a wobble.  Without asking, she put her hands on his arm, watching him tense and hearing the mask hiss.  The pop of his shoulder going back into place was audible, her own feeling as if someone yanked her down. 

The pain made her stagger, sucking in a breath through her teeth. Bane gripped her shoulder until she steadied, her other hand clutching the healing shoulder.  “I’m okay,” she murmured, voice rasping and her mouth still tasting of blood.  “What… what happened?”

A door opened across the street, and Keeva jumped. Bane’s head snapped up, and his eyes narrowed.   The scout that had been in charge of watching this point of the route stood in the door, his eyes wide and face pale.  Rage roared in Bane’s ears, burning under his skin as his hands balled into fists.  He didn’t recall taking a single step, but suddenly his hand was around the man’s face, slamming it into the brick wall behind him with a sickening crunch.  The man groaned, and Bane did it again, harder, before letting the motionless body crumple to the ground.

Keeva stared. It happened so quickly.  Now she felt open and exposed where she stood, and hurried to stand beside Bane, fear hammering through the strange warmth lingering in the back of her mind.  When she looked down, and saw the wide, staring eyes of the dead man at Bane’s feet, she was aware that she should have felt something.  Disgust, fear, horror, something.  Bane had killed him, and she didn’t know why.  She should be questioning that, right? 

“Did he do this?” she heard herself ask.

Bane didn’t answer. Instead he grabbed the crackling radio from the man’s belt.  “We have to go.”  He said something else into the radio, grabbing Keeva’s upper arm and pulling her back out.  But he paused in the doorway, looking at the body laying separate from the others, a puddle of Keeva’s blood beside him.  Eyes narrowing, he looked at her.  The man wasn’t moving, and even though Bane knew that they had to move, had to get clear, something kept him still, drawing his attention back. 

Still holding her, he walked back, feeling her muscles bunch under his grip as they returned. As he crouched, he let go, and Keeva stayed standing, clenching her jaw.  The man wasn’t moving.  He really wasn’t moving.  Bane rolled him over with the heel of his hand, and his eyes stared blindly up at the sky.  Bane didn’t need to search for the pulse he knew didn’t exist, but he did anyways.  Nothing.  She had killed him.  Looking up at her, he saw nothing but confusion and muted horror; Keeva was as in the dark as he was.

A reply over the radio cut the air. They were close.  Grabbing her helmet, he ushered Keeva back into the open door, dragging the body inside with them and pulling the door shut.  A hand reached for him in the dark, clutching reflexively at his own before she seemed to think better of it and pulled away.  With a huff, Bane grabbed her wrist back, pulling her behind him, his eyes already adjusted to the dark.  To her credit, Keeva managed to stumble only twice, chest tight and palms sweating under her gloves.

When Bane found another door, it opened onto an alley, and Barsad was waiting for them. Or at least someone wearing the same helmet and jacket as Barsad.  Bane helped her onto the bike behind him, pressing her helmet into her hands.  She paused.  “You’re not coming?”  The rasp was gone from her voice, her bloody neck starting his anger burning afresh.

The other two riders with Barsad dismounted from their own bikes. “I won’t be long.”

Barsad caught the other man’s eye as Keeva put the helmet back on.  “Anyone left to question?” he asked, already suspecting the answer.

“No.” Bane turned away, vanishing with the others back into the building.

 

000

 

Keeva spent the ride with her head pressed into Barsad’s back, arms anchored tightly around his chest. Not once did she look up, or try to see where they were.  A few times, she heard the hum of a bigger engine—a car or a truck—or the chatter of conversation.  Even if she didn’t look up, it was better than the unnatural silence that there had been before.  When they finally stopped, the ghost of the engine’s vibration lingered in her legs, her knees and backside aching.  Two armed men met her and Barsad at the door, one of them taking the bike, and the other letting them in.  Keeva didn’t bother to look at the building, and didn’t really care once they were inside either.

Awareness came and went, but she kept moving, just going through the motions and following Barsad up at least three flights of stairs. His hands pushed gently on her shoulders and she sat down.  It was only when he closed the door behind him that she snapped back, sucking in a sudden breath.  She smelled fresh wood polish, new leather.  Looking around, it was like a damn magazine, until she noticed the crates and military surplus.  But everything was new.  No one had gotten a chance to live here before Bane fell on the city.

Then she remembered the man’s eyes, staring sightlessly up at her. In a blink, they turned to another face, a single living eye full of pain and rage while the other gushed blood and fluid.  She felt very small in the big room.  “Barsad?”  His name came out a squeak, tiny and soft.  Swallowing, she tried again.  “Barsad?”

Barsad came around the couch, tilting his head to try and meet her gaze. The face he found looked somehow younger, pale and small, with drying blood darkening her neck.  He didn’t say a word, coming carefully into her space and crouching in front of her.  She tensed like an animal, not drawing away from him, but nervous all the same.  “Let’s get you out of this, alright?”  He touched the cuff of her jacket.  “That vest can’t be comfortable.”

Keeva nodded, and he let her unzip the jacket and peel it off, rotating her shoulder a few times as if to test it. Her fingers fumbled on the unfamiliar fastening of the vest, and he helped her get it off.  Underneath her clothes were a mess, the collar of sweater and shirt darkened and sticky with blood.  Keeva stared down at them, touching the spot, and her fingertips coming away red.  “I think… I think I killed him, Barsad,” she whispered, not meeting his eyes.  “He cut my throat… I felt the knife, and the blood.  They were going to shoot Bane, and I…”  She trailed off, biting her lip.  “I could feel how alive he was.  And I was dying.  I don’t…  I don’t understand.”

Barsad didn’t either. Bane hadn’t exactly explained.  A frown pursed his lips and drew his brows together, and he hid it with pulling at the collar of her ruined sweater, examining the bloody, but unmarked skin of her neck.  She jumped at the touch of his cool fingers, and he pulled away.  “There’s going to be hot water for a few hours, habibi.  You should wash.  You’ll feel better.”

It was good advice. “Yeah,” she murmured.  Getting up made her feel old and stiff, and she swallowed down a noise of discomfort.  “Where’s the bathroom?”

 

000

 

Keeva could have cried. It was a fully furnished bathroom, with a giant tub, and an equally massive shower stall with frosted glass doors.  There were even towels, actual towels.  And the water was hot, splashing into the pale tub and filling the room with steam.  She found herself thinking of her lily of valley bubble bath, tucked under the sink in her apartment.  It had probably been ransacked by now, what belongings she hadn’t taken with her thrown out onto the street or stolen.

And there, perched on the large counter by the sink, was a bath set, the note of welcome and the bottles dusty. Probably a left-over from the realtor that had sold the place before the Occupation.  She suddenly couldn’t stop smiling, ripping into the plastic.  She dumped far more of the lavender bath salts into the water than necessary, but she didn’t care, practically giggling in her delight.  Lavender wasn’t her favorite, but she wasn’t about to start complaining.  With the little luxuries lined up on the edge of the tub and a towel within reach, Keeva sank into the fragrant water. 

Heat prickled up her skin, and she instantly dropped below the surface, drifting back up slowly and keeping her eyes closed. She knew that the water would be turning the usual redish orange as it dissolved the blood on her neck and stomach.  It didn’t matter.  The water still smelled heavenly, a few salt crystals lingering under her hands.  Without anyone staring and making her mind run around in confused circles, she was actually allowed to enjoy herself.

She washed and conditioned her hair, letting the second sit in her hair as she considered if she actually wanted to try shaving or not. The hair on her legs didn’t really bother her, but she was indulging herself already.  There were no sound of movement beyond the closed door, she bit her lip.  Her deliberation didn’t last long, and she leaned out of the tub to grab the razor from the counter.  With the conditioner still soaking into her hair, she took her time with her legs and under her arms.  It wouldn’t last, she knew, but didn’t care.  It was a chance to feel some kind of human normalcy.  And after staring into the eyes of two dead men, both within five minutes, she wanted to feel human again.  At least a little.

When her legs were smooth again, she ducked under the water, sliding her fingers through her hair, movements slow and languid as she worked the conditioner from her hair. She continued to float there when she was done, just luxuriating in the heat and scent of the water.  With her ears below the surface, it took her a moment to realize that voices were speaking in the next room.  Coming up, she cocked her head, trying to listen.  The words stayed unrecognizable and muffled; they might not even have been English.  Then the door opened so suddenly she jumped.

Bane closed the door behind him, crossing the tile floor in a few strides. He stared down at Keeva in silence, feeling the fingers of one hand flutter at his side, energy still humming under his skin.  Anger still burned, a sharp twist in his gut that made standing still almost painful.  But he didn’t look away, too drawn in by soft plump body sitting in the water in front of him, the lavender so heavy in the air even he could catch a whiff of it.  Her skin was flushed pink, her eyes wide as they stared up at him.  He had wanted to ask her questions, to make sense of the body she’d left behind.  But he was running hot, blood full of adrenaline.  It was difficult to focus.

Even standing perfectly still, Bane seemed to vibrate, full of something restless and wild. But it wasn’t that that gave her pause.  It was the fact that she couldn’t tell if the heat in his eyes was anger or hunger.  She wasn’t curled around herself any longer, every inch of her on display as she lay leaning back, legs extended out before her, only the ripple of water to cover her.  Bane’s eyes left hers, following the line of her neck and shoulders, lingering on her breasts before sweeping the rest of her.  Then he growled.  It was a low, primal sort of sound, and it resonated with the part of Keeva attracted to the raw, visceral power of him.  Nervousness turned to heat, rolling slowly down her spine and out into her limbs.  She shivered despite the still steaming water.

And Bane noticed, eyes darting back to her face as she bit her bottom lip. He felt himself growl again, blood lust giving way to want of another kind.  All he could think of was burying himself in her softness, marking her with his hands and teeth.  At his sides, his hands flexed and balled into fists.  Keeva saw, wide eyes leaving his face, and expression calming when she recognized his restraint.  She didn’t know where the boldness came from.  Maybe she was still out of her mind because she hadn’t healed her head properly after the accident.  But none of those thoughts stopped her from drawing her legs under her and slowly standing.

She unfolded from the water, rivulets running over her flushed skin, tracing the shape of her curves and drawing his gaze downwards. Almost immediately, he forced it back up to scrutinize her face.  His control was already hanging by a thread.  Her cowering in the bath would almost certainly have helped him turn away, to seek some other form of release.  But she reached out, water gathering in swelling drops on her fingertips.

Keeva didn’t know what she was reaching for. She just wanted to touch him, to feel some part of the raw power standing before her.  A smear of blood on his cheek and along the side of his mask caught her eye, but she pulled her hand back before she could touch.  Instead, his own hand came out, finding purchase on the wet curve of her hip, thumb smearing through the water.  The cold of his skin made her jerk, sucking in an audible gasp.  Shivers spread out from his hand, her nipples hardening to small peaks.

But there was no pulling away. The look he was giving her was nothing short of a predator’s gaze, and the longer she allowed his hand to linger, the less likely it was that she would tell him to remove it.  She took a breath, feeling it shake.  Her hand moved over his, her smaller fingers tracing the back of his hand and slipping around his wrist.  His grip tightened, his next growl meant as a warning.

“Playing with fire, right?” she whispered, a hesitant smile pulling at one side of her mouth.  

Without his wrist brace, she could feel his pulse racing under her fingers. Panic twisted with heat in her belly.  This should be terrifying her; she should want to fucking run. But he still had the same magnetic pull, a fucking black hole sucking her in with no hope of escape.  She wanted that power, to feel it against her skin, burning the fear from her veins.  More than just his pulse, she could feel how alive he was, fire wrapped up in a battered human body.  Keeva didn’t think she could stop it this time, and wasn’t sure she wanted to.  Her other hand reached for his face.

Bane yanked her forward, her knees striking the edge of the tub before he hauled her out, lifting her as he turned, splashing water briefly across the floor before setting her on the counter. Keeva grabbed the sides of his head, pulling him as he leaned in.  She wanted to badly to kiss him, to have him bite at her lips, to know how he tasted.  A whimper of frustration left her, and she pressed her lips to the grill of his mask, his body crowding in between her legs.  She wanted to touch, but he was wrapped up in leather and canvas and she hated it.

When he pulled back, nearly jerking from the touch of her lips, she met his eyes without hesitation. They could see her, they were alive.  Keeva wanted to drown in them.  His hands slid up her slippery thighs, tightening and opening her further, drawing her against him.  Rough fabric pressed between her legs, bordering on painful.  But she curled her ankles behind his legs, pressing him closer, needing him.  The muzzle of the mask dragged over her cheek, pressing hard into the side of her neck. 

Bane sucked in breath after breath, desperate to get even just a hint of her scent, beyond the lavender and soap, something of her.  His fingers dug in, blunt nails scraping over wet skin.  But she just kept drawing him closer, her hands struggling to find a hold on his jacket.  One of his hands slid further up her thigh, so close to moving between their bodies.  “Tell me to stop,” he growled.  He wanted to touch her so badly he was afraid that he needed it.  She had to stop it, she had to make him—

“No,” Keeva shot back, finally managing a hold on his shoulders. She couldn’t let go.  And just to make sure he didn’t mistake her meaning, she tightened her legs again, rocking her hips towards him, and whimpering at the rough drag between her legs. 

Then his hand was between them, slipping between their bodies to cup her sex. The heat of it was scorching, the wetness he dragged a finger through shredding the remains of his control.  She arched against him, whimpering softly.  Bane hated the mask, pressing it harder into her neck.  She was soaked near to dripping, pulling him closer, willing and needy.  The thought of tasting her pounded in his mind, an unrelenting demand.  Instead he pressed a finger into her, thumb sliding up and over her clit. 

Keeva’s head dropped forward, her hands tightening on his shoulders. There was room for nothing in her mind beyond the slide of his finger inside her, thumb starting slow, tight circles on her clit.  Another finger, and she pressed a cry into the leather of his jacket.  Bane moved slowly, anchoring a hand on the back of her neck as he pumped the other between her legs.  He pulled, and Keeva let him draw her head back, feeling his eyes lock on her face.  She whined in the back of her throat, trying to find the zipper of his jacket.

“No,” Bane growled. If she touched his skin, he wouldn’t stop himself.  He would take more than he needed, more than he should.  Instead of the disappointment he expected, Keeva shivered, cunt clenching around his fingers as she nodded mutely.  She liked it.  He couldn’t help it, pressing his body in again, making her lean back and brace her arms behind her.  “You’ll take exactly what I give you.”  He curled his fingers inside her, rolling his thumb in slow circles.  She bit her lip, the flesh turning white under the pressure, so close to drawing blood.

He had her naked and exposed, and he was still a warrior, still in his armor. There she was, soft and plump; no more than a silly little lapdog. And Bane… Bane was a wolf, one she would gladly be devoured by.  His hand left her neck to grab a fistful of her hair, pulling her head sharply back, and exposing her throat.  Whimpers pressed against her lips, his hand between her legs unrelenting.  He wasn’t gentle or slow, wringing what he wanted from her with power and repetition.  His gaze alone had inflamed her, and she could already feel heat spreading out from her core, warming her down to her toes.

Pressed so close, Bane heard every ragged breath, drawn harshly through her nose as she tried to keep herself quiet. Her arms trembled at her sides, her heaving chest pressing her breasts against him.  Unable to close his mouth over the rosy bud, he let go of her hair, twisting a nipple between his rough fingers.  Finally, her mouth fell open, the moan strangled into the cry as his sharp tug mingled with the slick pleasure of his fingers in her cunt.  He was nearly fucking her in earnest now, each thrust of his wrist combined with a rocking pressure over her clit.

Keeva wanted to grab for him, to push off the counter and use her weight to force him to the ground. The knowledge that he would catch her weight easily only added to the heat coiling in her belly, twisting tighter each time Bane pinched or tugged at a nipple.  Her hips began to rock and twitch, hands white-knuckled on the edge of the counter.  It didn’t feel as if he were giving her anything at all, just taking her pleasure all for himself, dragging it from her inch by inch. 

That thought alone nearly undid her. In that moment, she was very nearly his in every way.  She would have given him anything he wanted, just so long as he didn’t stop.  His mask pressed into the tender skin of her neck and shoulder, red bars left behind that would surely bruise.  She wanted him to bite her, to leave a more obvious mark.  She wanted to be his, in any way that he would have her.

She was perfect. The softness of her breast easily filled his hand, fingers sinking against it, her back arching to press closer to his touch.  For a moment, he was struck by the contrast in their skin tones.  She was pale and freckled, while years in sunnier climbs had left him heavily tanned, even in Gotham’s winter.  He found Barsad’s image leaking into his head, and himself comparing his friend’s olive skin tone to Keeva’s paler one, and then imagining them together.

When his fingers touched her lips, Keeva’s head lifted, catching the two digits between her teeth only long enough to wrap her lips around them. When he didn’t pull away, she sucked them into her mouth, twisting her tongue around them and boldly meeting his gaze.  Bane groaned.  There was nothing possessive or warning about the sound.  It was scattered and rough through the mask, but the effect her tongue had on him was clear.  The power of that, of just her tongue making him shake, rocking against where his hand pressed into her, was more arousing than any touch, any words he might have for her.

Keeva felt herself tipping over the edge, the coiling heat pulling tighter and tighter. Her arms began to shake and she had to reach out, arms going around Bane’s neck.  He could feel her cunt starting to tighten, rhythmic contractions of smooth muscle that seemed to be trying to pull him deeper.  Bane changed nothing.  He wanted to see, to watch her come undone under him, so he didn’t object when she grabbed him, when her hands cupped the back of his neck, her body hanging off him. 

She went silent when she came, body bucking and nearly thrashing under his hold, trying to press closer, closer, closer.  She stopped breathing, her cunt milking his crooked fingers as his thumb rubbed her in quick circles.  Keeva hung there, immobilized as heat blazed throughout her body.  The only sound she made was a quiet shuddering groan as her eyes fell shut, chest expanding when she finally took a breath.  And then he heard his name.  The name he had earned through violence and death, whispered so fucking sweetly as Keeva drifted down from her high.  Just a breath past those perfect lips.

God, he wanted her.

But he pulled away, drawing in a slow, measured breath as he pulled his fingers from her. The smirk at her shuddering whimper was impossible to repress.  She looked… beautiful; face relaxed and free of worry.  And then she smiled.  It was so damn shy, as if embarrassed by what had just transpired.  But her dual-colored eyes met his, her lip sucked back between her teeth.  Slowly, she let go, and his hands moved to her hips to help her down from the counter.

The moment Keeva’s legs touched the ground she knew they weren’t going to hold her. She grabbed for the counter again, but it was Bane that caught her.  As much as his eyes had entranced her before, she couldn’t meet them.  Instead she settled for staring angrily down at her feet, feeling the blush in her cheeks that he’d made her come so hard.  She had known orgasms at her own hands and with others, but what had just happened… Fuck.  It took considerable effort to remember the last time she had wanted to fuck someone as much as she wanted to fuck Bane in that moment.

He was hard. Obviously so, even in the roomy cargo pants he wore.  Heat surged in her again, and Keeva found the courage to reach for his belt.  Bane’s hand stopped her, his voice soft and crackled through the mask.  “No.”

“But I want to,” Keeva breathed.  She wasn’t reaching for his cock because she felt some kind of obligation to him after he’d made her come.  The pull he had on her was undeniable, and she didn’t want him to think she was doing it for any other reason.

Just hearing those words from her was enough to make Bane groan again, once more threatening his control. To hear her say it, even without the direct words, made his cock twitch.  But a line had already been crossed, and the urge to pull away became nearly painful.  Keeva felt him moving—felt the slight push of his hands against her hips—and grabbed the back of his neck again.  She pulled with her mind, and felt her joints begin to ache, and her shoulder throb.  If he wouldn’t let her touch him, she would do something good.

With the sudden lack of pain in the background, the heat in his cock became harder to ignore, and Bane stepped forward, pressing a leg between Keeva’s and pushing her back against the counter. She felt herself tugging at his shoulders, wanting him close again.  But he moved, put his legs to either side of hers and pressed them together, his head dropping back to her shoulder.  “No,” he murmured, quiet and full of static.

Sagging back, Keeva closed her eyes, pushing out a breath. As much as she was still aching, still needing him, she respected that word, and let her hands fall from him.  Even then, Bane didn’t move away, letting himself have the softness for a moment longer.  Her head was against his, her cheek against the side of his mask.  She probably would have put her arms around him if he asked.  He didn’t.  Instead, he just lifted the towel from where she’d laid it, pulling it around her shoulders.  Without looking up, he knew she was watching, could feel her gaze against his flushed skin.

Swallowing, Keeva finally found her voice. “I don’t know what happened,” she said.  “Out there.  He… he cut my throat.  I felt it and—”  She forced herself to stop, feeling the lump threaten in her throat again.  She had no words for what had just happened between them, so she settled for death, even though that was what had made her crave his touch in the first place.

“Not surprising,” Bane said. “The extent of your abilities is new to you.”

His voice was already evening out, losing the rasp and flutter of uneven breath. Each word was precise and clinical, and he wouldn’t meet her eyes.  Keeva clenched her teeth.  She need to ask.  She knew she did.  But the words stuck in her throat, and turned into a curse.  “Fuck!”  She moved around him, scrubbing herself dry with the towel.  His gaze was palpable on her back as she dried, reaching for her pile of bloody clothes.

The duffle bag she’d packed her things in was laying there. Had Bane brought it?  She didn’t remember seeing him drop it.  Shaking her head, she pulled out a change of clothes, dressing quickly, her back still turned.  Not once did she feel his attention leave her, but when she turned around, he still wouldn’t meet her eyes.  “You can’t just do that and not say anything!” she snapped.  She had liked it, wanted more, and had thought he’d liked it too.  If he hadn’t wanted more, why had he done it in the first place?  His impassive face gave her no clues.

Everything began to bubble over, the reprieve of orgasm fading to distant memory. “I don’t know what happened.  He was killing me.  They were going to shoot you.”  The thought of that still made her chest tighten, fear twisting in her gut.  “I had to do something.  But they…  You got them.”  That didn’t solve anything, and she wanted to run.  To scream at him.  “And now you just… walk in here, and—”

“And what?” The growl was back in his voice, but softer now, almost teasing.  “And made you come for the first time in weeks?”  He had wanted to see her blush again, and it worked, her cheeks flushing.

“Yes,” Keeva mumbled, retrieving an old, soft long sleeved shirt. “That.”  The warmth of the familiar garment was somewhat comforting.  “Why?”

“I wanted to.”

Such a simple answer. And she couldn’t argue with it, not really.  Why else would a man get her off and then refuse attention himself?  “And you don’t want me to return the favor?”  The suspicion was clear in her eyes.  She wanted so badly to be able to read him, watching his eyes for any sign, anything that might translate.

“Not yet.”

Keeva had expected none of the last few hours. She had expected that particular response even less.  The color stayed high in her cheeks, and it was her turn to be unable to meet his gaze.  “Not… not yet,” she repeated.  “So… so you do want…?  I mean, later, you might want to…?”  All she could picture was his damn smirking eyes, and lost her nerve.  That didn’t seem to matter.

“Yes.”

‘Well, shit.’

 

000

 

The loft was empty when Keeva came out, but she could hear Bane moving in another room. Beyond the entry way to the couch, there was a much larger space through a wide doorway, and she wrinkled her nose.  The dining room, living room, and kitchen all seemed to be one big space, with no walls or dividers.  Such designs had just never appealed to her.  That, and they were creepy in the dark, just fading off into nothing with no dark doorways so she knew where not to walk. 

All the large windows had been boarded over, and that came as no surprise. Her feet carried her to the couch, with a seat that put her back to a wall.  A crate sat near an empty gas fireplace.  The familiar looping lines of a ball of yarn caught her eye, and she smiled.  Walking over, she saw her crochet hook stuck into the ball, the cowl she’d been working on hanging from it.  She fished the other ball of yarn out as well, bringing the whole thing back to the couch.  With the yarn in her lap and the hook and cowl in her hands, Keeva already felt calmer.

As she worked the stitches, some of her calm returned. But every time she heard Bane move, her eyes would snap up, even if he had drifted off to another room. She could feel bruises forming on her thighs from his hands, and knew that if she would look in the mirror, she’d see bars of bruises from where his mask had pressed against her.  The stretched-out collar of her baggy long sleeved shirt would mean the latter were on full display.  Barsad would see them the moment he laid eyes on her.  Anyone who knew the shape of Bane’s mask up close would be able to recognize the marks if they had half a brain.

More than once, she found herself grinning stupidly down at the work in her hands, the same giddy joy from Barsad’s kisses returning to her. Barsad.  Another faint shiver.  Had he left the moment Bane arrived?  Or had he been there, on the other side of the door, when Bane pulled her from the water and finger-fucked her on the counter?  Had he listened?  Fresh heat curled between her legs and she grumbled under her breath. 

 

000

Bane emerged from the bedroom, and saw Keeva’s form stretched out on the couch, eyes closed and one arm curled around a bundle of yarn, while the other cushioned her head. Her hair had dried, the shorter side sticking up at odd angles like the ruffled feathers of a bird.  Drawing closer, he saw her eyes dancing under her lids, lost in the middle of a dream.  As he lingered, he saw her brows twitch, coming together while her previously lax mouth pulled into a loose grimace.  Her legs shifted, as if trying to find purchase, hands curling into fists.  Then she started awake with a gasp, one that turned to an undignified squawk of surprise when she saw him looming over her.

“Fuck!” Keeva sat up, pulling her legs under her and grabbing for her crochet before it could fall to the floor.  “No one your size should be so quiet,” she muttered reproachfully.  No one his size should be so damn attractive, either.  He was wearing one of those damn form-hugging thermals, with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows.  Was he trying to show off?  Keeva wouldn’t put it past him, at least with the goal of flustering her in mind.

“You were dreaming,” Bane observed. He sat down on the other end of the couch.

Her frown turned to a full blow scowl, directed at the innocent yarn in her lap. “Yup,” she muttered.  There had been nothing but dead, staring eyes, watching her no matter where she went.  Then there had been Bane, Barsad, Sarah, and even Dr. Magnuson, all laying in the street, staring up with the same empty, blind gaze.  She shook her head, and resisted the urge to draw her legs up against her chest like a frightened child.  “Dreams are stupid.”

“They are merely the work of an active mind while the body sleeps,” Bane pointed out. “There is no meaning in them.”

Keeva frowned over at him. “I know.  But they still fuck with you sometimes, and that’s what makes them stupid.  It’s not real, but all the… feelings they bring up afterwards are.”

“And what did you dream of?” Of course he would ask.  His gaze wasn’t judgmental or condescending.  He as asking because he wanted to know the answer.  It was so… straight forward. 

“The man in the street,” Keeva said quietly, only half a lie. “I keep… I keep seeing those eyes.  And I did that to him.  Whatever it was.  I’ve never…  I mean I’ve hurt people, but…”

It was easy for Bane to understand. “The taking of a life affects everyone differently,” he said, and Keeva was sharp enough to note how diplomatic it was.

“I mean… he essentially killed me. I don’t… I don’t really feel bad about fighting back, but…”  She stared down at her hands, remembering how the map of the man’s body had spread out so easily in her mind, and how she could feel his life, strong and vibrant burning inside him.  “I don’t really know what I did.  I just knew I couldn’t keep laying there.  You… I mean, I know you can fight.  You couldn’t survive doing what you do without being really good at it, but…”

She trailed off into a frustrated growl. Articulating her feelings had never been a strong point of hers.  She was also coming closer and closer to a particularly unpleasant realization.  “I… I want to see the doctor again.”  The words came out in a rush, and just thinking about it made her shiver.  “I need to know more about what I can do.  I thought I knew what it was, but… I felt something.”

Looking over at Bane, she reached out a hand, leaning over to lay hesitant fingers on his forearm. She just looked, and it was easy to find that same warmth, the brilliant, shining vitality.  She had felt the same thing from the man she’d killed.  She’d felt that warmth and pulled on it, devoured it.  “I can feel that you’re alive,” she murmured, trying to describe her new awareness.  “Beyond your heart beating and your blood flowing.  That’s all… part of a whole.  Part of something else.  I don’t… it’s fucking weird.”  She pulled her hand back, frowning again.  “I just remember pulling at the man, like I do with your pain.  But I took…”  Her voice dropped, small and quiet.  “I took whatever it was that kept him alive… to fix myself.”

Thinking it was one thing. Saying it aloud, and sharing it with another person, were entirely another.  Saying it made it real.  The fact that her power could be more than just healing, more than just trading her wellbeing to keep someone from dying…  Keeva wasn’t sure if she was scared or not, and that possible lack of fear was its own cause for concern.  And Bane hadn’t said a word.  Looking up, she found him examining her with a look that was somehow both critical and relaxed.  His head was ever so slightly tilted, torso turned towards her on the couch.  Was his mind spinning with possibilities and questions like hers was?

It was an interesting development, and standard medical doctors alone might not be what was needed to better understand it.  Plans were already starting to take shape.  If they succeeded here, if they survived, Keeva could become an invaluable asset to the Leave of Shadows.  She already was to him.  He didn’t dare entertain the thought of life without the mask, of a life without being muzzled.  But it had occurred to him in brief, weakened moments, when he dared to think of what sort of life he might have been living if things had been different.

“I will speak with Dr. Magnuson.”

Keeva’s smile was weak, but she nodded. She didn’t like it, even if it was what she wanted.  “Thank you,” she said, going back to her work.  The cowl was almost done, the olive drab color of the wool one she had always liked.  She had thought to maybe make one for Barsad in red, but that would have felt like she was trying to replace the scarf that Bane had made him.  Instead, she worked with what she was given.  Her head came up as Bane left the couch, went over to the crate, and then crouched to rummage through it.

With his sleeves rolled up, she could see the subtle shift of muscle in his forearms, and again silently lamented how clothed he’d been before.  Even so, there had been a thrill to it.  She looked down and continued with her own work, unable to keep the smile fully to herself.  Then the couch dipped beside her again, and she looked up.  Bane was sitting beside her, a coil of some dark cord in his hands.  He had no needles or hooks, and whatever the cord was, it wasn’t yarn. 

It was only when he started working that she recognized it as paracord. While she had known the woven bracelets as more of a fashion statement, she knew it was also a way to keep an exceptionally useful and versatile material on you at all times.  She saw him start with a clasp, pulling the cord through in an easy, practiced motion.  Keeva’s eyes moved between Bane’s hands and her own.  They were sitting on a couch.  In an apartment. Making things. 

In a way, he was everything she had expected. Large, strong, terrifying.  But he was also infinitely different from the simple, hardened murderer that he seemed to portray.  He wasn’t needlessly cruel, or unintelligent.  He liked dogs.  Or at least saw how they were different from—better than—human beings.  And the knitting, this weaving, it was so very human, and Keeva found it drew her in just as much as the raw power of his presence.

Her mind was too scattered to really focus on what was in her hands anymore, so she folded it away and returned it to the crate. She turned her head, looking off into the dim rest of the space.  But exploring didn’t feel all that appealing.  Bane was a safe and grounding, for all that he was another source of nearly infinite questions.  She returned to the couch, this time taking one of the wool blankets folded on top of the crate.  The material was itchy on her bare skin, but it was warm.  And short of just gluing herself to Bane’s side—which was tempting, mind you—it seemed the best course of action.

But when she went to sit back down, Bane caught her by a wool shrouded elbow. “You should rest again.  This new part of your abilities may be more draining than expected.”  When she blinked at him, he tugged, using his foot to nudge her feet out from under her.  With another squawk, Keeva fell back onto the couch, and was pulled towards Bane.  “Lay down,” he said plainly.  When she paused again, he let out a quiet sigh and put a hand on her opposite shoulder, pulling her down until her head rested on his thigh.  And before she could open her mouth, his hand was in her hair, humming at the new softness of it. 

Keeva had to shift so that the button of the pocket didn’t dig into her cheek, but once she did, she found herself actually very comfortable. As a side-sleeper, she had always used thicker pillows, and Bane’s thigh turned out to be at nearly the perfect level to take the strain off her shoulder and neck.  The repetitive stroking of his big hand through her hair was soothing.  While having her head in his lap was, to say the least, distracting, it was still pleasant.  She decided to let him take the load for a little while; let him be concerned about things while she took what comfort she could find.

Every now and then, his hand would stray to where her shirt gaped open, brushing a feather-light touch over the marks he’d left on her shoulder. As she drifted again, Keeva could have sworn he made a noise, somewhere between a hum and a growl, full of smug satisfaction.

 

Chapter Text

Barsad returned late, the sky dark and cloudy outside.  It was moderately warmer inside the loft.  There was a single light on in the wide-open room, but no obvious sounds of life or habitation.  When he stepped through the door, he saw Bane sitting on the couch.  Alone, Barsad thought at first, but as he came further into the room, he saw Keeva’s head on his lap, her face relaxed in sleep save for the occasional twitch of her closed eyes.  He paused there, on the other side of the table, just watching.  Bane’s hand rested in Keeva’s hair, and one of her hands was curled loosely around the thigh under her head.

“Such a sweet picture,” Barsad said, smiling.

“You know better than most that there is nothing sweet about me,” Bane rumbled, even as he continued to slide his hand through Keeva’s hair.  But there was a familiar, hungry sort of edge to his voice, his eyes following his hand as he trailed down Keeva’s neck. 

“Well, maybe not earlier,” Barsad hummed, grinning at Bane’s sharp look.  “Did you really think you’d be able to resist her, Brother?”  His tone was teasing now, and he knew that if he had been standing within reach, and if Keeva hadn’t been there, Bane would already have grabbed for him.  That just made him bolder.  “Will you tell me how it happened?  Or will I have to tease it out of her?” 

“I seem to be surrounding myself with those that like to play with fire,” Bane said softly.

“Getting burned isn’t so bad,” Barsad purred back. 

“Are you trying to bait me, Barsad?” 

The sound of his name in that warning growl sent a shiver down his spine, body tensing with the beginnings of adrenaline.  Bane’s hand left Keeva’s neck and trailed down her side, pushing the blanket down to her hips.  Coming back up, his thumb hooked in the wide collar of her shirt, pulling it open to expose the marks on her neck and shoulder, already fading but still visible in the dim light.  They were also familiar, ones that Barsad had seen on himself multiple times.  His quick intake of breath and strangled groan made Bane smirk behind the mask. 

“Maybe I should have had you stay,” Bane hummed, dragging his fingers over the sliver of skin between the hem of Keeva’s shirt and the waistband of her pants.  “If you’d been good, I might have let you taste her on my hand when I was done.” 

Fuck. 

“You play dirty,” Barsad hissed, the lazy warmth of arousal coiling in his stomach. 

Bane just hummed softly, stroking Keeva’s cheek with the back of his hand.  She stirred, brows coming together in a brief frown before her eyes fluttered open.  She startled briefly at the sight of the other person in the room, but relaxed instantly when she recognized Barsad.  Bane’s eyes continued to smirk at him as she sat up, rubbing at her eyes.  “Welcome back,” she mumbled, voice roughened by sleep.  The light hadn’t changed in the room, so she had no way of knowing how long she’d slept.  “What time is it?”

The hungry look in Barsad’s eyes softened slightly.  “Late, habibi,” he murmured, moving around to drop down on her other side.  He was close enough that his knee brushed hers, and she found herself basically surrounded.  It was… pleasant.

A little shiver rolled down her spine, and she turned herself a bit more towards Barsad.  “That’s not an answer,” she said.  Bane huffed softly behind her, and she shot him a look over her shoulder.  “Well it’s not,” she insisted.  In response, he lifted a hand and trailed his finger down the gentle curve of her spine, the slight friction of fabric on her skin making her shiver again.

“You’ve teased her enough for today, Brother,” Barsad said, though the teasing note in his own voice was unmistakable.  Keeva’s shocked look back to him made him chuckle.  His hand lifted and stroked her neck and partially exposed soldier.  “Maybe someday you’ll make noises like that for me, Keeva.”

Color rushed to her face so quickly that Keeva very nearly felt light-headed.  He had been there.  Her mouth opened and closed soundlessly several times.  The back of her neck prickled, and her palms began to sweat.  Such… intense attention would have been bad enough from one person.  But now these two…  She bit her lip and looked over her shoulder at Bane.  He was reclining back along the sofa, one arm extending behind her along the back.  Every inch of him radiated calm and relaxation, but his gaze was unwavering, enjoying her flustered, floundering response.

Renewed arousal pulsed between her legs, remembering the watery slide of his hands on her thighs, and the cold metal pressing into her neck.  Even if he’d let her come, he had still tormented her, teased and denied her need to feel him under her own hands.  Another kind of heat came to life in her chest, and she turned back to Barsad.  She was fast enough that he actually looked mildly surprised when she grabbed handfuls of his shirt.  His eyes even widened slightly when she yanked him forward, rising up onto her knees and pressing her mouth to his.

The shock lasted only a moment before one of Barsad’s arms was sliding around her waist, dragging her in while the other braced himself on the back of the couch.  The low rumble from Bane and the nip of Barsad’s teeth at her bottom lip was all the encouragement Keeva needed.  Slipping her tongue along Barsad’s, she stepped back and off the couch, maneuvering herself to stand in front of him.  She heard, rather than saw Bane shift, the quickened rasp of his breath giving her the courage to climb forward and straddle Barsad’s lap.  It gave Bane a perfect view of the kiss, and a thrill of power raced through her.

When she pulled back, Barsad blinked breathlessly up at her, pupils blown wide and dark.  Keeva couldn’t help but smile.  The rigid line of him pressed between her legs, his hands on her hips holding her down against him.  Then she looked over at Bane.  His eyes were just as dark and twice as sharp as Barsad’s.  Playing with fire was actually really fun, and her smile widened as she rocked her hips, eyes locked on Bane while Barsad’s breath hitched and his grip tightened, pressing her down.  She was done questioning herself and what she wanted.

They might be upset if she backed away now, if she just went to bed without another word.  But they wouldn’t be angry, they wouldn’t press her to continue if she didn’t want to.  She got to decide what happened.  That power calmed her, but did nothing to stop the racing of her heart.  More.  She wanted more.  It took a moment to gather herself enough to confidently get the words out.

“Where’s… where’s the bedroom?”  Her voice was breathless, her hands still fisted in Barsad’s shirt.

Without a word, Bane reached out, dragging her bodily from Barsad to half drape her over one of his legs, her chest leaning into his.  His fingers curled around the back of her neck, thumb gently circling her throat.  She shivered, whimpering as she sagged into his grip, arching her head to expose more of her neck to him.  She wasn’t sure how to tell him that she understood.  She understood that she could say no, or change her mind.  But she wanted him in control, him and Barsad.

“Right here is fine, too,” she breathed.  “Or the floor.  Wherever you want me.”  Glancing back, she saw Barsad watching them hungrily.  “Just… fuck.  Stop teasing me.”  The subtle shift of Bane’s expression made the need to see the rest of his face well up sharply in her chest, his grip shifting to her hair.  “Please.”  She knew she sounded desperate, and didn’t care.  She was desperate.

A hand slid around her back from behind, the heat of Barsad drawing close again.  “She begs so nicely, Brother,” he murmured, his other hand tracing the curve of Bane’s ribcage.  “It would be cruel to deny her.”

Bane had been called cruel before.  May times, in fact.  But with the two bodies pressing close to him, he was feeling generous.  “Limits?” he said plainly.

Keeva blinked at him in confusion for a moment before she understood.  It was actually happening.  “Oh…  Don’t strike my face, but if you wanna slap my ass, go ahead.”  Her plain manner of speaking made Bane smile and Barsad chuckle lightly.  “You both…”  She hesitated a moment, blushing.  “You both know I like your hands on my neck.  A little squeeze is fine, but no actual choking.  Other than that, no waste.”  Her heart was pounding, just at simple negotiation.  But she was still clear-headed enough to reciprocate.  “What about you?”

For a moment, Bane’s eyes softened.  “Your limits will suffice for now.”  Then he twisted her shoulders, dragging her into his lap and putting her on her back, legs tangled over Barsad.  Smiling, he sat back, stroking his hands over her clothed thighs.  She was warm, the ache the cold had put into his knuckles slowly easing. 

He couldn’t resist a chuckle as Keeva stared up at Bane, eyes wide, full of trepidation and hunger in equal measure.  Bane slid a hand down her chest, roughly palming one breast and smirking when she gasped.  When his hand reached her waist, he grabbed a handful of her shirt and tugged, but did nothing more.  Keeva blinked for only a moment before she understood, nodding and lifting her arms over her head.  Bane’s quiet hum of satisfaction became a harsh, staticky growl through the mask’s filters, a frission of fear and excitement going down Keeva’s spine.  As the shirt was peeled roughly away, she could have sworn she heard a few stitches pop.

Instantly, Barsad’s hands were sliding up her stomach, enjoying the soft flesh and the give of it under his hands.  The cool, rough skin of his palms had her arching up, risking a moment of closed eyes as she reveled in the sensations.  Then the arm under her moved, tugging questioningly at the back of her bra.  With another nod and an arch of her back, that garment was pulled away, too.  The cool air teased her nipples to hard peaks almost instantly, Barsad leaning over her, his beard tickling over her sternum.

Bane stroked his hand through Barsad’s hair as the smaller man claimed another kiss, Keeva’s arms going around his back to pull him in.  Bane let them have another moment before tugging insistently on Barsad’s hair, making him sit back up.  A quick flick of Bane’s eyes was all the direction he needed.  Looking back to Keeva, Barsad put a hand over her belt.  She nodded, and shivered at the hungry look her agreement got her.

Somehow, she found her voice again.  “Underwear, too.”  As touching as their constant checking in with her was, she didn’t want to waste another moment.  Chuckling at her eagerness, Barsad undid her belt slowly, as if sensing her impatience.  He had to step off the couch to fully remove her pants and underwear, and found himself pausing when he was done.  He couldn’t resist staring at the way her pale body stood out against the dark fabric of the couch, nearly seeming to glow in the dim light. 

“A moment,” he said, voice low.  A few steps brought him to the wall, and he flooded the room with light.  Keeva’s eyes had barely adjusted before he was fitting himself between her legs again, sliding his hands blindly up her thighs as he glanced at Bane.

Reclining across Bane’s lap and with her back against the arm of the sofa, Keeva saw the slight incline of Bane’s head to the other man, that same silent communication she had only guessed at before.  Bane tilted her head up, and Barsad stole another kiss before moving down, noting the way she arched against the friction of his clothes along her naked skin.  And he kept going, leaving a trail of kisses down the scar on her stomach, slipping her legs over his shoulders while propping her up with his hands on her ass.

Somewhere in the back of her head, Keeva felt a tinge of embarrassment, letting him spread her so easily.  But then his tongue was drawing along her folds, teasing them open to expose the drenching slick already gathered.  He couldn’t resist.  “She likes being manhandled by you, Brother,” he teased, watching the smirk in Bane’s eyes and the color rise across Keeva’s face.  She squirmed and whined, But Bane pushed her down with a hand over her pelvis.  “Nothing to be ashamed of, habibi,” Barsad murmured into a kiss on her thigh.  “I can understand the appeal.”

Bane’s hand left Keeva to grab a handful of Barsad’s short hair.  “Enough talking,” he growled, pressing Barsad’s head back between her legs.  His eyes returned to Keeva’s face in time to watch her own flutter shut, her teeth catching her bottom lip.  It was such a silly habit, and such an obvious tell.  Bane liked it.  Her eyes opened when she felt the calloused pad of Bane’s thumb on her lip, and she turned to meet his eyes, parting her lips for him.  His brow quirked at her, watching the shifting of her expression as Barsad went to work in earnest, his beard rasping and tickling her thighs.

His brief pause to observe stilled him enough for her to suck his thumb into her mouth for the second time that day.  She met his eyes and hollowed her cheeks, spinning her tongue around the digit.  Even if the complex thought process necessary to form speech had temporarily abandoned her, she wanted him to know that she didn’t just want him to watch.  Then Barsad’s fingers drug over her clit, and her head dropped, mouth falling open.  Her back arched, and Bane bit the inside of his cheek, as if doing so would quell the urge to catch one of her nipples between his teeth, to taste the sweat starting to gather on her skin…

Instead, he devoured her with his hands, tracing every curve.  Her skin was flushed and warm to the touch, chest heaving, with one hand tangled in Barsad’s hair.  Bane batted her arm to the side, pinching and rolling one nipple between his fingers.  Keeva didn’t know where to put her focus; on the warm, slow bloom of heat in her cunt, or the sharp little bursts of pleasure-pain Bane seemed intent on driving her mad with.  Then two of Barsad’s fingers slipped inside, the glide almost shamefully easy as his tongue circled her clit.  She moaned aloud, and her shame was forgotten.  Just the thought of having them had been arousing, let alone the actual act.

But she had no intention on being passive this time.  It took her a moment, letting her eyes fall shut and focusing on Barsad’s tongue and fingers.  When she figured out the best way to move her arm, she did it quickly, cupping Bane’s erection through his trousers and squeezing, forcing him to break his blazing stare on what Barsad was still doing with his mouth.  Keeva’s arm was pressed between her side and Bane, and she stared back defiantly, her hand still moving on him. 

Even when her breath quickened, heat prickling under her skin and rolling down to the soles of her feet, Keeva didn’t stop.  She wasn’t necessarily trying to make him come, but she was not about to pass up a chance to touch him.  The divide in attention only spurred Barsad on, well aware of what was happening above him.  Curling his fingers inside her and slipping in a third, he didn’t stop. 

Keeva was looking at him again, Bane’s hand on the back of her head holding her up, making sure Barsad got to see her face when she came.  Her brown eye looked black, a tiny ring of blue around the equally dilated other pupil.  Her lips were swollen from her repeated biting, now parted with her ragged breathing.

The quiet little gasps of pleasure she’d been making stopped, mouth dropping open as her hips rocked jerkily, body quivering as muscles tightened and released, over and over.  Barsad stopped only when she whimpered and gasped, hips twisting as she tried to escape the overstimulation.  Barsad rose over her, her scent lingering in his beard.  He made sure to catch Bane’s eyes as he slowly licked his lips, holding the look until the last moment when he ducked down for a slow, messy kiss.

Keeva wanted to wrap her arms around him, but she still felt considerably boneless, breathing hard through her nose.  Tasting herself on Barsad was heady, his tongue slipping into her mouth as if he needed to devour her in every way he could.  But the moment didn’t last long, broken by a sharp growl from above them, and Bane was pulling them apart.  He paused, leaning forward to fist his hand in Barsad’s hair, touching his brow to his.  Then he was looking at Keeva again.  “Do you still want more?” he murmured, his voice losing some of its precision.

There was no attempt to hide the look she gave the prominent bulge between his legs, or the way she licked her lips before nodding.  “Yes.”

Leaning over her, he reached out and shoved the coffee table to the side as easily as if it were made of matchsticks.  “Barsad will fuck you, and you will use nothing but your mouth on me, understood?”  He clicked his tongue when she only nodded.  “Answer!” he barked, pinching a nipple between his fingers and lifting, the weight of her breast pulling down and added to the pain.

“U-understood!” Keeva gasped, arching up in an attempt to alleviate the sharp tug.

“Mm, good girl.”  Bane let go, smoothing his warm palm over the abused bud.  “Now get on your hands and knees in front of me.”

The full-body shudder was involuntary and very noticeable, words alone twisting renewed heat between her legs, body already hungry for more.  A jerk of Bane’s head had Barsad moving with her as she left the couch, going down on all fours.  Stripping off his shirt and belt, Barsad watched as she crawled forward, Bane sitting back and letting his legs fall apart.  Barsad laid a hand on her hip, letting her know he was there before kneeling behind her.  Bane’s hand slid into her hair, stroking over her scalp as his other hand undid the button and zipper of is pants.

Barsad almost wished he could have been on the other side, just to see Keeva’s face.  The way her shoulders shifted, hands inching herself forward until she could nuzzle at the tented fabric.  She could feel him there, just a tug and shift away, but she kept her hands pressed flat to the floor, Barsad’s hands on her hips as they both waited for direction. 

There was no need to hurry.  Bane let his gaze roam lazily over the two of them, both waiting so patiently for him, ready to give him anything he might ask for.  Since leaving the Pit, it had become easy for him to take control by force, to turn a situation to his advantage with his body or his mind.  It thrilled him, each and every time.  But there was something different about having such total control willingly given to him.  The same thrill, the same rush of pleasure and adrenaline.  But tempered somehow, more substantial. 

He cupped Keeva’s face with his hand, and she nuzzled into his palm.  She blinked up at him for a moment, but the sound of Barsad’s belt behind her seemed to draw her focus, and she looked over her shoulder.  Keeva bit her lip, catch his eye.  “You can… you can finish inside,” she whispered.  “I can’t…”  She had to swallow.  “Missing equipment.  Same accident as my scar.”  It was all she could manage, but Barsad seemed to understand.

Bane turned her head back.  “I want to see your face.”  Keeva took that to mean that she wasn’t allowed to look away, and swallowed again.  Eye-contact had always felt intensely intimate to her, and had been something she avoided in her occasional casual encounters.  She wasn’t sure if she could hold up under Bane’s scrutiny. 

Then she felt the heat of Barsad’s cock fall against her backside, and him folding his bare chest over her back.  So much skin-to-skin contact all at once was nearly overwhelming, reawakening what few nerves had started to cool. It had been far, far too long; she hadn’t realized just how much she missed the touch of another person, and how good it felt to press her body back against theirs.

She couldn’t help herself, eyes falling shut for a moment as she sighed.  Jerking herself back almost instantly, Keeva found a slightly different sort of expression on Bane’s face.  His eyes were no less intent, but there was more than just dark hunger now.  Something… hesitant?  He stroked her cheek with his thumb, using his other hand to free himself.  Barsad couldn’t help his smirk, knowing the look probably painting the young woman’s face. 

Bane was… proportionate, but not frighteningly so, uncut and softly curved.  Keeva could feel the heat of his skin before it even touched her, the shaft brushing her cheek before she turned her head to place a wet, open-mouthed kiss along the side.  He angled himself down, and she teased the edge of his foreskin with her tongue.  His arousal already had it half pulled back, the head flushed and weeping.  He didn’t object when she went slowly, sliding wet lips over him before sucking him into her mouth.

Then Barsad was pressing into her, and her groan vibrated pleasantly along Bane’s shaft.  As her jaw opened further, Bane kept one hand at the base of his cock, angling it down for her.  The heat of her mouth worked over him slowly, nimble tongue lapping on the underside as she drew him deeper.  The rhythm Barsad started with was slow and easy.  As relaxed as his preparation and her orgasm had made her, it had still been years since she’d been with anyone.  Each thrust pushed her forward, taking more and more of Bane into her mouth.

The grip in her hair eased, returning to the gentle stroking of before.  Without her hands to help her, she moved her head, and when he allowed her, the break in eye contact was almost a relief.  But she could still feel him watching, and knew he could feel the quiet groans that Barsad was working from her.  Despite the iron grip he had on her hips, he didn’t speed up, the sight before him tantalizing enough that he didn’t wasn’t to press his already tenuous control.  Instead, he leaned down, feeling Keeva shiver and press up into the warmth of his skin, his mouth latching onto her neck

Her hum of pleasure vibrated against Bane’s shaft again, her brows furrowing as she struggled to focus.  She was good with her tongue, and Bane knew that he could lose himself easily to it.  Keeva stilled and looked up at him the moment he tugged on her hair.  “Relax,” he ordered, holding her in place.  “Lift a hand if you need to stop.”  He accepted her nod, feeling her mouth flex as she swallowed.   Bane pulled her in, feeling her flatten her tongue under him to let him push into her mouth.  He bumped the back of her throat, and there was still more.  Keeva whimpered, but kept her hands firmly planted.

Then he drew her back, matching Barsad’s rhythm, watching her shoulders go as lax as they could while still supporting her weight.  It was easy for Keeva to give in to him, to let him take full control.  The two of them caged her in, Barsad’s thrusts pushing her forward as Bane pulled her in.  Some deep part of her mind wondered if they had done this before, but the thought was fleeting and quickly faded.  Each time the head of Bane’s cock pressed to the back of her throat, she forced herself to relax.  But he waited, easing her further and further into the trance the motion created.  As tempting as it was to just let herself fall into subspace, she brought herself back, not wanting to miss a moment.

What she could see of Bane’s cheeks was flushed, his long, even breaths turned to static-filled bursts of air.  Her smirk was lost around the girth of him. Then she closed her eyes, and pushed forward, the tug on her scalp not enough to keep her from taking him to the hilt.  Her throat tightened against the intrusion, but she turned it into a swallow, a strangled groan rattling through the mask.  What control he’d been hanging onto seemed to abandon him, and he started to roughly drag her back and forth, pushing into her throat every few thrusts. 

As Barsad sped up to keep pace, he slipped an arm down between her legs to work her clit again.  Keeva bucked, one hand catching Bane’s boot but otherwise staying low.  Her eyes sung and watered, saliva starting to leak down her chin.  She squirmed, body trying to move but her mind unwilling to let herself pull away.  They were using her, and she was getting off on it.  Arousal burned in her belly, the muscles in her thighs trembling.  She locked her elbows against their wobbling, letting herself go limp and pliant, just being pushed back and forth between Bane and Barsad.

Orgasm rushed up to meet her, her jaw twitching as she fought not to clench her teeth.  Bane pulled away, lifting her head and watching her as she came again, body rigid and trembling as she fought to stay relatively upright.  Her pupils contracted and blew wide, her moan muffled against the inside of Bane’s thigh, her body clenching around Barsad, making him curse.  His thrusts had lost every trace of gentleness, chasing his own end.  Keeva’s startled whimper died as Bane pressed into her mouth again, moving faster, her easy compliance rushing him towards the edge.

Barsad came first, grinding his hips into Keeva’s soft thighs and ass, groaning as she pressed back into him, giving as much of herself as she was able.  Bane wasn’t far behind, come filling Keeva’s mouth and forcing her to swallow rapidly or risk choking.  The moment he let go Keeva slumped, head nearly dropping to the floor. Instead of letting her fall, Barsad eased her down, and she laid gladly on the floor, sucking in deep breaths as she tried to gather her senses.  The first thing she did when more fully aware of herself, and the pleasant, bone-deep ache, was smile, the expression stretching her sore cheeks.

Not sure if she was ready to open her eyes, she rolled onto her back, trying to take stock of herself.  There was a pleasant ache in her shoulders, neck, and jaw, warmth still lingering in her lower body.  The burning sensation in her knees and palms made itself known slowly, and she dimly registered the texture of the large area rug under her.  Movement at her feet made her open her eyes, and she saw Barsad moving off towards the bathroom, his gait not exactly unsteady, but different from his usual stride.

“Are you pleased with yourself?” Bane’s voice rumbled above her.  Her grin widened, giving him the impression of a cat that had just knocked something fragile off a countertop. 

“Mmm,” was all Keeva said, actual words still seeming like far too much effort.

“You kissed Barsad to bait me.”  His tone wasn’t accusing exactly, more… amused and observational.

She cracked open an eye, finding his masked face too difficult to read upside-down.  “Yeah,” she confirmed, rolling onto her side so that she didn’t leak onto the carpet.  “I wanted the ‘next time’ to happen sooner.”

“You were impatient.”

“Uh-huh.  And greedy,” Keeva murmured.  “Don’t forget greedy.”

“At least you’re honest about it.”  Barsad’s voice made them both look up as he approached, kneeling at Keeva’s side and pulling her legs open again.  Her startled sound turned to a sigh as he pulled a cool, wet cloth gently between her legs.  He wanted to tell her just how good she’d looked, his come leaking between her legs and her mouth flushed and swollen from Bane’s cock.  But he stuffed the words down, replacing them with a smirk.  “If all it took was for Bane to rile you up a little, I’d have tried to goad him into it sooner,” he murmured, tracing the beginnings of a hand-shaped bruise on her hip.

“‘A little’ is not the term I’d use,” Keeva mumbled.  Sitting up, she looked at Bane, self-consciousness surging.  “Do you mind me being greedy?”  Despite her best efforts, there was a tiny wavering in her voice.  Barsad’s smile faded slightly, and he watched as Bane—who had already put himself and his clothes back to rights—pull Keeva up into his lap.

“Indulging your avarice has proved enjoyable,” he said, stroking a hand over her back.

Keeva squirmed slightly in his lap, feeling as if she might start leaking again.  “Might make a mess,” she mumbled.

“Then I will have Barsad clean it,” Bane said dismissively, keeping her where she was. 

There was a chuckle behind them, and then Barsad was breathing against her neck.  Bane’s eyes crinkled up when Keeva jumped and yelped in surprise.  He hadn’t made a sound.  “Fucking—!”  She glared over her shoulder.  “Are you sure you’re not a ninja?”  She narrowed her eyes in false suspicion.

The laugh Barsad tried to stifle got out anyway.  He himself wasn’t one, technically.  But Bane and the League of Shadows?  Well…  He dropped onto the couch beside Bane, his knee bumping his.  He watched as Keeva slumped, dropping her head onto Bane’s shoulder, her eyes closing again.  “I think we may have worn her out,” Barsad mused aloud, watching his Brother’s hands trail up and down the line of her back.  They both only got a quiet hum in response, muffled and soft.

Keeva had no idea what to do with herself.  Bane didn’t seem to want to let her go, and he was very warm.  Pressing her face into him, she saw his eyes in her mind, the bright blue intense and hungry.  She and Barsad had had his complete attention, drawing him away from whatever he might have been thinking about.  She couldn’t imagine him having much opportunity to just… forget everything.  Turning her head, she pressed a kiss to the side of Bane’s neck, breathing in the clean musk of his sweat.  This close to the mask, there was a vague, chemical sort of smell, but she didn’t mind. 

“If I don’t move soon, I’m gonna fall asleep,” she finally said, but made no effort to break Bane’s hold or get up.

“Mm,” was all she got from Bane, and Barsad didn’t make a noise. 

“You’ll have to carry me,” she warned, still not moving.

“You weigh less than Barsad, and he is easy to carry,” Bane said dismissively.  Said man leaned in, daring for a moment of closeness.  With the rest of the world temporarily forgotten, Bane indulged him, pulling one arm from Keeva to drape over Barsad’s shoulders.  It had been too long.  Closing his eyes, he basked in the moment.  Moments of warmth and softness didn’t last, especially not for him.  So he took what he could.

Keeva really did start drifting then, her breath warm against Bane’s neck.  Their voices murmured at the edge of her perception, but she couldn’t rouse herself enough to parse the words.  She came awake when she was lifted—Bane moved as if she really did weigh nothing—and then she was laying on something soft, the warmth and weight of blankets pulled over her. 

‘Flannel,’ was the only clear thought she had before drifting back into the dark of sleep.

 

000

 

Barsad couldn’t help himself, grinning like a fool.  Bane noticed, and arched a brow at him.  “She called me a ninja,” Barsad chuckled.

“I was present for that exchange.”

“Really?  I must have forgotten!”  Barsad couldn’t resist a wink.  “You’re so easy to miss!”  He shook his head.  “She’s going to laugh when she finds out, you know.  In all likelihood, ninjas are things of fantasy to her.”

Bane was aware of how western media often portrayed ‘ninjas’.  When it wasn’t children’s cartoons, it was over-dramatic movies and comic books.  Lots of misinformation and foolish theories.  It didn’t bother him, as it made it twice as easy for an actual assassin to blend in.  If one wasn’t dressed head-to-toe in black and tossing throwing stars, you tended to be overlooked by the general populace. 

Keeva would take a look at him, Barsad, and any other member of the League, and likely find it hard to believe that they were, in essence, a ninja assassin’s guild.  Strictly speaking, ‘ninja’ was a Japanese word.  Quite a few members of the League were Japanese, but the origin of the League of Shadows was not defined by country. 

While some of their methods were definitely taken from the Japanese shinobi, killing with stealth was not limited to one nation or landmass.  Humans had been learning creative ways to kill one another since two people of differing opinions first met.  Bane found himself wondering if Keeva was the first to kill the way she did, or what further examination of her abilities might reveal.  Talia would want to meet her even more intently now.

“Stop worrying for the next few hours,” Barsad said suddenly, recognizing the drifting look on his friend’s face.  “There is nothing to be done until morning.”

He was right.  The plan was in place, and there was really only waiting left to do.  What little there was, amounted to paltry tasks, easy for others to carry out.  Talia fixated on everything, pushing and pushing.  It had to be perfect, she said.  And yet somehow, she brushed off any flaws he seemed to find, putting aside his worries with a few soothing words.  In private, she was sharper, intent on her goal and refusing to back down or admit any sort of fault in her plan.  It could work, Bane knew, but…

Barsad grabbed the back of Bane’s head, yanking him down until their eyes were level.  “Please,” he said.  “Just for a few hours.”  His eyes closed, and he let out a breath, sounding so tired and beaten.  Bane had saved him, given him a purpose when his world had been ripped away from him.  Keeva gave Bane something beyond the League, beyond the hurt he had to be feeling as he watched Talia rip herself to pieces over this city.  Barsad wanted Bane to have as much of that as he could.

Bane sighed.  As sharp as Barsad was, he cared, deeply.  He hooked a hand over Barsad’s hip, feeling the smaller man press into the contact.  Their moments together had been fewer and fewer as the plan for Gotham fell into place.  Then Keeva had walked up the courthouse steps.  Bane knew better than to discount the actions and presence of a single person.  Sometimes, that was all it took to change everything.  Examining those possible changes on the other hand…  His mind shied instinctively away from those questions, far too complicated for idle contemplation. Shaking his head, he huffed out a breath. 

He didn’t have the words, but found himself smiling behind the mask.  Barsad worried like a mother hen at times, almost more aware of Bane’s needs than Bane himself.  That attention to detail was why he had risen so quickly in the ranks, but only part of why he had ended up as Bane’s second in command.  The insanely keen eyesight had helped. 

They went through Bane’s nightly rituals in silence, some of the frown melting from Barsad’s face by the time they returned to bed.  Keeva had curled into a ball, legs drawn up and arms folded against her chest.  She screwed up her face and grumbled quietly as the bed dipped and shifted around her.  Again, Bane put himself closest to the locked door, grunting in mild surprise as Keeva pressed instantly into his back, uncurling from her ball to form the smaller line of her body to his.  Behind them both, Barsad chuckled, adding himself to the tangle of legs and warmth.

 

000

 

Keeva found herself drifting somewhere between wakefulness and sleep.  But the awareness of the two bodies beside her was crisp and clear.  It wasn’t the heat of their skin or the sound of their breathing.  She could see them, alive and vibrant, without even opening her eyes.  One heart beat faster than the other, body riddled with old injuries.  Bane.  Nerves blazed, over worked and sensitive, a line of fire along his spine.  She focused on him, diving into the map spreading out before her.  In that moment, she knew each and every location of his aches, their cause, and what it would take to fix them. 

Then Barsad shifted beside her, drawing her out of the in-between state and into drowsy wakefulness.  The image melted from her mind like a dream, and Keeva pressed her face into the pillow.  The familiar feeling of cotton along her body reminded her that she was naked, and she felt color rising to her cheeks.  She was hardly awake, and already her pulse was starting to pound.  The subtle ache lingering in her thighs and shoulder told her it hadn’t been a dream.  She had absolutely no idea what to do with herself now. 

Her brain cast off the last vestiges of sleep, spinning question after question.  Sex changed relationships.  And when she tried, she couldn’t find any label that fit what she had with Bane and Barsad, even before the previous night.  They’d been brought together because her abilities were useful, but had gotten along well.  At least she’d thought so.  Barsad was a bit easier to understand.  Bane hadn’t seemed to object to her presence in anyway, but he didn’t… well, he didn’t show any emotion like a ‘normal’ person.  She had no frame of reference for him.  That and she’d always been shit about people.  Dogs were easy to read; they liked you or they didn’t, nice and simple. 

Then Bane’s weight shifted next to her, rolling to face her and sliding an arm around her waist.  It was effortless for him to draw her across the bed to his chest, tucking her head under his chin.  You didn’t cuddle people you didn’t at least like, right?  As comfortable as she was, and as safe as she felt, her mind wouldn’t rest.  Again and again it pointed out things she could have misread, or ways whatever she could go horribly wrong.  She scowled into Bane’s chest, hating herself.

Barsad’s beard tickled her neck as he returned to his place at her back.  “So warm,” he murmured, sliding a cool hand over her stomach. 

“That’s cuz Bane’s a living furnace,” Keeva mumbled.

She spoke his name so causally.  It was a name whispered in fear, a title as much as anything.  He knew that he’d been named before the Pit; he’d been old enough to understand that he was sent there because his mother was dead and his father had done something bad.  He had been old enough to know his name, and to remember being lowered down, the sun drifting further and further away.  But that child’s name was little more than a memory to him, and he felt no more connection to it than he did to any one of the aliases he’d adopted over the years.

‘Bane’ had stuck.  It was the name Talia had called him, the single syllable easy for the child to learn and remember.  She had given it to him, in a way, when he became the bane of anyone that attempted to harm the child.  So he had worn it with pride, even as the little girl grew up and became cold and cruel.  ‘Bane’ was a monster, a man impossible to defeat or kill, a force of nature you never saw coming till the end.

And Keeva spoke the name so casually.  It really was just a name to her.  At least, she spoke it like one.  And he couldn’t really say that she only did so because she was innocent to who and what she was.  Yes, she didn’t know his history, but she had witnessed what he’d done to her city, and watched him kill one of his own men for failure.  Did she not care?  Or did she not understand?

“Would you rather I relocate?” he said, in favor of all the other things he was thinking.

Keeva hooked her leg tightly over his, an arm slipping around his thick waist.  “I wasn’t complaining,” she said, and he glimpsed color rising along her cheeks.  But the corner of her mouth was slightly downturned, and when he shifted, he saw the faint furrowing in her brow.  It seemed he wasn’t the only one thinking a great deal that morning.

It struck him then, how intensely he did not want to move.  It wasn’t pain that make him want to remain, as was a common enough thing.  And as comfortable as the bed was, that wasn’t it either.  He knew to take comfort where he could, especially when he often went without for months at a time.  But duty was duty, and for the first time in years, he found himself chafing under it.  He recognized resentment, and emotion he was very familiar with.  That he should feel it towards what needed to be done was unsettling, and spurred him back into motion.

Keeva felt him pulling away from her, and her hand caught briefly at his wrist.  Her own joints began to ache and throb, pain peeling in a hot rush down her spine.  It happened faster than before, Bane’s step wavering before he righted himself and looked back at her.  Her face was still tight as his pain rolled through her, shoulders hunching.  But she didn’t look away, just opening her mouth for more control over her quickened breathing.

But her eyes didn’t roll back, and she didn’t feel a fresh wave of fatigue washing over her.  She looked down at her hands, flexing them as the last of the pain faded from her system.  It was getting easier.  To test the theory, she sat up, braced for a rush of dizziness and black splotches in her vision.  All she noticed was the shift of blankets as they fell down around her waist.  The need to know more surged up in her chest, so sudden and sharp that she nearly had to take a breath.  Her ability had been a secret, shameful and dangerous.  Now…

Slipping a hand through her hair, she had already swung her legs over the edge of the bed before she realized that she had no idea where her clothes were.  A quick look around revealed nothing.  Rotating his—normally—bad wrist, Bane inclined his head to the foot of the bed, and watched her slide off, padding naked across the floor.  And then he watched her bend over.  A pleasant view indeed.  Barsad’s grin was full of teeth when Bane looked back; he’d been caught staring.  Not that it particularly mattered.  Keeva was his.

His.

He tried the word out in his head a few times.  It seemed changed.  He reasoned that it made sense; sleeping with someone always changed the dynamic of a relationship.  But there had been none of the morning-after regret he’d seen in some partners who had slunk away as quickly as possible.  There was nothing but efficiency in the way she dressed, and the utilitarian clothing did nothing to accentuate the figure he knew she had underneath.  But he still wanted her.  The over-sized shirt gaped at the collar, exposing a section of love bitten shoulder.

Even if the shirt had fit, nothing but a turtle-neck would have covered everything.  One side was covered in the redish, sucking marks of Barsad’s mouth, the other holding the fainter bruising from his mask.  They were already starting to turn yellow at the edges, her body easily mending the superficial injury.  Something twisted, possessive and sharp, in his chest.  He didn’t want the marks to fade.  Bane wanted his marks on Keeva visible to anyone and everyone, a silent promise that any who touched her would suffer.

“You look like a leopard, habibi,” Barsad joked, sliding from the bed with the easy, fluid grace of a cat.  He was smiling, and Bane saw Keeva battling a similar expression.

“And whose fault is that, exactly?” Keeva shot back.  She eyed Barsad’s unmarked chest and neck, and her bottom lip stuck out slightly in a pout.  She hadn’t really had a chance to look at him, and realized she was staring only when Barsad pointedly raised an eyebrow.  “I need to use the bathroom.”  She shuffled, red-faced, from the room, though Bane saw no real trepidation in her movements.

Keeva got a proper look at the bruises on her hips when she used the toilet, and after, found herself standing on tip-toe to view them in the mirror above the sink, tracing her fingers over them.  There were faint scabs at the ends of two of the finger-shaped bruises, places where his nails had dug in.  They stung and itched faintly when she moved, and she smiled.  Her neck really was a mess.  She knew, that if she focused, they would be gone.  The marks from Bane’s mask were already on their way. 

But there was something about wearing them, and she spent longer than necessary brushing her hair and teeth, just staring at the way the hickies stood out from her skin.  She’d never really prided herself on being pasty, but the marks stood out so nicely…  A muffled, but businesslike knock sounded in the main part of the loft, and she paused, head tilted as she listened.  A woman’s voice?  A smile curved her lips as she thought of Sarah, and she finished up quickly before stepping outside.

It was not Sarah sitting in the middle of the couch, curling dark hair framing a pale face and intense, grey-blue eyes.  Keeva froze, blinking at the stranger.  Bane was standing closest to her, Barsad behind the couch, legs set in a stance and hands folded behind him.  Bane and the woman had been speaking quietly, and stopped when the woman’s attention landed on Keeva.  Bane turned, seeing the nervous confusion spread over the freckled face.  He held out his hand. 

“Keeva, come.”  Without question, she obeyed, attention shifting to him as she shuffled quietly across the floor, and trying not to think about where the new arrival was sitting.  Even though she never looked away from Bane, Keeva could feel the woman watching her, as intense and silent as a hawk.  Bane’s hand came around to rest on her lower back, his other indicating the woman.  “This is Talia al Ghul.”

The woman unfolded from where she sat, much taller than Keeva as she approached, holding out a hand and offering a warm smile.  “Pleased to finally meet you,” she said, voice carrying a similar, untraceable accent to Bane.  “I’ve heard quite a lot about you.”  Her hand was cool and her handshake firm.

“I’m glad, but I can’t really say the same,” Keeva said.

“My friend is very good at keeping secrets,” Talia said, looking at Bane and smiling.  Then she looked back, head tilting slightly.  “You do not recognize me.” 

It didn’t really seem to be a question, and Keeva resisted the urge to bite her lip.  “I’m sorry,” she said automatically.  “Should I?”

Talia waved a hand.  “Not by face, no.  The part I’ve plaid has put me in the upper rungs of Gotham’s social ladder.  Do you know the name ‘Miranda Tate’?”

Keeva blinked.  “She does a lot of charity work…”  She trailed off, her brows coming together.  “She—you’re a part of this?”

Talia’s laugh was clear, the underlying coldness somehow at odds with her dancing eyes.  “You are a clever one.  I’m very glad that you found Bane.”  The slight shift in her tone and expression were noticed only by Bane, and his own eyes widened slightly at the thread of honesty he caught sight of.  “I’ll admit I’m very curious about you.  I’ve looked at all of Dr. Magnuson’s findings.”  She took Keeva’s hand when the younger woman tense.  “Not to worry, I didn’t share.”

“Oh.  You probably know more about them than me, now,” Keeva said.  Something was making the hair on the back of her neck stand on end, and her chest was starting to feel tight.  She just didn’t know why.

Talia frowned then.  “I don’t think so, I’m afraid.  The scans were certainly interesting… but there weren’t any concrete conclusions that could be drawn from the data.”  The smile she offered was sheepish, and Bane wondered if Keeva could see through it.  “I’ll admit, I was hoping for a bit of a demonstration.”  Her eyes alighted on Keeva’s neck, reaching out to trace along the line of Barsad’s bites.  “What about these?  Can you get rid of them?”

Keeva flinched instinctively away from the overly familiar touch, her own hand coming up to cover her neck.  Her eyes flicked to Bane, but it wasn’t as if she could tell him she didn’t want to make the marks go away.  It was silly.  And she was getting the feeling that Bane wasn’t the highest person on the totem pole anymore.  But he met her eyes, nodding calmly.  Even with his arms crossed over his chest, he appeared at ease.  She trusted him, even if something about the woman felt… off. 

She nodded.  “Yes.”  Her hand dropped and she closed her eyes, reaching out to the small burst blood vessels close to the surface of the skin.  Before their eyes, the redish marks faded away, leaving her neck and shoulder as pale as before, marked only by her freckles.

Again, Talia reached out, but Keeva didn’t move, standing stiffly as the cool fingers swept over her neck again.  “Incredible.  Though I understand that much more serious injuries are no trouble for you at all.”  She paused as Keeva nodded, thinking.  Then Talia was rolling up one of her sleeves, exposing her forearm.  Keeva jumped when the knife appeared in the woman’s hand, and Bane made a sound of alarm as she drew the blade across her own skin, opening a gash and dripping blood onto the carpet.

“Talia—”  Bane cupped her elbow, leaning over her, brows tightly furrowed.

“It’s nothing, my friend,” Talia said, nearly laughing.  She looked back to Keeva’s shocked face.  “Can you show me?”

‘She’s insane.  Completely fucking insane.’  But Keeva just nodded, stepping forward, rolling up her sleeves, and cupping the woman’s arm with both hands.  The blade she’d used must have been razor sharp, cutting enough to damage muscle, but careful enough to avoid the artery.  And she hadn’t even blinked.  Keeva hissed as the cut opened up along her own forearm, but forced herself to keep the limb outstretched and visible.  Wiping away the blood, they all watched as her flesh knitted back together, leaving only a redish smear where the gash had been.

It was Talia’s turn to cup Keeva’s arm, running careful fingers over the skin, poking and prodding.  “Not a trace,” she mumbled, half to herself.  When she looked up, she was smiling again.  As warm and genuine as the expression felt, the uneasy feeling in Keeva’s chest only got worse.  “You really are a treasure found in the filth,” she said, positively delighted.  “I’m so glad we could help one another.”

Keeva wanted to run.  Absolutely everything about this woman had seemed kind and genuine, but then she’d laid open her own arm in the middle of the living room, smiling brightly and waiting for Keeva to heal it.  And from the concerned look lingering on Bane’s face, he was almost as taken aback as Keeva was.  Barsad was just wearing his ‘silent mercenary guard’ face, though he did meet her eyes.  Keeva had never met a person that triggered such and intense fight-or-flight response in the first meeting.

“It’s alright to ask questions, Keeva,” Talia said, returning to the couch and reclining like a queen.  “I know that Bane hasn’t told you overmuch about us.”  Then she sat there, waiting.

Well, if she expected questions, Keeva might as well.  But it took several swallows for her to get control of her voice again.  “Who’s ‘us’, exactly?” she finally asked.

“We are the League of Shadows.  We have existed for centuries, ensuring that the world remains in balance,” Talia said.  “Gotham has become unstable, dragging others down with it.  My father tried to destroy it once, and was murdered by the Batman.”  A hard edge finally showed itself, and an icy drop of fear trickled down Keeva’s spine.  “We have returned to finish what my father began.”

Keeva knew that the city was going to burn.  Bane had made that abundantly clear.  “You’re the trigger,” she heard herself say.  “The ‘ordinary Gotham citizen’ that could set the bomb off at any time.”

Nodding, Talia leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees.  “Yes.  And will you not weep, to see your home burn?”

“No.”  There was no hesitation on Keeva’s part, and Bane felt pride rising in his chest.  “Not a single fucking tear.”

“None?”  Talia’s eyes were sharp, calculating.  “There’s not even one thing that you might mourn?”

The fear melted from Keeva, and she squared her shoulders, stance steadying.  “Not any more.  I know what this city is.  There’s no saving it.”  She refused to let this woman doubt her.

For a long time, Talia was silent, just watching.  Then she stood again, and it took everything Keeva had not to turn, run, and lock herself in the bathroom.  “Good.  I’ll see you later today.”  She turned to Bane, who was still staring at her.  “You as well, my friend.” 

Keeva stood perfectly still until the woman was gone, and Bane had closed and locked the door behind her.  He heard a loud thud, and turned to see Keeva sitting in the middle of the floor and staring, wide-eyed, straight ahead and nothing.  Looking down, she saw that her hands were shaking, and it was only when Barsad crouched in front of her that she remembered to breathe properly.

“Who the fuck is that?” was all she could think to say.  Bane felt a flash of reflexive anger, but it vanished instantly. 

“The Demon Head,” Barsad said, putting an arm around Keeva’s shoulder and bringing her back to her feet.  “Our leader.”

Keeva looked at him, still wide-eyed.  “She’s fucking terrifying,” she said.  She smoothed shaking hands down her front.  “I guess… that’s a good thing, being the leader of a group of… what?  You’re not just mercenaries, are you?”

“No,” Bane said.

“An… assassin guild of sorts,” Barsad supplied.  “Though assassination is hardly all we do.”

“You blow up cities?”  She didn’t sound angry, just… confused.

“Only sometimes,” Barsad said, then frowned.  “You hadn’t forgotten, had you?”

Keeva shook her head.  “No.  No, I hadn’t.  She was just…”  She looked to Bane.  The connection Talia shared with him was obvious, but it felt so much more personal than what he had with Barsad.  He had practically leaped to Talia’s side when she cut herself, eyes wide and worried.  “You called her ‘the Demon Head’, right?  I don’t know what that really means… but it fits.”

Chapter Text

Keeva couldn’t shake the skin crawling feeling.  The back of her neck kept prickling, and more than once she caught herself scratching her arm, even though the gash she’d taken from Talia had long since healed over.  Bane’s mood seemed to have soured, making him near silent and distant.  He and Barsad went to the bathroom after carting medical equipment through.  Keeva barely paid attention, but was glad when they left the door open.  She sat in the kitchen, eating.  It was simple food, just powdered eggs scrambled around cooked rice and dehydrated onion.  She barely tasted it, continually sneaking glances over at the door to the rest of the building.

When Barsad emerged, wiping his hands on a towel, Keeva had moved to the couch, and was staring at the yarn in her lap.  She looked up before he sat down.  “What did she mean, ‘later today’?” she asked.  Talia’s words were seared into her mind, every pleasant syllable in that nearly lyrical voice impossible to forget.

“She wishes another demonstration,” Barsad said, sitting down beside her, head turned to watch her face.

A chill trickled down Keeva’s spine, chest tight.  “Of healing or… or the new thing?”

“If my Brother knows, he did not say,” Barsad sighed, smoothing a hand over his beard. 

Keeva wanted to reach out and grab his hand, or just dive into his lap.  She did neither of those things, instead chewing on the inside of her cheek and staring at the carpet.  “She’s…”  All the words that came to mind were negative, so she swallowed them down.  “She means a lot to Bane.”  The wide-eyed surprise and concern on his face when Talia had cut herself had been so open; he’d been taken so off guard he hadn’t even thought to hide it.

Several long moments passed.  “I told you that he gave me purpose when I felt that my world was ending, yes?” Barsad said.  Keeva nodded.  “My family had been killed.”  It was his turn to just stare a head, seeing something long past and far away.  “I took my revenge, but once all of my enemies were dead, I felt nothing.  I had nothing.  I didn’t see a point in living.”  He took a breath, voice quiet.  “Bane was in a similar position once.  When Talia was a child, protecting her gave him the same purpose he gave me.  He may tell you the whole of the story in his own time, but… you are correct.  She is very important to him, and he is a loyal man.”

Keeva’s hand reached out, hesitantly alighting on Barsad’s shoulder.  “I’m sorry about your family,” she said, and there was really sympathy in her eyes.  “It’s… People that tell you it gets easier are liars.”

Barsad’s hand lifted to cover hers, squeezing gently.  “That they are.  One just gets accustomed to the pain.”

“I had two little brothers,” Keeva said softly.  “Caleb and Patrick.  They were both incredibly smart, but did the stupidest things.  Thick as thieves, and thought that they could get away with anything, so long as they had each other.”  The fondness in her voice was impossible to miss, one corner of her mouth turning upwards.  “Sweet kids, though.”  She offered the sad half smile shyly, trying to wordlessly tell Barsad he didn’t have to reciprocate.

“My older sister was named Hannah,” Barsad said after a moment.  “My little brother was called Emil.  My parents were older when Emil was born; he was an unexpected surprise.” 

The smile on his face made Keeva’s chest tighten and ache.  She squeezed his shoulder before she let her hand drop.  “They probably would have joined,” she said.

Blinking back into the present, Barsad tilted his head.  “What?”

“Caleb and Patrick.  They would have joined you,” Keeva said.  “They hated this city more than I did.  If someone came along offering to burn it, they’d be the first in line to light the fires.”  Her smile was wistful, even as she imagined her brothers taking up arms in Bane’s name.  It would have been better than what had really happened, both of them dead in senseless, stupid street fights. 

“They would have been most welcome,” Barsad told her.

“I guess there’s always a place for headstrong teenage boys,” Keeva laughed softly.  “They… they would have been seventeen and nineteen this year.”  She expected the pain to come, but it was a dull, bittersweet ache, especially when Barsad smiled at her.  “You would have liked Caleb.  He’d flirt with anything that had a pulse.”

Barsad cocked a brow at her.  “Are you saying I don’t have standards?” he huffed.

“No!” Keeva laughed.  “I’m saying you’re a flirt.”

“Are you complaining, habibi?”

“I didn’t say that!”  She rolled her eyes, shaking her head.  It had been a long time since her brothers died, but it felt good to talk about them, especially with someone that understood.  “Thank you.”

“For the flirting?  Ow!”

Keeva had elbowed him gently in the ribs.  “For listening. I haven’t really… talked about them.  Not since… ever, really.”  Something in his eyes made her press on.  “You don’t have to say anything about your family if you don’t want to!  I’m not expecting you to tell me just because I told you.  I just… I’m just glad you listened.”  She felt so awkward, and scrubbed a hand over her face and into her hair.

Barsad watched her for a moment.  The frustrated blush on her cheeks was slight, but it put enough color under her freckles to be noticeable.  “Thank you for telling me.”  He’d read the file, and knew that brothers indeed had made some very stupid decisions.

“It means a lot that you told me their names,” Keeva said.  She knew so little about his past, and there was obviously a great deal of pain there.  The fact that he’d been willing to share even something so small was… touching.  Even if he never told her anything more.

When Bane emerged from the bathroom, Keeva found herself coming to her feet and taking a few steps forward.  She knew it was pointless to try to look for clues on his face, but she couldn’t help trying.  The gaze he fixed her with was hard and scrutinizing, and she frowned back, her head tilted.  “Bane?” she finally said, when she felt the moment dragging.

Bane was silent a moment longer, scrutinizing her until she shifted nervously on her feet.  “Talia wishes to test you, and will not tell me how.”  His tone shifted at the end, coming more roughly through the mask, his eyes icy.  “It is not an uncommon request of those wishing to join the League.” 

Keeva felt a swell of irritation.  Hadn’t she already proved herself?  Almost instantly, the flame guttered out.  She was still a newcomer.  Useful, yes, but still relatively untried.  The others probably had years and years of training with whatever the League was.  She took a breath.  She wanted to stay.  It was a chance to leave Gotham, to help destroy the source of so much pain.  If that meant being tested again, then…

“I’ll do it,” she said, squaring her shoulders.  Bane seemed slightly surprised.  “She’s your leader, right?  It makes sense I’d have to prove myself.  I’m just… it’s not like I’m ex-special forces or anything, with a… a record of my achievements.  Hell, even I don’t know that much about myself.  If she wants more tests, that’s fine.”

It wasn’t fine.  It was the exact opposite of fine.  Going back into any sort of exam room would feel like walking into a prison.  But if that was what she had to do in order to stay, to keep the strange sense of belonging that she had managed to find, then so be it.  “And… what do I call her?” she finally asked.  “Miss Talia?  Miss al Ghul?  Ma’am?”  Different cultures had different ways of addressing people respectfully, and, when in Rome…

“Ma’am will work,” Bane said after a moment’s thought.  “Speaking her name will not be necessary.”

“Most don’t even actually know it,” Barsad explained.  “Except for fully vetted members of the League.”

“Makes sense,” Keeva said, going to her boots and stuffing her feet into them.  “If they’re ever caught, they can’t give anything important up.”  Every single one of her instincts were telling her to run from the woman, and do everything humanly possible to ensure that they were never in the same room again.   That was completely at odds with the soft, assuring tone of voice she’d had, and that just unsettled Keeva even further.  She feared Talia the way she supposed she should have feared Bane. 

 

000

 

Two men came for Keeva, and Barsad squeezed her shoulder reassuringly before she stepped away from him.  Glancing back over her shoulder, Bane held her eyes for a moment, before turning a much sharper look on the two men.  Keeva had to hide a smile when they actually flinched.  Bane and Barsad followed out into the hall, their familiar footsteps following behind.  They went down a single flight of stairs, and then through another hall.  The loft they entered was same layout as the one they stayed in, except it was empty of furniture, and much better lit.

Plastic had been spread in the middle of the floor, the heavy duty kind used by painters and construction workers.  In the center of it, a man sat shirtless, staring calmly ahead with his hands resting on his knees.  Talia stood beside him, and she looked up and smiled when the door closed behind Bane and Barsad.  They remained by the door, while the other two men led Keeva over to the plastic.  It was an effort not to seek reassurance from the only people she knew, but she kept her eyes facing forwards.

“Thank you for coming so quickly, Keeva,” Talia said sweetly.  “It’s a bit of a rush, I know, but I still have a role to play.  Come here.”  She waved a hand, and put her arm around Keeva’s shoulders when she was close enough.  If Talia noticed the stiffness of her posture or the full-body shiver, she didn’t say anything.  “Keeva, this is Erik.  He’ll be helping us today.  Erik, say hello.”

The man turned his head and nodded it Keeva’s direction.  “Pleased to meet you, Miss Brogan.”  Then he was looking away again, tendons standing out in his neck as his jaw tightened. 

“And you,” Keeva mumbled, looking between the man and Talia.  “What are you wanting me to—”

Talia calmly drew a gun, put it to the side of Erik’s head, and pulled the trigger.  Red splattered across the plastic, and Eric toppled away from them, dropping from the chair.  Keeva wasn’t sure if she screamed, but she could feel warm droplets cooling on her face, and her ears were ringing.

“What the fuck—?!”

“Heal him,” Talia commanded, watching with an expression as cool as could be.  “Quick, while he’s still breathing.”

Looking down, Keeva’s stomach lurched.  The shot had only just taken off the back of Erik’s skull, and his eyes stared wildly ahead, his throat bobbing frantically as he fought to breathe.  Keeva looked over her shoulder, seeing the familiar, comforting presence of Bane or Barsad.  Both of them were staring, Barsad’s surprise easily visible.  But they didn’t move.  A slender hand grabbed Keeva’s shoulder, pushing her towards Erik.  He was moving more slowly.  Keeva was already reaching out, the strange hum of Talia’s life skimming the edges of her awareness.

The moment her trembling hands touched Erik’s face, Keeva’s stomach heaved in fear.  She could feel it all, the strange, electric wrongness of missing pieces, orders not being filtered properly.  His brain was trying to cope, to release endorphins to battle the shock.  In the same moment Keeva tried to pull on the injury, her body burned, energy surging up her spine and burning in the back of her head.  The urge to yank her hands away was so strong it was painful, but she pushed past it.  Whoever Erik was, he couldn’t have deserved this.

Somehow, Keeva knew that drawing the injury into herself would work.  It would shut her down and then Erik would die.  He would die because of her.  So instead of pulling, she pushed, drawing from the warmth she could feel inside herself, feeling her body protest, trying to hold onto every scrap.  It was a part of herself she was using, something of her own that she was giving up to heal him.  This stupid, loyal man, who had known what Talia was going to do.  And had still sat there and let it happen.

Bane stared, watching the color drain from Keeva’s face, making the splatter of blood almost neon against her pale skin.  No blood started flowing, and the only sign of change was the tensing of her entire body, every limb going rigid where she crouched.  For a moment, there was a shimmer, something just beneath her nearly translucent skin of her skin and bared forearms.  Then he blinked and it was gone, and Erik was unconscious but breathing, Keeva sagging back.  Barsad took a step forward, one of the guards grabbing the back of his arm.  He whirled, his normally sleepy eyes suddenly sharp and hard.     

“Relax, Barsad,” Talia said smoothly.  She set the gun on the chair and knelt, putting her arms around Keeva.  “That was lovely, my dear,” she murmured softly.

Talia’s hands were cold, one smoothing gently over Keeva’s cheek.  With her mind still drifting, Keeva felt the warmth of the woman’s life again, swirling inside her, just under the skin.  Something about it crackled, like electricity arcing between torn wires.  It was wrong.  Her skin was crawling, and she pushed weakly at the hand, trying to draw away.  But Talia’s grip was like iron, and she half dragged Keeva to her feet. 

“My friend?”  Bane stepped forward immediately at the familiar call, coming quickly to Talia’s side.  “Take her.  She needs to rest.  I still have plans for her.” 

Bane lifted Keeva as easy as breathing, not missing the way she whimpered and hid her face in his chest.  The question burned its way up his throat, pressing against his teeth.  But he kept silent.  If Talia intended to tell him, she would.  Once, she had told him everything. 

 

000

 

Keeva came awake flailing, sweat making her clothes cling to her, the blankets tangled around her legs.  A hand touched her arm, and she jerked herself in the opposite direction before her vision was even properly clear. 

She was in bed again, staring at Barsad.  A furtive look around showed that he was the only one in the room.  Without thinking, she reached out and fumbled for his hand.  His calloused fingers curled around hers, giving a hearty squeeze.  With his other hand, he reached behind him and brought forth a steaming mug, the aroma of bergamot oil pulling at Keeva’s memory.  Tea.  She took the mug, his hand lingering around hers until he was sure she had a firm hold.  Keeva drank without direction, nearly scalding her tongue.  The sweetness of real sugar was a pleasant surprise, and she drank in silence, feeling her body temperature slowly rise.

“There’s going to be more, isn’t there?” she said, voice almost dreamy.  She felt disconnected from herself, aware of how unsettled she felt but separate from it at the same time. 

Barsad’s jaw shifted.  “Yes.”  He had no more words for her.  Talia had informed them both of the location of the next demonstration that evening, and had sent Barsad away while she spoke to Bane of their progress.  “You did very well.”

Keeva nodded absently, and it took several moments for her to respond.  “He knew it was going to happen,” she said.  “That man, Erik.  She told him she was going to shoot him.  He just… sat there.”  As much as she didn’t want to admit it, that kind of unquestioning loyalty was admirable.  Talia had to be special indeed to command that kind of compliance. 

“To many, the League is everything,” Barsad.  His own loyalty was more… personal.

“I… I don’t know if I could give myself to an organization like that,” Keeva said hesitantly.  “A person, maybe.”  She drank some more of the tea.  “I don’t… I don’t understand a lot.  And I don’t know what it means to be a member of the League of Shadows.”  But she didn’t see an alternative if she wanted to stay with Bane.  She liked being useful to him, to be around someone that appreciated what she could do.  It felt so good to be helpful while also being exactly who she was.  “I want… I want to know what my place might be.”

She was full of such potential, willing to learn and grow.  Wide-eyed and scared, but still pushing ahead, fighting to keep her head up.  Memory flooded Barsad, unbidden.  His mother’s words.  “One can only be brave if one is first afraid.”

Keeva was very afraid.  Of Talia, of the League, of the future.  But she was still moving, still walking the path.  “I cannot tell you your place, habibi,” Barsad said.  Her had sought his, and he allowed her the comfort, squeezing back.  “You must earn it.”

“Wouldn’t expect anything different.  I’d heard of a few international gangs.  Pretty sure everyone knows about the Triads, Yakuza, the Russian mafia…”  She turned to face him, the empty mug cupped in her hands.  “Never heard of the League of Shadows.  Makes it easy to believe that you’d have to be really good to even hear a whisper of it.”

“Flattery will only take you so far, habibi,” Barsad said, wagging a falsely chastising finger.

“So you don’t want me to tell you how romantic it all is?  Traveling the world, vanquishing your enemies with murder and intrigue?”  Making him laugh was much easier than thinking about Talia.  And the sputtering sound he made at the absurdity of her words was priceless. 

“You have a very fertile imagination,” Barsad muttered.  He didn’t begrudge her making light of things, the same way he didn’t begrudge battlefield doctors their jokes at the expense of the dead and dying.  She’d have to learn who it was safe to do so around, of course, but she’d already shown some skill in reading the mood of a room.

“One has to find some way to deal with the boredom,” Keeva said airily. 

“I am so very sorry that you are not finding yourself entertained,” Barsad mocked.

“Yes, it’s as dull as dull can be.”  She finally lost the battle, and dissolved into a cackling giggle.  Maybe it wasn’t healthy to pretend that she hadn’t just seen her maybe future boss shoot a man in the head.  But it was better than curling into a ball and crying.  She bit her lip, thinking.  “I want to learn how to fight.”

The quick shift of conversation threw him for a moment.  “Eh?”  He quirked a brow, waiting for her to expand on her statement. 

Keeva turned fully to face him.  “I don’t know how I… did what I did with the man that cut my throat.”  Barsad watched her force herself over the knot of feelings in her chest.  “I can’t depend on that.  I never had anyone protecting me before, and I don’t want to rely solely on that now either.  I want to learn to fight.  With my hands, with a gun, a knife, whatever.  Just…”  She pushed a hand through her hair.  “I don’t want to just be a medic, running in after everything’s done.”  She wanted to make sure that she never lost her usefulness.  It was all she had now.

“It would not be easy,” Barsad said.  “And I would not be a gentle teacher.”  He didn’t expect her to back down, but he challenged her all the same.

Keeva moved past him, getting to her feet.  When she turned back to him, the fear was gone from her face.  Anger had taken its place, something hard and unyielding that once again reminded him of Talia.  It was an unworthy comparison, Keeva still far more soft-hearted than she cared to admit.  But the fire was the same.

 

000

 

Bane heard the thump of a body hitting the ground, and the following snarled curse before his hand was even level with the doorknob.  He paused, heated cocked as he listened again, wariness prickling and muscles bunching.  He swung the door open and stepped inside in the same fluid motion, and promptly paused in the doorway.  All the furniture had been pushed up along the walls, opening up the center of the room.  Keeva was pulling herself from Barsad, who looked like he’d been shoved to the ground and pinned under her.  They were speaking, conversational and easy.

“You did better that time,” Barsad said, both of them coming back to their feet.  “Make sure you pull their ankle out at the same time you pull the knees in towards you, it makes it harder for them to—Brother!”  His eyes brightened over Keeva’s shoulder, and she turned quickly.  Her expression was more complicated.  She was glad for his return, but he could practically see the questions forming on her lips, her brows starting to furrow in confusion.

“You are sparing?”  It wasn’t totally unexpected.  While the question had been directed mostly at Barsad, it was Keeva that answered.

“My abilities as far as offence are still unknown, and I really can’t rely on them,” she rushed out, having clearly had time to think about what she might say if ever asked.  “I couldn’t even tell you exactly what I did; it’s more of a vague—anyway!  I want to know how to fight.  Actually fight, not just get away from someone.”

“There is no shame in avoiding a fight you cannot win,” Bane pointed out, advancing further into the room.  “Running to survive means you will grow from your mistakes.”

Keeva blinked at him for a moment.  It wasn’t that she disagreed, but she hadn’t exactly expected to hear something like that from him.  Knowing that he thought so made her feel like smiling.  “That’s true.  But I still want to learn,” she said, a stubborn set to her jaw and her feet firmly planted.  “I know I can’t expect anything overnight, and I’m basically a fucking infant compared to everyone else but…” 

Her frustration flowed out of her.  “I’ve never been able to do anything.  I saw shit happening, but I knew that if I put myself into it, if I got involved, I’d die.”  A lump rose in her throat, but she swallowed past it.  “I had… people depending on me, once.  I couldn’t risk not coming home to them.  When something bad happened, I just… fucking kept my head down, like everyone else.  I don’t… I can’t do that anymore.  I don’t want to just sit on a shelf, pulled out when someone’s hurt or dying.”

She couldn’t have known it, but Bane had heard all those words before.  Sometimes in a different order, a different language.  But it was familiar.  So many had come to the League, seeing the rot festering in the world and no longer able to standby and do nothing.  They wanted a way to cut out that infection.  The strangeness of hearing it from the mouth of a citizen of a doomed city did not escape him.  She was not perfect, and far from innocent.  But she had not let the city consume her, had not let it become normal, or ‘just the way things were’. 

Keeva rebelled, thrashing against the constraints her life trapped her with, defying the place her birth had left her in.  She wanted more, and would fight to get it.  He took a moment, arms crossed over his chest as he walked in a circle around her, thinking more than looking.  “You are small,” he finally said.  “All but the most seasoned opponents will always underestimate you.  You will learn to use that to your advantage.”  He said it with such finality, that Keeva might almost have called it faith. 

When she smiled, there was a hard edge to it.

 

000

 

There was a small window in the bathroom, and it was enough for Keeva to know the time of day if she bothered to look.  But the rest of the day was focused on how hold a stance, even when an attempt was made to unbalance her.  Barsad refused anything more advanced than the simple take-down he’d shown her before, which involved pulling one of the opponent’s knees with her arm, and taking the other leg with her own ankle.  It was boring and hard and she ached by the time a knock came at the door.

Adrenaline surged afresh into her system, and she could feel her pulse pounding in tired muscles as Bane opened the door.  It wasn’t Talia, and Keeva felt foolish for the rush of relief she felt.  But the man looked at her, speaking in hushed tones with Bane.  She was recognizing Arabic more often now, and her name was a dead giveaway.  Bane turned to her, his expression stony as he held out a hand and beckoned her.

“Come, Keeva.”  There was no warmth in his voice, no softening of his tone in an attempt to soothe her.  He expected her to obey, to trust him.  She was his, just as she was beginning to suspect he was Talia’s.  That subservience both scared and excited her, fitting so well into a role that someone else had chosen for her.  But she did as asked, and no one questioned anything when she came to him barefoot.  They must not be going far then.

The guard reached for her, and Bane felt her body go rigid under his hand, her quick inhale audible.  Instead of batting the reaching hand away, Bane began walking forward, forcing the man to stumble back or risk being bowled over.  Out in the hall, Bane’s hand shifted to cup the back of her neck, possessive and controlling.  It was easier to let her shoulders drop, to just let him direct her rather than trying to guess where he might want her.

It was the same room, but with the plastic cleared away.  There was a man sitting in the chair again, but he wore the clothes of a civilian, once expensive and pretty, now dirty and stained.  There was a black bag over his head, and all Keeva could think of was that it was like some action movie.  Talia was there again, and her brows climbed when she looked at Bane.

“I told James that I did not need you, my friend,” she said gently.  Keeva blinked, feeling the fingers at the back of her neck twitch, tightening briefly before the hand dropped away entirely.

“She is familiar with me,” he said simply.

There was a twitch to Talia’s lips, as if hiding a smile.  “I’d imagine so.  She would likely come all alone if you told her to.”  Her eyes shifted, and Keeva felt her feet rooted to the floor.  “Wouldn’t you, dear?”

Keeva fought the urge to deny the words simply because they came from Talia’s mouth.  Nothing about her was threatening, everything soft and kind and gentle.  But the eyes unsettled her, set in the perfect, serene face.  A dog waiting to bite, but wilder, colder.  But she was right, and Keeva made herself nod.  That didn’t seem to be enough, so she squared her shoulders, standing as tall as she was able.

“Yes.  We had a bargain.  He held up his end, so I’m… I’m his now.”  She was no warrior, with no training to hide the fear churning in her stomach.  It was all she could do to keep from stuttering.

“Your dogs,” Talia said.

“Yes.”

“With your powers, you could have bargained for anything,” the woman pressed, striding slowly over the floor.  “Why not save the children?  Or expectant mothers?  Infants?  Why trade away your life for dogs?”

Guilt flashed in Keeva’s eyes, guts knotting.  She could have.  She could have demonstrated her abilities and asked him to set free all the children in the city.  Hand them over to some authority on the outside.  But she hadn’t.  Instead, she had saved a handful of abandoned dogs.  But as guilty as she felt, as much as it ate at her that children might suffer and die, she knew she would make the same choice over again if pressed.

“Besides a few exceptions, dogs are better than people,” she said.  “They’re… simple.  All they want is to please their master.  They don’t have ulterior motives.  If they bite someone, it’s because they’re scared, or they’re taught.  Not because they want to hurt.”  She found herself laughing.  “It’s naïve, I know; a very simplistic way of looking at things but… that’s why I saved them.”

Talia was within reach now, not bothering to hide her appraising look.  “And you want to be Bane’s dog?  Acting on his commands with no thought to yourself?  Doing anything and everything he asks of you?  You have gifts, is that all you would do with them?”

The words were cutting and personal, and Keeva felt as if she’d been gutted, her inner thoughts dragged out and dropped onto the floor. Shame burned in her stomach as hot tears pricked the corners of her eyes.  “I made a promise,” she said stubbornly.  “He saved Pip—he saved my dog.  He saved her, and she’s safe and happy now.  That’s enough for me.  What he wants me to do now is up to him.”

“You killed a man for him.  You thought he would be shot and killed a man that was trying to reach him.”

Keeva finally looked up, but the fear had dropped away, something sharp and bright shining under the tears.  “He cut my throat.  I looked him in the eyes as he put a knife in my neck.  He killed me, so I took his life in return.”  The words tumbled out, hot and angry.

Somehow, Talia was smiling.  “You would kill for Bane,” she said, nodding.  “That’s good.  Killing is often a part of what we do.  I want to see it.”  Keeva blanched, freckles standing out as blood drained from her face.  Talia patted her shoulder, the picture of conspiratorial friendliness.  “Not to worry.  You will find it quite easy, I’m sure.”  Turning, she strode back to the hooded, bound man, and pulled the hood from his head.  Bane couldn’t help but think that she was almost as dramatic as Ra’s.  Then he saw who it was, and bristled.

The sharp stab of fear nearly made Keeva vomit, her legs burning with the urge to run.  A single brown eye stared out, wild and afraid, the socket beside it empty and pink.  Keeva whimpered, taking a step back.  Large, warm hands alighted on her shoulders as she bumped up against Bane’s chest.  He was solid, immovable and real, unlike the memories bubbling up threatening to drown her.  All she could remember was the press of dry lips, of trying to shove away, her thumb pressing until something popped, and then the cutting pain of a blade…

It didn’t matter that she knew it was the past.  She could feel the same feelings running through her, taste the bitterness of what she’d drunk that night, the smell of another’s sweat filling her nose…  It had been a long time since her last attack, and she was cognizant enough to recognize the signs.  Spinning in Bane’s grip, she faced him.  The mask was too beyond anything she had experienced prior to the occupation.  It grounded her, and she took a breath, closing her eyes and remembering the way the cool metal pressed into the side of her neck. 

Dropping her head forward, she breathed him in, the smell that reminded her of fireworks lingering in his clothes.  She knew it was gunpowder now.  But it was part of him, separate from her past and the monster that had sprung up from it.  “Fuck.”  Looking back, she let herself search his eyes.  “Did you know?”  If he had known, if he had been aware of who Talia was bringing…  Fear showed on her face, constricting her chest.

Talia, apparently tiring of the delay, moved over to them.  Keeva pulled back, even though she didn’t want to.  “I wasn’t sure we could procure him in time, so no, I did not tell Bane.”  Her eyes were hard, but her expression was kind.  “You deserve your vengeance, little one.  How much pain has this man caused you?”  Reaching out, she gently cupped Keeva’s hands, cradling them in her own.  It was the first time that Keeva hadn’t felt the need to recoil from the other woman’s touch.  “Hurt him, too, if you like.  No one would begrudge you that.  But I want to see you kill him with just your hands, with the power flowing in these veins.”  Her thumbs gently caressed the inside of Keeva’s wrists, lingering on her pulse.

Bane watched her carefully, but found his gaze continually drawn back to the terrified man in the chair.  His empty hands twitched at his sides, itching to close around the man’s throat.  A life of denial and deprivation had made him intensely possessive of what he considered his.  He had been the same with Talia.  Keeva did deserve to be the one to kill him, just as Talia deserved to strike the final blow against Wayne.  But to see just the sight of the man elicit such a visceral fear reaction in her…  It didn’t sit easily.  Talia had to have known that it wouldn’t. 

“Do you want him to keep living?” Talia murmured.  “To keep living, thinking he would never no reprisal for his crime?”

Anger was bubbling under the fear.  Bane knew Talia.  She was an expert manipulator.  Before, he had always felt a rush of pride when he watched her worm her way in, pushing a person’s mind in the direction she wanted, all the while making them think that it was their idea in the first place.  But now, that pride was different, it felt hollow.  Keeva was kind, with a sense of justice that normally didn’t survive a city like Gotham.  She didn’t need to be manipulated.  The show and theatrics were needless.  Talia did them simply because she wanted to.  She wanted to unsettle Keeva, to rile her emotions and push her over the edge.

The hollowness became an ache in his chest.  He had long since come to accept that he was a failure at many things.  But he had hoped that he would not fail Talia.  Joining the League had only mattered in that it ensured that they would not be separated again.  He would have stayed with her any way that he could have.  But the world had corrupted her, and he had failed to protect her from it.  There was nothing more he could do but hope that the razing of Gotham brought her some measure of peace.

He stepped forward, and Talia watched him put a hand on the back of Keeva’s neck, not missing the way she pressed back, and stood a little taller.  “End him,” Bane said, letting his anger show in a rattling growl made eerie and mechanical by the mask.  “Let him see your face, and know why he is here.”

Keeva had dreamed of this more times more times than she dreamed of the attack.  In her mind, she had taken him apart so many different ways.  She felt a giggle in her throat, hysteric and disbelieving.  Looking down at her hands, she tried to remember what it had felt like, the pulling from the man in the street.  Looking back up, she took a step forward, no longer aware of the cold in her bare toes against the floor.

“You know who I am, Robert?” she said, and there was a lightness to her voice that Bane had never heard before.  It was sharp and bright, her hands trembling at her sides.

The man’s head jerked up at the sound of his name, finally focusing on the least terrifying person in the room.  Just for a moment, Keeva felt frozen, remembering what his face looked like streaked with blood and fluid, contorted in rage.  Now his nose was red, crooked and swollen.  He looked at her, turning his one eye to get a better look.  Keeva pushed both sleeves up to her elbows, stepping closer to show off her scars.

“Do you remember these, then?” 

He was so close, her feet planted barely a foot away from where Robert’s ankles were tied to the chair.  His hair was longer, and he’d managed to tan up.  But then recognition crossed his face, the draining color leaving him ashen.  He looked around frantically, the implications of his situation finally seeming to hit home.  He began to struggle, the chair rocking under him.

“Let me go!  Let me go!”

Keeva hit him, fingers balling one hand into a fist and snapping out, just the way Barsad had told her.  The impact stung and vibrated up her arm, the crunch of his nose and his cry sending a visceral shiver of excitement through her.  She hadn’t known how to hit back then, hadn’t known how to hold her hand and prevent injury to herself. 

“I asked you the same thing,” she snapped.  “I begged!  Did you listen?  No.”  She was shaking now, her fatigue forgotten as adrenaline buzzed under her skin.  “You pushed me down onto the floor.  In your mother’s spotless fucking kitchen!”

She kicked him, planting a foot in his chest and shoving.  He toppled back, his cry cut off as the impact drove the air from his lungs.  Keeva walked around as he coughed and sputtered, trying to draw breath.  Kneeling beside him, she paused, feeling repulsed at the just the idea of touching him.  But she reached out anyway, grabbing a handful of his hair and yanking his head up.  She could feel the life in him, wild and afraid, his heart hammering under his ribs.

“I’m sorry!” Robert gasped.  “I was a kid, I was stupid, I’m so sorry!”  Tears ran down his cheeks, the ducts under his missing eye still functional. 

“Was I the only one?” Keeva hissed.  She moved over him, a knee in his gut, perched like a cat ready to strike.  Robert whimpered, and she yanked on his hair.  “Was I the only one?!”

“No!  No, you weren’t!  You were just the only one that called the police!”  He was sobbing, a mess of snot and tears.

“Fat lot of good that did me,” she spat.  “You just hid behind mommy and daddy’s lawyer, and told them I’d been drinking.  They’d have taken me for everything had if they’d gotten their way.” 

It should be hard.  Keeva knew that.  It should be difficult to decide to kill another human being.  She searched herself, and there was some guilt about the older man in the streets.  He’d been fighting for what he believed was right.  He’d thought he was putting her out of her misery, giving her a quick death as opposed to suffocating on her own blood.  His death would haunt her.  There might be people, a family, missing him.

But Robert…  The world would lose nothing if he was suddenly no longer in it.  It would be better without him.  He wasted the air he breathed, the water and food he consumed.  “You deserve to die, Robert,” she said.  “I won’t feel bad about it.  I’ll think of you being dead and I’ll be happy.”  She grabbed for his throat, feeling his cry vibrated under her palm.  She pulled, life flooding her body, warmth washing through her veins, her heart feeling as if it would burst from her chest.  Then he was silent, and she opened her eyes.

Robert’s single eye stared sightlessly up, face frozen in a mask of fear.  Keeva expected to feel something then.  A rush of victory, disgust, or even guilt.  Instead, it was nothing.  The body before her meant nothing.  It was worthless.  Well, maybe not.  If hospitals had been functioning properly, his organs might have been of use to someone on the transplant list.  She almost laughed; he was more useful in death than he had been in life.

A pair of boots caught her eye, and following them up showed Talia’s face, her eyes watching Keeva with clear fascination.  She reached out and touched Robert’s wet face, then checked his pulse.  Keeva could feel his life buzzing under her skin, and felt a bit sick.  She didn’t want it.  She didn’t want any part of him near her ever again.  Her stomach lurched, bile burning the back of her throat.  Talia reached out a hand, and Keeva blinked at it, uncertain.  It took her a few moments to realize that the hand was being offered to her.  Hesitantly, she took it, and was surprised with the fluid strength and ease that Talia pulled her up with.

The smile on the older woman’s face was fierce but genuine.  “You did so well, little one,” she said.  She cupped Keeva’s face with both hands, smoothing her thumbs over the freckled cheeks. Bane could see the gears turning in her head, crafting plans for Keeva and how she could be of use to the League.  That gave him hope; maybe she was seeing a future after Gotham.  Then Talia was looking at him.  “You will train her,” she said firmly.

“Of course,” he said without hesitation.

“And you will care for him,” Talia said, looking back to Keeva.  “See to his every need.  Keep him strong for me.”

Keeva didn’t feel equipped to care about anyone just then, but she nodded mutely.  It seemed enough.  Bane waited until Barsad was at his elbow, letting the other man put an arm around Keeva’s shoulders before his own touch dropped away.  He could feel her eyes on him, wide and searching.  Talia’s wordless direction brought him after her, Keeva’s gaze joined by Barsad’s.  Only his second saw the flutter of fingers at his side, a jitteriness that he had never been able to shake, no matter how many times the Venom was refined. 

The hand on Keeva’s shoulder tightened, and she looked back to Barsad.  She didn’t exactly have to crane her neck to look up at him, but he was taller.  Despite the energy humming in her bones, and feeling like she could do a triathlon without breaking a sweat, Keeva felt very small.  Everything was far away, just the like the first time.  But Barsad didn’t leave her alone when they got back to the loft without Bane.

He watched her stand in the front room, barefoot and with her hands hanging limply at her sides.  It took effort to put sound back into his movements, ignoring the instinct that had been trained into him, even before the League.  But she didn’t turn to him, only reaching blindly with a hand.  It wasn’t the grasping of someone afraid, seeking comfort.  Keeva’s fingers dug into his arm, and her eyes were bright and wild when she looked at him.

“He’s dead.”

Barsad had seen the file, and the pictures taken of Keeva at the hospital.  He was a killer, a liar, and enjoyed it all.  “Good,” he said, nodding firmly.  He hadn’t been certain how Keeva would react.  Killing, if you weren’t trained or bred for it, affected people differently.  It wasn’t blood lust blazing in Keeva’s eyes.  Nor was it fear or disgust at what she’d done.  She didn’t know what to feel, but the adrenaline still sung in her veins, searching for an outlet.

“You… read whatever file Bane found, yeah?” she murmured.  She was fairly certain she already knew his answer.  “Or he told you…”  She had to swallow.  Even with Robert dead it still hurt to talk about, to relive.  “Told you what happened to me?”  Her grip was tightening on his arm, and he didn’t flinch, letting her draw him closer.

“He gave it to me to read,” Barsad said.  “No one listened to you, despite the evidence staring them in the face.”  They had failed her.  “It’s good that you took your own justice.”

Keeva clenched her free hand, nails biting into her palm.  “Is it?”  Her voice had become small.  “It’s good that I killed him, isn’t it?  I don’t… I don’t feel bad.  I should, at least on some level… right?”  That was how things worked.  Even if you killed someone in self-defense, it still bothered you, taking a human life.  Right?

Barsad moved around to stand in front of her, meeting her gaze head-on while not breaking the desperate grip she had on his arm.  “There is no right answer to your question,” he said.  “Some people deserve to die, and if fate is kind, they do.  More often, they do not.  Very often, the rich escape their crimes, while those less fortunate suffer.  I cannot tell you how to feel about taking his life, that is yours, and yours alone.  But I do know that he deserved far worse than you gave him.”

Keeva lifted her head, chin sticking out defiantly.  “I’d have made it hurt if I knew how.”

He smiled.  There was nothing soft or flirtatious there now, just sharpness.  It was a killer’s smile, one who knew the rush of taking another life, of dealing out the judgement that was necessary.  Releasing his arm, Keeva lifted her hand to his face, tracing along his jaw.  He was not a kind man.  Not in the way most people were ‘kind’.  He was sharp and deadly, capable of leaving nothing but death in his wake if any stood in the way of his chosen path.

Barsad could kill her, without a second thought or hesitation.  Keeva found herself wondering what might have happened if she had come to them, knowing that she could use her abilities to kill as well as heal?  Would she have been as welcome?  Would she have been trusted to see Bane at his most vulnerable?  She still wasn’t sure that she had deserved that. 

The realization that she could kill him too hit like a baseball bat to the skull.  Barsad’s life hummed under her fingers, fragile and bright, for all the strength of his body and mind.  She could take it.  It would be easy, too.  Just a little pull.  Fear came next, icy cold and paralyzing.  She was dangerous.  Even more-so because of her lack of control.  If killing was this easy for her, what was to stop her from killing anyone that bothered her?

And he trusted her.  Barsad’s eyes watched her like a hawk, following every little movement.  But he let her touch him.  Let her put her hands to his bare skin without fear.  It was too much.  She didn’t deserve it.  Keeva felt Barsad flinch as she grabbed the front of his shirt, but he let her step in, dropping her head to rest on his chest.  She couldn’t trust herself, couldn’t trust her ability to be in control.  It was too much power.

Tilting her head up, her nose traced the line of Barsad’s jaw, her breath fanning his neck.  His jacket smelled like fireworks and gun oil.  She pressed her face into his neck, rising up on the balls of her feet to breathe him in.  It wasn’t from fireworks, but it still made her think of happier times, and it soothed her.  “Can… can I hand over control to you for a while?” she managed, voice tight.  “Just… tell me what to do.”  Her lips didn’t leave his neck, her words spoken into his skin like kisses.  His hands anchored on her hips, and she groaned gently when they tightened.  “I want you to be in control.  I won’t be scared if it’s you.”

She could still feel it.  Robert’s life inside her, rolling through her veins with every heartbeat.  He had tried to force his control on her, making her terrified of what she’d once enjoyed.  But Barsad wouldn’t hurt her.  Not unless she asked.  But she’d used up all her words, and swallowed in mute frustration.  All she could do was grab one of his hands, stepping back just enough to lift it to her throat.  His fingers curled around her neck without instruction, feeling her throat swell and bob with a sigh of relief.

The ease that flowed through her was so immediate that Keeva almost laughed, and her head dropped back, eyes closing.  “Please.”

Barsad started moving.  Pushing with the hand at her neck, he drove her slowly across the floor until her back hit the wall.  The soft impact with the finished plaster—still smelling faintly of fresh paint—made her look at him again.  He knew what killing did to the blood sometimes, and understood the need to overlay an older bad memory with a newer, more pleasant one.  Control was not something he had with Bane; he liked it that way.  But Keeva… she seemed to want to give it to him so badly.

“You want me to hold you down and fuck you,” he said, not a hint of question in his voice.  “You want me to command you and use you for my pleasure.  To have me make all the decisions, yes?”  He held her eyes, needing an answer this time.  She swallowed against his hand, whimpering.  “You have to answer me.”

All Keeva could manage was a frantic nod, grabbing the front of his jacket again, trying to pull him closer.  She didn’t want to think any more, wanted to burn up what little of Robert was left in her.  And she didn’t know how to do it alone.  Her lips formed the words ‘please’ again, the only sound the exhale of a trembling breath.

Barsad removed her hands from him, taking a step back.  “Stay,” he barked, when she took a step to follow.  Quickly, she leaned back into the wall.  “Undress.”  Her eyes widened slightly, color rushing to her cheeks.  She could still see the door over his shoulder.  It was locked, but surely others had keys…  “Now.”  The second sharp command cut through the messy thoughts.  No.  What she thought didn’t matter.  She just had to do as she was told.

Calm returned to her face as she peeled her sweater and shirt over her head, hands going instantly to her belt.  “All of it,” Barsad urged, watching her hurriedly kick away her pants.  Her bra and underwear joined them in a pile, and Keeva straightened, naked and shivering before him.  A tremor of excitement rolled down his spine, and he moved in again, tracing a hand down the curve of her ribs and then over her hip.  Her skin was hot to the touch, nearly feverish.  His fingers sank painfully against the extra softness above her hip, her little whimper going straight to his cock.

With his other hand, Barsad tweaked a nipple sharply, making Keeva arch up onto her toes before his hold on her hip pushed her back down.  He tugged again, and this time she just whimpered, hands pressed flat into the wall behind her.  Before it went further, he cupped her jaw in one hand and leaned in to kiss her.  It was little more than a tease of his lips over hers, his nose brushing the side of hers.  “Does it hurt?” he asked, pinching and holding.

Keeva nodded, a whimper trapped in the back of her throat.

“Do you want me to stop?”  An emphatic shake of her head.  “Tell me if you change your mind.”  It was only after she nodded slowly, letting out a breath, that he smiled, baring his teeth in a shark-like grin.  The hand at her jaw shifted, pressing two fingers against her lips.  She obediently opened his mouth, sucking on his fingers without any urging.  He chuckled darkly, the sound starting the familiar heat between her legs.  “Such an eager little thing, aren’t we?” he teased.  He got a slight nod and a gentle hum, her eyes closing.  The salt of his skin mingled with something else, sharp and acidic.  Keeva sucked harder, coating his fingers.

“Release.”  Without hesitation, Keeva stopped sucking, dropping her jaw open.  Barsad withdrew his fingers, a string of saliva drawn from her lips, hanging for a moment before it snapped.  “Good girl.”  He stroked his other hand through her hair.  “Turn around and spread your legs for me.”

The wall was cool, and a relief for Keeva to press her forehead against, pushing her ass out and opening her legs.  It was humiliating, being spread like this in the middle of the front room.  Anyone could open the door and see her there, presenting herself for whatever Barsad wanted.  Heat pulsed in her core and the excitement won over her anxiety.  But only just.

Barsad wasn’t gentle when he pressed his fingers in, but the sudden burn eased quickly, her cunt already oozing slick.  His other hand squeezed her ass roughly, holding her open for him.  “A hand on your throat and you’re already soaked for me,” he sneered, leaning in to drag his teeth over her neck, the rasp of his beard sending pleasant shivers down her spine and the backs of her arms. 

She eased back against him and sighed, flexing her hips in an attempt to give him a better angle.  His hand fisted roughly in her hair, yanking her head to the side and biting at her neck.  It wasn’t gentle, all teeth and sharp sucking that wrung a gasp from her.  Pain burned along her shoulder with each bite, Barsad sparing each mark a slow lick with his warm tongue.  His fingers pumped and spread inside her, rough and quick.

Though he wouldn’t admit it out loud, Barsad had been a little annoyed that she’d been asked to heal the marks he’d left on her.  On the rare occasions that he was allowed to leave evidence on Bane, he had always been filled with a fierce pride, knowing that his marks were there under Bane’s clothes.  They hadn’t been marks of ownership, like they were on Keeva, but marks that he had been there, that Bane had trusted him so close.  Before the League, he had never thought to be trusted again.  He probably didn’t deserve all that Keeva was giving him, but deep down, he was a selfish man.  He would take it anyway.

Keeva whimpered when he pulled his fingers from her, making a startled noise when he pressed them back into her mouth, smearing her juices over her lips.  The subtle salt tang made her shiver, and she sucked greedily.  Her tongue danced and twined around his fingers, cheeks hollowing until Barsad groaned.  “If I hadn’t already gone to the trouble of opening you up, I’d put that mouth of yours to good use.”  Barsad’s hand dropped to her throat as she whined, then quickly sucked in a breath when she heard the quiet slide of his zipper.

It was perfect.  There was nothing she had to do but what Barsad told her.  Slowly, she slipped away from all the tension, from the feeling of another life force humming alongside her own.  All she had to focus on was what Barsad wanted from her.  Barsad leaned over her, the fabric of his clothes teasing her overheated skin, cargo pants rough against the backs of her thighs.  Keeva could feel the heat of his cock in the cleft of her ass, and felt herself drifting towards subspace.  She was too wound up to really fall, but it was so close.

Both hands left her body, coming back to spread her open with one, and pressing his cock to her entrance with the other.  For a split second, he debated how he would enter her, before losing patience with himself and slamming home, jerking Keeva’s whole body.  She sagged against the wall as he went still, her forearm braced above her head, her breath ragged and deep.  The meager preparation made the first thrust deliciously sharp, forcing her open to accommodate him.  She bit her lip at the slow, burning heat, feeling it spread outwards and throughout her body.

For a moment, Barsad let himself admire the arch of her back, sliding his hands along her sides.  She responded to each little touch, so eager to please him, to be used by him.  Bane could return at any moment, and the thrill of getting caught, and the possible repercussions spurred him into motion.  Remembering her reaction to holding her hips, he anchored his hands there, fingers spread and sinking into her softness.  He took a particular delight in the way her ass jiggled when he thrust forward again, her other hand flying up to brace herself against the wall.

He had been slow before, savoring her and the sight of her sucking Bane into her mouth.  But she had tasted death, felt the power of it in her hands, and it had terrified her.  So much control had been too much, and she needed to give it away.  The moment of understanding just made him move harder, his hips slapping against hers, a cry jerked from her at each hard thrust.  Her skin flushed, a delicate pink creeping out under the dark brown beauty marks scattered over her back.  Barsad lifted a hand, raking his nails down along her spine, watching blood well to the surface as she bucked and cried out.

Even with the pain, Keeva felt herself drifting deeper.  She was lost in Barsad, in herself.  She could feel how alive he was, perfect and bright.  Her own heart hammered in her chest, the thrust of his hips setting her on fire.  She wanted to gain nothing from Robert, even though his death brought her a sharp sort of joy.  So she pushed, she separated her life from his and pushed with all her strength. With her eyes closed, she felt Barsad flare behind her, heat flooding his system as he hunched forward.

His thrusts lost any sort of rhythm, hammering against her, slick seeping down her thighs. Barsad knew something was happening, and trained instinct roared in warning.  But something deeper, far older than his training, leaned into the warmth flooding to him from Keeva, drove him to push as close as he could, drowning in the high that seared along his every nerve.  He wasn’t going to last, not like this.  He bit down on her back, snarling in frustration and tasting blood, Keeva bucking under him.  She nearly wept when she could feel nothing left of Robert, something of Barsad tangled up in her now, the same as he was feeling her in him. 

It was new and strange and terrifying, chasing her to the edge.  But then Barsad put his hand around her throat, growling into her bloody shoulder.  And just like that, she let go.  Her orgasm rocked through her, threatening to make her legs give out.  She felt Barsad come a moment after she did, more in her mind’s eye than with her body.  His teeth pulled from her shoulder as he ground against her, holding her tight.  The rush of his breath against the open wound brought her back, and she whimpered.

Then went to the ground together, Barsad’s cock slipping from inside her as his torso draped over her back, his breath in her ear.  Keeva knew she’d hit subspace, her mind warm and fuzzy even as the cool air washed over her sweating skin.  She just hummed when gentle fingers probed the bite on her back, too high on endorphins for it to really hurt.  When he turned her, he made sure that she sat down slowly, and she blinked his face into focus as he called her name.

Usually it was Barsad being called back from the edge, back from the safe place in his mind where he went when Bane was in a mood to be slow and methodical, to take the time to get Barsad as deep as he could go.  But he still had some idea of what to do.  It took Keeva’s eyes a moment to really focus on him, both eyes made dark by her blown pupils.  “Are you with me, habibi?”

Keeva smiled sleepily.  “I like when you call me that,” she mumbled.

That got a chuckle in response.  “Do you think you can stand?”

“Gonna leak,” she said in way of protest, fully content to sit on the chilly floor for a little longer.  His face was clearer now, and she felt a wave of affection roll through her.  He had given her exactly what she need.

“You are so lazy when you come, habibi,” he purred, leaning in to bump his forehead against hers.  She grumbled, but let him help her to her feet and guide her to the bathroom.  A bath was tempting, but she knew sleep was going to happen soon, no matter what.  Instead, Barsad wet a cloth with cool water and squeezed it over her, the little rivulets of water making her shiver as they rolled down her skin. 

He was slow and methodical, cleaning gently between her legs and tracing her fresh bruises with his fingers.  When Keeva gave him her back he winced at the angry red bite on the back of her shoulder, bleeding sluggishly where his canines had broken skin.  It was already swollen.  He touched the edge of it gently, and she flinched, sucking in a breath.  “Are you too tired to heal it or…?”  Barsad trailed off, surprised to see her duck her head, turning her face away from him.  “Habibi?”

“Like it,” she mumbled.

Grinning, he leaned closer.  “Sorry.  I couldn’t catch that.”

“I said I like it!” she said again.  “I like… the marks.  The way it feels after.  It…”

“Reminds you.”

“Yeah.”

Barsad pulled out the first aid kit.  It was rudimentary, and no longer really necessary with Keeva around, but old habits died hard.  “This will not be the type of pain you enjoy,” he said, wetting a cotton ball with antiseptic.

“Ass,” Keeva muttered.

“Now, that cannot be done on the spur of the moment.  Preparation and ensuring cleanliness takes time.”  He said it in such a casual tone, as if it were the weather he was talking about, and not anal sex.

“That is not what I—shit!”  Keeva clenched her teeth as the damp cotton touched the bite, pressed in gently but firmly.  She growled and swore through the cleaning and bandaging, but never once gave into her body’s temptation to just heal it over.  As strange as it was, she liked the tug of the skin around the wound, the tightness of it, and the heat that lingered. 

“All done.  Now, you only have to make one more decision today.”  He said it gently. As if anticipating her flinch.  “Are you sleeping clothed or naked?”

Somehow, Keeva managed not to burst out laughing.  “Naked.  Definitely naked.”

 

Chapter Text

Bane found Barsad alone in the main room when he returned, the coffee table covered in a grease-stained cloth and several hand guns taken apart on top of it.  Bane knew for a fact that none of them had been fired recently, so it was unlikely that they really needed cleaning.  It was habit, Bane knew, from when they had been in battle almost daily.  The repetition was soothing for him.  His movements were easy and sure already, relaxed as could be, and he smiled as he nodded at Bane, laying the barrel he’d been cleaning back on the table.  Bane crossed the floor as Barsad rose with a stretch, his back popping twice.

“I take it her training will start tomorrow?”

“Talia truly intends for there to be something after this,” Bane said, tone softer than usual.  Barsad knew that there had been doubts about that, wondering if Talia would destroy the League completely in her quest to burn Gotham and Bruce Wayne.  Bane was not a hopeful or optimistic man, so to hear that change in his tone—just a little more lightness to his voice that others might not notice—made Barsad’s chest swell.

“So small, and yet so full of potential,” Barsad said, glancing towards the bedroom.  He felt lucky to be alive just then, thinking back on all the other fantastic things he’d born witness to over the years.

“She is asleep already?”

“She didn’t know how to feel after she killed that man,” Barsad said, a hint of something in his lidded eyes.  “She asked for a distraction.  I think the new power frightens her.  She fears what she could do.”  He’d seen the realization in her eyes, the knowing that she could take his life if she wanted.

“And you provided this distraction?”  Bane was standing closer now, enough that Barsad could catch a whiff of the medication breathed through the mask.

“I’d be happy to take her apart again later for you, Brother,” Barsad said without hesitation.  He leaned in, tracing his nose along the bottom line of the mask.  “I bit her hard enough to draw blood.  She chose to wear it as a reminder, when it would have been nothing for her to heal.  And I know she would wear marks from you just as gladly.”  It had been so long since they’d brought another between them, and Barsad knew full well just how much Bane liked to see him use his mouth on another, doing all the things that Bane could not.

Bane’s hand was around his throat faster than blinking, the other hand on his hip anchoring their bodies together.  The hand on his neck forced Barsad’s head to tilt back, leaving him taught and exposed.  “Careful,” Bane warned, even as the smaller man smirked.  Barsad knew him too well to be fooled, and he was too stubborn to back down.

With his own hands free, Barsad splayed them out flat against Bane’s stomach.  There was more of him readily available, with his brace no longer always necessary.  His long fingers slipped easily under the hem, humming as he made contact with Bane’s skin.  The hand on his neck tightened slightly, but he didn’t stop, slipping his hands up and up before curling his fingers and dragging his nails down.  He felt muscle bunch and shift at the touch, the grip on his hip becoming tight enough to bruise.  Barsad groaned softly.

“I am always careful,” he purred, throat bobbing in Bane’s hold.  “You like to think of me marking your precious healer.  You wish you could have been there to see me bite her, the way I know you want to bite me.”

It was no surprise when Bane leaned in, bearing down to take Barsad to the ground, the heavy thump muffled by the thick carpet.  He just grinned up at the masked face above him, rocking up against the thick thigh planted between his legs.  His heart hammered in his chest, the exhilaration in his veins bright and familiar.  Bane hadn’t pinned his hands yet, so he used them, skimming up Bane’s sides, dragging his nails on the slightly softer flesh that was usually protected by the brace.  Usually protected from touch, the skin was a touch more sensitive, a shiver making his muscles twitch.

Bane’s thigh jutted forward, the pressure on Barsad’s hardening cock almost painful.  But he rocked into it again, lunging in to catch a mouthful of the thick muscle of Bane’s neck.  A mechanical growl rattled in his ear, and he sucked hard.  If Bane didn’t want him to leave marks, he’d have to restrain him.  But Bane shuddered, pressing his mask into Barsad’s collarbone, sharp and painful.

Rearing back, Bane gathered both of Barsad’s hands together in one of his own, stripping the smaller man’s shirt up to his wrists.  The struggle under him was not weak by any means, but it wasn’t as hard as Barsad could fight.  He liked when Bane bound him, but always fought him for the privilege, enjoying the display of power.  It was the work of moments for Bane to twist the shirt into a proper binding on Barsad’s wrists, leaving his chest bare and exposed.

Bane paused, tracing the lines of Barsad’s tattoos, skimming calloused palms over the lean, tight muscle of his stomach.  With their legs tangled, Barsad could feel that Bane was just as hard as he was, arching up and pressing his leg against the larger man, intent on the reaction of his masked leader.  Only a slight fluttering of his eyes was visible, but it was more than enough to send a thrill of power through Barsad, his smirk widening.

Bane stripped him roughly, exposing him to the cool air and watching a shiver race over the lean form.  His growl of appreciation crackled in Barsad’s ear, his thumb tracing up his jaw to press to his lips.  The taught line of his body eased, his mouth softening.  The gentle touch was as close to kiss as Bane could get.  Touching his mask to Barsad’s lips was a torture for them both, knowing the other was so close and yet unreachable.  This way, they could touch.

Barsad nibbled gently at Bane’s thumb, a shift of his head letting him nuzzle into his palm.  Keeva didn’t know the kisses for what they were yet, and it wasn’t up to him to tell her.  When he sucked Bane’s thumb into his mouth, the audible groan more than enough to return his smirk.  As much as he loved the power Bane had over him, loved pressing against and testing it, he also loved seeing the little bits of his own control shine through, how he could break through Bane’s iron will.

The thought left him as Bane palmed his cock, skin rolling smoothly under the slow twist of his hand.  Barsad’s back arched, pressing his stomach up into Bane as he rocked his hips.  The touch was searing hot, rough, and exactly what he wanted.  He whined, greedily trying to keep moving.  Instead of indulging him in something slow, Bane pulled back, ignoring the snarl of annoyance.  He lifted Barsad as easily as a kitten, and the sniper would be lying if he said that that alone wasn’t a huge turn-on.

It took only a few of Bane’s long strides to reach the bathroom, giving Barsad a bit of leeway as the man found his feet and pressed in.  Barsad kissed hungrily along the collar of Bane’s shirt, enjoying the freedom to mark and bite.  He liked the sounds Bane was making even more.  But it had been too long since they’d really had the time together.  Even though they probably should have taken their time, luxuriating in the moments spared to them, they were too hungry, too needy.  At least Barsad was.

He didn’t object when Bane bent him over the counter, kicking his legs open.  Barsad hissed when his aching cock bumped into the cool surface of the cabinets below, but Bane held him there as he used his free hand to rummage in one of the drawers.  Barsad wouldn’t have begrudged Bane a little roughness, but the larger man was still careful, pressing one slick finger slowly into him, making him groan and press back.

Bane didn’t have to keep a hand between Barsad’s shoulder blades, didn’t have to hold him down.  If he gave the order, Barsad wouldn’t move an inch.  But he liked to feel Barsad’s body straining under his hand, testing his control.  He liked the sounds Barsad made even better, low and deep in his throat, coming out as ragged snarls and curses.  He crooked a finger, and smirked behind the mask when Barsad jerked and cried out.

It would have so easy to just bring him off like that, milking his prostate and refusing to touch the rest of him.  But he didn’t want to wait.  He wanted to feel Barsad, the velvet hot clench of him around his cock, the way he arched up to get every bit of contact.  So he dragged the cool muzzle of his mask down Barsad’s back as he knelt behind him, pressing in a second finger.  Barsad’s hole clenched around it, and Bane could hear him scrabbling for some kind of hold on the smooth counter with his bound hands.

What Barsad intended to be a growl of frustration at Bane’s slow tenderness came out as a ragged whine, and he pressed his heated cheeks against the cool surface under him.  His hips rocked back to the slow thrusting of Bane’s fingers, feeling his body starting to let go.  Every now and then, Bane would brush his prostate.  Not enough for direct stimulation, but enough to make his cock twitch painfully.  He wanted to beg, desperate for some kind of touch on his heated flesh.

Bane hummed against his thigh, free hand slipping around to cup Barsad, not stroking, but giving him something more comfortable to rut against.  The sniper’s whine was so full of frustration, the look thrown over his shoulder venomous.  “Quiet, pet,” Bane rumbled, tracing his mask along the bottom line of Barsad’s ass.  There was a dull thump as Barsad dropped his head against the counter, swallowing his moans with a whimper.

It took four fingers to get him to start making noises again.  Barsad tried so hard to be quiet, to do as he was told, but Bane knew his body too well.  He pushed him to his limits, opening him slowly and letting him do nothing but accept what he was given.  When Bane removed his fingers and stood up being Barsad, he practically sobbed with relief.  After slicking himself, Bane let his cock rest against the cleft of Barsad’s ass, dragging his hands along the sweating back stretched out before him, a map of familiar wounds and ink.  His.  Barsad would wear whatever marks Bane might choose to give him.  He thumbed a small crescent-shaped mark on Barsad’s hip, and old scar from one of Bane’s nails.  It was the only permanent mark he’d left.

Taking a breath, Barsad forced himself to go mostly still, just rocking his hips back gently, pressing into as much of Bane as he could.  Bane relented, leaning over to nuzzle the side of Barsad’s neck.  He dropped his head as he felt the blunt press of Bane’s cock at his entrance, forcing himself to relax with a long exhale.  He reveled in Bane’s own rattled breath as he pushed in, hands tightening on Barsad’s hips.

A curse died on Barsad’s tongue as Bane bottomed out, the zipper of his pants a cold contrast to the press of heated flesh.  As he always did, Bane paused, letting Barsad adjust.  It had been a while, after all.  But Barsad had never been terribly patient in matters aside from combat.  Unable to move, he clenched the muscles of his core, tightening around Bane, letting him know he was ready.

“Impatient,” Bane chastised, reaching around to squeeze around the base of Barsad’s neglected cock.  The smaller man squirmed, unsure of which torturous sensation to push against.  Stroking a slow hand along his shaft, Bane pulled his hips back, eyes falling closed as he savored the drawn out groan.  He pulled back until only the head remained inside, Barsad’s body clenching greedily around him.

But he hadn’t really wanted to tease him.  He did enjoy giving Barsad exactly what he wanted from time to time.  Bane clamped a hand around Barsad’s mouth as he thrust forward again, stretching his longer torso out over him.  “You worked so hard to relax her,” he growled.  “It would be a shame to wake her now.”  He scraped the one sharp edge his mask had along Barsad’s shoulder, raising a messy red welt.  Barsad squirmed, and Bane laughed, his rhythm not gentle, but no were near his full strength.  “Or would you like for her to see you like this?  All bound up and taking me like you were made for it?” 

For all that they didn’t need words, it didn’t mean that Bane didn’t enjoy using them, as well as the effect they could have on his second-in-command.  Humiliation wasn’t always what Barsad wanted, and Bane said the words gently, testing the waters.  A new dynamic meant that there were all sorts of other possibilities to explore.  But later.  Now… Now Barsad was mouthing against his hand, rocking between the rhythm of Bane’s hips and the slow, rough stroke of his hand on his cock.

It had been so long, that Barsad felt himself already falling apart.  He didn’t feel like fighting anymore, like testing Bane’s power and control.  He just wanted Bane to keep touching him, keep fucking him.  He didn’t need anything else.  He could already feel his body going slack, accepting Bane more easily as pleasure made his muscles warm and malleable.  Bane noticed almost instantly, jerking his hips forward and relishing the way Barsad’s cry vibrated against his hand.

Neither of them lasted much longer after that.  Bane’s punishing rhythm kept dragging against Barsad’s prostate, irregular intervals that worked him madly to the edge until he was pleading and panting into Bane’s hand, trying to work his hips against Bane’s loose grip.  Bane could feel how close he was in the way his hole fluttered around him, muscles jumping and overwrought. 

All it took was a few quick pulls and Barsad was coming over his hand, Bane’s hips losing all sense of rhythm as he chased him over the edge.  The only sound he made was a shuddering groan, but Barsad heard the restraint in it, even as he felt the hot rush of Bane coming inside him, his body bending and mask touching Barsad’s neck.

Barsad slipped one of his hands from the makeshift binding easily, reaching back to cup the side of Bane’s face, feeling him press into the touch.  With the hand gone from his mouth, Barsad chuckled into the counter, earning a quiet huff from Bane as he drew back and set about cleaning up.  He was in a good mood, and even retrieved Barsad’s clothes from the main room for him.  He smirked at the slight hitch in Barsad’s step, something he’d gone too long without seeing. 

Bane fingered the scrape from the mask before Barsad could pull his shirt back on.  “She is not allowed to heal this,” he said.  It hadn’t done more than rake up the top few layers of skin; not enough to open the body to infection.  But it would last a few days.  Barsad hiss when he pressed his nail into it, but didn’t pull away.  Bane brushed a finger over his lips.  “Do you understand?”

“Of course.”  His words were all business, the perfect soldier.  But his eyes glittered, a smirk pulling at the edge of his mouth.  As if he’d ever want to get rid of any mark that Bane saw fit to give him.

 

000

 

The bite on her shoulder ached more when Keeva woke up.  But the tug of the inflamed skin made her smile as she stretched, humming happily into the pillow.  The joy faded slightly as the rest of the day returned to her, and she grumbled, curling into a ball.  But Barsad had been right.  Talia had been right.  Robert had deserved to die.  And he was dead now, so there was no point in fussing over it.

The back of her neck prickled, and she jerked upright, staring at the door.  Bane’s eyes smirked at her over his mask.  “You’re naturally wary,” he said, sounding… pleased, as he stepped from the doorway and moved further into the room.  “But you should have noticed me sooner.”

Keeva hugged a pillow to her chest, the urge to cover herself still more habit than conscious choice.  “That’d take a while, seeing as you move about as loudly as an owl.”  She’d seen a demonstration at the zoo once.  The great horned owl’s wings hadn’t made a sound as it flapped across the field to the trainer’s arm.  She was now of the opinion that she only ever heard Bane move about because he let her.  She wondered if she should explain that, but the faint crinkle at the corner of Bane’s eyes didn’t make her think so.

Reaching out, Bane tugged away the pillow and tossed it back to the head of the bed.  He didn’t hide the way his eyes dragged over her, or his enjoyment when her cheeks darkened.  Cupping her lowered chin in his hand, he made her look at him again.  It was still somewhat of a marvel, not to see the fear he was so used to.  And she looked at him, not the mask.  Both Barsad and Talia had told him, many times, how intense his eyes were, and he knew that Keeva had trouble meeting them.  But she tried, all the same.

“Barsad told me that you can sense the life of another person,” Bane said.  “He mentioned that you closed your eyes when you showed him.  Does there have to be physical contact?”  His voice as frank and business-like, even as he trailed a hand down the side of her neck, and watching her try to suppress a shiver before he broke away.

Keeva shook her head.  “I… I’m not sure.”  She shoulders rolled with a loose shrug.  “I could try?”  Bane nodded, and she closed her eyes.  She wasn’t quite sure if she was imaging him staring, or if she could actually feel it.  Turning around, she wasn’t thinking about the bandage on her shoulder, or the finger-shaped bruises splayed out over her hips.

Instead, she tried to see if she could find the ‘map’ of Bane that her mind drew for her every time she touched him.  At first, all that came was memory.  But there was something there, just on the edge of her perception.  Huffing, she bit her bottom lip, brows furrowing.  Bane obviously had some idea of how her ‘seeing life’ could be useful.  It wasn’t hard to follow his line of thinking.  You’d have to be an idiot not to see how being able to ‘see’ people without using your eyes could be useful.

A roll of her shoulders tugged at the bite, and she leaned herself into the pain, listening to Bane’s quiet breaths through the mask, and matching her own to them.  He said nothing, just waiting.  Keeva wasn’t sure when it happened, but she suddenly felt herself surrounded with Bane.  His pulse thumped in her head, the medication in his body making it run a bit faster than average.  She drew herself back, slowly, not wanting to lose it. 

And there he was, standing out in glowing light, right behind her.  It happened so suddenly that she gasped, starting up onto her knees as her eyes flew open, the image slipping away.  Her face was open and happy when she turned, nakedness forgotten.  “I saw you,” she said. 

There was that innocent wonder again, something Bane had never thought to have around him again.  He crossed his arms over his chest and nodded.  “Good.  Get dressed and come with me.”  He paused in the door, watching her scramble off the bed and fumble for her clothes, taking in her wince as the straps of her bra laid over the bandaged bite.  “Those marks are to stay,” he said.  “As well as any you might see on Barsad.”  Keeva blinked and turned to look at him, but he was already in the hall again, moving away.

 

000

 

The red scrape standing out on Barsad’s shoulder did nothing to help with the breathing and meditation techniques that he was trying to walk her through.  When she closed her eyes, she just kept thinking of him and Bane together, wondering what sounds they might make when it was just the two of them.  She also felt guilty, wondering if that part of their life was even for her to think about. 

So she screwed up her face and tried to follow his instructions.  It took time, and she hated not knowing how much of it passed.  But eventually, in-between breaths, she started catching glimpses of them.  Both Bane and Barsad had left her alone in the center of the main room, moving out to separate corner of the apartment.  They had done so while her eyes were closed.  She was to determine which one was Bane with her mind alone, and then go to him.

Keeva’s own breathing was even and slow, her limbs feeling heavy as she sat, cross-legged on the floor.  The heartbeat seemed to be the center of whatever she was saying.  Or at least what she found the easiest to notice.  It was faint, and she wasn’t even really hearing it with her ears, but… it was there.  Knowing that Bane’s heart beat a bit faster, she tried to compare the two, unable to listen to both at once and having to go back and forth between the two rhythms. 

Eventually, she got to her feet, going over the few small tips Barsad had given her to quiet her steps as she moved.  She paused at the bathroom door, hand hovering over the knob.  She wanted to be good at this.  The only thoughts she had spared for her abilities before had been about hiding them.  Now… they were useful to people.  They were useful and she wasn’t going to be carted away for showing them.  Shot, maybe, but…  It was better than the alternative.

Bane was waiting for her behind the door, leaning slightly against the counter.  Just seeing him there made her smile.  “You run hotter,” she admitted.  “Might be too easy for me to tell the difference.” 

“I abandoned the idea of being ordinary enough to go unnoticed some time ago,” Bane said, and she thought there was smirk edging his voice.

Despite his carefully maintained bulk, Keeva knew Bane would never have been a small man.  She was struck for a moment, wondering what kind of life he might have wanted if his childhood had been normal.  Did he ever think about it?  Just imagining that made her hurt on his behalf.  The urge to touch him was nearly overwhelming, and she folded her hands behind her, glancing to the window. 

Without the light pollution, she could actually see the stars, and while she stayed where she was, she couldn’t look away.  New York wasn’t far off, but taking away all of Gotham’s brightness just let the night sky spread out above her.  Her toes curled with the urge to go to the small window, to take a moment to enjoy what little bit of nature her surroundings provided.  What she had known of nature had been a few family trips before money got tight, and trips to the zoo and the park.

She might as well have been speaking aloud, the way her thoughts telegraphed across her face.  They would have to work on that.  But Bane understood.  The natural world was full of wonder, their own planet not even fully half-explored if you counted the ocean.  He understood the draw of the stars.  They were in the sky, up above all the things that could hurt a person down on earth.  They were beyond that mortal sort of pain, beautiful and eternal.  The stars didn’t judge, they just burned.

When Keeva jerked herself back, her cheeks flushed as she realized that Bane was watching her, a smirk visible in the crinkling at the corners of his eyes.  She didn’t know where to look, and her feet shuffled on the floor.  Stepping away from the counter, he crossed the room.  She stayed where she was, letting him advance on her without flinching, just watching him for some sort of cue.  Bane frowned as he stood before her, and uncertainty twisted in her stomach.

“Never let anyone get so close so easily,” he said evenly.

“I trust you,” Keeva said.  “You could hurt me, but you haven’t.  I don’t let people get this close.”  There was a familiar stubborn set to her jaw.

“Ah, so I’m special then?”  How could a man so intimidating also manage to look so damn mischievous?

It was a miracle that she didn’t stick her tongue out at him.  “Well… yeah,” she muttered.

Bane reached around her, palm flattening as it slid up her back.  Keeva knew what he was looking for before he found it, pressing his thumb into the center of the bandage under her shirt.  He watched her face tighten and heard her suck in a pained breath.  But she didn’t move, didn’t flinch away from him.  He rolled his thumb along the spot.  “So if someone else were to do this…?” he prompted.

“They’d get kicked in the dick,” Keeva said plainly.  “If they had one, anyway.”  She knew Bane wouldn’t hurt her maliciously.  Maybe in the training that everyone was talking about, or if she asked very nicely. Hearing his chuckle at her words nearly made her giddy.  It was funny, she supposed.  He was supposed to be the dumb, savage terrorist, and was supposed to the civilized city girl.  But it was her that spoke crudely, blunt and loud where Bane was precise and measured.

His hold moved up, hand encompassing the back of her neck.  He felt her suck in a breath, relaxing on the exhale, shoulders dropping and eyes fluttering closed.  Hardly a touch, and she went pliant for him, ready to do anything he asked.  No matter how many times it happened, it was still a heady rush, slipping into his veins and running stronger than the Venom ever could. 

Opening her eyes, Keeva’s hand lifted to curl around his forearm.  A smile pulled at her scarred lips; his pain was still no more than a quiet buzz, hardly noticeable for someone like him.  The look in her eyes was fiercely proud, if a little uncertain.  She was still getting used to having something other than being good with dogs to be proud of.  Bane wanted her there.  Talia wanted her.  That sense of maybe—hopefully—belonging twisted in her chest, tight, aching, and wonderful.

 

000

 

Where Barsad had been so careful with her wounds after fucking her, he was the polar opposite during training.  Gone was the slow practicing of stances and holds, replaced with real blows and Keeva frequently ending up dropped on her ass.  She didn’t heal herself either, unsure if she would undo the small tears in her muscles necessary for their growth.  She learned through sharply corrected mistakes, ending the days too tired for much more than a shower, food, and then bed.

But she wasn’t alone.  Her body was too sore for her not to wake when one or both of them crawled into bed as well.  Barsad would greet her quiet grumbling with a laugh, while Bane was more likely to just huff and gather her close, bruises or no.  On nights when it was both of them Keeva stopped bothering with real pajamas, anything more than a t-shirt turning her into a sweating mess.

And then it would start over again.  They usually let her sleep until after Bane had eaten and been shaved, but after that they became relentless once more. 

It hurt.  Fuck, did it hurt.

After the first week she was just tired.  The second, she was in pain and grumpy.  By the third, she nearly wanted to cry.  While the stretches and exercises they gave her got easier as she memorized them, she was still tossed around like a rag doll.  Especially if Bane stopped watching and stepped into the ring himself. 

At first she thought they weren’t pulling punches, when Barsad dislocated her shoulder and Bane sent her tumbling with a broken wrist.  They had demanded she heal herself and continue.  But then they would demonstrate more complex moves together, and Keeva realized that they were treating her with kid gloves. 

“You already have good reflexes,” Barsad said one night, helping her unwrap her hands.  “It’s just a matter of honing them.”

“I feel about as quick as a sea-star,” Keeva muttered, staring down at her raw, swollen knuckles. 

“Three weeks would hardly make you an expert, habibi,” he chuckled.

“Oh, I know… it’s just… frustrating.  I want to be useful.”  Barsad opened his mouth and quickly continued.  “I know that I am, but it’s hard not to compare myself to… well…  Comparing myself to Bane is a prime example of stupidity.  I know that.  I can’t really imagine anyone being stronger than he is.”

“There was a rumor in the League, that Bane was the only man ever to defeat Ra’s Al Ghul, Talia’s father, in a chess match,” he said, a note of smug fondness in his voice.  “There are also rumors that that is real reason they did not get along.”

Keeva wasn’t surprised that Bane played chess.  Not even a little.  She only got glimpses of the intelligence behind the mask, but she knew it was there.  She filed the information about Talia away, something to add to the collection.  So far, she knew that Bane had been present for Talia’s birth and early childhood, and that her father had not.  There had been other hints of Ra’s resenting Bane, and if true, it wasn’t hard to guess why.

“Dad taught me to play, but we were both pretty shit at it,” Keeva said, willing the swelling in her knuckles down.  She was getting better at telling the difference between the tears associated with growing muscle, and actual injuries.  The feeling of the tiny tears was so familiar now it was nearly constant.  Familiar, even.

“He would enjoy playing with you,” Barsad said.  “You can learn more than simply chess itself by simply playing.”

Keeva stood and leaned back, several rolling down her spine.  “I’d hardly be a worthy opponent,” she pointed out.  “He’d beat me in just a few moves.”

“Most likely.  Perhaps you should just try to best him in yarn-craft.”

 

000

 

It took another two weeks before Keeva noticed any change.  And even then it wasn’t really in her abilities.  She had to tighten her belt up to a notch she’d never used, and what few clothes she’d brought with her fit more loosely.  Some lingering part of her was actually excited, and she found herself laughing that it had taken a miniature, city-wide apocalypse, and being taken in by the bringers of said apocalypse to finally spur her to get back into shape.

 

000

 

Bane found her one night, just laid out on the cool tile floor of the bathroom, limbs spread without any sort of grace.  Her eyes opened when his boot tapped the floor, but she didn’t lift her head.  “Sorry, Keeva’s not here right now,” she mumbled, waving a limp hand.  “You’ll have to leave a message with this pile of bruised meat.”  He knelt down and prodded the bottom of her foot, watching her twitch and look down her body at him reproachfully.  Her only other verbalization was a questioning grunt.

“You broke Barsad’s finger this morning,” Bane said, matter-of-factly.

Oh, that.  She was proud of that, even if it had been an accident.  “He broke two of my ribs,” Keeva retorted, making a vague gesture to the purpling marks blooming across her left side, looking vaguely like the tread of a boot. 

“You broke his finger first,” Bane reminded her, no small amount of amusement in his voice.

“Fixed it, though,” she responded.

Leaning forward on his knee, Bane laid his hand over the bruise, watching tension roll through her, muscles bunching and eyes sharpening on him.  Her skin was warm under his hand, and still incredibly soft.  Her ribs could be felt more easily, and she glowered at him as he flexed his fingers, probing along the bones.  “You’re a fast learner.  You won’t let him hit you like this again, will you?”  While she had let the bruises remained, she had put her bones back together.  He stopped probing, but his hand didn’t pull away.

“Definitely going to fucking try,” Keeva mumbled, acutely aware of where his hand was and how it felt against her skin, no matter how sore she was.  “Broken ribs suck.”

“They are among the more annoying injuries the human body can suffer, yes,” he agreed absently.  She had relaxed, but was still watching him carefully.  She had done that since the beginning of course, but she was taking all their lessons to heart.  Bane shifted, planting his knees on either side of one of her thighs, cupping her hips with both hands, moving his thumbs in slow circles.

It wouldn’t have really mattered where he touched her; there was hardly an inch of her without some kind of bruising.  But just like that, her nerves lit up again despite the pain, chest winding tight and hands moving to Bane’s wrists.  No matter how long she was in training, no matter how strong she got, Keeva knew that Bane looming over her would always make her feel small and powerless.  She didn’t really mind, though.

When he didn’t move, Keeva slid her hands slowly up his arms.  She was a bit more acquainted with the strength of them now.  There was a shift in his shoulders, minute but still there.  But she didn’t know what it meant, if he wanted her to keep going or if he was thinking of pulling away.  Then he was moving, too, sliding his hand up her sides.  Keeva hissed and winced as his grip drug over bruises, but kept her eyes open.

Bane could feel her body bunching under him, aware of her legs shifting to put her feet on the floor.  He couldn’t help the feeling of smugness.  It wasn’t that she was afraid of him, she was just reacting how they had taught her, putting herself in neutral position, ready to react to whatever might happen next.  She was watching him, too, eyes going between what she could see of his body and his face.

His.  All his.  Bane’s hand slid up Keeva’s arm, cupping the growing bicep and then drawing his fingers along a slightly more prominent collar-bone.  Lot of people might not have noticed the change, but Keeva spent most of her time in loose fitting clothes made for warmth and function rather than form.  Like this, spread out in a sports bra and shorts, he could see nearly everything, all the subtle changes spread out under the pale skin.  She was doing this for him, because he asked it of her.

Such devotion was rare in the modern world, something to be cherished once it had been properly earned.  Keeva’s fingers along the line of his cheek brought him back from the introspection, and he met her eyes again.  She was studying him, brows slightly furrowed and her bottom lip caught between her teeth.  When her fingers drew closer to the muzzle of his mask, Bane’s instinct told him to tug away.  It was a weak point.  Even if he didn’t believe she would mean any harm.

But something urged him to keep still, the only movement his hand leaving her to brace on either side of her head.  Hesitantly, and constantly looking back to his eyes for any indicator that she had overstepped, Keeva traced the tubes and the grate around them, remembering the scarred, beautiful lips hidden underneath.

She wanted to kiss him so badly that it nearly ached.  Every time the urge struck her, Keeva told herself that it was a silly, romantic notion, and completely unnecessary.  But that never helped.  And who said that he even wanted to kiss her, anyway?  Keeva dropped her hands, curling her fingers in towards her palms, but not quite balling them into fists.  She was greedy.  She wanted him not to have to live with the mask, to not be bound by it.  And she had hoped to give that to him, without even really considering if that was something he wanted.

When her eyes dropped, Bane frowned.  It was not the first time.  Her mismatched eyes would linger on the mask, her brows gently furrowed in thought, and then she would look away as if ashamed.  “Speak,” he ordered, the command startling her. 

Looking back, Bane’s eyes now frowned down at her, and it was an effort not to recoil or not shrink in on herself.  “It’s nothing,” she mumbled.  It was.  It was stupid and silly and nothing.

“It is not,” Bane argued.  “This is not the first time.  You look here,” he lifted a hand towards the mask, “then look away as if in shame.”  There was an edge to his voice now, something sharp and grating.  Keeva felt very small and very trapped.

With all the demonstrations of his physical prowess, Keeva sometimes forgot just how smart Bane was.  He saw through her so easily.  “I guess I am a little… ashamed, I mean,” she murmured.  “I’d… I didn’t think about asking you exactly what you wanted, and I was hoping I’d be able to take enough pain away that you…that you wouldn’t need it.”  It all tumbled out in a rush, mixed up and stiff.  “I’m good at taking away pain.  I just… wanted to do more for you.  And I wanted…”  Was there really any point in holding back?  Her next words were little more than an exhale of breath.  “I wanted to kiss you.”

Out in the open, it sounded childish and selfish, and she felt a lump rising in her throat.  His gaze was still boring into her, and she was too embarrassed to meet it with her own.  She was just proving that she was still a silly child.  But as much as she wanted to scramble away, to hide from her admission, she stayed still, waiting.

Bane blinked.  That was not…  Her response was hardly what he had expected.  Such an innocent thing to want, the admission reminding him just how soft her heart really was, under all her barbs and crude words.  How that softness had survived still amazed him.  It was a silly, soft thing to want, something as simple as a kiss.  He didn’t blame her for it exactly; it was the most common way she knew to show affection.  The idea of her wanting to show affection to him of all people, was still baffling.  Barsad made more sense.

But Keeva still wanted such a thing from him, and felt guilty because she wasn’t able to undo the decades of abuse his body had gone through; it was something that she had not part in, but still felt somehow responsible for.  His anger left him in a rush; the mask did not bother her.  It was hard to be angry with her looking like a kicked puppy, show its belly for the alpha of the pack.  That she could see him as he was, and still think to want something so… normal from him…  Barsad had snuck more than a few kisses over the years.  Quick, fleeting things stolen when Bane was eating or waiting for the other man to finish shaving him.

Keeva’s attention came back to him when his fingers touched her lips.  The thick pads of his fingers could only just detect the scar that bisected her full mouth, a tiny indentation that was a silvery white on the skin above and below her mouth.  Even if he knew with certainty what the gesture meant with Barsad, he had never considered that he might share it with anyone else.  His hand left her mouth to trail over her neck.  Her skin would be salty with sweat now, he knew, even though it had dried.  Lowering, he buried his face in the crook of her neck, not daring to breathe as deeply as he wanted.

The touch of cold metal made her jump, but she didn’t squirm away.  It felt nice, heat and exertion still lingering in her body.  It didn’t make sense to hide the relaxed sigh, and it slipped out warm along Bane’s neck.  His arms moved, caging her torso again.  For all that fatigue that seemed edged into her very bones, Keeva felt herself coming back to life, thoughts of sleep quickly retreating to the back of her mind.  Bed, on the other hand…

But then Bane had her up on the counter again, insulating himself between her legs.  The rush of memories joined the heat rolling down Keeva’s spine.  Those same memories made her grab at his belt, curling her fingers tightly around the thick, well-worn leather.  Bane drew back slowly, slipping his fingers into her hair.  Barsad had trimmed it to a more uniform length, what had once been dyed clipped away and leaving only the darkest shade of brown behind.  It was only just long enough to grab a hold of and tug sharply, her hands jumping to his ribs when he tugged her head back.

Arching back made her spine pop and start to ache again, but Keeva couldn’t really bring herself to protest.  His other hand settled on her thigh, pushing up the loose athletic shorts to squeeze, earning a reproachful hiss.  Looking down, he rolled a thumb over a green-purple mark that was starting to turn yellow at the edges.  He remembered her getting that one quiet clearly; Barsad had always had pointy elbows.  Bane also remembered how viciously she’d fought back.  He was starting to believe that if it came down to it, Keeva would take chunks out of her opponents with her teeth if she had to.

Again, he wrapped his hand around her, not pressing on the mark directly but squeezing the whole of her thigh, feeling it tighten in his hold.  A thumb prodded his ribs, digging in.  “Ass,” Keeva muttered, pupils blown wide.  It was a fair attempt, pressure concentrated into a small area.

“You could heal this easily,” Bane said, rolling his palm against the bruise. 

Keeva pressed harder with her thumb.  She wasn’t trying to actually hurt him; that would have been stupid, not to mention impossible.  “I earned it,” she said stubbornly.

“You wear it like a reminder,” Bane said.  His hand left her thigh, going around her back to trace the faded mark from Barsad’s teeth.  Each bruise and scrape she got from them was one she wore like a damn badge of pride, ‘earned’ as she had put it.

“Pain is… grounding,” Keeva said, as if choosing her words carefully.  “For me, anyway.  It gives me something in the now to focus on, so I don’t get lost in my own head.”  The edge had left her voice, and she felt vulnerable and exposed in a completely un-sexy way.  She had always felt strange about it, how something sharp that might send others running helped her to stop and breathe.  “Spend too much time locked in your own thoughts and it gets…”  She choked on the words.

“Ugly,” Bane supplied, something in his tone making her look up.  He wasn’t looking at her directly anymore, both hands lowered back to her hips.  These days, it wasn’t often she saw him draw his secondary mask over his eyes, every hint of emotion leaving what little of his face was visible.  Keeva wanted to offer comfort, but she had a feeling that her own pain would only be a drop in the ocean compared to his.  He also didn’t strike her as the type to take well to pity.

“Thanks for understanding,” was all she said, leaning in to bump her forehead against his chest.  She felt like a hug was in order, but kept her hands lowered.  She wouldn’t ask about him, not unless he gave her permission. 

Bane knew better than most that trauma was far more complex than war and simple violence, and that you didn’t have to live in an ‘uncivilized’ or dangerous part of the world to experience it.  He was also no stranger to the idea that those who experienced trauma tended to gravitate towards each other, subconsciously seeking the comradery of someone who understood. 

He kept telling himself that Keeva’s connection with him was circumstantial; it wouldn’t have happened without her abilities and her determination to protect her dogs.  But that didn’t change much.  It didn’t make him want her any less.  She drew him in with that outer layer of softness and just how… normal she sounded when talking to him, how she treated him.  Even if what they were talking about was how the human jaw actually had enough force to amputate a human finger as easily as biting through a carrot.  That had been an interesting conversation.  Somehow, she seemed to bridge the gap between what the world considered ‘normal’, and what Bane was.  She stood between the two extremes, both and neither.  Then her hand brushed over his, and he didn’t want to think about it anymore.

“Heal yourself,” Bane said.  “I will give you new reminders.”  He felt justified in his smug expression when her head snapped back up.

“You better not be wanting to spar again,” Keeva heard herself say, a blush spreading across her face.  There had been a few moments with him and Barsad over the last few weeks, but little else.  And no matter how interested she might have been, getting beaten up every day didn’t exactly put one in the mood.  If he was just wanting to toss her around again…

“I do not,” Bane said.  “Now do as you are told.”  That drop in the register of his voice, the mask adding even more gravel to it, made Keeva shiver.  It was different from the curt tone he used when instructing her, though she’d be lying if she said she didn’t enjoy that one a little, too.  Closing her eyes, her focus rolled through her body, prodding damaged tissue and bruised skin back to rights. 

Bane had no qualms admitting to himself that it was a fascinating sight, watching the bruises go through the healing process before his eyes, a fluttering motion of macabre and familiar color.  They started dark and faded to green and then yellow, before vanishing entirely.  He trailed a hand along her ribs, where the angry mark from Barsad’s booted foot had been forming.  A clean canvas, eager to be marked again.  The power she gave him still started a heady rush in his veins, her body so willingly pliant under his hands. 

The thought that someone so fragile would give up control to him of all people…  Subjugating and lording his power over the weak had never been something that Bane had truly enjoyed.  Yes, it was sometimes necessary, and he would be lying if he hadn’t enjoyed snapping Dagget’s neck.  All one had to do was look at him, and one knew to fear him.  It was easy to see the physical power that he possessed, and they were terrified.  Keeva had been wary, yes, but that wasn’t the same.  Her fear of him had been fear of the powerful and unknown, a sensible reaction from any woman living in Gotham.   But she had trusted him, still trusted him.

The sense of rightness that control gave him was not something that he had expressed in any kind of detail to anyone other than Barsad, and even that had been a very basic explanation.  But like with all other things, Barsad seemed to understand a lot more than what Bane gave voice to.  Keeva didn’t know, for all that she seemed to derive the same sort of satisfaction from submission.  Maybe someday.

In the meantime, Bane let his eyes and hands roam over her casually, pretending to check that she had indeed healed all her bruises.  The feather-light touch rose goosebumps along her skin, at the same time drawing lines of fire that rose and fell, and then looped back in on themselves.  When he finally flattened his hands against her, Keeva made a quiet, shuddering noise.  She loved being touched, and that she seemed to love being touched by him was still a new and strange thing.

As much as he would have liked to just rip what little she was wearing from her, Bane let his prudence win out, pushing the bra up over her breasts.  She shivered again at the air on her skin, then at his hand tracing the reddened line around her ribs that the garment’s elastic band had left behind.  The marks left by the one with the under wire were worse, he thought idly, cupping the weight of one breast in his hand.

The sharp pinch to her nipple shouldn’t have been a surprise, but Keeva still gasped sharply, hands curling into fists around his shirt.  Looking up, she found herself gazing and what might as well have been a cat, satisfied with a catch it was about to toy with.  She had never been so happy to think of herself as prey.  She tugged his shirt out of his pants, slipping her hands up along his stomach.  If he told her not to touch, she’d listen, but until then…

The eagerness of her hands was hard to miss, greedily sliding up his torso, halted by the occasional twitch and quick intake of breath as he plucked at a nipple again.  When he finally pinched and twisted, holding on, Keeva cried out, nails digging into him.  Still rolling the nipple between his thumb and forefinger, Bane slid his other hand into her shorts, smirking when she spread herself wider, pushing her hips eagerly towards his hand.

Letting up the pressure on her breast, Bane skimmed his fingers lightly along her sex, not yet spreading her open.  The gentleness of it was maddening, and she whined impatiently.  Bane’s thumbnail scraped her nipple once, but he kept teasing her, leaning down to trace up and down the line of her shoulder and neck with is mask.  It didn’t take long before Keeva was nearly growling at him, mouthing sharply at the fabric of his shirt, nails scraping along his ribs.

Glaring up at him, she opened her mouth to speak, likely something sharp and needy.  Then his knuckle parted her outer lips, dragging through the slick.  All that gentle petting had made her incredibly sensitive, and Bane took advantage of it now.  Gentleness forgotten, his thumb drew along her to flick sharply against her clit, another finger pressing smoothly inside.

“Fuck!”  Her swearing seemed to amuse Bane, a chuckle rumbling in his chest.  Despite having touched her only a handful of times, he seemed to remember exactly what she had liked, and what she got the most out of.  Since she had been denied the feel of him under her hands the last time they’d been like this, Bane didn’t restrain her, only grabbing her hair and yanking her head back to watch her face. 

His hand quickly migrated to her shoulder, the ‘L’ of his thumb and forefinger pressed into her neck.  The thick, blunt tips of his fingers dug in sharply while he rolled her clit with his thumb.  The simultaneous inflicting of pleasure and pain cut at what little restraint Keeva had managed to keep on her voice.  Bane didn’t seem to mind; in fact, his touches started to seem eager, devouring her in all the ways his mouth couldn’t.

He built her up slowly, the hand not between her legs alternating between slow, warm strokes along her skin, or grabbing sharply to hold her still, or just to hear her cry out.  As the heat began to spill over from her core, Keeva fought herself back to some form of clarity.  He wasn’t going to get away with just touching her.  Too overwrought for subtleness, she forced a hand between them and cupped his erection, squeezing while her other hand fumbled at his belt.

Instead of the sharp retort he was expecting, Bane’s warning growl was met by a set of pleading eyes, pupils so dilated that her brown eye looked nearly black.  “Bane, please,” Keeva whimpered.  “I want to feel you.”  She pressed her hand against him and traced up the hardening length, feeling it twitch under the canvas. 

“With your mouth again?” Bane purred, wanting to hear her say it.

“No!” Keeva gasped, a third finger pressing in with the others.  “I mean, I like that, too, but I—Fuck!”

Bane thought about reprimanding her lack of control, at how easily just a twist of his wrist could derail her whole thought process.  But he was enjoying it far too much to really care, and had a goal in mind, after all.  “Tell me,” he demanded, feeling her cunt start to clench around his curling fingers.  He was goading her, trying to push past the shyness that sometimes strangled her words, her face flushing crimson as Bane or Barsad teased what she wanted out of her.

He wouldn’t accept anything but the most direct response, Keeva knew.  No matter how tired she had gotten, she had never stopped wanting him, never stopped thinking about what it would be like to really have him.  Her breath was ragged, her thighs twitching as her hips tried to rock forward.  “If you don’t put your cock in my cunt and fuck me this time I will never fucking forgive you,” she bit out.  She knew he liked to hear her say it, found something deeply satisfying in making her spit out what she wanted in the crudest, most direct words.  He had to, with the way his gaze had darkened, and his hand had tightened on her shoulder.

Then orgasm was rolling up to meet her, and she arched back until her head thumped against the mirror, nails raking down Bane’s chest.  Her hips bucked into his tireless hand, chasing her climax until it tumbled through her, heat spiraling out from her core until she whimpered, and her toes curled.  As much as she wanted to sink into the afterglow, Keeva forced her eyes open as Bane slid his hand away from her, watching her slick cling and stretch between his fingers.

Darting up, Keeva sucked the fingers into her mouth, eyes locked with his as her hands left the warmth of his stomach to cup him again, finding him even harder than before.  Watching his face, Keeva knew that his eyes had left hers, intent on the way she suckled each finger clean of herself, going slow and never once looking away from him.  Bane liked her mouth, especially the way one corner would quirk up, tugging her lips out of their perfect shape by pulling on her scar.  And when he didn’t stop her, she undid his belt one-handed, still looking at him.

Pulling his damp hand from her grasp, Bane dragged her from the counter and onto her feet.  He wasn’t gentle when he undressed her, yanking the scant garments from her.  Keeva had no sooner kicked away her shorts before Bane was lifting her again, guiding her legs over his hips and turning to press her into the wall.  He felt her shiver and arch, digging her heels into him, arms around his shoulders.  It wasn’t difficult to hold up by pinning her with his weight, one hand squeezing her hip while he used the other to undo his zipper.

The fluttering look of excitement and pleasure on Keeva’s face as the head of his cock dragged over her was enough to make him growl.  Bane’s bruising grip shifted to one of her thighs, hoisting it a bit higher.  The blunt pain folded around and bled into the warm pleasure still lingering in her veins, keeping Keeva’s mind from wandering.  A rough hand under her jaw leveled her gaze at Bane’s face, and her eyes fluttered when he started to push in.

“No.”  He when still and she whimpered.  “You will look at me.”  He felt her cunt twitch at the command, and watched as she fought herself to keep looking at him, her small fingers digging into the meat of his shoulders.  When her gaze no longer wavered, he moved again, pressing his hips up as he pushed her down.  He moved in slow, shallow thrusts, working his way deeper with each one.

Keeva never thought that an action as simple as keeping her eyes open would be so difficult.  Each time she blinked her body fought to keep her eyes closed, to just let herself get washed away.  But Bane’s hand had settled on her neck, thumb keeping her chin up, his eyes boring into hers.  As skilled as he was at hiding his emotions, he couldn’t keep his eyes from dilating, pupils blown wide in arousal.  For her.  He had wanted her, taken her.  A shudder ran through her and she couldn’t help that her eyes closed, her trembling body clenching down on Bane.  It took him off guard enough that his control snapped for a moment, shoving Keeva down and sheathing himself to the hilt.  They both groaned, Bane letting his head fall forward against the wall.

“Fuck.”  Keeva’s brain had stopped working.  She had never put much stock in the size of her male partners, more concerned with what else they could do in bed.  There was no eloquent way to describe the feeling, and she was certain that if there had been any more of him that it wouldn’t have worked.  There was no not feeling him, the sensation of being stretched open not one that could be ignored.  Her shorted-out brain snagged on the fact that Bane didn’t seem to be having any difficulty in holding her up.  She grinned like a loon into his shoulder.

When Bane straightened up, she cursed again, not even trying to keep her eyes open.  But open they did, seeking the intent stare she could feel from Bane.  And she was still smiling.  A panting, sweating, smiling mess.  And it felt amazing.  She squirmed, rocking her hips against him, the subtle shift obviously meant as encouragement. 

Despite the softness of her body, Bane had no intention of being gentle.  He had been gentle enough in entering her.  If it was too much, she would have to say so.  Her startled cry at the first thrust thrilled him beyond words, the subtle bounce of her tits yanking his gaze to her chest.  She was already lost, too weak to fight the storm and just holding on.  Glorious.  Her hands rucked up his shirt, arching her own naked chest against him, shuddering at the contact.  There was no slow introduction, no letting her get used to his pace.  The drag of his skin against hers made her lean away from the wall, trusting him to still hold her.

The friction of their bodies combined with the wet slide of his cock quickly undid whatever notions she’d had about her usual restraint, every thrust forcing a loud, gasping cry from her.  There was no moving with him, no matching the power or rhythm.  Keeva was only able to arch and squirm, taking what she was given.  He no longer demand her eyes, but she could feel him watching her.  It was getting harder to remain self-conscious, especially with the way he kept slipping a hand between them to palm a breast, or reach down to pluck at her clit.

His nails catching a nipple made her jerk and clench at the unexpected spike of pain. The sudden tightness stuttered his thrusts, and he growled, hunching down to press his face into the side of her neck.  The moment his neck was in reach, he felt her mouth him, her back straining as she tried to kiss higher.  Her lips and teeth worried at his skin, suction sharpening before she had to drop back with a gasp.  The way their bodies were rubbing together was pushing her towards another orgasm, this was just as thunderous as the first.

The sharp rake of nails down his back just spurred Bane on, digging his mask into her shoulder, hearing her whimper in his ear.  She was soft even as she clawed at him, writhing in his hold and crying out against him.  Bane knew she practiced restraint during the day, biting her tongue when anger and frustration bubbled up inside.  There was none of that now.  Again and again she said his name, and for fuck’s sake… it sounded like a damn prayer.  He didn’t want to admit there was power in hearing her say that, in hearing her whisper his name as she tumbled towards the edge of orgasm again.  It was the same as Barsad.  With them, he could be a man as well as a leader, and was never thought a monster.

Keevas’s trembling pleas combined with her hunger for him, for more more more…  Bane rarely allowed himself luxury.  It wasn’t necessary, so he never sought it.  He knew to enjoy a good thing while it could be had.  But for that wanting to linger, even when there was no hope of having whatever it was any time soon, that, he did not indulge in.  Knowing that Barsad wanted him, just as he was and not out of some need for protection, had always been a weakness.  Bane did not indulge in needless luxury or weakness.  And here was, drowning in it.  Two people eager for him to touch them, however he pleased.

It was too much.

Bane felt Keeva coming before her breathing changed, before it nearly stopped entirely, her groan strangled and ragged.  He snarled as his own climax tightened at the base of his spine, body tightening and hips losing all sense of rhythm.  Keeva held on even tighter, palms slipping along his sweating shoulders.  When he finally found his release, Bane crushed their hips together, grinding her down as he emptied himself inside.  Keeva felt something sharp—almost like being stung—in her shoulder, but only had the energy to whimper quietly.

“I’m not… gonna be able to stand,” she panted, head dropping back to the wall with a thump.

Bane felt himself smirking, Keeva’s voice hoarse from prolonged use.  Pulling back, he saw blood on her shoulder, a tiny smear of it among reddening bruises.  He touched the wound with the cooler and smoother metal tubing, earning a pleased hum in response.  As he pulled from inside her, Keeva felt his cum dribble down the inside of her thigh, and she whimpered at the sudden empty feeling.  Bane lowered her to her feet, supporting her under her arms.  The overworked muscles in her legs trembled, toeing the edge of giving out.

Then Bane was putting pressure on her shoulders, and guiding her down to her knees.  His intent was obvious, and her smirk reached her eyes as she sucked his softening member into her mouth, his own bitter taste mingling with her own.  She heard the quick intake of breath as she hollowed her cheeks and sucked.  He pulled her off with a pop, tucking himself away and gathering her back into his arms.  She looked wrecked, her short hair tousled and messy, freckled cheeks brightly flushed.  All that from him, his marks of ownership already darkening on her flesh.

“You will bathe in the morning,” he said, carrying her through to the bedroom.  He laid her on her stomach on the bed, and she mumbled something at his retreating back.

The touch of a cool cloth between her legs roused Keeva from a doze, a large, warm hand on her thigh.  “Mm.  Feels nice,” she murmured, eyes still closed.  There was no way she would be moving from the bed any time soon, and getting up to put on clothes wasn’t happening either.  But she was content to let Bane tend to her, letting the map of his life float behind her eyelids.  His heart wasn’t racing anymore, but he seemed… relaxed.  She wanted to reach back and touch his arm, to trace her hands lazily over him like she might with any lover. 

Too sleepy to think if such a thing might not be allowed, she forced herself to sit up, Bane’s hand dropping down her back as she stretched her arms over her head.  Half turning, she found that he had discarded his shirt.  When her eyes saw the dark, reddened love bites on his shoulder, and the raised red lines coming over both shoulders from his back, she blushed all over again.

“I’m sorry!”  Bane’s head tilted in question.  “I really… fuck.  I really messed you up.”  Reaching out, she touched a particularly raw looking scratch.  But when she looked at Bane’s face, he was smirking.

He’d seen them already when he went to fetch the cloth, the raw red lines striping the skin on either side of his scar.  They pulled and itched as he moved, but only if he really made himself pay attention.

“I should have asked first,” Keeva muttered, frowning.  “I can get rid of them, I’m sorry.”

Bane’s brows rose.  She seemed to have assumed that he was… upset that she’d marked him.  He clicked his tongue, pushing her hand down.  “Sleep,” he commanded.  All he had to do was lean forward and apply the barest pressure to her sternum, and she flopped back with a yelp.

Keeva wanted to glare at him reproachfully, but the sheets were clean and soft, and she no longer cared that she was covered in sweat.  If Bane didn’t care, then neither did she.  She grunted softly as she squirmed under the covers, the bed shifting as Bane’s weight left it.  Fully expecting him to go back to whatever he’d been doing when he cornered her, Keeva was already drifting again when the bed dipped, and she was dragged over the flannel sheet to bump against him. 

Laying on his back, Bane drew Keeva to his side, still intensely happy with himself as she pressed willingly into him, nuzzling into the fresh shirt and hooking one of her legs over his.  He could have told her to dress properly, but the idea of Barsad being teased by the sight of her naked, well-marked body was too good to pass up.  Bane would have to let her toss and turn as she pleased, to perhaps kick the blankets off if she became too warm.  With that thought in his head, Bane closed his eyes, feeling more accomplished than he had in days, and trying not to think too much on why.