Disclaimer: The characters and concepts in this story are the property of DC Comics and their affiliates. This is an amateur writing effort meant for entertainment purposes only.
Summary: Blake meets knuckle dusters, knuckle dusters meet Blake, and everybody meets Oracle. Set three weeks into No Man's Land during The Dark Knight Rises. AU.
Rating: K+ for violence, some language, and mild sexuality.
Warnings: Smallish spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises.
Author's Notes: I have been looking for a way to write Barbara Gordon/Batgirl into the Nolanverse since Batman Begins, and I think TDKR has the sort of environment she needs to flourish. In this story, I've taken some liberties with her origins, especially her identity as Oracle, but I hope you enjoy them. Apologies to purists!
The title is taken from Archibald Lampman's poem "The City of the End of Things".
Constructive criticism is always appreciate; flames are always ignored.
The City of the End of Things
John Blake knew better than to go walking alone at night in No Man's Land, but he didn't have much of a choice in the matter. One of Reilly's boys, Todd, had taken a bad fall that afternoon and ended up with a very large, very deep, and very infected wound on his leg. They had no antibiotics, alcohol, or peroxide, nothing that could help, not in the house or anywhere else in their territory. The government was still working on getting shipments of supplies into the city, and it wasn't safe to get to Gordon's territory until morning. Unless someone went scavenging, the boy wouldn't last the night.
Others had volunteered – a couple of bold teenagers with chips on their shoulders, looking for fistfights as assiduously as pharmaceuticals; a handful of grown men and women who were quick on their feet from the buildings up and down the block – but Blake ultimately declared that he would go. He wasn't looking for a fight, but if one found him, at least he knew how to handle himself. And handle a gun. Most of the pharmacies would be picked clean by now anyways. There was no reason to risk more than one life on what was probably a fruitless mission.
But Blake had to try.
"You stay within a block of our territory in every direction," Reilly warned as they headed towards the door.
"There's only one pharmacy within a block of our territory," Blake pointed out. He shrugged his coat on so strongly it was a miracle the seam on the back didn't split. They had survived three weeks now without a single boy dying, even with all the turf wars and crime going around. He wasn't about to let anyone die, especially not some kid would was just fooling around.
"I don't care," Reilly grabbed him by the shoulder and whipped him around. In an instant, Blake felt like he was a kid again getting a lecture from the old priest about minding himself. "You get there, take a look, find what you need, come back."
"And what if they don't have what we need? Huh? What then? I come back here and hold that boy's hand until he dies?"
"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away," the expression on Reilly's face made it clear that those words hurt him more than they ever could Blake. "Better you're back here holding his hand than getting torn apart by the Cobblepott thugs or the Black Mask boys or some other gang making a move on our part of the city."
Blake pulled himself out of the older man's grip. As long as Reilly was playing the domineering patriarch, he would fall right back into his old role of rebellious youth. "Long as I'm out there, I'm gonna search every damn pharmacy it takes. One block away, two, five...I don't care. That kid is not gonna die. I'm not gonna let him."
"But what if you die?"
"Blake's not gonna die."
Mark had appeared on the stairs, much to Blake's chagrin. They already had one boy bedridden and near death from an injury in the house. He did not want to even entertain the notion of Mark coming along on this one.
The young boy didn't even bother asking though. "Blake can't die," he continued, "Oracle's not gonna let him. She told us she wouldn't."
Reilly didn't even dignify that with an eye roll. Oracle stories had been circulating around the neighbourhood since the inception of No Man's Land. People found tags on buildings around Gordon's territory along with piles of unconscious thugs. Some of the boys at the house actually claimed to have met her, but no one could give a consistent description, only that she appeared dressed in black when there was trouble. She was also known to pass along intel about raiders or gangs moving into the area with the boys. Blake had been the recipient of several messages, had seen eyes spray painted on walls around their territory as warnings, but he wasn't inclined to start trusting a mysterious benefactor, no matter how good the information was.
The stories were really taking a toll on Reilly too, but for different reasons. He loved that the boys had faith, had hope again, but he didn't like how misplaced that faith seemed to be. God was the only one who could guarantee Blake's safe return in No Man's Land, not a person with an eye from the sky.
Reilly let out a very deep sigh, a sigh that seemed to encompass all the times he had spent fighting with willful, orphaned boys over the decades he had been at the house. "Mark, I told you to stay upstairs and keep an eye on Todd."
"I was. Todd was asking for you," he replied.
Reilly shot a helpless look at Blake now, torn between two dying boys: the one upstairs and the one on his way out the door. Blake took advantage of the priest's silence. "See?" he said with a shrug. "I'm not gonna die."
Ten minutes and four city blocks later, Blake found himself wondering if maybe, just maybe, he had spoken too soon.
The political geography of No Man's Land, Blake's new pet name for the now anarchic state of Gotham City, was constantly changing, at least in their region. The north end of the city was a collection of major footholds for the most powerful Arkham and Blackgate inmates and their respective gangs., but the south end had been in absolute chaos from the moment Bane cut the city off from the rest of the country. Blake had assembled a ragtag group of citizens to defend a collection of now four city blocks with Reilly's at the centre. Their closest allies were in Gordon's territory to the east, an even smaller area surrounding the entrance to the tunnels where the cops had congregated underground. The streets and buildings in between were constantly in dispute by whatever crime lord or psychopath had missed out on attaining any of the areas in the north.
Reilly was right to warn him about the the Cobblepots and the Black Masks. They were trying to round up as much real estate as they could in the area, if only to keep the other gangs from getting their hands on it. Blake wasn't too worried about Cobblepot's men. Oswald "The Penguin" Cobblepot attracted the weak the cowardly into his employ; take out the right member in their group and the rest would disperse, terrified without strong leadership. Black Mask's boys were a real concern for Blake though. Bad as he had been at business, Roman Sionis knew how to manage a gang. His men were generally bigger, meaner, and smarter than Cobbepott's. They were the reason Blake brought his gun, because some of the Black Masks could definitely overpower him.
He checked with the sentries before leaving the area and heard that the night was unusually quiet. No brawls nearby, no thugs patrolling, nothing...That should have been his first indication that something was wrong, but Blake didn't think about that until later. He marched across the road and slipped down the back alley, coming on the pharmacy from behind. The back windows were broken, the heavy locked door torn off its hinges, but the inside was as silent as the streets. Blake almost left then and there: no looters meant there was nothing left to loot. Still, he stepped inside to inspect, finding nothing but toppled shelves and broken prescription bottles. The antibiotics were gone, likely drained by the same gangs Blake was so wary about avoiding now.
He ducked down behind the shelves when a light passed by outside. Bane's men on patrol, rolling through the streets in tanks and armoured vehicles, were scouring the streets for dissenters to the new world order. How that didn't include looters and thugs, Blake didn't know, but he had a pretty good idea about what they would do if they caught a cop stealing from the city for what they thought was the umpteenth time. He waited until the lights passed overhead and the sound of crunching gravel reached the next intersection before he leaned up to glance out the window. The street was empty again, and there was another small pharmacy less than three blocks away that he needed to get to. Blake left the way he came, checked the street once more in both directions to make sure that Bane's men were really gone, and then kept moving to the next block.
Perhaps it was the presence of Bane's men that made the two gangs fall so silent. It certainly wasn't Blake. Cops no longer held any kind of sway with the criminals. Anyone who wasn't already underground was put there by force, usually without the luxury of a pulse. If anything, the sight of a former cop, even Blake, who would have been a rookie or beat cop when some of these guys were put away, was enough to get them making noise again. He rounded the corner and found himself suddenly surrounded by beefy shadows, all of whom looked like they fought for the same gang in the dark. It wasn't until one of them started talking that Blake realized he had just stumbled into a turf war. Cobblepotts versus Black Masks. Winner takes the block.
He took a cautionary step back, but the sound of movement behind him brought Blake to a dead halt. There were at least eight of them to the front and a ninth hidden behind. Four of them were Black Masks, tall and meaty, with balaclavas on to show their affiliation. That meant the other four were part of Cobblepott's gang, not to mention the hidden fifth behind Blake waiting to pounce. Not the best odds or a fair fight, but Blake wasn't about to go down easily. Or at all. He had to get to the next pharmacy. These thugs could figure it out for themselves.
"Hey," one of the Black Masks said, taking a step towards Blake menacingly, "Didn't Bane put you in the ground?"
"I knew I recognized your face from somewhere, pretty boy!" a Cobblepot added excitedly. "Yous a cop! One of Gordon's boys. Yeah, I know you."
All eyes were suddenly on Blake. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Apparently, figuring out the turf war wasn't nearly as important as figuring out who got to kill the ex-cop.
Happy reading, everyone!