A/N: Hmm...well it has been quite a bit, has it not? I cannot apologize enough, but I will tell you that my semesters at college have been taken up by many credits as I have to get all my gen-eds out of the way in order to be ready for the film program next year. All of my longer writing projects had to be put on the back burner, unfortunately. I've literally written this chapter sentences at a time for the past two years and hope people still read this :)

Reviews are still treasured and very appreciated, dearies!

Chapter 15

The white sedan has been traveling on the main highway for hours before it veers off onto a winding road lined in thick pine trees. The woman driving the car is tired, and when she glances over at her lone passenger, she notices that he is asleep, though he still retains the posture of one awake. His eyes are closed - this is the only indication that he is resting. She wishes she could rest as well, not having slept the past few days with all the preparations that had needed to take place before this time. Her hand has been itching to turn on the radio many times, but the man in the passenger seat is not just some man, she keeps reminding herself, this is Bane.

She hears stirring and looks again out of the corner of her eye. He has awoken and is idly rolling his neck. He exhales and turns his gaze to the window. The scars are not as bad as she has been told, in fact, from a distance they are hardly the first thing one would see. It surprises her that such a - frankly - attractive man is so renowned for his brutality; the beautiful people are supposed to be successful in good ways and the ugly people are supposed to be what he is. She supposes this is a rather shallow way to look at the world, but in a city like Gotham, such shades of black and white are apparent and the middle ground, the gray, so to speak, is infinitely more rare.

Bane can feel the driver's eyes on him again, but chooses to ignore them, as he has so diligently been doing for the past three hours. He resolves to address and amend the issue at a later time - he cannot afford to have any weakness among his followers, especially the women. The car is currently off of the highway and traveling down a rather vacant road. There is not much to look at out the window but a seemingly endless pine forest and the occasional house. No matter, he tells himself, for they will soon have reached their destination.

In due time, they break from the trees and an open expanse is before them: a private airport. The driver parks the car before a moderately sized building. Bane exhales through his nose with unconcealed relief. He does not wait for the woman to exit the vehicle before he does so himself, all but slamming the door shut and walking into the building. Inside, he is met by a small group of his followers, handpicked for their skills and intelligence. He can see the looks on their faces upon seeing his own - it is a rare occurrence to behold their leader without his facial covering. He decides not to hold it against them, though the focus they place on such an insignificant aspect of the man is somewhat unnerving.

"I applaud your promptness," he says to them, bowing his head in thanks. "If not for the work of my decoy I would have been identified. May his deceased soul find some rest in the cruel afterlife."

Murmurs of agreement momentarily abound.

"Now," Bane quiets them with a single word, "if someone would be so kind as to return to me what is mine, we shall progress without delay."

From the back of the group, a man comes forward with a bag in his hand. The chronic ache within Bane seems to return just as his own hands make contact with the bag, and he nearly displays the madness that has been bubbling beneath the surface of his naked face as he rips the bag off of his mask. For decency's sake, he turns his back on the people before him to fasten the object around his head; the weight is familiar and welcome.

He breathes in deeply before turning to face his followers once more. The pinpricks of hurting begin to disappear almost immediately, his body adopting the acquainted numbness, and when he speaks again his voice has gained some energy, "Now then, where is the transport I was promised?"

She sees him rush past like the devil is on his heels.

Sophie knows she shouldn't eavesdrop, but the will to understand what is going on and what Detective Blake intends to do about it overpower the sense of decency that should be present. And so this desire to know sees her hunkering down outside the private room in which Blake so fervently had ventured, all but pressing her ear to the door. She is on constant alert, worried that someone might see her and give away her position, but still she strains to listen.

"It's me," she hears him say, keeping his voice low. A pause, then, "Yeah, yeah I'm alone I'm not stupid." His city accent comes out with the slight hints of offense. "Look," he breathes in and out deeply, "there's a problem - a big problem."

The person on the other line is speaking, but she cannot hear what they are saying to gauge their reaction.

"Yeah, uh, well apparently our friend is...He's headed your way. He knows where you are."

Suddenly Sophie can hear the other person's voice, angered and frantic. She catches bits of, "How could he have possibly" and "I've been so careless." Other than the negative emotions radiating from the tone, it is impossible to distinguish who is talking.

"I know, I know - I'm sorry about all this, Bruce I'm working on fixing it right now, don't worry."

All at once, sirens go off in her head. Bruce? There were a lot of Bruces in the world, but only one came to mind when she heard the name. Could that mean…? Bruce Wayne? No one had heard from him in months, and it was presumed that he had simply retreated back into his life of reclusion - even an idiot knew that Wayne Enterprises was at its breaking point after the tragic goings on, and with the owner no longer present, it would only be a matter of time before the company disappeared forever.

Assuming they are, indeed discussing Bane, that leaves the question: why would the terrorist care about someone like Mr. Wayne? Other than having money - which Bane is undoubtedly not without - the man doesn't have an inch of importance anymore to Gotham wherever he is. It is all very confusing to the young woman.

Whether the man on the other end of the phone is the Bruce Wayne or not, all this goes through Sophie's mind as she continues to listen. She can no longer hear Bruce's voice, indicating he has calmed down.

"I think I have a plan though. Won't be long until you guys are free again."

You guys? More than one?

"Yeah," Blake replies to more inaudible speech, "It involves this girl I found."

Sophie flinches and her head collides with the wall. Her curse is muffled, but she knows it's too late - Blake wrenches the door open and looks out, catching her in her act. She cannot really describe what is written on his face as he stares her down.

"What's happening?" Bruce demands, and she can hear him clearly now.

"Uh, well apparently that girl I found was listening in the whole time."

There is silence before the voice calmly states, "Give her the phone."

Sophie begins to shake her head in protest, but Blake forces the cell into her unwilling hands. She raises it to her ear and says, "Hello…?"

"Who is this?"

"My name is Sophie. Sophie Scott."

"And who are you?"

"I don't understand - "

"In relation to the current situation, who are you?"

She does not know quite what to say at first. What could she possibly tell him? Finally she settles on, "I was one of the people who cared for him during his imprisonment." She doesn't need to say his name for his identity to be known.

"So you've spoken to him?"

"I have."

There is another bout of silence from Bruce. "Do you know anything else?"

"No."

Then, out of the blue, "You're not attached to him in any way, are you?"

Once again she is rendered speechless. Blake has heard what he has said as well and his face has tensed. Sophie looks to him helplessly but he seems to be wondering why he hasn't asked her this question, himself. "No," she says again firmly. "No I am not."

"That's good to know. Put Blake back on, now."

Sophie has no trouble in relinquishing the phone, relieved. Blake grinds his teeth as the voice lowers to undoubtedly impart more information. "I...I understand," he says, "yes, I do understand how important this is. I'll take care of it, alright? I swear. Okay...alright." When he hangs up he fixes Sophie with an incredulous look, saying, "You know how stupid that was of you to eavesdrop?"

"I know."

"You could get into some real trouble for this."

"I know."

He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "You have any idea who that was?"

Knowing that now is not the time for lies, even half-truths, Sophie replies, "I...heard you call him Bruce. Does that mean, by any chance, Bruce Wayne?"

Blake scoffs, fixing her with a slightly bemused stare. "You're observant. I don't know at this point whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. But, yes, that was Bruce Wayne."

"How does he relate to all this, though? How does he know Bane?" At the offset it seems like a foolish inquiry because everyone knew who Bane was, but this seemed more personal than the average person's thirst for knowledge.

Blake looks as if he really does not want to disclose any of the important information, and she knows that he probably wouldn't have had to if she had not been so idiotic as to listen in to his private exchange. Finally, he simply shakes his head. "For your own safety, Miss Scott, I am going to tell you only the bare minimum, and even then you have to swear on your life that you won't repeat a word of this to anyone. More is at stake than you could understand right now."

Not seeing any other choice at hand, she concedes to his terms. She feels as though she would be resentful of his lack of trust in her if she did not understand that he has absolutely no reason to trust her anyway.

"Wayne has...issues, or has had issues with Bane in the past. There's a lot of bad blood, it what I'm trying to say. The details are not for you to know right now, but Bruce is currently overseas trying to avoid any more trouble. I was just tipped off that Bane knows where he is and is headed there."

Sophie takes the information in slowly, digesting it a moment. It seems to her like a lot of trouble for Bane to go through just to get to one man, a man who was so scarce during Gotham's downfall that it was surprising he had even left his home long enough to see Bane, no less. There must be a deeper problem at hand. "If he's been planning this, it would be very difficult to stop him."

"That's obvious, but I think we'd have more success if we approached this a different way."

Suddenly, whether it be by Blake's knowing look or the not-so-hidden meaning behind his words, it becomes clear that whatever is going to occur will take Sophie far from home and any comfort she previously possessed. She does not even know how she can help - a Greek mythology degree can only get one so far in the world. Still she asks, "What did you have in mind?"

The medium-sized plane that had been procured was loaded up in record time, and as Bane sits in its cabin, eleven hours into the flight, surrounded by his supporters. With only one seat in between them, a young man so visibly nervous that his hands tremble casually flicks through the selections on a portable music device, going back through the same lists seemingly to keep his mind occupied.

"Is that Chopin I see?" Bane queries casually. The man nods slightly without turning his head. "What wonderful music that is."

"W-would you like to...like to listen?" The man struggles to untangle the tiny earpieces until Bane leans towards him and places a large hand over the smaller ones to cease their movements.

"No, brother, that will be quite impossible, I'm afraid." His ears are clearly covered by the straps of his mask, and it takes the young man a split second to realize his blunder.

"Oh...oh no - I'm so sorry, sir! I just was trying to - "

Bane removes his hand and holds up a finger to silence the ramblings. "You meant no harm, but do be quiet now, or kindly move to a different seat if you must speak."

He does not miss the way the onlookers busy themselves in an attempt to appear as if they had not just watched the whole exchange. Bane shifts in his seat; it is cramped and uncomfortable. There is only an hour to go before the destination is reached, however, and he turns his gaze out the window once more. He loses himself in the sight of the ocean far below and the way the clouds cast their shadows upon it.

"Sir," drifts a voice from the aisle and Bane is slow to give them his attention. There stands the woman who had successfully driven him out of Gotham, small container in her hands. "It's about time for you to take the second shot." Her task had incidentally also involved keeping a record of when Bane required medication in a different form - she had previously been employed in a pediatric care position, a desk job, as it were, though ironically she had never given anyone a reason to believe her particularly intelligent.

Had he a watch on his wrist, Bane would have glanced at it, but he knows the random woman is correct, and that the strong dose of painkillers will have set in enough for him to remove his mask to blend in even minimally so upon their arrival. "So it is. Please do sit," he answers, gesturing at the open seat to his right. The woman slips past the nervous young man and cautiously lowers herself, noticeably keeping to the far side as she opens the container and prepares the syringe for use. He remains quiet as she works, watching her go through the steps. "You are proficient in this despite your lack of field work," he says at last as she withdraws the strong liquid from its vial. "You have done this before?"

She does not look at him, odd considering how brazen she was about it just hours before. "Diabetic family members. I know my way around needles," is all she offers before asking, "Can you roll up your sleeve, sir?"

Bane is quick to pull back the black sleeve to the bicep, exposing his forearm. "Or was it perhaps something more nefarious than a familial illness?" Now she meets his gaze, looking very much like a child caught stealing candy. "I thought it might be. Lucky for you it makes no difference to me as long as you know what you are doing."

She all but breathes a palpable sigh of relief, looking back to Bane's arm and positioning the syringe above it.

He does not feel the needle pierce his skin.

"What the hell?" snaps Teresa.

Sophie sits in her friend's living room across from the newly livid woman, trying to explain in the simplest way possible that she has to go away for an indefinite amount of time, leaving out the ultimate reason why. Teresa bears the announcement in the same way she bears any negative news: with misunderstanding and apprehension.

"I don't know what to say," Sophie states contritely. "I just...need to get away for awhile."

"By going overseas? You're not some rich, retired old person who can afford to make these kinds of spontaneous decisions!"

Sophie gnaws on her bottom lip and studies the floor at her feet, hands restless in her lap. She shakes her head, trying to come up with something she can say - anything, really - to placate Teresa. When she finally looks at the other woman again, something on Teresa's face has changed; some realization has come to light.

"Oh my god…" mutters Teresa, "This is about...Oh, no. Ohhh no."

"Teresa, I want to help them! They need to find him before - "

"You mean to tell me that you're going along on some manhunt for Bane? Who set you up to this, huh? I bet it was that detective - I'm going to kick his pretty-boy ass, just you wait."

"No, it wasn't him. I offered on my own. It was the least I could do after making such a stupid mistake on the job."

It takes a moment for her to calm down, but at length Teresa sighs and sets both hands on Sophie's shoulders, ice eyes piercing her. "Listen to what I'm saying Soph - really listen. You do not owe these people anything, do you understand? Nothing. That whole thing that happened to you? You were manipulated. None of this is your fault. Just stay here and let the professionals handle this."

Sophie takes hold of Teresa's hands and removes them from her shoulders, standing and shrugging on her jacket. Teresa still sits, staring up at her friend, posture defeated. "I am going to help in any way I can. I'll call you when my flight lands."

She leaves the apartment to go pack her things.

The plane reaches the other, designated private airport - which is actually a field about an hour out from the city of Florence in an area called Paterno - in good time, and Bane makes a mental note to accordingly compensate the pilot for his efficiency. Outside, there is a man waiting as Bane exits the aircraft, his mask secured in a backpack carried by one of his followers. He does not wish to risk being seen by any nosy passers by, though it seems the field is rather remote.

"Benvenuto!" says the man, spreading out his arms only just as if greeting an old friend. He is well into his forties and of average height, possessing a high forehead and dark eyes; a pair of wire-rimmed glasses are perched on his nose. Bane has never before seen him, despite their recent - yet brief - communication. "I trust that your journey was smooth, yes? I had been hearing unfortunate news about the weather above the coast so I was unsure of the flying conditions."

Bane eyes the man, Biagio Mazza, with a mixture of curiosity and impatience. Surely he was not so...animated all the time? Did he not grasp the importance behind Bane's presence in Italy? Bane understands well the cultural differences in European countries, but this man does not appear at all to be the doctor he had expected. "Yes," he finally answers, simple and short. "You are Doctor Mazza, I presume?"

"I am."

"And" - he points to the house beyond - "is that your place of living?"

"It is. Not to worry, signore, I have already produced a good amount of the medicine you asked for. I do hope that it will suit you well."

Mazza had been one of his many international supporters, and with notable pharmaceutical experience, had seemed the perfect candidate to prepare his much-needed medication on short notice. As Bane was unable to find a suitable supply of the small aerosol cans for his mask at the facility he was housed in back in Gotham - and had not known from where the shipments were originated - he'd had to make quick arrangements for his arrival in Europe. He is quite thankful that Mazza was so readily enthusiastic about aiding his cause, for the combination of morphine and respiratory inhalants are what keep him functional, after all.

Bane resists a half-smile as he contemplates the way things are playing out. "I'm certain it will, Doctor. I'm certain it will."

Across the world, standing with a team of men she's never met, Sophie observes John Blake organizing last minute details, determined and ambitious in his mannerisms. She zips up her jacket all the way to her neck, battling the cold wind that rushes past. Unsure though she is about what is to come, she hopes that whatever fate has in store for her will at least benefit others.

Blake finishes giving orders and the men scatter to carry out their individual tasks. "I guess it would be stupid to ask you if you're ready for this?" he asks as he approaches her.

He's right, but Sophie just shrugs and counters, "Are you?"

Blake is distant for a moment, looking past her at the team he has assembled under the watchful eye of the Commissioner. "Ready to face the unknown? No," a pause, then, "But ready to take this guy out? Hell yes."

She admires his tenacity - he possesses a fervid spirit not often found in Gotham's citizens, and that spirit is what makes her believe that bringing down the monster is possible.

A/N: Thank you for reading both old readers and new! I know how frustrating it is to wait a long time for a story to be updated but I hope you liked this newest chapter.

A note on some edits I'm doing: I was re-reading the previous chapters and noted that some renovations could be done to Bane and Sophie's first interactions in chapters 5 and 6, and so I am currently rewriting them and amping up the emotional abuse factor as to make my OC's reaction more justified. I hope to have that done before I return to school at the end of August but...who knows :P

Thank you again, friends! Have a lovely day and review if you so desire :D