1 Erik brought him dinner. Bane, lying on the bed, asked if he was going to get his pain injection prior to eating and Erik looked uncomfortable. Then he left the room and Max returned several minutes later with a syringe full of a clear liquid. Bane eyed the needle, wondering what was in it. Max glared at him and motioned for him to lift his shirt and roll over on his back. That she refused to speak to him charmed him. He watched her in the mirror and the touch of her hand gave him pause. Max slid her hand over his spine, touching the nodules put there by one of Ra’s Al Ghul’s bootleg doctors.
She almost spoke; he saw her open her mouth to question the scars, but she closed it at the last minute. He went still and she swabbed one of the nodules near his shoulder and gave him the shot. Then she stood up and walked out of the room without saying anything. Bane took a moment to watch her ass as she left the room. Then he ate heartily and enjoyed a very long, very hot shower. He put the breathing device back on and slept 18 hours.
Bane couldn’t remember the last time he’d slept so well. Max’s spare bedroom was spacious and comfortable; the bathroom was spotless and the shower big enough that he could bathe comfortably. Most of the clothes fit and it was nice indeed to be in a place where he didn’t have to feel constantly on guard. He hadn’t spoken to Max since she told him to get out of her house; he simply refused to leave. He had baited her, and as he surmised, her intentions were legitimate. Once he was sure of that, he knew he could relax. But she was irritated and he was amused by it. Bane wasn’t above basic emotional comforts, and Max’s annoyance with him was very entertaining.
Then there was the question of Max herself. Who was she? Was she really a doctor? Just because she had the toys and gadgets and the vocabulary didn’t mean anything. Bane himself wasn’t a physician, but he was gifted enough to pull it off. Max gave him run of the house and he thought that he would take advantage of it. Whether the offer still stood was of no importance; she wasn’t going to put him out. Physically, she couldn’t, and Erik was a skinny little waif of a man who looked like he was terrified of Bane. He wondered if Max had a husband or a boyfriend; someone else who was likely to be around. Bane didn’t believe Max for one second when she told him he was her first visitor. A woman like her was inclined to have…friends…and while he wanted no trouble, he had no problems in dealing with it if it arose.
He took a leisurely stroll around the house, doing reconnaissance. Max liked art; there were paintings on every wall and exotic figurines here and there. The rooms weren’t big, but they looked comfortable and it appeared that Erik didn’t live there. Max’s bedroom was at the back of the house and Bane entertained the idea of entry, but decided against it. If he wanted to go in there, he very well would and she wouldn’t be able to stop him. But for now, the location was useful information.
There was a random door opposite Max’s bedroom. Bane opened it to find a staircase. He went downstairs and came upon Max’s basement. It was divided into two enormous rooms; her laboratory and a library. Both rooms had glass walls. Max was in her lab, sitting in front of what looked like a wall of monitors. Her back was to him and he could see that she was wearing earphones and chewing gum while banging away at a keyboard. There were four large computer screens, each one showing a different rotating molecule. He blinked, cocking his head to one side. One molecule was oxycodone, one was hydrocodone, one was tramadol and the other was fentanyl. Bane wondered if what she was doing had anything to do with him, for each one was an analgesic. She said that she had him on a cocktail of painkillers, and he had to remind himself to ask her just what the hell she was doping him with.
Then he turned his attention to the library. In prison, he read every book he could get his hands on and absorbed every little miniscule detail of everything he read. It was no different when he became a free man; knowledge was power and Bane’s mind was more powerful than most. Ra’s Al Ghul had him thrown out of the League because he couldn’t bear to be reminded of his wife’s final days, but Bane thought it was simply because he was a lot smarter with less refined methods. At any rate, he was a sucker for the written word. Max had hundreds of books; most of them reference. She had all kinds: medical, legal, scientific, mathematical. She also had a computer available and obviously a wireless connection. Bane took a deep breath, thinking he’d spend the rest of the day in there.
2 Max stood up and stretched the kinks out of her back. She’d been working for hours; she was an insomniac and typically worked at night. But the inconsiderate bastard in her guest bedroom—who, after threatening her, refused to leave!—irritated her so much that she hadn’t been able to wind down enough so that she could rest. Max wondered if she would regret taking care of him; he had already crossed the line by choking her. Damn it, she wasn’t planning on hurting him, but if Bane tried any other bit of fuckery, she was going to give him a lethal dose of her special compound and let the chips fall where they may. There were sharks in the water near her house.
Max was exhausted. According to her clock, she’d been up for two days straight; most of them spent in the care of that enormous dick. Well, she wasn’t about to be bothered with him today. He could fend for himself. But she would at least give him a prepared syringe so that he could use it when he wanted to. She walked over to one of her refrigerators and removed one from a lined box. Then she started whistling Bernard Hermann’s Twisted Nerve as she locked up her laboratory and began to make her way up the stairs. She intended to have a hot bath and a long nap and something to eat. But the light in the library caught her attention. Annoyed, she walked across the hall and poked her head in the door, slowing her whistling.
“What are you doing in here?”
Bane looked up from the journals he was reading. “You gave me free run of the house.”
“I also told you to get the fuck out. You didn’t do that, so…?”
He eyed her. She looked exhausted and he wondered how long it had been since she slept. “It behooves me to stay here.”
“Behooves you? You think, you prick? I should have let your big ass bleed out on my floor. I could have paid someone to replace my tile; it would have been far less stressful and a lot cheaper.”
“But you did not and you’re responsible for the life you saved.”
“You put your hands on me…without my permission. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t have to do anything else for you. You can go surf a tidal wave of hot dicks.”
“So you’re bringing in that syringe for…yourself?”
Max looked at her hand. She’d forgotten about the shot that quickly. “I’m too tired for this.” She walked into the room and slapped the syringe down on the table. A swift glance revealed that Bane was reading one of her organic chemistry books, a pharmacology text and one of her medical reference journals. She didn’t question whether he was actually reading or pretending to show off. “Here. Take it if you want, or feel free to shove it up your ass.”
“What if I want to get something to eat?”
She used her middle finger to point upwards. “Kitchen’s that way. In case you’re wondering, after that shit you pulled…I’m not inclined to be such a gracious hostess. You better hope that canister doesn’t empty anytime soon because Erik isn’t here to help you.”
“Max, you are quite entertaining when you’re upset.”
She rolled her eyes and walked away. “Find the blackest part of my ass and kiss it.”
3 Bathing was always total and complete bliss because she engineered it to be so. Max spent a small fortune on the design of her bathroom; it had a raised walkup that housed her Jacuzzi bathtub and open-air shower. There were three windows that overlooked the Macau skyline. She had a plethora of body gels, creams, soaps, oils, bubbles and the accoutrements necessary to use them. Her bathroom was rigged with a stereo system; she liked to listen to ocean sounds or the rain whenever she took her bath. She never used the overhead lights; it was either the natural light from the windows or the dozen or so candles around the room.
Her baby was conceived in a tub similar to this one.
Max put a compress over her eyes and turned up the volume, trying to relax. What she really needed was a massage, but she didn’t want to invite her masseur over, not with that big idiot roaming around her house. She was coming to regret trying to save him. That her neighbors even thought enough of him to drag his healthy ass to her doorstep was startling. They knew she was a doctor; she’d been known to dispense prescriptions from time to time, and for whatever reason, they brought Bane to her house and she, appalled at the damage to his face, felt compelled to help him. She was a surgeon…she could help him.
She should have known better; she knew what a tender heart could do. But Bane had suffered greatly. His nose and mouth had been hacked with a rusty scalpel or something; nearly shredded by either a drunk or unpracticed hand. Whoever tried to fix him up wasn’t able to repair all the damage, and it was a fucking travesty because the man had once been very, very handsome. And then…then they had him breathing that shit…she couldn’t just let it be. Whatever happened to first do no harm? Max was appalled that there were butchers masquerading as doctors and getting away with it when she’d gotten her license revoked for something a lot less trivial.
What money and privilege could buy.
No point in dwelling on that.
She wrapped herself in a giant robe and paddled out to her cool, dark bedroom. The bath helped to relax her and she felt like she could sleep for seven or eight hours. Hell, she’d settle for four. Insomnia was a bitch. She put on a T-shirt and a pair of panties and got in bed, expecting sleep to come immediately.
4 The phone woke her up. She didn’t know how much time had passed and her body screamed for food. Max let the phone go to voice mail and groaned, burying her face in the pillow. She might have dozed again, but the phone rang once more and she let out a stream of epithets.
“Aren’t you going to answer it?”
Moving on instinct, Max grabbed the gun she kept hidden in a secret compartment of her headboard and aimed it in the direction of the voice. She groaned again. “Bane, get the fuck out of my room! I told you it was off limits!!”
“I think we’ve established that I don’t do what you tell me to, Max. I need to know what you’ve been doping me with. What is this gas? What’s in the syringes?”
Max continued to hold the gun. He was sitting in her chair, about twelve feet from her. The only light in the room came from the fading daylight of the bathroom and she could see him, calmly sitting with his hands on the arms of the chair. “Why don’t I just put you out of your misery and shoot you?”
“If you feel that’s best.”
Max screamed in frustration and then, sighing, put the gun on the nightstand. She looked at her phone. “I’ve only gotten three hours’ sleep?” Then she checked the call log. “Marcus! You fucking asshole!!!”
“I’m waiting on an answer,” Bane said.
Max closed her eyes. She could do with a few more hours’ rest, but it wasn’t about to be had. “Bane, this couldn’t wait? You can’t just disrespect me like this; I haven’t done anything to warrant your rudeness or your stank ass attitude. This is my private domain. No one comes in here, not even Erik. Surely, your question could have waited until I came out.”
“If you had told me yesterday, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”
“Okay. Okay. Let me get dressed and return this call. Then I’ll answer your questions and you’ll go somewhere and choke on the responses and I can go back to my life.”
“Re-arrange the order of that. Answer me now, I’ll go away, and then you can do what you want.”
“Can I put on some clothes first? Do you mind? I’m not dressed.”
“You look perfectly fine to me.”
Max took a deep breath and counted to ten. She closed her eyes and thought of wonderful things like men and sex and chocolate and shoes and diamonds and sandy beaches and…
“The gas you’re breathing is a mixture of inhalant analgesics. You won’t find them in a pharmacology book or a reference manual because they’re my own design. The same goes for your injections. You’re not in unbelievable pain because my shit works. Are you happy now? Can I put some clothes on?”
“You made these drugs?”
“What kind of doctor are you?”
Max rolled her eyes and got out of bed. She was past giving a fuck and she could move around in the dark. Bane turned on the lamp next to the chair. She gasped and tried to cover herself.
“I don’t know why you’re panicking. You’re not the first woman I’ve seen in a state of undress.”
Max clenched her fists. “You are the biggest, most completest asshole I have ever met. And I may not be the first semi-nude chick you’ve seen, but I’m the best looking one you’ll ever lay eyes on and you haven’t earned the privilege of seeing me naked.”
Bane stared at her, calmly breathing the gas, wondering what she’d created. Max stood in front of her bed, hands on her hips. She wore a long T-shirt. Her hair was an explosive mess, flattened on one side. But there was something about her that was so appealing that he couldn’t stop staring at her and couldn’t stop baiting her. Her request that her bedroom be off limits was not unreasonable. It made perfect sense. He was not an illogical man. But the niceties of etiquette and proper behavior meant nothing to a mercenary raised in prison. Bane did whatever he wanted to do, he asked no questions and he certainly didn’t ask for permission. If he wanted something, he took it. If he wished to gain entry somewhere, then he just walked in. Max’s bedroom door wasn’t locked, but it didn’t matter because he was going to come in anyway. And he would have been fine in the chair for as long as she slept, but he had to know what was coursing through his veins. But for now, he decided to engage in more of their highly stimulating banter. “How long would it take to earn said privilege?”
“You’ve got about as much of a chance of that as you do of figuring out what it is you’re breathing!”
“So my chances are excellent, wouldn’t you say? Because I know that some of what you’re using is a combination of synthetic derivatives of at least oxycodone and tramadol in the injection, and fentanyl in the inhalant. However, fentanyl inhalants aren’t on the market. They’re still in clinical trials. Are you also using a benzodiazepine like Diazepam or something similar?”
Max stared at the man in her chair, stunned. So stunned was she that she didn’t even try to refute his words. Clearly he was more than just a blunt instrument. “For your inhalant, I used fentanyl as the basis and…tweaked…the structure using xenon. For the injections, I synthesized my own version of thebaine and from there, developed variants of oxycodone and hydrocodone with just a bit more…oomph. And yeah, there’s some tramadol in there somewhere. But that’s not all that’s in the cocktail or in the inhalant…how do you know this??? I’ve never published my research and no one has access to it!”
“I’m not an idiot. I saw you when I came downstairs. And I did a scan of what’s in this syringe. You manufacture drugs.” He stared at her legs. They were impossibly long and looked strong. Bane slid his eyes to Max’s startled face. “So this means you’re going to remove the rest of your clothes?”
“What?” She hadn't gotten past the point of knowing that he'd actually broken into her lab. Considering that he hadn't done anything she'd asked of him, she really wasn't that surprised.
“You said that I had as much chance of earning the privilege of seeing you naked than I did of figuring out what you were giving me. I got the one, so give me the other. Take off your clothes. I must admit, I am quite…interested…in seeing you unclothed.”
Max screamed. She couldn’t think of any other insult to hurl at him, so she said: “You can suck my dick.”
“Oh, do you have one of those? What a pity. I was rather hoping that you were indeed a woman.”
She glared at him and stomped into her bathroom.
5 Max was sitting in her living room, enjoying a meal of fish, rice and vegetables and gobbling a bottle of sangria. Bane ate what she did; the breathing apparatus sitting off to one side. The canister had to be replaced, but the injections were good for three hours. She wouldn’t give him more than that.
“You may as well know that I sell the drugs I make. It’s how I make my money…and I make a shitload of it. Marcus is a client.”
“You told me that I wasn’t a lab rat.”
“I’m not experimenting on you, Bane. The compounds I’ve developed are successful. I’ve used them before. What I am trying to do is find the best combination that keeps you pain-free and functional. And then there’s the method of delivery. I’m in the process of designing a prototype breathing device with dual channels: two over the head and two over the jawline. Canisters are inserted in the back and the gas reaches your nose and mouth through a set of tubes. I have to take measurements of your head and face, but I think it will work. Of course, I don’t have to do a damn thing and you can just go to rot. Do me a favor and do it down the street.”
“You’re helping me because you want the research for publication. I am little more than a lab rat.”
“Okay, if that’s what you think, then the door is waiting for your big, happy ass. You are helping me refine my work, true. I’ve had these ideas for years and now I can put them to use. Besides, I can’t really publish anymore because I’m no longer licensed to practice medicine.”
“Because I got caught selling drugs. Stupid of me; I was making plenty of money as a surgeon and an anesthesiologist, but I wanted the world for my b…I got greedy, got ratted out, and lost my license to practice. They took the certification, but they can’t ever take the skill. But the idiots thought I was stealing drugs from the hospital to sell when I was making them myself. I like designing meds; it appeals to me. I make far more now with my black market designer cocktails than I ever did at the hospital. It pays for my nice little home and laboratory and any other hobbies I might want to indulge. So if you want to judge, go right ahead. Be sure to appreciate the fact that that you can eat and talk without pain beforehand.”
“None so far. Not unless you’ve grown another testicle. I think I would have noticed, though.”
“You’re preoccupied with what’s in my trousers.”
“Aren’t you preoccupied with what’s in mine?”
“Lying son-of-a-bitch. If I pulled up my skirt, sat in front of you and sad ‘Eat me,’ you’d break your neck trying to do so. Don’t play games with me.”
“It is an interesting visual, to say the least.”
“Whatever. So now you know what I want to do. Tomorrow, I’m going to play around with your face and the construction of the mask. I had to hunt for the right kind of materials, but I have them now. Are you interested or do you still want to carry that backpack and apparatus around, looking like a retarded third grader?”
“And I’m going to have to make a delivery soon, so I’m going to have a busy night tonight. Don’t annoy me. Better yet, stay away from me. Go somewhere, do something, play on the computer, read a book, jerk off…I don’t care.”
“I was going to ask if you needed any help. I'm very knowledgeable and I could be of some assistance.”
“Bane, this is my business. This is how I earn money. This is how I live. I will not have you fucking it up. On this, let’s be clear. If you do anything to mess up my tasks, I promise you that the air you breathe will become toxic. Don’t say anything unless it’s important and don’t do anything except stay out of my way. Clear?”
She finished eating and he helped her bring the trays into the kitchen. “Leave them for Erik. Come to the lab with me.”
Bane followed Max downstairs, thoroughly fascinated with her.