Disclaimer: Me no own, you no sue.

Chapter 1: No Thank You

"The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Fern's greatest claim to fame was her close encounter with the bumper of Bruce Wayne's Rolls Royce Phantom V. Wherever he was going, he must've been in a damned hurry, because he sent her skidding fifteen feet, just shy of oncoming traffic. Her bicycle took the brunt of the trauma, but she still kissed the pavement. All things considered, though, she was damn lucky. She walked away from the incident.

Her bike wasn't so lucky. In the same hit, she lost her only form of transportation, her most valuable possession, and her primary means of income.

At least the guy had the conscience to stop and get out of his car, but Fern had extricated herself by that point, and she wasn't interested in the playboy or his money. The approaching sirens drove her into an alley before Wayne could even check his bumper for damage. If she went to the hospital in an ambulance, she'd leave in the back of a cop car. The authorities had a thing about citizens under the age of eighteen running amok without adult supervision. Fern didn't exactly run amok, but she sure as hell ran. She was fifteen at the time. And she knew the only people who would come to claim her road-burned ass were from Child Protective Services.

Booger saw it all, and he turned her short flight across the intersection of West Fifteenth and Otto Ave. into the stuff of legends. He regaled the rest of Gotham's rejects around trashcan fires, hyping the inadvertent damage into an intentional statement. Once Fern licked her wounds and came back to sniff around for work, everyone who had stood in line at the soup kitchen during the past week knew her name. Booger made her sound like a daredevil, tempting fate and flipping off The Man. Really, Wayne just needed to go back to driving school so he could understand the right of way and the general purpose of crosswalks. But Fern didn't bother correcting the story, and it actually helped her find more work. Suddenly a bunch of local restaurants forgot to ask for ID before giving her delivery jobs, and all concerns about paying her in cash evaporated. Word on the street said she was fast, tough, and could finish a job even after being hit by a car. The truth was that she was lucky and she hadn't even been on a job at the time. No one gave a flying fuck about the truth in Gotham anyway, though, so it wasn't a problem.

Fern collected cans and ran errands on foot until she had enough for a new bike. It wasn't the worst thing she'd lived through.

The cops were a problem for a while, though. Wayne or a witness filed a report about the accident, and the fact that a rich guy was involved perked police interest enough to at least make a show of looking for her. Booger helped her out. Let her hide in one of the refrigerator boxes he jealously guarded. Soon enough, the police gave up and Fern carried on.

She fell out with Booger when she was seventeen, and it was her own fucking fault. It was winter. Gotham froze over. Ice everywhere. Usually naturally occurring ice made for a shitty mirror. Too many bubbles and cracks. Contrary to the movies, it rarely froze in a smooth sheet, either. Lots of little pits and scratches from the wind and traffic made most ice useless. But that day Fern just happened to get lucky. Again.

A low puddle sitting in a corner of the warehouse the city's homeless population had claimed for the foreseeable future escaped the worst of the elements. It offered a nearly perfect imitation of Fern's face. So, she took off her shoes, stripped away her socks, and hopped right in.

She'd always wondered if ice of the right quality functioned like mirrors and chrome. Now she had her answer.

Gravity let her fall through to the Other.

Moving through reflections spat her into the Other as a perfect mirror image, complete with physical inertia. In the regular world, where Bugger slept in his lean-to a few yards away and police sirens wailed in the distance, her feet had touched the glass first. In the Other, where the world was preternaturally still and faintly bleached, she appeared with her feet leaving the same puddle. Her little hop didn't provide much velocity, and she barely spread her feet to catch herself before she fell straight back through.

The space behind reflections made no sense. But then, it wasn't supposed to be there at all. She sure as hell never understood the how's and why's of her little curse. The only person who might have been able to explain was dead.

Her eyes tracked across the space, looking for other points of entry. A small pocket mirror gleamed from a tent on the other side of the room, but even the broken glass in the first story windows were too dusty and pitted to provide a way home. The frozen puddle was the only available door. It made Fern uneasy. As much as she hated the Other, it did provide a literal escape when things went sideways. With no points of entry besides the puddle, she should really find a new place to crash. After all, spring would come eventually, and there was no telling who might piss in the hole over the next few days.

She didn't stay in the Other long. A sound like tinkling bells echoed in the abandoned space, and Fern dropped right back through the ice. Gotham was a dangerous place. The Other was often worse.

When she came out on the right side of the world, she caught herself in the same spread-eagle landing she used to go through. She rose from her crouch to see Booger staring at her. They locked eyes, and Fern felt like he was memorizing her, trying to dispel the link between reality and delusion. It wouldn't be the first time he went for an unpleasant trip through his own fantasies. Maybe, if she waited for him to look away, she could just sit down, and he'd convince himself he'd made it all up, blame her sudden disappearance and reappearance on drugs, alcohol, or his own, personal demons. But he didn't look away, and as his eyes tracked to her bare feet, to the pile of shoes and socks behind her, Fern knew he'd remember. Booger was all about those little details. He'd always remember her naked feet by the ice in the middle of winter. It wasn't the kind of thing he'd make up.

The next morning, he pissed in the frozen puddle, forever warping it beyond use. He started calling Fern Alice after that, and he started self-medicating.

Fern left Booger's part of Gotham for a year, and when she came back, he was gone. Moved on? Dead? Sitting in prison for repeat vagrancy and trespassing offences? Gone. And it was probably her fault, anyway. She started spending less time with her homeless connections and more time in her apartment. She kept her blinds closed, used very dull pots, and covered the bathroom mirror.

Things were going well, all in all. When she was old enough to purchase one without earning dubious looks from sellers, she got a second-hand, street legal dirt bike. Her deliveries got faster, and more jobs opened up. In the evenings, she washed dishes for the nearest restaurants. She survived. She stayed the hell away from mirrors.

They really did bring bad luck.

Then Gotham fell under siege.

Fern rarely left Gotham's busy, urban heart. The placed thrummed with life, demanding more, more, more in a cycle that continued to build and test the determination of the working class. There were more than enough jobs to keep a few million people hopping, and most of Fern's work kept her close to home, especially since she began working with Jack, owner of The Green Light at the edge of the business district. She delivered food during the day and helped in the back at night. Her route was strictly local, even when she took side jobs from other establishments. But every now and then, someone put in an order from the suburbs, and so long as they were willing to pay the difference in time and gas, she would fulfill them.

Wind rushed into her open-faced helmet, and Fern sucked in the fresh air as she zoomed through the outskirts. Grass. Trees. Less smog. It was amazing how quickly her sooty, city lungs revitalized outside the twisting alleys downtown. It would be a perfect day, if only the weather would cooperate. Gotham's skies almost always threatened rain, but the air always grew cold and heavy before a storm. Locals could smell it. Like lightning and soap, coming to burn their world or scrub it clean. Fern smelled something big on the way. She'd rather not get caught in the middle of it, especially so far from shelter.

At least the delivery had been a simple one. A nanny in one of the big mansions overlooking the city was going through her second trimester and craved some of Jack's soup. His soup was good, Fern would be the first to admit, but only pregnancy would drive someone to offer one hundred bucks for a liter of the stuff. She'd handed over the food for the money and raced for home. A silent gust of wind rippled through the tallest branches of the trees lining the road. The sky pressed lower. No doubt, those clouds were full of rain. Fern gunned her bike and leaned low over the handlebars, determined to at least make it back before the worst of it hit. Jack already teased her enough about her appearance without adding fuel to the fire. Nothing pulled together a look like dripping jeans and damp, helmet-crushed hair.

She was making good time, blasting past mansions and park-like sweeps of formally kept grounds. At that time of day, the area saw very little traffic, and Fern had the road to herself.

Or she did.

Until a Ferrari zipped around the bend and into the wrong lane – her lane. For a second she just blinked, not braking, not swerving. There was just no way shit like this could happen to her twice within ten years. Was she just fated to be a millionaire's hood ornament? Gradually, the Ferrari's blaring horn invaded her senses, and Fern snapped out of her shock just in time to jerk the handlebars to the side. The car clipped her back wheel. She went spinning into the ditch. At the last second, she pushed away from her ride and curled into a ball to absorb the impact. Plush grass met her, offering a much softer landing than she'd enjoyed on the city streets as a teenager. Still hurt, though. The momentum carried her several yards before she came to a stop, and for a minute all she could do was stare up at that threatening sky, gaping helplessly as her lungs tried to kick back into action. It felt a little serene, but even as the first breath punched back into her lungs, white hot fury swept through her soul.

Breaking the speed limit? Fine. Whatever. Rich dude. Par for the course.

Turning a blind corner in the wrong lane? Un-fucking-acceptable.

As Fern rolled onto her side, wheezing and trying to test for injuries through the haze of adrenaline, she heard a car door slam closed, followed by the rapid slap of approaching feet across pavement. Getting up was probably a bad idea, especially before she had a chance to check herself over, but like hell was she facing the owner of that car on anything other than her own two feet. Fern was no longer a little fifteen-year-old afraid of the police locking her away in the system. She was an adult. And she was pissed.

"Are you alright?"

At least the guy sounded genuinely worried. Fern sighed and tried to let the worst of her rage slip away. It was a dumb mistake on the driver's fault. A dumb, dangerous mistake, but picking a fight with someone wealthy enough to drive a car like that was just asking for trouble. She brushed her hands off on her jeans, succeeding in doing nothing more than smearing some mud around. "I think I'll live." She turned to face the idiot, moving slowly to make sure everything still worked. "If you could maybe help me with bike, th-"

She froze dead in her tracks. And stared.

Standing above her on the side of the road, dressed in a nice suit, and looking just like the day eight years ago when he knocked her across Otto Avenue was The Man himself: Bruce Wayne. The only noticeable sign of aging was the can he clutched.

Fern blinked, her mouth closing with an audible click. Some things in life should just not be.

"You've got to be shitting me." She straightened up. Gobsmacked, but still angry. "It's you again."

Wayne's expression of concern crumbled into confusion. "I'm sorry?" His playboy experience, rusty as it must be, kicked in a moment later, and he extended his hand to help her out of the ditch with a smile. "Do we know each other?"

"No." She ignored the hand and clambered up on her own. "Your Phantom's bumper and I are acquainted, though."

He didn't even have to pause to think. He just looked at her, looked at her bike lying a few yards away, and brought his incredulous gaze back to her. "What –? Otto Avenue. Kid on a bike. That kid? That's you?"

Fern nodded. "Like I said. You again."

Wayne was suddenly reaching for her with open arms, not aggressively, but with determination, and Fern backpedaled fast to get out of range. Although he took the hint and stopped, his hands only dropped halfway to his side. "Come on. I'll give you a lift to the hospital."

Fern reached up to adjust her helmet. A headache was brewing at the base of her spine, and she wondered if she'd have to take a few days off once the aches and pains set in. "No thank you. I'm fine."

Wayne's lips hardened into a flat line. "I just hit you with my car. You are not fine. Let me give you a ride."

Fern turned her back on him and slid back down into the ditch. "No. Thank you." She checked over her bike, well aware that Wayne was just standing above her, watching. Once she determined her primary means of income was not too damaged to ride – by some miracle – she grabbed the handlebars and began hoisting it out of the ditch. Wayne took the opportunity to snatch it from the front and assist her, even though his expression betrayed some pain when he dropped the cane. Since Fern lacked the upper body strength to accomplish the chore on her own, she didn't fight him over it. But she didn't thank him, either. Once her bike was back on the road, she immediately swung aboard and kick-started the sad, weak little motor. Wayne looked at her like he was in physical pain, as if he'd been the one to go sailing into a ditch. Or an intersection.

"You should really go to a hospital," Wayne shouted over the engine's whine.

You should really learn how to drive. The taunt itched at the back of her throat, but she didn't release it. She was memorable enough without it. Wayne could still make problems for her if he kept pushing.

She wasn't what most people thought of as an undocumented worker, but she was a true non-entity. After her mother died, she tried to find her birth certificate. During the long winter days she spent soaking in the warmth of the public library she even took her search digital. According to public record, her mother never had any children. It wasn't that strange for addicts to fail to report births, though, especially when they squeezed out their kid alone in a bathtub, as Fern's mother always insisted she had.

Hospitals liked ID.

Fern didn't do hospitals.

Wayne disappeared from her side in a smear of color as she took off. In seconds, she was around the bend and he was out of sight. Hopefully, he'd stay that way this time. Her life finally had a rhythm to it, but a man like Wayne could turn that on its head with one or two simple questions.

Her status as an essential non-entity left a very restricted list of potential careers available. Deliveries, but never for big chains, filled many of her working hours, even so many years after her first introduction to Wayne's bumper. In the daylight hours, she worked as a bike messenger. Lots of businesses needed someone to carry around forgotten supplies, deliver tools, or simply transport important documents. That work stopped once it got dark. Fern had no desire to join the mob, and most businesses that needed nocturnal deliveries carried a high risk of police interference. So when people went home for dinner, she brought them food. Again, only the local restaurants were willing to have her paid off the books, but Gotham had a higher undocumented population than lawmakers would ever willingly acknowledge, and employers could cut employee benefits from their regular expenses if they forgot to fill out a few government forms. After dinner hours passed, and the likelihood of walking into a drug bust rose, Fern went behind the scenes to wash dishes. Then she went home, slept, and did it all again.

That went on until she was twenty-one. Then the slum lord who owned her complex went to prison and the city scheduled the entire block for demolition to make way for something newer, shinier, and more hygienic. Fern had a week to find a new place to live, and while she didn't have many requirements, most places asked for things like ID. She saw the 'Room Available' sign on The Green Light's door when she'd stopped by to pick up a delivery.

It was her first time inside the establishment, and she gave everything a critical eye as she waited for the bartender's attention. Small tables and booths filled the space, and although Fern could see a kitchen through the window on the swinging door behind the bar, that bar was front and center. Alcohol lined racks over a wall-length mirror. The menu was short, the drink list long. Despite that, it was pretty clean.

A man with a beaming smile, hair just long enough to shake out of his eyes, and a silver stud in his right ear approached from behind the bar. Turned out he was the owner, and he didn't just need a tenant. He needed a regular delivery girl and go-for. She moved in the next day. The Green Light earned a reputation for good food and fast delivery over the next few months, demand rose, and soon Jack, the man behind the bar, wasn't just offering free rent. He actually paid her. For two years, things went well.

Then Bruce Wayne hit her. Again.

Fern told herself it didn't mean anything, that it wasn't some awful omen that her lucky streak was over. But the encounter left her rattled, and as the adrenaline slipped away, her side began to ache. By morning, she knew everything would. The first accident seared a lasting impression on her memories, and she knew exactly what to expect after getting hit by a car.

Hopefully it would be a slow day for The Green Light.

As if to emphasize her turning luck, the storm clouds broke when she was only five blocks from home. She wheeled her bike into the back and locked it up before heading inside to report to Jack. He looked up from the register at her entrance and frowned.

"Did you know there's grass in your helmet?"

"No." Fern yanked it off. Damp blue hair swing free, right into her line of sight, and she batted it away irritably as she examined the scratches along her new black headgear. True enough. There was grass wedged into a hairline crack along the side. When she fell, she must've hit a rock. She hadn't even felt it. Maybe that meant her luck was holding. Unfortunately, her helmet didn't share her good fortune. It was practically useless now. The scratches made her look horribly unprofessional, and the break damaged its integrity. She leaned around the bar to toss it in the trashcan, ignoring Jack's squawked protests.

"Guess who ran into me?" she asked.

Jack, accustomed to her dry sense of humor, leaned over the bar eagerly, waiting for the punch line. "Who?"

"Bruce Wayne."

"Wait. No way."

Fern came around, heading towards the back. Maybe she could beg some soup off of Miguel. Apparently, the tumble had roughed her up more than she realized.

"Way," she muttered.

Jack stared at her, like he couldn't believe her. "You have to be joking. No one gets hit by Bruce Wayne twice. There's just no way. When you say he ran into you, I'm assuming you mean literally."

"Very literally. I'll have the bruises in the morning to prove it."

"Well, shit."

She stepped through the door, and Miguel immediately looked up from the vegetables he was chopping to give her a very displeased once over. His elevator eyes took in everything. Every scratch Fern hadn't noticed yet. Every streak of mud and dust. He was clearly debating whether or not to kick her out of his kitchen immediately or ask what happened first. After a beat, he asked, "Hit by a truck?"

Fern grinned. "A Ferrari."

Miguel's eyes widened to comical proportions. He gasped, grabbed his chest, and in an affected voice declared, "You sure know how to pick 'em!"

"The thing about accidents is that they pick you," Fern corrected him. "And I feel like I need to remind you that I just got hit by a car."

Snorting, Miguel returned to his chopping. "You want some food, right?"

Just standing in the warm kitchen made Fern feel safe. The smells. The easy joy of busy hands and productive work. She fought to draw out the conversation as long as she could. "You read my mind."

"Well, I will save you some from the next batch. I will leave it in the kitchen upstairs. Go sleep. Or shower. I suggest the shower. You're leaving dirty footprints all over my kitchen. Now get out." He said it without any real fire, but Fern knew to respect the cook while he was in his domain, and she left without a fuss.

She tried very hard to sleep. But the pain kept getting worse and worse. When she dozed, it invaded her dream and chased her back to waking. Awareness didn't dull the sensation at all, and Fern gingerly rubbed her sides, hoping to sooth it. Nothing worked. Eventually, the ache in her ribs made rest entirely impossible. Just trying to stay in bed caused her more pain. So she gave up, got dressed, and went for a walk.

Nighttime was typically a bad time to go strolling anywhere in Gotham, but for once Fern's restlessness overrode her common sense. The oppressive pressure of a storm front hadn't cleared away, even after the rain, and her mind kept reliving her near death experience at the hands of Bruce Wayne. Hopefully, a walk would tire her body enough to let her mind rest. Stretching her legs could help the pain, too. Although Wayne was the only Gothamite with the dubious honor of hitting her with a car, life as a courier took its toll. Fern knew how to walk off a bad fall. She had suffered lots of practice. A body in motion tended to stay in motion, but a body in bed cramped up stiff as a board for a week.

At least she lived in one of the safer parts of the city now. Rich folks like Miranda Tate lived here. Paparazzi were by far the greatest menace during most hours, and they had no interest in people like Fern. Neither did the local muggers. They looked for wealthier targets, and so long as she kept her head down and didn't make a scene, most people didn't even notice her.

A few cars passed by, splashing through the puddles along the avenue. Mostly, though, Fern was alone. It made Gotham feel surprisingly, even suspiciously, peaceful.

Something rattled in the alley to her right, disturbing her introspection, and she snapped around just in time to see a sewer grate settle on the pavement. She froze, like a startled animal. Old habits died hard, and years of street training told her that while a body in motion stayed in motion, a body at rest had much lower chances of being spotted in dark alleyways. It took everything in her to back up two paces so she was half-hidden by the corner. She couldn't tear her eyes away from that gaping black hole, though.

And then, like a beast crawling up from the pit of hell, a man emerged from the dark. Two broad hands appeared first, and they leveraged a truly hulking frame through the sewer entrance. Fern was honestly surprised he even fit through. But he did. And with a wheezing groan, he straightened up. He was even bigger than she'd thought, like a giant out of a book of fairytales. A mask covered half his face, curling around his head like a muzzle, and bits of metal – like fangs – covered his nose and mouth.

Fern flinched, and the tiny, innocuous movement brought the monster snapping around to face her. He must have the vision of a fucking owl, she thought. One foot slipped behind the other, and she prepared to sprint away. Gotham was full of monsters. This new behemoth didn't really surprise her. But he sure as hell scared her. Judging by the size of him, he could break her ribs with one good smack. Those kinds of people always spelled trouble, especially for little girls out past curfew. So far, Fern's luck had kept her away from the worst of the city's crazies. That lucky streak seemed about to break.

Rather than pulling a gun, like Fern expected, the giant grasped the lapels of his heavy jacket and angled his head back, scrutinizing her. The light fell into the alley from the street, leaving Fern backlit, so she didn't panic. Even if he had exceptional night vision, he couldn't see enough to identify her. Wasn't like she was on any kind of registry, anyway. What was the worst he could do? With her hair tucked under her black beanie, he couldn't even use that as an identifier. She was, as she had always been, just another faceless urchin in the great city of Gotham.

He hummed, and the mask distorted his voice like a speaker. The sound simultaneously distanced the masked man and made him feel incredibly close. The minor amplification matched poorly with his tone, creating a hair-raising dissonance Fern couldn't quite shake away. And as she continued to stare, he came to some sort of decision.

"It's a lovely evening, but perhaps a bad time to go for a walk." His head tilted to the side. "Little one."

He didn't sound concerned, and that was what made the apparent threat sink in. When insecure boys stumbling out of bars shouted things at her, it was because they were afraid. Fern knew the difference between bravado and assurance. This man was all hard, tempered confidence. He didn't have to raise his voice or make idle threats, because he had no need to.

So when he started walking towards her, almost swaggering, with his hands still clutching his coat, Fern knew he planned to teach her exactly why it was a bad night for a walk. Her frozen muscles snapped free of their stupor.

Before she could consciously analyze what she was doing, Fern had spun on her heel and put half a city block behind her. Her first rational thought was that a guy that size couldn't possibly keep up with her. But her animal instinct was still screaming at her, so she didn't stop. She ran fast, careful to move away from home. Even if he couldn't keep up, she saw no reason to point the giant home. Back ways and side streets opened to her, ushering her silently away from the man from hell. Her relationship with Gotham hadn't always been good, or even healthy, but the city offered plenty of shadows for small, hunted things to hide in. Soon, all she heard was the pounding of her heart, and all she felt was the rhythm of her boots on the pavement. Her gasping breath muffled the outside world until she was an insular being, cut off and focused.

But she couldn't run forever.

Her dead sprint slowed to an awkward stumble as she passed a sixth block. Fighting to regain control over her lungs' desperate twitching, Fern ducked into what she thought was another alley. As she turned a second corner with her hands pressed to the top of her head, huffing, she realized she was wrong. Her own reflection stared back at her from the mirrored glass of a seven-story office building. Her hands fell with a short groan. There simply wasn't enough air to give voice to the full volume of her frustration. She would have to go back.

A shadow appeared behind her in the glass, strolling unhurriedly around the corner only a few scant yards behind her. All her recaptured breath left her in a single whoosh. She'd known he was big, but the glass drove home the reality of the situation. He shoulders weren't really so broad that they blocked out the streetlights, and he wasn't technically tall enough to blot out the moon, but he filled enough space to make her feel well and truly trapped.

An itch of annoyance stirred under the fear. Nature dictated that big things moved slowly, and if small things practiced long enough, they could avoid those big things with superior speed. Fern might not be as fast as she was as a teen, but she was still exceptionally light on her feet. So, what the hell was this colossus doing keeping pace with her? Did he know a shortcut she'd missed? Could he fly? What the hell? At least his mask accentuated his heavy breathing, proving she'd at least winded him.

It wasn't enough, though. He still had that easy gait, and he was closing the precious few feet that remained between them. His hands hung free at his sides, fingers twitching. Signs of restlessness. Impending action. Whatever he had planned, it was going to hurt. A lot.

Fern closed her eyes and slumped against the glass, resting her clothed shoulder against the mirrored surface. She knew what she had to do, but the dread of that other world made her resist the impulse to just reach out and touch the glass. She'd chosen fingerless gloves, so it would be easy. No need to shed layers to get to skin. She could just turn her head and let her face brush the glass. There was no way to know what waited on the other side, though. And this man – this horrible stranger – would see. He would know. Oh, god. Her options had dwindled to probable death vs. certain death. She looked again at those restless fingers, and she tracked the shivering impulses up the massive arm to the masked face of her hunter. His eyebrows had drawn into a much more focused expression than he wore when he first climbed out of the sewer, but his eyes held a fiendish twinkle.

That twinkle decided her. Fern squeezed her eyes shut again, clenched her teeth. She could see a broken body in another alley. One of the few teens who hadn't turned to prostitution – yet. She'd followed all the unspoken rules. She covered her skin. Didn't wander away from the group. But Fern still found her dead, naked body with blood oozing from between her legs into the gutters with the rest of the city's waste. It wasn't the first dead body she found, but it left the greatest impression. It was horrific. Bruises and broken skin left her face only partially recognizable, and knife wounds followed lines her attacker had left in his desperation to remove her clothes. There was more. Fern tried not to think about it. An ordinary man did that. An ordinary citizen. This masked man must be capable of so much worse.

Her face was close enough to the glass now that her breath was blowing back in her face. All she had to do was turn a little more…

"What wonderful speed!" the man said, drawing ever nearer. He was louder now, either because the chase excited him or he couldn't control his volume for the same reasons Fern couldn't catch her breath. It almost sounded like he was mocking her. "If only your sense of direction could match it." Definitely mocking. "Unfortunately, this must be the end of it. I apologize for the inconvenience." He paused, and for a minute the glass walls resonated with his mechanical breaths. "But Gotham is not ready to know me. Yet."

Fern forced herself to stand a little straighter against the mirror, breathed deep breaths and kept her eyes closed.

"Come here," the man drawled in a slightly quieter voice. "There is no need for you to suffer."

Fern's eyes snapped open. Took one more deep breath. Her choice was already made. "No thank you."

She didn't wait for a reaction. Her cheek pressed against the glass at the same instant her naked fingertips rose to caress the smooth surface. And then she was on the other side.

For an instant, she was on both sides of the glass and neither. The breathless suspension created two of her where there had only ever been one, yet she was both. It all passed in the blink of an eye, and suddenly she was wholly on the other side. She blinked, fought to breathe, and immediately began to listen for bells.

As she listened, she walked, even though her legs trembled like a newborn fawn's. This little adventure would be for nothing if she returned through the same reflection. She had no way of knowing if the monster would be standing there, waiting for her.

Bane's mind was at odds with his eyes. The miracle he witnessed was not possible, and it must be some sort of trick. So he punched the glass where the little runaway had been standing only a second before, and although the window splintered easily, it revealed nothing. The girl had stood before it. And then she had not. She could almost have been a dream. And maybe he would have considered the possibility of his own mental instability, but then he saw the little cloud of condensation she'd left behind as she breathed those final, defiant words.

"No thank you."

He smiled beneath his mask. Maybe Gotham had more literal ghosts than he'd expected, but they breathed, and they were rather polite.

It seemed he had more to report to Talia than he'd initially believed.

Notes: First of all, yes, I know. There are no true "supers" in Nolan-verse. That said, I couldn't think of a good reason Bane wouldn't kill poor little Fern upon their first introduction without a damn compelling reason. I have a few other stories on the mind, including alternate Bane/OC stories, but I really like this one so far, so hope you like it to.

This will be slightly AU. I never bought into the idea of Talia and Bane just offing themselves along with Gotham. Staying to fix the issue created by Batman and the counter-rebellion is different. To plan to die in Gotham from the beginning, either they did something they are trying to repent for (which seems the antithesis of their expressed views), or Nolan maybe didn't match character motivation with plot particularly well. After all, Bane was willing to die to get Talia out of the Pit. Why would he HELP her kill herself in a different sort of pit on the other side of the world? I just don't agree. But, well, that's what fanfiction is for, right?

Martyr's Crown fans: I haven't given up! I actually have the next chapter about half-way written, but it's a big one. I will return to the wonderful world of Marvel in the next week or two.

Reviews are life. Make Bane proud. Feed the starving authors.