Disclaimer: The characters and concepts in this story are the property of DC Comics, Christopher Nolan, and their related affiliates. This is an amateur writing effort meant for entertainment purposes only.

Summary: After Hugo Strange uses him as a test subject for an experiment in the Narrows, John Blake ends up owing his life to Bane and relying on him to survive. Several years post-TDKR. AU.

Author's Notes: I'm almost back on my old schedule – only four days for this installment! Thank you to Cesari, who reviewed, and any new followers/favouriters, as well as any old followers and favouriters. Happy New Year, everyone, to those that celebrated! I wish you a wonderful start to 2013 or just a wonderful week in general.

Chapter Sixteen

There was no time.

Blake was expecting to have an opportunity to go back upstairs, inject another booster of anesthetic before taking on Strange's experiment in any capacity. He hadn't anticipated that the creature would be walking around freely. There were only a few shaking steps left before they were side by side in the hall. He couldn't rush back upstairs, but Blake also knew he wouldn't be able to fight the creature if he challenged him now. All Blake would be able to do was kill.

But if this was minimum security, there would be plenty of exits. Any number of doors for the creature to walk through and take up prowling the streets of Gotham. Once outside, there were only three people in the city left to stand in his way that wouldn't kill him, and Blake had no idea where they were at the moment. He couldn't let Strange's experiment escape. He had to do something, so long as that something wasn't kill no matter how much his inner monster might like him too.

Blake shifted away from the door, just in case the creature tried to head upstairs. The footsteps thundered right on by along with the heavy, ragged, Venom induced exhalations of a monster in search of a kill. It was a siren's song calling to Blake's own Mr. Hyde, a triple dog dare to come out there and start pounding faces to pulp. His whole body was responding in kind, sliding along the wall to the door in the hopes that he could emerge, unseen, with the element of surprise this time. Blake was grasping at anything in his head to give himself even a moment of pause. The cave, Nightwing, Batman. WWBD, Blake? What would Batman do? He heard a venomous growl in the back of his mind, "You are not Batman," and the thought crippled any remaining trace of Blake's true self. He was hanging by threads and shreds, tatters of his old existence, when he heard the footsteps turn a corner and fade away.

He almost charged into the hallway. Almost. Still without a plan, still fighting the growing urge to head into battle fists first, but still walking nonetheless, quietly and swiftly in the trail of the creature. The first floor of Arkham was, based on a cursory glance, mostly exam rooms, common rooms, open areas. This was where low-risk patients were admitted, where they were allowed to congregate, so there were few locked rooms anywhere, let alone ones that could contain Strange's experiment. Blake flexed his newly healed leg against the floor, relishing the tension and checking the stability while he was at it. Bane had knocked this one into the basement before. Maybe Blake could do it again. Their combined weight should certainly be enough to bring the building down.

There was no crediting Strange's experiment with intelligence. Blake rounded the corner and followed at a pace that was almost too close for comfort without alerting the creature to his presence. The admitting desk was caged and the door was ajar. He could use that for containment. Just as he was closing the distance with the creature though, Blake noticed the latch had been shot off the door. There was no containing anything in the room.

Blake sank back, retreating, taking several calming breaths as he did so to channel his thoughts. Get a grip on something other than the creature's throat – which he so wanted to do right now. Strange's experiment had a very prominent spinal column, and skin was so thin, so weak, that a strong grip would pierce it immediately, fasten onto the vertebrae, and pull.

The creature hissed and stopped walking. Stopped dead. Like he'd heard Blake's thoughts and wanted to voice an opposition. No, Blake thought to himself, breath catching in his throat. He had been snarling again. The creature had heard him snarling.

Now he was out of time and places to hide. There were no rooms nearby to slip into, no way that the creature hadn't heard him. Dumb as Strange's experiments seemed to be, they weren't deaf. The creature was instead turning around, Blake had nowhere to hide, and his feeble plot for containment had no hope for success on this floor. There were only two options left according to the adrenaline rushing through his body: fight or flight. The former most assuredly ended with death; small red pinpricks were starting to appear in his vision, a sure sign that he was losing himself. With the latter, Blake decided, they might both stand a chance of surviving the night. The fourth floor was loaded with locked doors and padded walls. All he had to do was outrun Strange's experiment. He could do that. Piece of cake.

Blake's confidence lasted about as long as it took for the creature to turn and cast a menacing look over his shoulder. The hungry stare and snarl cut straight through all the former detective's newfound bravado and left him feeling open, vulnerable, and hollow all over again. He swallowed a roar, locked his shoulders to keep from swiping, and clung as hard as he could to his memories of being Nightwing. The identity no longer fit, but the creature couldn't tell the difference.

"I thought your friend was ugly," Blake chided, scoffing weakly with disgust. Strange's experiment growled and about-faced, rotating on his axis like a great, murderous planet making its way into Blake's orbit on a collision course. Blake took one cautionary step back, but then he re-donned his Nightwing smirk, a last defence against the monster inside looking for a thrill and a kill. "But Strange must have really screwed up to end up with something that looks like you."

English might not have been the creature's language, but whether it was Blake's tone or the fact that Blake was talking at all, he took immediate offence. He pitched forward with an ear-shattering roar that shook the glass in the wire frames at the admin desk windows, that caused the floor to vibrate under the feet, that could have sent Old Arkham crumbling to the ground if it was just a few decibels louder.

Blake stood his ground against the auditory onslaught, bracing himself against the wall with his now very powerful hand. He then did the only logical thing to do after the night he had been having: Blake roared right back.

Then he turned tail and ran as fast as he could down the hall towards the stairwell.

The sound of thunder behind him told Blake his plan, such as it was, worked. Strange's monster was following in hot pursuit. Air rushed against Blake's bare ankles and heels with every frantic step. One wrong move and it'd be his spine in the creature's hands, his head getting pummelled into pulp. The thought steadied him as he bolted around the corner and threw himself through the doors into the stairwell.

It did not save him from barrelling into the steps though. Blake's feet hit the incline and before he could skid to anything resembling a halt, he was falling headfirst into the stairwell. He stopped himself with his hands, lunging up and up. Small screw-ups didn't mean anything yet. He could still make it to the fourth floor. "Come on, Blake," he urged himself, "Get the hell up."

A massive hand slammed down on his ankle in response. Blake twisted around, trying to pry himself from the grasp, but even his new strength was no match for that hand. Especially not when the creature's other hand, balled into a boulder, launched itself straight into Blake's face.

The railing broke his fall, and then broke underneath him. Blake's torso was far too heavy for the aged building to support, especially with the kind of inertia the punch generated. Blake hit the deck seeing stars, but still launched two very powerful kicks at the creature's legs, knocking him back several small, staggering steps. The only thought that kept him from keeping the creature to death was that he could keep climbing. Straight up to the fourth floor, and after that, freedom.

Strange's experiment had other ideas. He recovered from the kicks and barrelled into Blake's body, thrashing with all of his not unimpressive amount of strength. The Venom was the only thing holding Blake's body together through it all. He locked all his limbs into defensive manoeuvres to keep from attacking, succeeding only in holding Strange's experiment back but pinning himself to the stairwell in the process.

"Hey," Blake grunted, talking over the monster screaming out from inside him, "Hey, I know there's someone else in there. And I know that you don't want to do this. Can you hear me? You alive in there?"

The creature stopped fighting for a second, levelling his hollow eyes on Blake. For the longest second in recorded history, Blake thought he could see the man Strange had taken for his experiment. His grotesque snarl settled into a flat line, his massive muscles relaxed, and he looked almost human. Just abnormally large. The vacancy even started to disappear from his stare as he looked at Blake, actually looked at Blake, and just...looked. No intelligence backed that look up, but it gave Blake hope. "I don't want to kill you," he said. "Come on, man, let me go."

Poor choice of words apparently. The look lasted just a split second more, and then it was gone again, lost completely. Strange's experiment jerked one arm out of Blake's grasp and punched him in the side, knocking him over to the edge of the stairs.

Blake stared up into the stairwell, up towards the sky, the punches drowning into white noise in his head along with the shouts of his own private demon. Regardless of whether he took the cure or not, Blake couldn't climb out of hell until the monster was contained. The only way through hell was through it. He wasn't heading up; he was going down.

He horse kicked the creature off him just enough to roll over the broken railing into the descending stairwell. Blake landed on his feet, and the strength in his legs caught him, held him, let him turn back once more to the creature rising behind him. "Come and get me," he dared, and then descended into the darkness.

The creature's footsteps followed close behind.

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