5 years later
It was bright outside. A few insubstantial white clouds wandered high up in the clear blue sky, floating in space, lonely, lost, out of place. The trees were beginning to get covered in tiny green leaves that looked like trapped butterflies on their branches, beating their wings to the rhythm of the wind, hoping to get released, unaware that they were stuck in there forever, until they would get dry, rot and die. Soon the wooden trunks would disappear under the swarm of healthy green foliage, and heat and humidity would invade the place again. That day, Bane hadn't woken up in a good mood.
The air inside his bedroom was warm and thick because of the sweat provoked by his constant nightmares and confusing dreams. Bane opened the window and inhaled the fresh cold air of the morning. He instinctively looked up at the sky, trying to find the white straight condensation trails of the planes that approached the island and were to land at the airport, the official one. He glanced back at the neon red digits of the clock before listening to his own loud heart beat and feeling nauseated again. He brought his right thumb to his mouth and bit the nail to then scold himself internally and hide his hands inside the pockets of the loose thin trousers he wore to sleep. He hated that newly enhanced sense of worry and all the thoughts that came with it.
His cellphone buzzed.
In three quick giant barefoot steps, he reached the night table and grabbed the device. Jane was phoning him, which had become an uncommon event. He was expecting a message, maybe a word or two. Bane bit his nail again staring at the green telephone that he was supposed to slide to the other side of the screen. The phone stopped buzzing. He drew a nervous breath in and carefully tapped onto Jane's name and brought the phone to his ear.
'Hi,' her voice, 'I'm sorry, are you busy?'
It was crowded at the other side of the line.
'No,' he gulped, 'I took some time to find the phone.'
'Oh,' Jane's chuckle was dry and cold, like she didn't know how to react to him anymore, 'well, we landed in time but it's been a bit hectic afterwards so that's why I didn't send you any message.'
'It's fine,' he lied.
'Good! So,' she sounded busy herself, 'we calculate we'll be there in two hours or so. We've already loaded the aircraft and are about to take off. Loui says it's pretty good weather so we'll land on our runway in twenty minutes or so.'
Knowing that they were in a closed space, Bane paid attention to the voices that sounded in the background. He almost hated himself for doing so, but he knew he would regret it if he didn't.
'Hello?' Jane startled him, 'are you there?'
'Yes,' he replied quickly, 'I only wondered if- how- you were.'
Bane closed his eyes and covered his face with his free hand. The open window wasn't the only reason to why he suddenly felt cold and his skin was getting goosebumps.
'We're fine,' Jane hesitated to talk again, 'do you... want to hear him?'
Bane's chest grew like an inflating balloon before it got pinched to released the air in a rather uncontrollable manner.
'Please,' he muttered.
At the beginning he couldn't hear much. Jane was trying to catch his attention. Her voice was soft and tender, like a caress to his ears. Finally, Bane caught a word.
'Come on,' Jane's voice, but she didn't address Bane, 'say hi.'
Bane went silent. His teeth could touch the top of his fingers, all five of them, but he wasn't biting the nails, he didn't want to make a sound as his brain was too focused on the incoming information about to be delivered by his ears. Finally, he heard it. His voice.
It was just like he remembered it. As soft as Jane's, but much more quiet, like his lips were trying to muffle the sound produced in his throat.
'Hello,' Bane said after a few seconds. His knee was restless and moved up and down in an automatic motion that he couldn't control. 'How are you?'
Jane talked to the child again.
'Tell him how you are... come on, it's okay.'
'Yeah, we're all quite tired,' she talked to him.
'Thank you,' Bane forced his leg to stop bouncing on the wooden floor.
'It's okay,' Jane sighed a little, 'I'll see you in a while.'
Even though it became quite cold, Bane opened all the windows of the cabin as well as the doors so that the place would be ventilated. He had breakfast outdoors, sitting on the wooden deck at the back of the house, watching the dark burnt area that had once been the settlement and trying to foresee which areas of the vegetation would start growing back first.
When B trotted by, he prepared her food bowl by filling it up with clean fresh meat and half a fish. Bane was grateful to have the dog live with him, even though she still wasn't allowed into the house unless the weather was bad. The dog had aged well and had become a healthy adult that enjoyed the life outdoors and the company of Bane. Sometimes, Bane wished he could provide the animal with a more social life so, once a week, Fredrik or John would pick her up and take her with them to the coastal village. During those days, Bane felt lonelier than ever, although he had to admit that, sometimes, he enjoyed the freedom of it.
Bane showered, put on fresh clothes, and stepped outside to meet John Barsad when he heard the engine of his jeep approaching. Barsad parked a few meters away from the cabin, leaving space for more vehicles to occupy the grass in front of the house. The white t-shirt of his best man had two or three stains of crushed mosquitos that had probably flown directly into their death sentence when their tiny brains had decided to cross the roads. Barsad pulled from the fabric to take a better look at the stains and rolled his eyes while letting out a sigh.
'Not a good choice of colour,' Bane said shaking his hand.
'I had forgotten it's spring already. These bastards will be invading soon again,' he referred to the mosquitos by pointing at the dark dots on his shirt. 'You look tired.'
'I had a rough night,' Bane admitted.
Barsad nodded crossing his arms and leaning against the hood of the jeep. The transparent plastic of the lights was entirely covered in black spots and the rest of the front of the vehicle didn't look much better. Barsad tried to ignore it, but he would look at it every now and then just to appreciate the mess. It was less problematic than looking at Bane.
'How is it going with the panels? Are you gonna need help to finish them?'
Bane glanced up at the roof before answering.
'I only need to screw the plexiglass covers in and test the voltage, but I might need help bringing them up.'
'Tell me a week in advance and I'll be here.'
Since there was still one hour left for Jane to arrive, they decided to have a walk around the area to see how the jungle was recovering from the fire. It had been a while since Barsad had last entered those woods, and even longer since they had walked side by side. By the time they had come back, their conversation had become more fluid, although their relationship wasn't like it had been before. It would never be after the fire. Bane was saddened by this, but he tried to hide it. Barsad was angry, and he made no efforts to conceal it from others, especially not from Bane. That is why they couldn't have a deep conversation any more, because they both knew they would end up talking about Alison and there was a risk that the crack that had grown in between them would grow deeper.
When the second car parked in the space that Barsad had left, Bane was inside the house washing his hands from the walk. Under the water, he closed his fist to control the shaking of his fingers and closed his eyes with strength. The day before, he had hoped for a hurricane to form during the night so that the flights would be cancelled. He wasn't sure why he had thought of that. He longed yet dreaded to see them.
Downstairs, Jane went through one of the taped cardboard boxes in the back of their car and carefully moved the content inside making her way towards the bottom. The years on the island had given a golden tan to her skin and her hair had become slightly brighter. Bane loved how beautiful she looked now that she had regained her full health. Because he didn't see her that often, Bane had developed a quick ability to scan her body in search of injuries or signs of sickness. That day, like many before, he spotted nothing but tiredness, and he was thankful for that.
Jane's grey eyes landed on his own, though the face they adorned didn't belong to her, but to the small child that sat on the backseat of the car. Those big and shiny almond shaped orbs scrutinized him in the distance hidden under a layer of dark blond hair that a breeze of air had disheveled. The hand of an adult male softly removed the hair from the child's face, combing it to a side and stopping to caress his cheek as well. The child yawned without taking his cautious eyes off of Bane and held onto the adult hand with his own small fingers, nuzzling at the hand that cared for him while fighting to stay awake. Bane clenched his fist slowly, but it wasn't anger that drove him to perform such unconscious movement; his brain had merely tricked him into believing that he could feel the contact. He had yearned for a glimpse of the boy ever since the day they had left to stay a few weeks in Gotham with Jane's family.
The wooden outdoor stairs creaked under the weight of a rather heavy body, and Bane's neck turned to the side in response. Chase's crystal clear eyes were struggling to stay open, but nevertheless he managed to produce a faint smile that revealed some tiny wrinkles around the outer part of his eyes. Time had passed indeed. The men embraced each other and Bane had the opportunity to confirm that the doctor was still in good shape, strong and stable. Somehow, it relieved him.
'How have you been?' Chase asked before yawning.
'Good, good, thank you,' Bane couldn't help but glance at the boy even though he knew he was being more than obvious about it. When he looked down at the ground, he realised how much the child had grown in just a few weeks. Now, the boy could look at his mother in the eye at the same level when Jane crouched down in front of him to remove his dark blue coat. The weather in Gotham was always much colder than in the island and Bane wondered if it bothered the child at all. Without the coat, he still looked thin and fragile, although Bane was sure that he wasn't. Before leaving, he had seen him climb a small tree with Chase's help.
Jane kissed the boy's head and pointed in his direction. Bane gulped and let some air escape through his mouth.
'Go up with Chase, come on,' Jane encouraged him, 'go say hi.'
Bane followed his both tired and shy steps. With one hand, the boy held onto the railings of the stairs and with the other, he played with his fingers in his mouth, looking down at the wooden steps, avoiding to face the two adults that waited for him. When the kid finally reached the top, Bane had to bend his neck to actually be able to look at him. Even though he had grown bigger, being isolated for so long had also made Bane forget how small a child of that age was. Bane considered waving at him, but in the last moment decided to keep his arms hanging down like dead limbs attached to his body.
'Chase,' the boy said quietly before extending his arms asking to be held.
The pieces of Bane's heart shattered into dust when Chase immediately bent his knees and cradled the child in his arms. Bane couldn't see the boy's face anymore, he was hiding in Chase's neck, his little arms surrounding the man's neck and, judging by the movement of his wrists, probably playing with the hair at the back of his head.
'He's still a bit shy,' Chase explained covering the boy's head with his hand to stroke his hair, 'and he's really tired too, right?'
The boy's legs hung weightless around Chase's torso as he buried his face even more into his skin.
'Arthur, say hi, come on,' Chase insisted.
The little boy shook his head.
'It's alright,' Bane said, 'he must be exhausted after the trip.'
'Yeah,' Chase had instinctively begun to rock the tiny body in his arms. Bane wondered if he himself would have acquired that instinct as well, but refused to image such scene because it would send him back to the hole of depression that he had managed to leave a year or two after the birth of Jane's second son.
'Hey, Arthur,' Chase used his free hand to carefully change the position of the boy, 'do you remember that you were gonna give something to him?'
The boy straightened his back and rubbed his eyes. His small body rotated in Chase's arms until he was able to face Bane. Bane captured his eyes for one second to confirm that the boy had definitely gotten Jane's stare. Bane followed that protocol every time he saw the child, he felt the need to check that his features didn't change as he grew up because he wished for him to look as much as Jane as possible.
'You don't remember?' Chase tried to guess what had caught the boy's attention. It was his mother, walking upstairs holding a heavy box. 'Jane, Arthur doesn't remember what he had to do.'
'Come on, boy, you can do it.'
'No,' Arthur's voice had become a mumble that was about to break into tears.
'It's okay, I know you're very tired' Jane approached Chase to kiss her boy's cheek. Her hand had adapted to Chase's shoulder comfortably, following the curve of the muscles and pressing his skin gently. Bane still remembered how that touch felt. He quickly turned his eyes to the box that Jane was holding.
'I suppose that is for me,' he took the box from Jane's hands purposely overlapping his fingers over hers.
'Yeah, you've got the list inside. There are a few things that we couldn't bring with us but we got them shipped so they'll arrive in a week or so.'
'Thank you, I appreciate it.'
Jane peeked inside the house with the same curious eyes that Arthur had displayed before. She stood on the tip of her toes, balancing her body back and forth while she rubbed her hands. She clearly didn't know what to do.
'Well, Arthur and I will go back to the car so that you two can talk,' Chase smiled at them and shook Bane's hand once more, 'I'll see you around, man.'
'Of course,' Bane tilted his neck to catch a glimpse of the boy's face when Chase turned around. The boy hid a quick shy smile after realising that Bane's eyes were on him. 'Good bye, Arthur.'
Chase whispered something to the boy's ear.
'Good bye,' the boy replied.
Inside the cabin, the dry leaves glued on paper made by Olivia still hung from the wall. Jane stood in front of the paper for a while, remembering the time when she and Bane had shared that cabin. The surface of the wood was still rough on some edges, the weather had caused its damages but the structure had been built properly and it stood strong on its wooden pillars beneath their feet. Jane thought that the weather marks gave it a charm that it didn't have before. She passed her fingers over the paper. It had been five years ago, although it felt like it had been yesterday when she had taken the decision to stay in the coastal village. It still hurt just as much.
'What is this?' Bane asked. He was standing by the table below the window. The box that Jane had given him was now empty and his hands held a colourful book with thick pages.
'Oh, I put it there so that Arthur wouldn't find it,' Jane stood next to him. Her shoulder was touching his and she could feel the heat of his skin, but she didn't avoid the contact. She missed it. 'It's a present for him.'
Bane handed the book to her.
'No,' Jane pushed it back to his hands, 'I- I thought that maybe you could write something on the first page.'
Bane opened the book. It was a photo album, like the one that Jane had once made for William, but this time it was Arthur's newborn picture that was glued onto the first page. The boy had taken Jane's surname. Arthur Sykes, 1st of April.
'Write words to him?' Bane couldn't keep his eyes off that first photograph because he could identify that face too well, especially the lips and chin. It made him panic but he didn't show it outside.
'To him, to his future, his past, I don't know,' Jane shrugged.
Bane gave a snorting sound that Jane thought was similar to that produced by a frightened animal.
'Only if you want to.'
'I do,' he rushed to say, 'but I will need to think about it.'
'Sure,' Jane nodded at him.
Bane closed the book not willing to go through its pages in front of Jane. He knew he would do it later when only his thoughts would accompany him.
'Anything else?' he asked turning to her. The mobility of her leg had improved although, for those who knew of her injury, it was easy to distinguish when she hobbled or didn't bend her knee entirely.
'Actually, yes,' she searched for something in her pocket, 'two things.'
'Fire,' Bane tried to make her smile. She did, and licked her lips hiding a grin.
'I- eh,' she sighed trying to put her thoughts in order. The dark circles around her eyes became more obvious at that moment, 'I haven't slept in a while, sorry,' she closed her eyes to focus, 'Chase and I were talking, and he suggested to have your DNA sampled and tested for medical purposes, for the kid. I know you have no idea about your family's medical history so the test would be good to detect some sort of potential health issue, if there's any.'
Bane blinked surprised that she had even asked.
'Of course,' he nodded noticing that he was pressing the album against his abdomen, the idea of the boy having any health issues had woken up his deeper sense of worry again, 'count on me.'
'Thank you,' Jane brought her hand to the pocket of her jeans and took out a pink paper. She handed it to him, 'it's his birthday tomorrow, as you might know, so we're gonna have a small dinner at home with John, Chase, Fredrik and the kids. I thought it would be nice if you came.'
Bane tried to make some sense out of Arthur's scribble on the pink paper.
'Supposedly, it says you are invited,' Jane smiled, 'he thought you would like it pink.'
'Because the few times we've come here, it's always been early in the morning and the sky is pink then. He thinks you paint it that way. I have tried explaining but... well, he's three.'
'Yeah, it's... new grounds for me.'
Bane's heart felt heavy. Jane's first son would have been turning nine that year. Instead, his three-year old body was rotting beneath the surface of Gotham's soil. Bane's face suffered a sudden contraction that Jane was sure he had not been able to control. He pressed the bridge of his nose and let the air outside of his lungs slowly. He had been having those thoughts quite often, especially when he thought of Arthur and his future.
'Jane, I'm not sure I should be there.'
He kept the invitation inside the album, but already knew that he wouldn't be able to keep it. He'd watch it burn at night in the sink of the kitchen, where he had burnt the other drawings he'd gotten from him or Jane.
'Well, you decide, of course,' Jane distinguished the sadness in his eyes when Bane nodded back at her. 'I have to get going,' she hesitated to turn around. Before she did so, she suddenly wrapped her arms around his torso and hugged him, 'it was nice seeing you.'
'Always a pleasure,' he held her close refusing to let go, 'take care of yourself, and the boy.'
'Will do,' she kissed his cheek shyly. She wasn't used to the texture of his beard, but wished she was, just like she also wished that she could extend her fingers over the back of his head to know how it felt to stroke the dark blond hair that had completely hidden his scars. On the other side of that embrace, Bane was tempted to turn his face and steal a kiss from her lips, but he thought of Arthur, and their future, and he was just satisfied to at least feel her lips on his skin again. Jane walked away from him and turned her eyes to him before closing the door, 'I'm glad to be back.'
The following day, at two-thirty in the afternoon, Jane was happy to finish her shift at the health center. Jane knocked on Chase's door and stepped inside. The medical history of one of his patients lay open on his desk while he read it out loud. Chase stood in front of the desk with his hands spread over its surface. He leant onto them, slightly swinging his hips from side to side and stretching his legs out with a funny rhythm that made Jane smile. Jane could see his reflection in the mirror that hung from the wall by the door, right above the small sink. She could also see herself, wearing the navy blue scrubs with her identification card hanging from the end of her V neck. She didn't use the ones that students wore anymore. She had gotten the real thing, and it made her as proud of herself as she hadn't been in years.
'Hey,' Chase was happy to see her, 'what is it?'
'I'm done for today, I'm gonna go change' Jane stopped looking at Chase's reflection and turned to him instead. She could see that he was tired in the way that only his right eyebrow furrowed and in the shape that the corners of his mouth had taken, slightly folded, like they were falling down at the same time that he was trying to put on a smile, 'do you have much left?'
'No, I was waiting for you,' the smile broke through the tiredness, 'let me just put some order in here.'
They could see the yellow walls of the two-story building where Jane left Arthur every morning right after walking away from the sea, in the first street that turned left outside the health center. Its lime green wooden columns still had some colourful balloons from the boy's birthday hanging from them. Jane could immediately identify Arthur because he was the only blond child, and also because he tended to avoid big groups and always preferred to observe insects or animals to follow the paths that they created in silence.
'Hi,' Jane knelt down next to him. He was standing on the grass by the front wall, staring at a line of ants that walked up to the roof. She stroked his back. 'Are you ready to go home?'
'Like the ants?' he scratched his cheek with a questioning expression on his face, 'they live in the roof and go out shopping in the grass.'
'Yeah,' Jane kissed his cheek, 'we're going home like the ants.'
'Bye, ants,' Arthur carefully passed his index finger over the yellow wood, 'I'm going home with mom, like you.'
The three of them walked along the seaside without a hurry, Arthur holding their hands in between them, hanging from them to test their strength or jumping when he played to pretend that there were crocodiles hidden under the sand. Sometimes, Chase and Jane would lift him higher with each jump and he would thank them for saving him from the king of the crocs.
'Do you think he will come to the dinner?' Chase asked Jane when Arthur had dropped their hands to walk alone a few meters ahead of them.
'No idea,' Jane sighed observing her son, 'hey, thank you for giving me the day off tomorrow.'
'Come on, Jane, no need to mention it.'
Arthur waited for them standing at the side of the road, hiding one hand behind his body and holding his hair away from his face with the other. His cheeks were pink from the sun and his full rosy lips were slightly opened. He tilted his face to a side when he turned his grey eyes towards their faces.
'Bye bye, Chase,' Arthur waved at him.
'Bye bye, birthday boy,' Chase gave him a high-five, 'see you at night.'
'Yeah, let's see how the cooking goes,' Jane rolled her eyes with a smile.
'Good luck with that,' Chase walked away from them, 'see you.'
Jane extended her free hand and the boy took it. They began to walk again.
'You lift me and save me from the corcodiles,' Arthur jumped.
'Crocodiles,' Jane corrected him.
'Good!' Jane shook his small hand with a grin.
At home, Arthur kept pretending that the crocodiles had invaded their floors and he tried to move from one room to the other without touching the surface of the wooden planks. Sometimes, he would decide which areas where safe so that he could reach his destination quicker. Arthur could sense that something had changed in his mom that day, but couldn't exactly put his thoughts in order to figure out what it was. The one thing he noticed was that her mind seemed to be somewhere else when she was taking the cups from the cabinets and filling them up with hot cocoa and tea.
'There you go,' Jane handed him his mug, 'take care, it's hot.'
'Thank you, mom,' Arthur peeked inside the mug and tried to count the bubbles that exploded on the surface.
'What is funny?' Arthur slowly tilted the mug towards his lips and tested the temperature like Jane had taught him, without opening his mouth or sticking out his tongue. It was too warm.
'You are funny,' Jane bent down to kiss him.
'Why?' Arthur followed her to the living room.
'Because sometimes you sound like you are thirty,' Jane talked to his ear and the boy laughed.
Arthur sat down on the floor. He was very selective with the colours that he used to complete his colouring book and always took his time to pick a specific crayon and to decide which area that crayon would fill. Jane thought that it was relaxing to observe Arthur because he was always so calm and careful with everything he did. She could sit back to drink her tea, let her head fall on the pillows and stretch her legs over the coffee table without having to worry about a thing. She could think, reflect on the day, on her life, on everything that had happened up until that specific moment when Arthur had finally decided that the darker shade of yellow would be the best option to take. She chuckled quietly.
'Look, mom,' Arthur lifted his colouring book and showed a dark yellow sun that had more colour outside than within the lines.
'Awesome,' Jane gave him a thumbs up, 'beautiful abstract art,' she nodded at him with a grin that didn't showher teeth.
Time flew away when Jane was alone with Arthur and had to both keep an eye on her son and prepare a dinner for five adults and three children. She asked Arthur to sit and colour his book in the kitchen instead, and the child complied without a sound although he decided to sit on the staircase instead of at the table. Sometimes, while he coloured, he liked to look out the window and watch the people cycle down to the city center.
Arthur drank from his mug and a new process of colour selection begun. Jane gazed at the profile of her concentrated son. She liked his disheveled dark blond hair that they tried to tame every morning before going out, she loved his expressive eyebrows, his big curious grey eyes, his tiny but long nose and his full and almost constantly pouty lips because he almost constantly had a question in his mind. She liked his delicate appreciation for other's feelings, including animals, insects, plants and anything that he considered to have a consciousness, including rocks, the sea and their house, and also his delicate way of showing his own feelings. She enjoyed his innocent questions, his theories about the world, his introverted personality, his shyness towards strangers and his reservation towards friends. He was a sweet sensitive boy anxious to expand his knowledge, from the way in which clouds were formed to the reason why sometimes one of his eyelashes fell.
'Olivia and Linus,' Arthur pointed outside the window.
'Go open then,' Jane washed her hands quickly.
'No, you,' Arthur closed his colouring book and ran upstairs.
Even though Olivia and Linus were about to turn twelve, John Barsad and Fredrik still didn't allow them to go out alone and, as Jane had suspected, the two of them appeared walking after the children a second or two behind. Jane appreciated the help that she received from the two men in the kitchen, and also thanked Olivia for bringing Arthur back down so that he could try to socialize and play with her and Linus, Fredrik's son, who had sat by the table in silence.
'Is the big man coming?' Barsad dried the sweat from his forehead after taking out a dish from the oven.
'I don't know, I asked him to,' Jane's intonation became a clear warning sign not to ask anything else about the matter.
Barsad enjoyed the company of Jane's boy especially, because it wasn't very often that he got to meet him now that Jane had begun to work full time at the health center. John Barsad felt a responsibility over Arthur and was curious and interested to see his growth and development as a human being taking into consideration that half of his genes belonged to none other than Bane. Barsad had never thought that he would see a smaller version of the mightyBane, yet there it was, warily looking at the other children with a suspicious expression on his face that was too familiar to him. Bane had certainly taken no part in the upbringing of the child, but the remarkable strength of his genes was present in the expressions of the child's face, the way in which he carried his little self around, and the size of his body. Arthur was a big boy, although his personality couldn't be more fragile, sensitive and kind.
'Well, I hope he does come,' Barsad passed his hand over Arthur's hair before opening the door for Chase, who had waved at him from outside the window.
The light of the kitchen was on in the small bright blue house that stood at the end of the road. In order to avoid Jane's neighbours, Bane had accessed the coastal village through a nearly forgotten path that had once been used by the natives. The path ran by an ancient wall of stone that protected the traveler from the sea and the wind, and it came out onto the pebbled part of the shore. Bane had walked by the shore to keep away from the lights and to remain unseen. The illumination from that kitchen had guided him in the darkness, and especially, the shadows that moved in it. Bane stroked his beard while his flickering eyes gazed at their movements. That is what they were for him, only shadows of what he could have had. He had become a prisoner in Plato's cave, and even though he was aware of it, he didn't want to be freed.
At the back of the house, his hands levitated over the walls scanning the structure for any damage that needed repair. Warmer times were coming, Jane would probably repaint the wood once the weather would allow it to dry quickly. Perhaps she would change the colour, although Bane had the feeling that Jane liked it that way, bright blue, like the water by the shore.
When he peeked through the window, Bane saw his reflection on the glass, and behind it, the man who had been his best sniper was now busy putting up the hair of a preadolescent Olivia whose features had turned out to be a perfect mix of her deceased parents' appearance. Bane was jealous of John Barsad. Jealous of his ability to adapt to the new way of life that had required him to become an exemplary role model for the daughter of the woman he'd loved. Barsad hadn't needed a minute to consider the path he should take; he'd given everything up for the girl the second she'd become an orphan.
Olivia rolled her eyes at John Barsad when he pointed a finger at her face and delivered some words that she clearly hadn't appreciated. The girl trotted outside of the kitchen and Bane lost sight of her.
'You should come inside.'
Bane directed his hunting eyes towards the entrance door. Jane stood there observing the man that her son would one day turn into with the flat indifferent eyebrows Bane was more than used to see. Bane's gaze was deep and penetrating, a reflection of the strong emotional interdependence that still existed between them, a reminiscence of the life they had spent together, and especially of the last four years and eight months that had passed, of what they had done and said to each other without thinking, out of fear, frustration and apprehension. He knew they cared for each other deeply, but none were willing to show it, not after the outbursts of pride, anger and condescension that they had both experienced against each other, and that they both regretted.
Jane watched him walk close past her into the house, his upper lip hidden beneath his beard, his short clean moist hair shimmering under the moonlight. She was still acquainted with his smell, with the size of his body, and the rhythm of his steps. She knew that man so well that it felt almost illogical and absurd to keep holding grudges against him, but remembering his stubbornness and his hostile words made her blood boil and she wasn't sure her heart would ever stop simmering with rancour.
'You came,' Fredrik wore a dark grey waist apron with brown pockets where he kept a stained cloth that he used to clean his hands before shaking Bane's. It always startled Bane how close Jane had become with his men, that they would walk around her house like they were under their own roof, treat her like one of their own, interact with the child she'd bore like they were his uncles or his own personal collection of godfathers. Bane had remained oblivious to the development of those relationships, and he couldn't blame anyone but himself.
'Yes,' Bane nodded with a frown. He inspected the place analytically. It had been five years since the last time he had been inside that house, and it had been empty then.
'Come on in,' Fredrik tilted his shoulder towards the kitchen inviting him in.
Bane grunted to himself. He had travelled the world, visited remote villages, slept in the middle of the dessert, but it was that house full of life that was the most unfamiliar space. His big tall body was constrained in between those walls covered in drawings, photographs, and paper stars that hung from the windows, floating over sills decorated with transparent jars full of shells, stones and pale white sand. Bane felt trapped, caged, attacked. He passed his hand over his hair after he entered the kitchen.
The boy was there, sitting on Chase's lap. The presence of Bane under his same roof broke his concentration, although he didn't move a muscle, and stared at Bane with an intensity that caused the hair at the back of his neck stand up.
'Hello, everybody,' Bane didn't know if he wanted to be feared or loved, he was confused, probably as confused as the child having him inside the safety of his home. 'Hello, Arthur.'
The boy remained silence.
'You're the host, buddy, it's your birthday, talk to your guest,' Chase gave the boy a thumbs up together with a wink.
'Hi,' the boy mumbled.
Bane sat by the white wooden table beneath the window, in front of Chase and next to Fredrik. Arthur knelt on Chase's lap in front of him. He tilted his fragile neck from side to side without taking his eyes off the table, lost in his own thoughts. Sometimes he blew at the hair that fell on his eyes, removed it with the side of his arm or made a quick movement of the head closing his eyelids to open them again slowly. Bane couldn't take his eyes off him, his heart beat fast and felt full, his blood had melted and began to warm his body again.
'It's my birthday,' the boy didn't look at him when he talked. It reminded Bane of Jane, of the many times he had pushed her chin up and told her to look at people in the eye. Bane wanted to do the same thing with Arthur, place his fingers on his small chin and carefully push his head up. Instead, he rubbed the palms of his hands over his thighs to dry their sweat.
Arthur finally looked up at him and grinned showing his small and slightly separated milk teeth. His face changed when he smiled. His features were lifted with happiness, his cheeks became fuller, his forehead relaxed, and his otherwise full lips became thinner as they stretched from ear to ear.
'Did you get any presents?' Barsad sat at the end of the table after helping Jane with the last details of the night.
'Mhm,' Arthur turned to him. It turned out that the boy had no problem looking at people in the eye. It was only Bane that caused that reaction, and his heart sank a little bit after the realisation.
'I went to Gotham,' he glanced at his mother searching for reassurance, Jane nodded at him after washing her hands to sit down by the window next to Chase. Bane discretely glanced at her, at her flushed cheeks from the heat of the oven, and at her almost red lips that had just tasted the hot sauce of the meal they were about to eat. Bane turned his eyes away from her when Jane noticed his staring.
'I met grandma Linda, aunt Sarah, cousin Adrian, cousin Willa,' the boy counted his fingers, 'and mom's friend, Roger.'
'What is Roger up to these days?' Barsad turned to Jane while officially inaugurating the dinner time by beginning to fill his plate with food.
Bane imitated him, strategically serving himself with the food that was at his reach so that he wouldn't have to ask Jane to pass him any other plate or bowl.
'Still looking,' Jane fixed her eyes on Bane, who pretended to remain ignorant to the conversation, and instead worried about not crushing the glass he'd filled with water, 'still searching,' Jane added.
Olivia brought a breeze of fresh air into the table when she stood next to Barsad, although it was too late to relieve Bane from the heavy heart he'd have to carry around probably for the rest of the evening. Bane composed himself, and stroked his beard.
'Can we get more potatoes?' Olivia was holding onto Barsad's shoulder when she noticed Bane's presence, 'hi,' she told him politely.
'Hello, Olivia,' Bane nodded at her, his visible lower lip curling up into a smile that he tried not to force too much. He had no idea what John Barsad had told the girl, if she remembered what had happened, if she remembered him, if she held him responsible for the death of her mother and father, like probably the rest of the table did. 'You've grown quite much since the last time I saw you,' he pointed out.
Olivia brought one hand to her hip.
'Well, apparently I haven't grown up enough to go out alone on Friday nights,' she sent John Barsad a deadly stare which made Bane feel a bit of amusement inside. Bane held a truthful smile and hid his face towards his plate.
'Olivia,' Barsad sighed, 'take what you want and leave, please. We're not having that conversation again, especially not now.'
Olivia served some more potatoes into a bowl that Jane had passed her and she disappeared back into the living room, where the sound of the television almost muted the laughter of Fredrik's son. Bane was shocked at the change in Olivia's personality, as well as Linus'. He remembered quite well how shy and reserved they were, and judging by their behaviour one could say they had grown up to be quite the opposite. Bane turned his eyes to Arthur and wondered whether the younger child would experience that same evolution, although Bane was pretty sure that he would remain silent and observant even through adolescence.
'Relax, John,' Jane chuckled, 'it'll pass.'
'I can't handle the whatevers,' Barsad drank the wine from his glass at once, 'thank you for the wine, Chase, it's very much appreciated.'
'No problem, man.'
Chase rose his glass to him, then he repositioned Arthur on his lap and checked on the food that the boy had eaten. Bane wondered when it had become a habit for Arthur to eat with Chase, how often they met each other, which things they did together, how much Chase knew his son more than he did. Bane gulped at the thought of the word son. He poured himself more water and took a big sip hoping that it would have been something stronger.
'I heard you might need help with the solar panels,' Fredrik told him, 'I can give you a hand too.'
'Oh,' Bane shook his head while drying his lips, 'I already finished them myself, but I appreciate your offer.'
'When did you put them up?'
'Last night,' Bane cleared his throat.
'Last night?' Barsad insisted.
'I couldn't sleep.'
The silence that fell over the table was thick enough for Arthur to notice it, and the child immediately began to wriggle in Chase's arms in the direction of his mother. Jane held him with careful hands, cradled him on her lap and whispered things to his ear that Bane was eager to hear, although the distance would prevent him from doing so. Arthur nodded rubbing his eyes and sat up for a while more while Jane used the fork to feed him the last pieces of his dinner. When his stomach was full, Arthur laid back against his mother's chest, playing with his own hair, the intervals between yawns becoming shorter and shorter as the night advanced.
Fredrik chuckled and pointed at the boy with his eyes.
'He's out,' he told Jane.
Jane couldn't see the boy's face, so she slowly passed her fingers over his dark blond hair in a repetitive movement that Bane wished to feel on his own skin. When Jane directed her gaze towards Bane, she became fixed on his expression and on the small details of his face. Time had certainly passed, but the years had only improved Bane's appearance, and the small wrinkles at the edge of his eyes did nothing but contribute to the attraction that Jane still felt for him. The attraction wasn't only physical, but also emotional and Jane knew it had reached levels that sometimes scared her.
With Arthur in the world, their lives were forever tied and she couldn't help but care for the man whose blood ran inside the curious boy that slept on her arms, even though he hadn't behaved precisely accordingly to his role. He'd fled the responsibility like he'd fled Gotham, leaving the fire of the last of their many arguments still burning the foundations of their relationship down to the ground. Jane was scared that only ashes remained, and she knew he was scared of that too, especially when his eyes flew from Arthur's face to her own and he maintained his stare on hers.
Her first reaction was to stretch her fingers onto Arthur's belly to check that he was still there and that his breathing was still slow and deep in his sleep. That small instinctive movement made Bane realise how much more deeper his love for Jane had grown. He had missed the first years of the boy's life, and he was at risk of missing the rest, an idea that made his stomach turn. He had never seen Jane behave so protectively and lovingly like she was doing in that moment, although seeing the woman he loved and the child they'd created together was a confusing experience for Bane. He regretted the turbulent situation in which the boy had been conceived and sometimes, he continued to wonder if everything would have been much easier if Jane had taken the decision to not give him life. That boy was both the link and the wall between their hearts, and Bane's feelings towards him were just as contradictory.
'Do you wanna go to sleep?' Jane talked to the boy's ear, who was now standing on her thighs and hugging her neck. His knees bent rhythmically from one side to the other, like they were taking turns on holding his tired body up. Jane wrapped her arms around them, brought his small frame down and held him like one would hold a younger child. 'You're tired,' she said clearing his hair away from his face.
Arthur put a hand on Jane's face and grabbed her nose. Jane laughed.
'You're such a clown,' she told him.
'I don't want bed,' Arthur said sitting up.
'You need to sleep,' Jane kissed his cheek.
'I want to say bye,' Arthur stroked Jane's eyelids and poked her nose again.
Bane took his eyes away from her skin and focused on his own empty plate again. He remembered the few months that they had enjoyed together right after Jane's recovery, when they had bathed naked in the lake, when Jane had woken him up almost every morning that she came to visit because the butterflies in his stomach had prevented him from falling asleep at a decent hour. Most of the times, he had woken up with the sound of her jeep, but had remained in bed, waiting for her; some others, he'd open his eyes to find her sitting on the floor right in front of him, reading one of her new medicine books. He'd loved to wake up like that, seeing her the first thing in the morning, knowing that she was still there.
Bane's body was incapable of leaving the foot of the staircase when every one else had left and it was only Jane, Arthur and he sharing the space under that ceiling. Arthur had fallen asleep in Jane's arms, his legs falling at either side of his mother's body, his head comfortably resting on the space between her shoulder and neck, being stroked by her hair, warmed by her skin. Bane could only imagine how that felt like, being held by one's mother like that. Jane walked up to him.
'He needs to go to bed,' she whispered.
Bane nodded stepping to a side. He hadn't realised that he was blocking her way upstairs since he had been too absorbed in his thoughts. He swallowed hard. The uncomfortableness had come back. Jane's steps came to a stop.
'You can come if you want to,' she said softly.
Bane looked up at her holding onto the post where the handrails ended. Jane could immediately identify the hesitation in his eyes, she could read right through them because they showed the same gesture that Arthur made whenever he was scared or unsure about something.
'Come,' she gave one more step, 'it's fine.'
The source of yellow light coming from a lamp on the bathroom wall was clearly reflected on Arthur's eyes, right in the middle of his grey irises, at the top of his pupils, faintly covered by long eyelashes. Up close, Bane noticed that his irises had an almost imperceptible shade of washed green, like the colour of dry sage. The boy kept on staring at the small white tiles of the wall, although to Bane it seemed like his stare was mainly focused on the light. Bane bent his neck to observe how the little boy fought to stay awake in front of the bathroom sink while his mother prepared his toothbrush. It marvelled Bane that he could have created such a good and innocent creature, that an individual of such characteristics could be partly his.
'What's your name?' Arthur said without looking at him, pointing at the lamp and using his finger to cover the light coming from it. Then, he blinked with one eye, and moved his index finger again.
Jane shook her head to Bane.
'I don't have one,' Bane observed Arthur's total absorption with the games of perspective, 'you can pick one for me.'
That last sentence caught Arthur's attention. He turned around to look at Bane's face instead of the lights. The boy was both tired and confused, which made Bane smile, although he tried to hide it by crossing his arms over his chest and reaching to stroke his beard once again.
'Bob!' Arthur showed his milk teeth full of toothpaste.
'Bob it is, then,' Bane's cheeks folded up into a grin which became even wider when he looked at Jane. She was smiling too, biting her lower lip while shaking her head and beginning to chuckle.
After a few more minutes observing the lights in silence while he finished brushing his teeth under Jane's supervision, Arthur decided to take his lantern and venture himself into the darkness that extended in the opposite direction of the bathroom and surrounded his bed. His fingers clung onto the lantern like he was using a weapon, although his sense of aim hadn't developed very much and the focus of the light ended up either on the floor or on the ceiling most of the times. Bane realised that Arthur was extremely methodical with his movements. His steps were short and slow and he kept his head bent down while he analyzed every inch of the floor in search of the imaginary monsters he feared.
Arthur laid down on his bed and used his index finger to delineate a strange outline in the air. He glanced at Bane out of the corner of his eye while he kept on throwing his hands to the air to draw imaginary dragons, great whales and frogs. Arthur caught a glimpse of the colourful book that Bane held behind his body. The boy hid his face under the pillow. He peeked outside when he heard someone's steps. It was his mother.
'What is it, silly?' Jane asked following the direction of his eyes, 'oh,' Jane looked at Bane, 'you brought it.'
Arthur pulled from his mother's hand and whispered something to her ear when Jane reached his face under the pillow.
'I think so,' Jane nodded at him with a smile, 'maybe you can ask him yourself.'
Jane saw Arthur's dark blond hair before he was able to see his face. The boy clumsily cleared the hair away from his face and brought his hand to his mouth. His body wasn't that of a toddler anymore, he had lost all the fat that had made him a big chubby baby boy and the features of his face had become more pronounced. He'd clearly gotten Bane's facial structure. At the beginning, Arthur had only resembled Jane, but now that the boy was leaving behind the infant stage, Bane's genes had taken control and Jane could not look at her son without seeing the man that had given him life. Arthur's face made her wonder about Bane's childhood, about the family that he'd never met, about the people that had created him, Arthur's paternal grandparents. Jane sighed with a heavy heart. She suddenly felt sad for them, for not being able to see their son, Bane, all grown up, for not being able to meet the boy he'd brought into life.
Jane took Bane's hand, the hand of a man that had seen her mother being tortured and murdered, the hand of a man that had been abandoned by his father. She squeezed his fingers and pulled her closer to him, closer to them.
'Is it for me?' Arthur's shy voice finally came out.
Bane noticed that the size of his own body intimidated the child. He thought of crouching down, of approaching him slowly just like he would approach a scared animal, of letting him hold his hand so that he would realise that they were not going to hurt him. Instead, he stood there with his inscrutable countenance hiding his thoughts.
'Yes,' Bane handed him the book doubtful that his slender arms would be strong enough to hold the heavy album, 'your mother said it was.'
Jane helped Arthur get hold of the book and put it on his lap. The boy opened the pages and covered his mouth once again when he saw himself in the photographs that adorned the pages.
'Do you know who this is?' Jane asked him sitting next to him, shoulder against shoulder, like they were the best of friends, the best of companions. Bane watched their easy interaction with longing eyes.
'It's me!' Arthur pointed at the photograph, 'and you, look.'
'Yeah, that's me,' Jane observed the photograph, 'do you want to see how you looked like when you were really tiny?'
Arthur nodded while Jane passed all the pages at once and showed him the very first photograph that she had taken of the boy when he'd been only one day old. Arthur frowned.
'That's not me,' he said confused.
'It is, I can promise you that,' Jane chuckled.
'It's ugly,' Arthur brought his face closer to the photograph, 'was I ugly?'
'Guess what?' Jane looked at him playfully, 'you still are.'
Arthur's initial frown quickly became and grin and he lazily tossed his arms around Jane's neck.
'I'm not ugly!'
'Of course you are not,' Jane hugged him and held him close to her by wrapping her arm around his body, 'you're the most handsome boy on the planet.'
'What does it say?' Arthur pointed at the handwritten text below the picture. Jane took a look at it.
'You can read these two words,' she encouraged him, 'you know them.'
'Ar-thur,' he followed the letters with his index finger, 'S-S-Sy-kes. My name?'
'Yeah, because it's your book,' Jane kissed his cheek.
'What says under?'
Jane tilted her head to read. She felt her heart pounding quicker when she distinguished Bane's handwriting in the black inked letters that adorned the foot of the page. It was the first time that he and Arthur shared a common space, the first time that the close relationship that they shared was somehow made official thanks to the small B. at the end of the two lines. Jane passed her fingers over the words.
'Born out of the ashes of destruction. Our phoenix. Our regeneration.'
Jane dried the lonely tear that she'd let escape. Then she covered her mouth, and laughed a little when she looked up at Bane.
'Just a bit dark for a child's book, isn't it?' her shoulders shuddered with her chuckling.
Bane held a grin.
'I spent a fair amount of time trying to figure it out.'
'I bet,' she stroked his fingers with hers, 'thank you.'
Bane nodded watching Arthur's gesture of reflection.
'Do you like what it says?' Bane dared ask.
'I don't understand it.'
'Of course you don't, you're exhausted,' Jane laid him down under the thick white blanket and kissed his forehead, 'good night, handsome,' Jane nuzzled the boy's hair, 'I love you,' she whispered into his ear.
'Are you downstairs?'
'Yeah, we will be downstairs. Sleep now.'
'Yes, with Bob,' Jane sigh became a laugh, 'good night, Arthur.'
'Good night, mom,' Arthur turned around under the blanket and stuck his face out to look at Bane, 'good night, Bob.'
Bane tried to see the face of his son in the sudden darkness.
'Good night, boy.'
Bane followed Jane's steps downstairs. As it had become a habit, Jane put the kettle on and prepared two big cups with half a teaspoon of honey for both of them. A hot cup of tea had always helped them to calm their nerves down and find a good excuse to sit down in front of each other to talk for as long as the tea lasted inside their cups. Most of the times Bane had wished for Jane to offer a refill, but she'd never done that after Arthur had been born. The child had required her attention and the last thing that Bane had wanted was to come in between them. He didn't mind waiting fifteen years if that's what it would take for Jane to welcome him into her life again. He would wait for her.
By that time, Arthur would have become nineteen. Bane tried to remember himself in his early twenties, and he also tried to imagine what Arthur would look like, how he'd behave, the friends he'd have, the interests he'd developed. He was sure the boy would be an intelligent man, and also kind. He couldn't turn out any other way having Jane as a mother.
'Wanna come to the living room?' Jane held the two cups, one in each hand, and walked slowly and carefully towards the living room, her eyes fixed on the level of the tea.
'Of course,' Bane took the cup from one of her hands.
Bane didn't know if he should be surprised at the tidiness in the room. Arthur's toys were kept inside a large wooden trunk that judging by its bright colour was probably made of birch. His crayons lay on a small rectangular basket, all pointing in the same direction, all carefully placed on top of each and ordered by colour. Jane smiled at Bane's expression when he sat down on the sofa.
'I've taught him to be ordered with his things,' she sipped at her tea, 'I wasn't gonna make the same mistake again.'
'He seems to have the right personality for it as well.'
'Yeah, he does. He sees it as a game.'
Bane focused on his tea, on the caramel hue that it had acquired and he hoped that Jane would think his cheeks were blushing because of the hot beverage he held in his hands. He placed the cup on the squared coaster made of cork before reaching to grab the backpack that he had carried with him all the way from the cabin in the woods. He slid a brown envelope across the coffee table towards Jane.
'Since it's the child's birthday, I thought I would also bring you this.'
'Oh, is it for him?' she asked confused.
'For both of you, I would say,' Bane adapted his body to the back of the sofa in a slightly proud movement that puffed his chest up.
Jane's lips became tense against each other when she made the move and took the sheets of paper that had been concealed inside the envelope. She could sense Bane's eyes on her when she took a look at the paper and identified it as the printed copy of a digital document.
'What is this?' she asked noting how his fingers had begun to shake.
'Well, what does it say?' Bane urged her to keep on looking at the other pages with a movement of his hand, 'read.'
Jane cleared her throat, her subconsciousness accelerated her pulse like it had already deciphered the information before she could have processed it himself. She frowned. The free hand that didn't support her cup of tea had risen up to cover her mouth and nose. She lowered her sight and just sat there, breathing through her mouth while her silent tears stained her simple but beautiful dress. Jane glanced at the paper with hesitation, not sure whether she wanted to read it or not, whether she wanted it to be real or not. Bane found it hard to maintain his stare on hers when she cried.
'Immediate cause of the death, cardiac arrest,' Jane read to herself with a shaky voice, 'due to or as a consequence of cerebrovascular accident,' her voice broke, 'due to or as a consequence of gunshot wound of head. What? Wh-?'
'I figured it would be easier than trying to erase my lengthy curricula.'
Jane's snuffle made Bane's own tears escape, although he kept his eyes on the table so that they wouldn't be revealed.
'I'm sorry,' she mumbled standing up to walk around and leave. In an unexpected movement, Bane extended his arm and prevented her from giving one more step. He held her hips. Jane froze to his touch, but she kept on walking knowing that he would not insist.
The sound of her steps muffled his voice. Bane breathed in scared that he'd start to cry if he decided to open the air passage between his lungs and his mouth. He covered his face with his hands and used the table as a support for the otherwise shaky elbows that would not stand the weight of his head while his nerves were overloaded with the thousands of electric impulses that they received from his brain and heart.
Jane stood at the end of the room, by the large window from which she could see the beach being consumed by the darkness of the night. The weak yellow light that came from a small lamp was the only illumination that her face received, although it was enough to reveal her watery eyes and the shivering of her lips. She turned around when Bane's steps broke the silence of the room. When she closed her eyes, a few more tears ran down her cheeks. Bane didn't take his eyes off her that time. He forced himself to watch her cry, to see her suffering and face her issues. The heat inside his chest made him unfasten the only three buttons of his long sleeved t-shirt.
'You,' she pointed a finger at his face with an eerie calm gesture, 'you left-'
'You know why I disappeared, Jane. You know I did it to protect you, both of you.'
'You didn't want him.'
'You didn't want him either.'
'Well, we messed up,' she pulled her hair behind her ears.
'And I am trying to repair that mess.'
She dried her face.
'I know,' she drew a shuddering breath, 'I know.'
'Jane, I'm also scared.'
She looked at him.
'I don't want to put the boy in danger,' she mumbled, 'but I don't want to be away from you either.'
'I thought about leaving,' she snuffled, 'the island.'
'I did as well.'
'Is that why you grew the hair and the beard?' Jane smiled a little when she looked at him again.
Bane leaned against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest.
'Yes, but I might decide to keep it now that I've discovered that you rather fancy it.'
Jane laughed out loud.
'I know you are wearing that dress because I complimented you the first time you put it on.'
'You're right,' she nodded still laughing.
Bane chuckled as silently as he could. He relaxed his shoulders allowing himself to take a good breath of air, enjoying the sound of Jane's laugh while her factions softened and her crying stopped.
'Why did you want to leave?' she asked him.
'To find myself again,' Bane's voice became quieter, 'so that I would have the answers that the boy would demand in adulthood.'
Jane's heart jumped inside her chest.
'Do you still want to leave?'
'I don't know. Do you?'
'Sometimes I think about it, but I don't want to leave you.'
Jane watched their reflection on the window as his hand slid over her hips, softly and slowly, making his way around her waist to gently pressure the small of her back and bring her body closer to his in the most intimate physical contact that they had had in years. He exposed the long pale neck that the loose burgundy dress so delicately framed, tilting her face towards him, noticing how she closed her eyes when it was only his thumb that separated the skin right below their lips.
Bane kissed her deep and slow, stroking her tongue with his with a softness that made his skin tingle. His blood pressure increased, his body felt warm, and when Jane ran her fingers through his hair, the tingling sensation exploded towards all the nerve ends of his body. He had longed to have her close, to feel the soft skin of her lips, and to hear her soft moan when he pressed his hips against hers, imagining the reaction of her naked body right beneath the dress. Jane moaned a little louder. Bane groaned biting her lips.
Jane spread the palm of her hand on his chest pushing him away slightly, forcing herself to let the cool air flow between their heated bodies. The sleeping butterflies in Jane's stomach woke up from their slumber. She gulped as silently as she could and attempted to control her breathing so that her heart wouldn't explode out of her chest.
'Bane, it's not only us that we need to think about.'
'I know,' he was still panting, 'it wasn't only us that I thought about in the forest.'
'What did you think about?'
'I don't know what's best for him, Jane. I don't know if I should remain a stranger that he'll forget. How will I talk to him in twenty years and tell him that I am the reason his older brother died?'
'He doesn't know about William, Bane. I don't want him to. I don't know if it's the right decision or not, or if I'll change my mind in the future, but right now I don't see any point in telling him. I don't want him to be sad, or to worry that he could die as well. I don't want him to think about those things,' Jane hesitated to talk, 'there are certain things that should remain untold. Life's hard enough. He doesn't need to know of the past.'
Bane nodded, and Jane heard him breathe loudly.
'Would you like some more tea?' she caught his eyes.
'Yes, I would, thank you.'
Bane stared at the waves that his stirring spoon caused on the surface of the hot water that smelled of lemon and ginger. The undulations were deep in the center of the cup, but dissipated before reaching the edges, and the surface there became calm and flat again. Perhaps that's how the history of his life would look like. He had caused the waves to raise, but Arthur would only feel a small impact of them in the shape of his mother's occasional tears; and his descendants, if he had any, would only wonder why Arthur sometimes thought that his mother had kept some secrets. The third generation would only shrug at Jane's name, and the fourth, would have forgotten it. It was easy to forget a name if that name wasn't connected to a matter of grave concern. Perhaps that's what Jane wanted, to forget, to be able to be forgotten, to let others move on from the tragedy and remain unaware of it.
'What are you thinking about?' Jane rested her body against the window while she warmed her hands up with the cup.
'The future,' he said softly, 'I've also arranged the deaths of Barsad and Fredrik, and Chase has a clean record now.'
Bane stood next to her facing the window, observing the outdoors, still fascinated at how the black sea of the night merged with the sky. At some point, his stare became lost somewhere in the reflection of his face on the glass, in his very own eyes that stared back at him with harshness and condemnation.
Jane stretched out her hand to touch his arm.
'Bane, look at me.'
He tilted his head slowly. The sight of Jane's face was much more welcoming and softer than his, like a warm shower after a long day. She hugged him close, surrounded his broad shoulders with her arms and pressed him against her, feeling how his arms hadn't forgotten the curves of her body and how he wrapped her in a second like those five years apart had never been.
'I forgive you,' she said softly after his lips had landed on her neck, 'I forgave you a while ago but I didn't dare to say it.'
Bane's eyebrows twitched quickly when he looked at her again up close.
'What is it that you are forgiving me for?'
Bane blinked slowly, his eyes moving fast.
'I need to move on,' she picked her words carefully, 'we need to move on.'
'Yeah,' Jane looked surprised at the space below the doorframe that led to the hall and the kitchen, 'that boy doesn't deserve a life stuck in the past, and I'm not gonna give him that.'
Arthur stood beneath the doorframe wearing his grey pyjamas. His hair looked almost golden with the faint light of the living room; and his skin, rosier.
'Mommy, are you crying?' he asked with a shaky voice as his lips trembled.
'No, come here.'
Arthur's careful steps stopped by Jane's legs. He held onto them hiding his face against her body. Bane flinched at the action being brought back in time to the moment when his own mother had been alive. He suddenly remembered the sickening smell of the prison, the smell of dry blood, rust, rot and death. The screams of the inmates at night, the image of his mother's corpse being thrown away into the sea, which he had been forced to witness, and how it had affected his six year-old brain. Bane glanced at Arthur, at Jane picking him up and bringing the child close to her face where she could smell his hair and kiss his forehead. Jane reached out a hand and dried Bane's cheek.
'You've never held him,' she said.
Bane shook his head.
'Do you want to?'
Arthur noticed the change in smell and how Bane's beard scratched the soft skin of his forehead that his mother had just kissed. A stronger arm lifted him up and then the face of the strange man from the woods appeared closer to his. Arthur obtained a new perspective of his little world; suddenly, he could see his mother from a higher point, she looked smaller but just as warm as he remembered her. He could move freely in the arms of a man that didn't seem to loose his balance whenever he made a sudden turn or dared to set his arms free from his neck.
'Bob,' Arthur said looking at him.
The boy passed his fingers over his beard and carefully pulled from some of the hairs from his left cheek. His hand smelled of apple, chocolate and the wax of his crayons. No dry blood, no rust, no rot. Bane inhaled the smell hoping that it would impregnate the darker memories of his childhood, the awful images of his past. Arthur yawned and rubbed his eyes. The face of the man holding him seemed somewhat familiar, friendly, like he had seen it many times before even though he hadn't met the man that much. Having someone he could identify made Arthur feel at ease, and following the inertia of his sleep, the boy rested his head on Bane's shoulder and nuzzled against his neck finding a comfortable position to finally close his eyes. Bane tightened his arm around him, and with the other one, he reached for Jane.
'We'll have to move,' Jane nervously played with his fingers.
'Somewhere small, distant and remote,' he gazed at her, 'not very populated.'
'Somewhere he can be happy.'
By the wide window of the bright blue house, Jane, Arthur and Bane observed the deep endless blackness of the night.
'Bane, are we doing this?'
Bane took the deepest breath he'd ever taken in his life. As air flew into his lungs, images of his own life flowed through his brain. His violent childhood, his murderous hatred of his father, the constant mistrust, the pain he'd suffered and the pain he'd caused. He'd surely been born in the darkness, but he didn't have to die in it.
'Yes, we are.'
- So, this was it! Thank you all so much for your support and for your nice words over these four years - I can't believe it's taken so long! I hope you enjoyed reading Regeneration and that you liked the ending as well. Take care and see you around! I'm gonna miss writing about these two :(