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Chapter 8: The Bigger Man

Puzzles.  Gears.  Clockworks.  All Kittlemeier’s memories of his grandfather centered around some kind of puzzles or mechanical systems.  He remembered the cramped attic room his grandfather called a workshop, with a cardboard box in the corner full of ancient radios, broken clocks and carved wooden boxes whose scratched metal backs attached with funny-looking screws.  The high point of each visit would be when his grandfather picked something from the collection and gave it to him to “fix.” 

He would open it up and peer into the mysterious gizmos inside, having no idea how any of it worked, to see what he could figure out.  Sometimes it was easy: he didn’t need to know what a loose wire did; it was enough to know that it wasn’t supposed to be loose… or frayed… or that a gear wasn’t supposed to be missing a tooth… or jammed with the body of a dead cockroach.  It was only when a careful look didn’t reveal anything so obviously wrong that the real problem-solving began.  That was the challenge Kittlemeier liked best: running the pad of his index finger ever so gently against the edge of a spoked wheel; applying the slightest bit of pressure to see how it would turn, and how that movement would affect the wheel beside it; pressing down every so lightly on a spring or gently lifting the chain that pulled on a tiny metal weight to see what that set in motion—it was wonderful!  Discovering these miniature clockwork worlds, these elegant man-made ecosystems of balance and movement, weight and counterweight, where each little piece would interact with the next and conceivably affect one far down the chain…

Kittlemeier shared his customers’ view of the goliath called Bane.  Gotham was a delicate and beautiful mechanism, and Bane broke it.  He didn’t break “Batman.”  He broke the balanced and graceful clockwork of a Gotham City that the natives had working exactly the way they liked it.  Kittlemeier had been as offended by the disruption as any of his clients, and as gratified when everything returned to normal.  He would have been appalled to learn Bane had returned if he’d seen it on the evening news.  Seeing him across the street from his shop was… was not a sentiment Kittlemeier knew how to express in words.  The English options: shocked, horrified, aghast, sickened, and revolted lacked the visceral kick implied when his father said erschyttert.  Unfortunately, because his parents liked to talk privately in front of him, he was never taught the nuances of the language and he wasn’t really sure if erschyttert conveyed his insides convulsing with disgust.

The hulking, sweaty luchador had not sought Kittlemeier’s services during his first appearance in Gotham, so it didn’t seem likely that he was coming in for a suit of clothes.  Assuming the worst, Kittlemeier had hurried into his backroom and bitterly regretted his decision to test Joker’s various SmileX dispensers with helium.  If he had even a single capsule of the stuff on the premises… Instead, he had razor-tipped playing cards, cat claws and batarangs that all seemed equally useless, requiring physical skills Kittlemeier lacked to use properly.  In his last frantic seconds, he spied the palm unit he’d used to program Riddler’s question mark. 

The bell on the shop’s front door sounded and Kittlemeier snatched madly for the device and shoved it into his vest.  If Bane wasn’t coming in for a costume or a gadget, it looked like a cry for help would be the best Kittlemeier could manage.

“Home.”  Selina had seen the exhaustion take hold as soon as he spoke the word.  The autopilot took over, and as the Batmobile sped towards Bristol, she felt more than saw the density shift happening in the driver’s seat.  Most of the inner circle were used to seeing it the other way: Bruce Wayne encounters some nugget of information that’s meaningful to Batman, his eyes darken a little, jaw stiffens just that much, and his whole body seems to become a bit denser.  The imaginative could almost see the outline of the mask appearing on his face, and Selina, her body would hum whenever she felt those waves of intensity that represented “Batman” to her for so long.  Seeing—or feeling—Batman in Bruce Wayne was a thrill.

The reverse usually made her sad: “Batman” checking out for the night, leaving only an exhausted shell of Bruce wearing the batsuit.  She loved Bruce as much as his dark alter ego; it wasn’t his appearance that saddened her.  But when he was this depleted, she wanted to take care of him a little—which was absolutely verboten as long as Batman was in the picture.  There he sat, silent and still, watching the city speed by through the windshield, none of the fire that normally burned behind the silence.  She could feel it, feel its absence, and the right thing to do was nurse him a little, pamper him a little, “fuss” as he put it.  But she couldn’t because he was Batman and Batman was a jackass.  He couldn’t just accept what she wanted to give him, what would be good for him, and what down-deep he wanted as much as she did.  Jackass.

So she’d let him make the log entry when they reached the cave, even supplied a few details about Gina’s undercover mission when he asked, and then she ‘went to make cocoa’ in the chem lab.  She returned, not with a steaming Wayne Tech mug but with his kimono from the costume vault. 

He kicked, as always.  Said he had ‘pushed through’ much worse than this. 

She tilted her head, looking as much as possible like a confused kitten.

“Bruce, you’re putting me in an impossible position,” she said wearily.  “Bed has to happen.  Now, if you don’t want to get on board with this, I can fight you or I can tempt you—both are among Kitty’s favorite pastimes, as you know.  But the thing is, I’m tired too and both of those are work.  So why don’t we just agree that you come to bed now, and in the morning, I’ll tell you who engineered the Gardner Museum heist.”

“Very funny,” he graveled.

“Do I look like I’m joking?” Selina answered, quoting an old line of his in her imitation of the Bat-gravel.

Silence reigned in the cave for a full thirty seconds.  Then…

“You win,” he said.

Selina took it as a victory.  The truth was, Bruce honestly couldn’t tell if she was joking about the Gardner or not, and that alone convinced him he was too tired to continue functioning as Batman.

Like most plants, Poison Ivy thrived in sunlight.  Morning had dispelled most of the doubts that plagued her during that sleepless night, but one hung on like a particularly stubborn weed: Harley. 

The idea of Harley as a victim was too foreign for Ivy to really grasp.  It was the insight of a man who started out a heroic crusader and had the change to villain forced upon him.  To him, it was a given that a normal, non-criminal life was superior and desirable.  To Ivy as a Rogue by choice, it didn’t compute.  She wasn’t capable of seeing “Harley Quinn” as a bad thing; Harley Quinn was the persona that attracted and fascinated her.  So she completely muddled the warning Harvey had tried to give her.  She decided Harley might feel a loss of identity, as the role of “Joker’s girlfriend” was now being played by someone else.  Seeking to lay that fear to rest (Harv had meant well, poor dear, but he was only a man), she had tapped Harley on the knee as soon as the train exited the Kanigher tunnel.  Two minutes’ conversation would settle it, and then she could relax and enjoy her day in Philadelphia.

Except the two minute conversation was anything but relaxing.  Faked interest in the music Harley was listening to on her iPod produced the announcement that it was “Lady Gaga” (whoever that might be) and an invitation for Ivy to listen.  Ivy only listened to music when she played it for her plants, and the relentlessly energetic sounds coming out of Harley’s earpiece would probably have her babies shedding leaves, but once again, Ivy faked it.  The music wasn’t horrible, but it was anything but relaxing.  It thumped, creating an odd techno-club soundtrack under her Pagliaccia questions and Harley’s answers.  By the end of it, there was no doubt in Ivy’s mind that Harley saw parallels between herself and Susannah Pelacci that went far beyond wearing tassels.

“And then there was the mess with Selina’s ‘wedding,’” Harley said, making quotation marks with her fingers. “The story was always supposed to end with Puddin’ and me getting married.  I know you didn’t hear any of it, because you were busy in back while I distracted the salesgirls.  But at all those bridal shops we visited, I had such an elaborate plan for the wedding, and since I was there, y’know, pretending to be the bride, I got ta tell the salesgirls all about my plan, and they all thought it’d be so wonderful…”

Ivy ground her teeth as Harley’s run-on sentence ran on.  She had done this, she had.  She had unknowingly put Harley on the exact same path as Susannah Pelacci, visiting all the same bridal boutiques.  She suppressed a shudder as she thought of the bleakness she felt that day, listening in from the back room as Harley described her dream wedding. Never had her obsession with the Joker seemed such an utterly insurmountable obstacle.  It was said that plants could break through anything, and there were enough instances of tree roots breaking through rock and concrete, you could deceive yourself into believing it was true.  But it wasn’t.  There was a limit.  Boulder yes, mountain no.  And Joker was a mountain.  What Harley thought of as a celebration and culmination of all her hopes, Ivy saw it as the depressing and inevitable final scene of an epic tragedy—and the coup de grace for any hopes she might have harbored.

Then it ended, on the same terrible day (in Harley’s view, the same glorious one in Ivy’s.)  Susannah and Harley both had their girlish dreams for that perfect wedding to their perfect man (Ivy nearly gagged) shattered at the same time, in the same place…

“I’d been planning that ceremony for years, and instead I find out that it ain’t even on Mistah J’s horizon. Heck, it ain’t even on his horizon if you had a telescope.  What a joke.  Ha. Ha. Ha.”

This kinship with Susannah seemed to confirm all of Harvey’s fears, however imperfectly Ivy understood them, so Ivy decided to reassure her.  They embarked on a day of sightseeing and touristy amusements: the Reading Terminal Market “The guidebook said they had good candy here. And soft pretzels, that’s like an institution in this city. That and cheesesteaks, and I doubt you’d eat one of those— Oooo, Amish people!” then pushing through throngs of people on their lunch break. “I love the Amish. Or wait, maybe those are Mennonites.” Paying the was-she-Amish-or-Mennonite girl in a bonnet. “Have a bite.  Just don’t eat the nubs, those are my favorite parts.”  The Mutter Museum of “medical oddities” which also had Einstein’s brain on exhibit.  Which made them think of Nigma and led to an extended mutual giggle fit—something Ivy hadn’t experienced since she was ten—right there in the middle of the museum.  “Another part of the anatomy that men are all too overconfident of,” she gasped finally.  Harley started making the “It was this big” fish story gesture, and they were off again…  They got thrown out before they made it to the Mutter’s prize-winning medical garden.  It was a magical afternoon, capped off by an early dinner at a pleasant trattoria in Philadelphia’s South Street, which retained much more of its Italian flavor than Gotham’s Little Italy.  A magical day…

Which Ivy thought she had stage managed beautifully until they reached the row house where the two goons Harley had christened “Mario” and “Luigi” said Mollatova lived.  Then Harley burst into tears. 

Muscles creaked as Bane flexed his fingers again… He couldn’t understand this Kittlemeier, not at all.  A man of very rare and valuable skills who did not shrink from using those skills in the service of deadly men.  His clients were the most dangerous and unstable in the city, and ratting them out to Falcone, even under torture, would be signing his own death warrant.  He must know that—yet Bane detected not a hint of gratitude for bringing him out of that danger into the safe haven of the 29th Street warehouse.

Bane hadn’t snatched the old man for gratitude, of course.  He was just puzzled by the lack of it.

“You know what men like that do when you know something they want,” he said.  “Break the fingers one by one, or clip them off at the knuckle for every question you don’t answer.  A man like that, he doesn’t think.  He sees himself as the biggest dog around.  He doesn’t stop to think that whatever he can do to you now is nothing compared to what men like Riddler or Penguin will do you to you later.”

And still there was not a suggestion of anything but contempt coming from the little gadgeteer. 

“And what kind of man is you?” Kittlemeier asked finally.

Bane was intrigued—not by the question itself but the thought behind it. 

“Speak, that I may know you,” he quoted.  “Very good, señor.  You hear me use a phrase more than once, ‘a man like’ this or that, and you note it.  ‘What does this tell me about the man standing before me,’ you ask yourself.  This is the kind of cunning you must have to survive with the sort you work for.  To displease one like Joker or Riddler would be a fate worse than death, si?”

“No,” Kittlemeier said simply.  “They is all ‘displeased’ at some time or others.  Usually when they hears the price.  Sometimes when they wants it tomorrow and it takes week to makes.”

“Then why aren’t you dead?” Bane asked, a burst of genuine curiosity shorting out his anger at having his theory contradicted.

“And what would thats accomplish?” Kittlemeier asked in exactly the same words he’d answered Joker’s sole attempt to get a price reduction at knife-point.  “Unless they wants to be making all the chattering teethes and exploding question marks themselves.  They kill mes, they threaten to kill mes, or they just breaks the rules and gets banned from store, is all same result.”

“Not to you, surely,” Bane noted.                                   

“What is you stupids?  We no talk about me, we talk about them.  To Rogue, what it is to them is all there is, is all they sees.  They no want to make their own next time, they behave.”

Bane had to think about that.  Finding he had no answer and feeling he really must say something or lose face under the gaze of those bizarrely unafraid birdlike eyes, he returned to the original question.

“You asked what kind of man I am.  I’m the kind who appreciates one like you,” he said generously.  “In war, it’s often necessary to destroy the enemy’s resources, but it’s far better to take them for yourself if you can.  Either way, your enemy is deprived of his advantage, but this way, you have it to use against him… And if the resource is an item of rare value, you have escaped the karmic sin of removing it from the world.”

And still a glare of contempt.  Bane simply couldn’t understand it.

“Ah, I begins to see,” Kittlemeier remarked after a short pause.  “So whats is it you wants?”

Bane massaged his knuckles thoughtfully…

The Baldwin Express: Philadelphia-to-Gotham was a much different experience than Gotham-to-Philadelphia had been.  The Harley Crisis was dispensed with quickly enough.  Harley had demonstrated the same blind, stupid lunacy—that was really the only way Ivy could think to describe it—the same blind, stupid lunacy that enabled Joker to turn her in the first place.  This time in reverse!  She had never caught on that there were no tender feelings behind Joker’s wooing of Dr. Quinzel, but their perfect day playing tourist in Philadelphia—which Ivy had engineered from the very best of intentions—that Harley viewed as calculated manipulation.  She saw it as a last trip to the park with a dog you’re about to get rid of, a pity fuck for the guy you’re about to break up with, a…a… last caress of the petals for a rose you’re about to snip!  Ivy was able to dispel that ridiculous fear as soon as Harley managed to explain why she was crying.  Harley was feeling great now! 

But Ivy felt she could do with a little sobbing. 

The very idea that being kind to Harley, asking where she wanted to go instead of dictating the itinerary—the very idea that it was seen as such aberrant behavior in Poison Ivy that there had to be some nasty motive behind it?  Having fun with her friend was an anomaly to be explained… it was a harder blow than that 4 a.m. realization that most people didn’t like her.  The saving grace of that was that Harley did.  And Harley—liking her—still thought her capable of that.  In Joker’s indifference, Harley saw buds that would one day blossom into her dream wedding.  In Ivy’s real attempt at affection, she saw root rot.  It was a lot to process.  Or it would have been if Ivy had been able to give it any thought.  Instead, it had sunk into a subconscious canker while she dealt with this latest development:

“I’ve never felt this kind of instant attraction to anyone.  From the first time I saw your picture, not the one Falcone gave me but years ago in the newspaper, and that was in black and white!  And then there was that piece on television, so much better because it was in color.  But even so, no photo or video does justice to the wonderful color of your skin…”

It was quite appalling. 

Ivy wasn’t sure how she’d feel about greening a lesbian—she wasn’t even sure she could do it, at first.  She hadn’t even tried to green a woman since her first weeks discovering her pheromone abilities.  The first attempts on women didn’t work so she’d focused on men where it did.  Then she learned the effect on men was based on their sexual orientation, not their gender: gay males were as impervious to her control as women had always been. The logical conclusion was that gay women could be greened in the same way that straight men could, but it was only a theory.  She had never actually tested it out.

Until Nigma came to her with this Mollatova mission, she hadn’t really wanted to.  The thought of using her pheromones on a woman bothered her in a way that greening men did not.  Men were such useless tripods.  Knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, most of them, who thought with their genitals and created endless complications for the rest of the world.  She didn’t need to rationalize greening men; they deserved it.  She didn’t feel that way about women, other than their regrettable belief that Ivy was wrong about plants.  And lesbians, well, the fact that they didn’t find men attractive was another point in their favor.  Even if they didn’t have a proper respect for plants, they got it right as far as their own species…

“And then there was that A&E Biography about you.  I remember I was going to be out of town, so I DVR’d it to watch later—I can’t THINK why I didn’t keep it!  It would be so great to watch it with you right now, and you could tell me which parts they got right and which are wrong…”

Appalling.

“You could tell me the real story behind the true stuff.  It would be so amazing to get it straight from your lips.  And I just love your voice…”

Harley said it must be because the communication center in a woman’s brain is larger than a man’s, and because women process epinephrine differently.  Ivy’s pheromones did supercharge the root physical attraction producing a flood of hormones in her brain that manifested as a powerful infatuation with and devotion to Poison Ivy, just as they’d all hoped.  But it also supercharged her communication center, making her want to express that devotion with a tireless energy Ivy was finding it hard to take!

“As soon as we get to Gotham, you really must let me prove myself to you.  Any paper mills or lumber yards you want to make an example of, you just let me at ‘em.  We’ll blow them sky high.  For the plants!  I’ve always felt like you do about the plants, you know.  I just never realized it before.  I didn’t have the, the words to express it.  Now I do… POISON IVY!”

Ivy looked enviously at Harley, bebopping happily in her seat, the dulcet tones of her Lady Gaga insulating her from Mollatova’s incessant prattle.

Bane drummed his fingers on his enormous thigh in a poor attempt to disguise his frustration.  He didn’t care what a prisoner like Kittlemeier thought of him, but his inability to make use of his prisoner’s talents was beginning to erode the way Bane thought of himself.  This was Gotham, land of the Joker, Riddler, Penguin, the land of the Batman… and this little man he’d captured was a resource they all made use of.  To take Gibraltar and not make use of the strait?  To take Stirling and not make use of the bridge, the river or the castle?  What would that say about a war lord?

So he tried to appear thoughtful as he wracked his brains for some idea—some thing this Kittlemeier could make for him.  Some advantage native to Gotham that he could, through this man, appropriate for his own use... 

“Maybe you could give me some examples,” he said finally.  “What kind of things do you make for the lanky straw man?”

“Riddle… me… this…” a menacing yet playful voice sounded from… somewhere in the rafters.  “My first is… No, forget that.  What do you call a… No…  Be a… no.”  The volume and timbre shifted on the last word as a long, lean shadow fell across the floor leading back to the modest, non-hulking form of The Riddler standing in the doorway.  “Boy, you’ve got a crap name there, Bane.  One syllable, no anagrams to speak of.  Origins: Middle English bana, slayer.  Old Norse bani, death.  Old Fisian bona, murder.  Old Saxon, bano murder.  High German, bano, murder.  One note.  Kind of like you.”

He entered, giving the end of his cane a little twirl whenever it hit the floor, lending a studied nonchalance to his walk.

“He treating you okay, Mr. Kittlemeier?” Eddie asked without turning his gaze from Bane.

Ja,” Kittlemeier said carefully, watching the space between the two men, as well as his own path to the door.

“You should get going then,” Eddie said, pointing with the tip of his cane to indicate Kittlemeier should walk around to his right.

Bane curled the fingers of his left hand into a fist that cracked his knuckles as he stood, then he did the same with the right.

“Am I supposed to be impressed?” Nigma asked as if it was a particularly easy riddle.

“You should be afraid,” Bane said grimly.

“Of… whom?  The coward who had to wear Batman down before taking him on?  The soured underpowered coward that—even packing the old venom advantage—needed to break us all out of Arkham to tire Batman out before he could take on a witty-bitty crimefighter half his size?  I taunt Batman, you pusillanimous poseur.  I say ‘Come and get me, Big Man.’  And when he does, I want his best game.  That’s how men measure swords, you posing poltroon.  Why on earth do you imagine I’d be afraid of a… fraction of a man who had to hide behind my coat once already?”

Contrary to popular belief, Bane’s “backbreaker” maneuver did not literally break Batman’s back.  It did inflict a massive herniation to the L3-L4 disc, causing it to swell until it pressed into the spinal column, causing temporary paralysis.  Something similar was now occurring inside Bane’s brain.  The punch that machismo demanded in reply to this riddling little cockroach required a slight shifting of weight from his forward left to his back right.  That was all, a slight shift in weight, but there was an obstruction between that learned instinct and the synapses that would actually move his muscles to do it.  That obstruction took the form of a single word:  Guernica.

Bane couldn’t have said why at the time.  He just knew this… thought was swelling in his head, pressing inexplicably but undeniably into his ability to speak or move:  What kind of courage did this little man have?  To a man like Bane, being called a coward was beyond insult, beyond obscenity.  But it was hard not to feel it—Delivered like this, from this colossally, inhumanly, incomprehensibly brave man—it was hard not to feel it as a blow of absolute truth.

“Mr. Kittlemeier and I will be leaving now,” Riddler said evenly.  “Word has it you’re not a muscle-bound imbecile.  If that’s true, you should be leaving too.  Get out of Gotham and never come back.  If you don’t…” The pause lasted for only a heartbeat, during which the body of Edward Nigma seemed to grow a shade denser, a shade thicker, perhaps even a shade taller.  “I will break you.”

The warehouse where Bane held Kittlemeier was at 120 East 29th Street.  A triumphant Riddler had escorted him as far as the corner of East 31st when they encountered—a triumphant Riddler.  Nigma 1 high-fived Nigma 2 before morphing into Matt Hagen’s favorite headshot.  Then he reached into his neck and pulled out the small earpiece by which the real Eddie had been feeding him his lines.  He held it towards the Riddler’s gloved hand, but Eddie stepped back with a ‘no thanks’ gesture.

“Keep it.  It’s got wet… clay on it,” he observed, pointing with a prissy ‘ick, gloppy stuff’ move completely at odds with his earlier performance.

“Sorry,” Matt said as the little gray-brown droplets quivered in place before breaking free and jumping up into his wrist.  “You spit into the mic,” Matt mentioned.

“Sorry,” Eddie said with a grin. 

Again, they high-fived. 

An astonished Kittlemeier thanked them both, related a few details of his ordeal with Bane, and thanked them again.  Matt bowed, and Eddie made the formal introductions.  As a shape-shifter, Hagen had no need of a costume or gadgets, so they’d never met.  But Kittlemeier wanted to express his gratitude and he offered both of his rescuers “a little something on ze houses.”  Matt thought for a minute and started to describe the one challenge of his nightly routine: the way a body needed to sleep each day, his needed to ‘mush out’ as he put it.  He liked to unclench all his shape-shifting muscles—somewhere dry where there was no danger of being rained on—and let his clay relax into its natural unshaped form.  He didn’t like doing it in a bathtub; he could never completely relax in anything with a drain, besides which porcelain was cold, hard and had unpleasant connotations.  Beds and carpets were better, psychologically and physically, but they had fibers.  He hated fibers.  It made ‘getting up in the morning’ an unnecessarily itchy business.  Wood was almost as bad.  “It’s more absorbent than people think.”

Eddie smiled to himself.  The episode confirmed the natural affinity of the Theme Rogue, and underlined Bane’s status as a wannabe, outsider and misfit.  The interloper had not been able to come up with a single use for Kittlemeier’s talents, while Matt Hagen came up with an idea after two minutes’ thought.

Rather than go straight to the Regal Laundry hideout, Kittlemeier had them stop at a Hungarian restaurant he knew “for a little lemon schnapps.”  He had the owner bring a metal box he kept behind the bar, withdrew a rather spiffy looking tablet and stylus, and started sketching out ideas for Matt as they sat and drank.  Eddie, remembering the vodka hangover, opted for club soda.  As he watched, he thought of Kittlemeier’s suggestion, years ago, that he could make small ‘kits’ of puzzle boxes and other gear, which could be stowed in any number of non-lair locations throughout the city.  Riddler never went for it, and Eddie learned over time that Kittlemeier had made the same suggestion to Selina, Jervis and Harvey, who also refused.  Eddie always assumed it was just a sales pitch, trying to push some new thing.  It was rather amusing to see Kittlemeier himself making use of the idea no one else wanted, and while Matt made little suggestions for his proposed basin-bed, Eddie thought back over other Kittlemeier pitches.  He wondered how many other stellar ideas he’d rejected from the Rogue-mind who had been among them all this time and they never quite recognized.

Guernica.  In his mind’s ear, Bane heard the old Jesuit saying the name.  He was reading from a volume on the Spanish Civil War.  “The bombing of Guernica was not a military objective.  One of the first raids in the history of modern military aviation on a defenseless civilian population, the object of the bombardment was the demoralization of that population...”  Bane had latched on to that word like a newborn to a mother’s teat: de-moralize.  He studied the account time and again, for instinctively he felt that was the key to victory in all battles.  An enemy that will fight can always win.  The history books were full of impossible victories by the outmatched and outnumbered.  Even the dead had an awful way of inspiring the living to strike back and avenge them… But a foe who gives up poses no such threat. 

So he’d picked the first instance he encountered as his model, studied and deconstructed it: April 26, 1937, the bombing of Guernica on Market Day.  It was not a military objective.  The object was to de-moralize.  To strike a blow of such force it knocks the will from your enemy. Bane had labored over that definition.  For a time he substituted “hope” for “will,” to strike a blow of such force it knocks the hope from your enemy…  Then he tried “confidence”… but he was never really satisfied with either.  Now he understood why.  It was that idea of an external blow knocking the will/hope/confidence from a man like a blow to the plexus robs him of breath.  What he’d felt in the face of the exceptional, colossal and inhuman courage of the Riddler was internal.  A gaping hole inside him, an emptiness that had gravity and mass, sucking like a vacuum. 

A gaping hole inside him that had the weight and mass of a burned out star and made it, quite simply, impossible to move.

Selina had been tired, but she wasn’t exhausted like Bruce.  She had dozed, but now she lay there watching him sleep.  She caressed the scar of an ancient cat-scratch, kissed a favorite spot on his shoulder, and as the minutes passed, let her love for him, her hatred of Bane, and her anger at Eddie swell into a force uniquely feminine yet uniquely feline…

There was no longer any studied control in his rubbing of knuckles.  There was only the spastic twitching of individual fingers.  An ecstatic gleam in psychotic eyes.  And the twisting of a mouth filled with the bitter tang of adrenaline.

Bane had always seen his scheme to wear Batman down as the epitome of his genius.  Yet there was no question that breaking Gotham’s Dark Knight had failed to bring him the stature he deserved.  Those who should have bent their knees to him had absolutely failed to do so.  He beat the man who beat all of them, yet all but the Catwoman had failed to render him the homage he had earned.

If this was the reason… But no, this Riddler of all men—this Riddler was one who fought with his mind, he above all should appreciate that strategy was part of beating the Batman.  It didn’t—it shouldn’t—diminish his glory.  Doing everything possible to weaken the enemy before you face him was the way to win…

If the goal was simply to beat him.  But beating Batman was to have been a means to an end—to shock and awe Gotham into submission—and that end had certainly not been achieved.  Even the little Jewish tailor didn’t revere his accomplishment… 

The little Jewish tailor. 

Was it possible Carmine Falcone had a better understanding of— No. 

So Kittlemeier didn’t fear the Rogues, so he wasn’t the oppressed slave Bane had assumed, so what?  That was a minor failure of understanding.  Both Kittlemeier and his customers were aware of his worth, so what?  Who would guess madmen were capable of such cognizance?  Not being able to use the old man’s talents, that’s what he should be worried about.  Being able to assess the landscape, recognize and exploit its weaknesses, these things are paramount in a war.  Not the failure of every Rogue except Catwoman — the failure of every Rogue and their fucking watchmaker—to pay a little fucking homage—to show a little fucking fear—to fucking show a little fucking respect.

Inside Bane’s massive chest, his heart pounded hot waves of rage into his arms and legs, moving him to stand and pace, to clench his fists.  The throbbing, pulsing, fuming waves heaved up his chest, seeming to crash against his teeth and twisting his mouth into a snarl.

He knew he was thinking like Falcone.  “Fucking this, fucking that, fucking fuck the other thing.” He was better than this.  He was Bane.  He wasn’t some fucking junkyard dog, he was…

One note, that riddling cockroach said.

Sekhmet, the original cat-woman, was a goddess of war in Ancient Egypt—and a force of destruction that made other war gods look like teething children.  Yet she was also a protector, a healer, a loving wife and mother.  Selina saw no contradiction in that.  It was the nature of a cat to be deadly, and the nature of a woman to protect those she loved. 

Middle English bana, slayer. 

She let the pad of her middle finger move softly along Bruce’s knuckles.  He could put so much power behind a blow, and he’d mastered more martial arts than he bothered to count.  He didn’t need protecting, but neither did Sekhmet’s sons, Nefertem the lion god and Mahees the lord of…  she stifled a chuckle at the thought…  Mahees was the Egyptian Lord of Punishment on those who violated “Maat” or Justice.  He was, essentially, Egypt’s Dark Knight.

 

Old Norse bani, death. 

Gotham’s Dark Knight was not a god.  He was a mortal man who had been hurt once already.  And tonight, he’d come to her gargoyle and raised the memories from that awful time…

Old Fisian bona, murder. 

Tonight he told her the monster who did it was back.  The last time, Bane had to stage a prison break to wear Batman down… Now he’d come to Gotham with a war already in progress between the  Rogues and the Mobs. 

Old Saxon, bano murder. 

Selina Kyle’s love was something fierce and feral. 

High German, bano, murder. 

She loved Bruce.  Bane hurt him.  And Edward Nigma was leading forces in a war that was exhausting him

One note, Riddler said.  He would show him ONE NOTE. 

Catwoman was ready to enter the war.

To be concluded…
 

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