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 needed to bulk up Blake's bat family with characters from the comic books. The way I've imagined it, Kate Kane (a.k.a. Batwoman) becomes the leader of the family. For those that are interested, I cannot recommend DC's New 52 of Batwoman enough! They are amazing! I've also included Stephanie Brown, who has had a number of alter-egos in the comics (she was even Robin at one point), as Blake's successor as Nightwing. I also mention Tim Drake, who would be Robin.

Barbara Gordon is featured here most prominently. She appears in The Dark Knight as the very young daughter of Commissioner Gordon. In the comic books, she grows up to be Batgirl and, later, Oracle, a hacker and information broker to superheroes. I figured that she would probably be one of Blake's first allies in Gotham, once she grows up a little, and I've got her representing the family in the chapter. Also, in Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, it's Barbara who's shot and paralyzed by the Joker, landing her behind a computer monitor as Oracle. I decided to see how Blake would manage under similar circumstances.

Thank you, readers! You made writing an absolute pleasure. I truly appreciate your kind attention. I hope you've enjoyed the story. Hopefully, I'll see you again soon! If not, very happy reading to you!


Blake shivered himself awake. A chill had settled through his skin all the way to the bones, so no matter how tightly he managed to cocoon himself in the thin, hospital-issue blankets there was no respite from the cold.

He tried to focus on his other senses, the ones that weren't freezing, but Blake was too exhausted to muster the effort. He was just a passive receiver for everything: the sound of the rain spattering against a windowpane; the sharp pull of...something on his wrist. Blue. Blue everywhere. An icy, somewhat caustic blue colour to go with the icy, caustic smell of antiseptic.

The word materialized slowly in Blake's mind, despite his familiarity with the many healthcare facilities around Gotham and the state: hospital. He was in a hospital. Not Old Arkham either; a real hospital. Gotham General most likely. ICU? Blake willed himself to awareness but couldn't manage to do more than move his head. That action alone left him reeling, spinning headlong into darkness all over again. His only lifeline was the cold, that deep-seated chill, which kept the chemical sleep from swallowing him up completely.

Blake's eyes opened again a second later, just a crack, but they cleared enough this time that he could make out a gloomy window and a lone figure standing in front of it. Groggy and disoriented as he was, Blake would know Barbara Gordon anywhere. They had been everything to one another for a years, and then, after the shooting and the paralysis, they fell apart. Well, if Blake was being perfectly honest, he drove her away. When he woke up after the shooting and his first surgery, Barbara was waiting by his bedside. Now, she stood by the window.

He swallowed. His throat was dry, aching, but still, Blake tried to speak. After several attempts, he finally managed a hoarse, "Hey."

Barbara turned, smile lighting her eyes with relief. "Hi."

"It's you."

She nodded. "Yes, it is me."

Blake was coughing before he could state more of the obvious. When he stopped, the mouth of a straw and the promise of cool water were kissing his lips softly. "Small sips," Barbara reminded him. As if he needed reminding with the number of times they'd done this. Blake wanted to chide her, but his throat wasn't up for speaking again yet, not even after a few sips of water. He could only settle back against the pillows, head-spinning and chills increasing, awake enough now to realize that he couldn't quite feel his legs but not awake enough to know why that was such a bad thing.

Barbara's footsteps moved slowly back towards the window. Blake gave a small groan. Ten years together – as friends, allies – and she was just going to sullenly withdraw from him. That didn't sound like the Barbara he knew, but maybe that Barbara left two years ago too.

A second later, something heavy and warm was draped over his body, and Blake felt the chill start to subside. "Reilly left half a linen cupboard," Barbara explained. "I can get the nurses to bring you a warm one though."

"No," he shook his head. Oh, bad idea. "No, this is fine." He peered at her through the crack in his eyelids. Barbara was running a hand down his arm detachedly. Just like old times. The gesture was both comforting and not for Blake. These were really old times he was thinking about. "What are you doing here?"

Honestly, Blake had expected Stephanie to be the one he woke up to, if he woke up at all. Stephanie Brown, his successor as Nightwing, by far the most personable of the bunch next to Tim. She had kept bedside vigils before. Tim had too, but as a fifteen year old, he had a curfew. Kate Kane, their fearless leader, hated hospitals and had the bedside manner of a crocodile, but Blake wouldn't be surprised to see the Batwoman's silhouette hovering around the window at some point tonight. Caustic as she was, Batwoman was probably the most sentimental of the lot.

He never imagined that Barbara would be the one waiting for him, not after their last conversation. The fight had been so bad that she had since outsourced her alter-egos, Batgirl and Oracle, to another group of vigilantes in Gotham. While she was still a member of the family then, Barbara had been keeping her distance of late. Blake felt his temperature rise slightly at the sight of her then, the cold dispelled momentarily by better times.

Barbara shrugged. "Short straw."

There was a time when she fought tooth and nail to stand by him. Now, he was the short straw. Blake shivered. He wanted to be unconscious again.

Her hand came to rest on his shoulder. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it like that. Kate, Steph, and Tim were here most of the day. Dad and Reilly stopped by too. I figured they could use a break. Are you sure you don't want a warm blanket? It's normal for you to be cold after surgery."

"I had surgery," Blake wasn't sure if that ought to be a statement or a question. He knew he had surgery instinctively, but he didn't know why. Something from before, something that had been playing havoc in his mind throughout his hellish night at Old Arkham.

"Just administering your first dose of anesthetic, Mr. Blake."

The memory finally unfolded in his mind, now that he wasn't trying so hard to remember it. "I was going to have surgery," Blake corrected himself. Last night...yesterday, he had been admitted to the hospital for surgery. He had scheduled another nerve block for his left leg and arrived at the hospital yesterday to undergo the procedure.

"Strange abducted you from the operating room," Barbara confirmed.

Blake still couldn't be sure if those were his legs he was feeling or phantom sensations powered by the memories of the night before. He couldn't breathe. "I had surgery," he repeated dumbly, fighting to stay calm. Barbara nodded. Blake almost vomited. He had been walking again, but they had gone ahead and taken away his legs anyways.

Barbara ran a hand through Blake's hair to calm him. "Why didn't you tell us you were having surgery?"

"Oh, please," he choked, fighting tears. Those fuzzy sensations under the covers were more taunting than haunting now. He had come so close. Sixteen hours ago, he had been standing up on his own two feet. Now, he was never going to walk again. "You knew."

"Well, yeah."

"Why didn't you say anything, then?"

Her expression begged the question, "You're kidding, right?" Blake closed his eyes, praying for unconsciousness again. He had said things, thrown things, the last time he had surgery that it was no wonder Barbara hadn't said anything. "I'm sick of being so helpless," he admitted bitterly. "This procedure was going to leave me in a wheelchair for the rest of my life."

"We want to help you, Robin."

The sound of his name hurt, especially the way she said it. Sad, sympathetic. Robin Blake, the useless, legless wonder. His throat closed right up. "I don't need help," he choked.

He wanted Barbara to say something, but she didn't. Silence was the best response. His statement hung in the air between them, the same way Blake's bitterness hung in the cave between him and the other members of the family. They usually allowed him to maintain the lie, but now, in the wake of Old Arkham, Strange's experiment, and Bane, Blake couldn't lie to himself, much less Barbara.

"I don't want help," he amended at last.

"We're a family," Barbara replied softly, sadly. "That's what families do."

Blake's sadness welled up in his throat like a fist. They were going to have to be helping him a lot more now. Christ, he needed to change the subject. "Where's Bane?"

Barbara didn't press. "We're apprehending him now, chasing down a couple of leads. He seems to have taken a liking to you though."

"What makes you say that?"

"He handed himself in when we found you. Practically drove himself to New Arkham."

Blake didn't think it was the drugs keeping that from making sense. "But you just said we're apprehending him."

"We are. He broke out a few hours after processing," Barbara said, "but not before breaking Joker's legs."

A rush of warmth swept through Blake in response. He stared at Barbara, waiting for her to clarify or correct her retelling, but she just shrugged again. "Multiple fractures, both legs. Doctors don't think he'll ever walk again."

Blake felt comfortably numb. "I don't feel bad about that."

"Yeah, neither do I," Barbara agreed.

She let that thought linger between them in the silence this time. Blake was grateful. That was a lot to take in after everything. Bane had let himself be captured in order to brutalize the Joker. No, more than that: Bane had avenged him, because Blake couldn't and didn't avenge himself.

It was almost sweet. Almost. In an unsettling way.

"So what happens now?" Blake asked finally. "Now that..." he looked towards his legs.

Barbara kept her tone slow, soft, careful, like her words might break him further. "Well, whatever Strange injected you with repaired the nerve damage to your right leg."

There was no softening that blow. Blake couldn't help but hyperventilate, fighting back tears. "But I can't...I don't..."

He still wasn't sure. Everything was so fuzzy. Blake's head spun. Barbara dug through the blankets until she found his hand and held it tightly in hers. "You're on some pretty heavy painkillers right now for reversing the effects of the growth hormone," she informed him. "But they checked after surgery: the sensation and mobility has completely returned. Steph said you were wiggling your toes earlier in the evening."

The smile that lit her face revealed she was tearful too. Blake wished he could match her expression, but he was struck by memories of his back pain. That stabbing sensation at the base of his spine would eventually cost him his legs again. Strange's serum had just bought him time, time for the bullet to work its way into his sciatic nerve.

Barbara tightened her grip on his hand as if she could hear what he was thinking. "Strange's experiment also healed your spine."

Blake tried to tear his hand from hers, terrified of what she was about to say, but Barbara held fast. "That thing in the basement," he said, "He beat the hell out of my back." Probably undid all the good of Strange's serum and drove the bullet deeper. The surgery was probably to try and repair his injuries from the fight.

"Whatever happened," Barbara wrapped her other hand around Blake's forearm to keep him from shirking away, "The bullet was dislodged from your spinal chord. That's why you had surgery, Blake: they were removing the bullet."

The tearing sensation, Blake recalled with a groan. The creature had given the bullet the final push it needed to leave his backbone. "So what's the damage?" he asked.

Barbara shook her head. "Doctors are going to talk to about physio, especially as you recuperate from the effects of the growth hormone, but they suspect you'll make a full recovery."

His whole chest ached under the strain of the revelation. He didn't deserve hope, not after what he had done, but there hope was all the same. "What does that mean?" Blake fought the sobs bobbing by the root of his tongue. "I'm gonna..." he balled his hands into fists for strength, "I'm gonna walk again?"

"Robin," Barbara ran her hand comfortingly over his forearm, "You're going to be able to fly again."

The levee broke. Blake bawled. Every awful thing from the past four years, from the past twenty-four hours, tumbled out of him in anguished, bitter sobs. He tried to pull his hands towards his face, the desire to hide himself overwhelming every other impulse, but Blake couldn't navigate his way out of the blanket. The whole world felt like it was crumbling down around him, crushing in from all sides, and he was stuck in the middle of the mess: lost, dizzy, sick, torn. "I'm not...I'm not Nightwing anymore. I've done...things..."

Blake was rambling, but he didn't care. Couldn't stop himself. She had to know what it had cost him to walk through hell, how many pieces of his soul he had to trade to wake up here.

Barbara's hands were on his cheeks. Blake was balanced between her arms, but he couldn't meet her stare. "Being Nightwing is about the choices you make, Blake. Strange took that away from you last night. Whatever you've done, that's not you."

"I hope you're right," Blake whimpered, even though he didn't really trust hope anymore. The price he had to pay to see his hope rewarded was too high to trust it any longer.

Barbara turned Blake's head and waited for him to look her in the eyes. "I don't have to hope," she said. "I know. Enough for both of us."

Blake swallowed hard, one final revelation dawning upon him. "Then your will's stronger than my distrust," he said sadly.

"We're family, Robin: that's what families are for."

Special thanks again, readers. Happy reading!