A/N: Thank you so much Guest, Anna10473, perfect fluke, batman bane, murtagh799, cypris88, Guest, CJ, Eemmah, Guest, onlyroses, elleismyname, Guest, Turtle Kid the Woolgatherer, hufflepuff-ish, WinterEveOrchid, Yami Mizuna, Guest, K9Train, and Guest for your reviews. I'm so thrilled you guys are still reading this story. :D Enjoy the update!
Warning: This chapter contains some graphic imagery not okay for all readers.
I opened my eyes to an interrogation room: white, glaring, and sterile, like the ones we used with perps down at MCU. I sat at the table and across from me, in his typical shit-brown suit and jet black eyes, was Hobbes. He gave me one of those funny expressions, half a smile and the raise of his thick eyebrows; it wasn't reassuring, nor was it condemning.
"Hey Irene," he said, and he produced a styrofoam cup of Sanka from out of nowhere; it made me want to laugh. Everywhere he went he carried a stupid styrofoam cup of Sanka, didn't matter if we were looking at surveillance videos or investigating a gruesome crime scene, there was Hobbes and his trademark cup of Sanka.
Somehow I managed to give him a smile. "Hey Robbie."
He sat back in his seat and crossed one leg over the other, cradling the side of his face with his fingers, the way he used to when he was filling out paperwork. He considered me curiously for a moment before breaking the silence once more. "You know it wasn't my idea, right?"
Good ol'Hobbes, always unassuming, never in the wrong, the antithesis of drama. I had a feeling I knew what he was talking about, and I knew, just as I had always known, that no, it hadn't been his idea; in fact, he found the whole idea really impersonal, the same way I did.
I nodded. "I know."
"Whew," he said, chuckling a little, and he put up his hands in relief. "Sorry. I know you love the guy, I love him too, but yeesh."
My eyes began to burn; I couldn't actually recall the last time I had seen him like this, or the last time we spoke, even. It seemed like so long ago.
"You know he actually wanted to wait until your birthday," he said, raising his eyebrows at me as though it was some big secret. "He wanted to get one of those big ass cakes; he was going to sit in it with no clothes on and then jump out. Honest to god, that's what he was planning. Be thankful I talked him out of it."
There was nothing I would have liked more in the world than to see Peter jump out of a birthday cake at that exact moment. Instead all I could do was chuckle a bit. "I could always count on you to keep him from doing something stupid."
"For the most part," Hobbes said, sitting back in his chair and sipping Sanka from his styrofoam cup, his shit-brown suit opening up to reveal the crisp white collared shirt underneath.
I watched him, looked over every inch of him, perfect and undisturbed as he always was with his full head of thick black hair, his eyes far too close together, his startlingly tall height, taller than Behn by at least an inch, though that always seemed impossible. He was exactly the kind of detective you saw in all the old-time detective television shows, and I often wondered if that's why he got into the work. All he needed was a moustache and he could star in his own police drama.
In the back of my head I wondered if he knew that Peter was dead, and that Behn was gone too. But I didn't dare bring it to light.
But as I pushed it to the back of my mind, something strange caught my eye.
On the perfect whiteness of his collared shift, something dark began to appear: long, thick lines, sporadically placed. They seemed to show through the shirt like bruises, and then they began to soak through. And then I knew only too well what they were.
All over his sides, down along his stomach and his chest, up towards his neck, they all appeared slowly, a criss-cross pattern of angry red.
I wanted to brush the tears away from my cheeks, but I couldn't move my arms. All I could do was sit with my hands bundled in my lap, not moving, staring at him in horror. I wanted a Kleenex, and there was none to be found. I wanted to shut my eyes and block it all out, but I couldn't.
All I could do was shake my head dismally. "I'm so sorry, Robbie."
He frowned, his bushy eyebrows knitting together; he was completely unaware of it. "Sorry for what?"
"We didn't know," I said, watching as the whiteness of his shirt was soaked in red, spilling from deep wounds. He sat there as if nothing was happening, nothing at all. "If we did-"
"Oh, hey," he said, laughing a little. "Water under the bridge, you know."
"If one of us had just gone upstairs with you…" I trailed out, thinking about how we'd let him out of the cab, how we watched him fumble around for his keys in his pocket, how he waved at us once he was inside the security door to his apartment building. He was drunk, we were all drunk, but one of us, one of us at least should have taken the time to go upstairs with him, make sure he got out of his shoes, at least, and got into bed. Maybe then-
But he shrugged, as though it was no big deal that we let him walk upstairs to his death. "But then he would have got two of us."
I squeezed my eyes closed, and then I could move my hands. I put my face into my palms as my shoulders shook. Maybe it was true; if two of us went into his dark apartment, maybe the Mockingbird would have taken the axe to both of us. But maybe it wasn't true; maybe if he saw there were two of us, he would have chickened out and slipped out somehow, the way he came. We didn't know, and we wouldn't know.
I could feel one of Hobbes's big hands reach across the table and touch my arm comfortingly. "Irene, don't sweat it, please."
I looked up at him, shaking my head at him dismally, but I couldn't form words.
"Hey," he said, giving my arm a squeeze and smiling. "It was the best birthday I ever had. I mean that. You guys are true blue."
The blood on his shirt began to drip onto the floor; I could hear it under the table. And somewhere, somewhere in that terrifying little white room, I could hear the melody, that damned, cursed melody that was waiting for us when we stopped by his place the next morning. Hush little baby, don't say a word…
"Irene," he said, snapping my attention back up to him and I swallowed back a scream.
The coroner said the Mockingbird had taken the axe to him at least three times in the same spot down the middle of his face; there Hobbes sat across from me, as casual as ever, with the left side of his face completely hacked, just as we had found him. His left eye was ruined beyond repair; his left ear was a bunch of severed pieces, and his skin, his skull, everything had come completely away just above his left cheekbone, revealing the plush pinkness of his insides, open to the air. My stomach lurched and churned, just as it had that morning, but all I could do was stare in horror.
"Something's really been bugging me," he said, completely oblivious to the mutilated left side of his head as he leaned forward, putting his arms out in front of him on the table. "About the bust we did at that party, remember? The one on Halloween? Did anything strike you as odd about it?"
I couldn't form words. I couldn't even think.
"It wasn't the guy's usual MO," he said as blood spilled down over his face and neck, down to his blood-soaked shirt. "I know Eckhart said to leave it be, but still…"
I froze as suddenly I felt someone behind me, stepping up to the back of my chair. I'd been so focused and so horrified on what was happening to Hobbes that I hadn't even felt it until it was too late. Whoever it was hung over me like a dark cloud; the smell of body odour and sweat overpowered the scent of blood from across the table. I tensed my entire body, my breath sitting inside my chest like rock, and felt two hands take my shoulders, massaging them roughly. I kept my eyes on Hobbes, directly on Hobbes; I wanted to beg him for help, but I knew he couldn't help me, just like we couldn't have helped him that night. I started to shake and couldn't stop; I wanted to whisper his name and get his attention, get him to do something, anything! But then I felt the bastard at my back lean down and whisper in my ear.
"See you soon, Detective Salter."
I jolted awake, barely able to keep from crying out. My cheeks were raw and sore from tears, my neck ached from stiffness, and even before I knew where I was I could feel a heavy presence in the room, in front of me, like the dead coming back to haunt me.
He stood before the fireplace, a solid presence in the darkness, the grooves of his mask alighting in the cold light slowly peeking in from the windows. I could only just make out the shape of him, the towering strength of his form, the green of his eyes as he looked down at me over his shoulder. At any other time, in any other state of mind, I would have been fully awake and alert with worry knowing that he was standing there watching me sleep for god knew how long. But I was tired. My entire body felt heavy, like I couldn't move it at all.
I sat myself up after a struggle to acknowledge his presence; I pressed my back against the couch and curled my legs up to my chest. He watched me in silence, not breathing, not saying a word, not doing anything but simply watching me. It was as if the last time we had met he hadn't almost given the order for Barsad to shoot me in the head. It was as if he had completely forgotten what had happened in the courtroom.
"You came here in the night, I understand," Bane said lowly, in a strange tone that I couldn't identify as suspicious or empathetic. He was obviously more than a little curious that I had risked my personal safety to roam the streets of Gotham after dark. He then turned and squared his shoulders to me, but looked down at my duffle bag in a very meaningful way.
I didn't have the strength to lie to him. Even if I had, there would have been no use. He could read people better than anyone. I sighed heavily, looking away from him. "I was scared."
"Mmm..." he mused as though he meant to agree, the sound amplified by the mask. "Fear is indeed a prison."
I blinked at him sleepily, unsure what the point was he was trying to make. I watched him come towards me in slow, even steps, pulling the ottoman from the armchair to set it in front of the couch at a respectable distance. I couldn't help but drag my eyes along the structure of his powerful form as he stepped over the ottoman and then sat down upon it, as though he meant for us to have a very frank discussion.
That was when he produced something between his hands, something small that he was easily able to conceal. He held it between his fingers to look at it, and from the light I could see it was the size of a credit card. It never occurred to me at all what it might have been until I heard him speak.
My name in the mask was low and almost sensuous, as though he had never heard of it before, as though he believed it to be beautiful and sinister at the same time. And though I didn't look into his eyes, I sucked in an alarmed breath.
I closed my eyes, waiting for the boom.
"Irene, goddess of peace," he mused, the tone in his voice lifting in interest.
It was foolish to be annoyed or angry that he had gone into my things. But my brain wouldn't even register the panic that should have come with knowing that he now knew my real name, that I had deceived him yet again with a false identity and here he had the proof. In the moment, I couldn't even be grateful that I had left my badge and formal police identification at Behn's apartment.
All I could do was sit there with a voice screaming in the back of my head: run! Run! The jig is up, get out while you still can! But I didn't; my body was exhausted, my limbs heavy like bags of sand. If he wanted to kill me right then and there, I wouldn't have been able to fight back.
I looked into his green eyes once more, and he regarded me with one eyebrow higher than the other, and when he spoke again, his voice was softer. "But you are far from peace, aren't you?"
For some strange, strange reason, a smile threatened my lips. I don't know if it was out of exasperation, or perhaps amusement, or just exhaustion; here sat the titan of Gotham, the most dangerous man in the city, who was ultimately responsible for Behn's death, who did nothing but ignore my pleas and cries for Behn's rescue. All to only discover that it would not have happened if not for the Mockingbird, that so much would not have happened if not for the Mockingbird. That lives would have been spared, that the lives of others wouldn't have been ruined. That I wouldn't have been on that couch at that moment having that strange conversation with him.
Peace, what was peace?
In that moment, I couldn't think of him as the man who killed the only friend I had left in the world, the man that would inevitably bring me my own death in time, one way or another. It would do nothing.
My entire body cried out from exhaustion, but I was too aware of Bane silently watching me, waiting for some sort of explanation. But I could think of no more lies. My mind couldn't even fathom them.
"I need your help," I said quietly.
Without looking at him, I listened to him pull in a deep breath, and a sound left his throat and reverberated from the mask, a sound almost of contentment, or some strange satisfaction.
I hated it. Being in his debt was extremely unwise. But what else was I to do? No doubt Barsad had taken my sob story of Peter's death right to him. No doubt after the display in the courtroom and coming to the library in the middle of the night, he was fully aware that I was in some sort of trouble.
Bane stood from the ottoman in one motion, and standing over me he seemed so colossal that I pulled myself together instinctively, as though waiting for one of his massive hands to reach out and take hold of me, in some way. He looked down at me as I stared up at him, unsure what he was about to do, but all he did was stare at me, his eyes not betraying at all what he was thinking.
After a moment, he regarded my social security card in his hand, and leaned down to set it down purposefully on the coffee table, as though he assumed for me to take it.
"Rest, goddess of peace," he said as he rounded the couch slowly, every one of his footsteps making me flinch. "You are safe here."
I listened to him leave. He went through the door and pulled it closed behind him. A few minutes after, I looked and make sure he had actually left, and when I saw I was once again alone in the Cobblepot Wing, I laid myself down, my eyes once more full of tears. I curled into as tight of a ball as I could muster and pulled my coat up over my head to shut out the oncoming light.
The door opened only a minute or two after I knocked and as soon as Blake recognized me, a look of horror came over his face. One moment I was standing there on the stoop looking up at him dismally, and the second I was encased in his arms, dazed and confused, for I hadn't even seen him move from where he stood. He held me so tightly that I wasn't able to pull my hands out of the pockets of my coat, and I didn't even know why he was doing such a thing until I heard his breathy voice in my ear.
"Fuck, Irene, we heard about Behn," he said, and shook his head. "I'm so sorry."
I closed my eyes and told myself to keep it together. The past few days had been spent in nothing but tears. My body couldn't do it anymore.
He broke the hug but held my shoulders, looking down at me, his brown eyes big and worried. "Are you okay?"
I nodded miserably. "Yeah, I'm fine."
He looked me up and down as though he thought I was lying, looking for some sign that I was physically injured. He shook his head. "Geez, you know, we heard about what happened, and we didn't know where you were…"
The sound of a car alarm suddenly screeching further down the street pulled Blake's attention away, and then he was ushering me inside with his arm around my shoulders. I stood inside the door as he bolted all the locks, and just as he took my coat, Commissioner Gordon appeared from the living room.
As soon as he saw me, a very sad, deflated expression came over his face. He approached me slowly, his eyes never leaving me, and as soon as he was within arms reach of me he pulled me into a hug, and I returned it as best I could.
"I'm going to make some coffee," Blake said behind us, and then he disappeared into the little kitchen.
Gordon held me for a minute or two, not saying a word, and I loved him for that. I knew he was upset about Behn, and I knew he wanted to tell me that he was sorry it had happened. But he also probably knew that no amount of condolences, however appreciated, would do anything to bring him back or alleviate the pain of his loss. Whatever grief he felt with the news of Behn's death, he was sharing it with me at that moment in that one embrace. And while it was a painful reminder of Behn's loss, it was also a comfort far greater than I could have asked for.
We sat down in Blake's living room. I sat on the couch and hugged myself while Gordon sat in the armchair next to me and set his glasses down on the coffee table so that he could run his hands over his face. Only when Blake came in and set down three mugs of coffee and we were all in attendance did I tell them what I knew.
"It was the Mockingbird," I said, cradling the mug Blake had given me between both hands.
They both looked at me, blinking in confusion. "What do you mean?" Blake asked.
"The Mockingbird knew where we were," I said slowly, desperately trying to keep the madman's voice out of my head, desperately trying not to recall the events of the DVD he had left for me to find. "I don't know how he did it, but he got to Behn. He delivered him to Bane."
Even though I wasn't looking at them, I could sense Gordon and Blake exchanging a glance of apprehension.
"Irene, how do you know that?" Gordon asked, reaching over and placing his hand on my arm.
I pulled in a deep breath. "He left me a DVD," I said unevenly. "He abducted Behn. He told him he was going to deliver him to Bane. He told him he was coming for me next."
Blake sat back in his chair and let out a great gust of breath. "Jesus Christ."
Gordon only glanced at him briefly before turning towards me completely. "Irene, do you still have that DVD?"
I shook my head. "I left it at back at the apartment."
I could tell that Gordon was trying to think of some other explanation, and yet he knew that I told the truth. Surely my sheer exhaustion was a sign that I didn't have the strength or will to fabricate anything. He sat back in that moment, completely unsure what to say or do to this new information. Suddenly their reservations in my searching for the Mockingbird didn't seem so foolish, and yet at the same time it did: the Mockingbird knew where we were the entire time.
"Where are you staying?" Gordon asked after a moment, and his voice was guarded as though he was afraid of the answer he was about to hear.
I looked down at the coffee in my hands and took a sip. I had had little more than water since the day of Behn's death, and the bitterness of the coffee warmed me but did no good otherwise. "At the library."
Once more they exchanged a look, and this time Blake leaned forward. "Irene, you can stay here. We'll get your stuff, we'll bring you in today."
"Yes, absolutely," Gordon said in a stately manner. "You do not have to stay in that library with that maniac."
I sighed, touched at their insistence and yet mortified that I would have to tell them the truth.
"I do have to," I said quietly. "Bane already knows I'm there, he knows why I'm there. If I leave now, it'll look suspicious."
"Hey, fuck Bane," Blake insisted. "And who gives a fuck about suspicious? We'll go get your stuff right now, you're staying here."
I drank more of the coffee to keep from snarling at him. I set the mug down on the coffee table in case I got the urge to hurl it across the room. "Look, the Mockingbird won't think to look for me at the library. And even if he does, he can't do anything to me there."
The room quieted, and I knew some strange understanding had settled between the two men as they stared at me in shocked silence. I didn't look at either one of them; I stared down at my hands, fighting the urge to close my eyes. My body wanted sleep, but all I had done was sleep. All I had done to keep out all the bullshit noise inside my head was lie down and sleep.
"Irene," Gordon said quietly and calmly. "You would be perfectly safe here. Three officers in the same place, the Mockingbird wouldn't do anything-"
"Tell that to Behn," I said, and then I instantly regretted it and hated myself for letting it slip out of my mouth. I rubbed my face with one hand, resisting the urge to slap myself for saying something so horrible. I sighed angrily and tried to push it out of my mind. "He's coming for me next, he more or less confirmed it. I won't put you two at risk."
"We can take care of ourselves," Gordon said. "You know we can. We've survived this long, haven't we? We'll be even stronger if we stick together."
"I'm staying at the library," I stated as a matter of fact, growing increasingly irritated with this conversation, and both Gordon and Blake quieted, regarding me seriously and severely. "Bane has dozens of men in there every day, give or take, all of them armed."
"And what happens if the Mockingbird reveals who you are to Bane?" Blake asked, now sounding more angry than anything.
"He won't do that," I said, shaking my head. "Why would he let Bane rob him of his final kill?"
"He did it with Behn," Blake countered, leaning closer to me as though that would emphasize his point.
"Because he still had me left."
To that, Blake offered no counter. He sat back in his seat slowly and he and Gordon exchanged another look, this one apprehensive yet defeated. They knew they couldn't change my mind.
I ran my hands over my face for a moment. "I really appreciate the offer, thank you for that. And if I feel even for one instant that I'm no longer safe in the library, I hope I can take you up on it?"
Blake considered me severely, but I could see by the softness in his brown eyes that he couldn't stay angry about it, as though he was slowly starting to see my reasoning. Finally he nodded. "Yeah, of course."
"Thank you," I said, easing them both as much of a smile as I could manage.
The room quieted then between the three of us; I made a third attempt to sip my coffee before deciding I'd had enough, and set it down on the table.
"You said you had some news, Commissioner?" I said to Gordon, who wasn't looking at me.
He nodded wearily. "Yes, I've had contact with the military on the mainland. They're going to be sending in a special forces team with the next supply of rations."
"Special forces?" It sounded incredibly risky. "What are they going to do?"
"We'll give them a status update, for one," he said. "Make sure they know about the truck and the bomb, get them to assess the situation and make a plan."
I pressed my eyes closed and buried my face in my hands. Suddenly something came to mind, something I knew they had to know, but they weren't going to like it one bit.
"Irene?" Blake said, sounding concerned. "What is it?"
"It's the truck," I said, looking up at them and letting out a sigh. I looked between the two of them, loathed that I would have to bear this bad news. "One of the trucks."
Blake frowned in confusion, but it looked like Gordon had almost been anticipating something like this. The older man ran a hand through his hair, sighing heavily.
"What do you mean one of the trucks?" Blake asked, leaning forward. "You mean there's more than one of them?"
I nodded, not looking at him. "There's three. There might be more, but from what I've heard Bane's men say, there's at least three."
"Decoys," Gordon said, nodding his head miserably. "Of course."
"That can't be right," Blake said. "We would have noticed if there were two other decoys on the streets."
"Not if we were focusing on the one," Gordon said.
Blake looked back at me. "But Irene, how can you be sure there's three?"
"I'm not," I said. "Not really, I haven't seen them myself. But I've overheard Bane's men talking about three trucks. They mark the routes."
Blake looked as though he was thinking about it for a moment, and then he leaned forward to place his elbows on his knees, cradling his face in his hands. "If there's three, we're going to have to come up with a way to distinguish between them," he looked over at Gordon. "And then make adjustments to our tracking system."
Gordon nodded. "They seem to be following the same routes. With a few more men on the street, it shouldn't take long to make distinctions and figure out their routines."
I sat there and hugged myself, not really sure what else to contribute, if there was anything at all. My eyelids felt so heavy it was a struggle to keep them open.
"Irene," Gordon said, snapping me out of my daze. "I'd like you to come with us to meet with the special forces team once they land. You may be able to give a briefing of activities from within the library."
I nodded. "Sure, Commissioner. Whatever you think is best."
"It won't be for a few weeks yet," he said. "So if you can, try to pick up as much intel from Bane's men as you can."
Blake looked at Gordon with a slightly disgusted look. "Safely, of course," he added, looking at me pointedly.
I couldn't help but smile. Only moments ago they'd been so insistent in getting me out of the library, but my being there was just as important as it had always been.
"I'll be careful," I said, and stood up to take my leave. They both stood up, and Gordon reached over to take my arm in comradery, giving me a tight-lipped smile, but a smile nonetheless and it lifted my spirits a little.
"I'll be in contact," he said, taking back his hand. "In the meantime, if anything feels off in the library at all-"
I nodded. "I know, Commissioner."
"I'll walk you out," Blake said, tilting his head toward the door, and I nodded, stepping around the coffee table to follow him while Gordon watched us go.
Blake stepped outside into the cold with me, holding the door open behind him by just a crack. It was already starting to get dark out; if I stayed even twenty minutes longer, I'd be risking a trip back to the library in darkness. I zipped up my coat all the way up under my chin and turned to Blake, who was moving up and down a little to ward off the cold.
"You don't have to go back, you know," he said to me very seriously. "No matter what the Commissioner says. We can get intel some other way."
I smiled, genuinely touched by his concern. It was easy to see in that moment that John Blake became a police officer for all the right reasons. "I'll be okay, really. But I appreciate the concern."
He nodded, but I could see by the look on his face that that wasn't the answer he wanted to hear.
"I'll see you next week, okay?" I said, about to make my way down the street back towards the library, but before I could turn away he stopped me.
"Hey," he said, his voice a little softer, his expression a little more sheepish. He looked down at his shoes nervously, like a teenage boy about to ask his crush to prom. "I know Behn and I never really got along. Hell I know your crew and I never really got along … "
I frowned. In that moment of all moments I didn't want to be reminded of how our team had been such assholes to Blake, who was really only ever doing the best he could for the department.
"But he was a good detective," Blake said, staring right into me and nodding his head with resolve. "He was. Maybe that's why we didn't get along, he was twice the officer I ever was."
I looked down at the snow on the ground, feeling the tears coming on.
"But he didn't deserve what happened," Blake said as a matter of fact. "He didn't."
Part of me was grateful Behn had died so quickly, so painlessly; grateful that he hadn't been chopped into pieces with an axe, or stabbed and decapitated with a meat cleaver. There was something merciful about the way he died, as hard as it was to come to terms with it. But Blake was right; he didn't deserve it. None of them deserved it.
I looked up at Blake and wiped the tears off my cheeks, and that's when he stepped into me. He took me into his arms gently, like a parent soothing their upset child. It surprised me and yet I didn't even hesitate to wrap my arms around him, cling to his warmth and his comfort, and I let it out. I pressed my face into his shoulder and sobbed, shaking, holding him as tightly to me as I could. He stood there and held me, rubbed my back, made no moves whatsoever to stop me, didn't tell me to snap out of it and get over it, that surviving was more important now than mourning the ones we lost. He didn't do anything except be there, right there in that moment, when I really needed him.
And as much as I loved him for it, there was also a part of me that came to a very quiet, very solemn realization, that now more than ever we had to be there for each other, offer each other comfort where and when we could; because none of us - none of us - were getting out of this alive.