Just as she said, she arrived in front of the rental space four hours later in her little blue car. She had a bag and a briefcase, and she wore jeans, a denim jacket and a T-shirt. Her hair was a mass of bouncy curls. Bane felt a tightening in his chest and in his pants. He hadn’t thought about sex in a long time; there was simply too much that required his full attention, but he had never forgotten how Max made him feel. He opened the door.
She looked at him, abruptly moving past. “Come on; I don’t have all night. I want to tuck my son into bed.”
The rental was a studio apartment, sparsely furnished. Max took a quick glance around the room. “Just what I expected. Okay, have a seat on the bed.”
“Give me your arm.”
Max knew then that the man had to be in agony; he was never this complacent. She removed a syringe from her briefcase and swabbed Bane’s forearm. “This is a painkiller with a sedative in it, and don’t you dare bitch about it. If you’re hurting as much as I think you are, then you will welcome the tranq.” She injected him. In about half a minute, she saw his eyes light up and the crease under them relax. The sedative wouldn’t render him useless, but he would want to sleep.
“This is different from what you used before.”
Max smiled at him. “Better?”
“Yes,” he said. It had been three weeks since he was been pain-free, and Max’s painkillers worked so much better than anything else he’d used since leaving her. He wished she had gone with him, and for more than just the meds.
“There’s a propofol variant mixed with my version of Percocet. It’s more powerful than what I was giving you before. I figured it was time for something new.” She removed her jacket and set to work removing his mask.
Bane didn’t move as Max put her arms around his head. He was lost inside her cleavage and memories occupied his mind as she carefully removed the tube before unlocking the straps that held the faceplate in place. She extricated the canisters and carefully lifted the mask.
“Your tan-line is ridiculous.”
“It’s nothing.” Bane was entertaining himself with memories of Max’s magnificent tits.
She stared at his two-toned head and red face. “Your head looks like a giant peppermint. I’m going to strongly suggest that you leave this thing off for a few days. I brought you twenty doses of the analgesic, so you have plenty. Sun your head, get your tan evened out. It’ll give your face and head a chance at normalcy. I even have your old breathing apparatus so that you can sleep without wearing this thing.”
“This is why I came to you, Max. You take care of me.”
“I don’t even know why. I don’t want you here. Have you been keeping the faceplate clean?”
“And your mouth?”
Max lifted his chin and put her hands on his face. She started kneading his cheeks. Bane stared up at her, matching her calm gaze. She slid her fingers over his scars and then his lips before moving her hands to his skull. He didn’t question why she was massaging his head, but he wasn’t about to stop her from doing so. It felt so good; her touch was unlike anything on this earth. She was not sickened by his damaged face; in fact, she thought he was handsome in spite of the scars. He recalled memories of her covering his face and lips with sweet, deep kisses and sucking on his tongue with equal ardor. He remembered burying his face in her soft, warm cleavage. He remembered her making him feel like a man, and he couldn’t recall any other time when a woman achieved such a feat.
“I told you to take care of yourself,” she chastised. “Why are you men so stubborn?”
“I have been taking care of myself.”
“Your shot should be good for twelve hours. Let me take a look at this mask.” Max moved to step back, but Bane’s hands were on her waist.
“No,” he said.
“Bane, what are you doing? Move your hands.”
“I forgot how good you feel,” he said, his voice low.
Max moved his hands and stepped back. “No. Na uh.” She picked up the broken mask and examined the tubes, and he stared at her. Once upon a time, they couldn’t keep their hands off each other; but now, she was distant. He understood the reasons why, but it didn’t change the fact that he still wanted her.
She went to inspect the mask under the light. “You have hairline fractures in most of these tubes! What in the hell happened?”
“I got punched in the face.”
“Well, serves you right, you anarchist.”
“I was in a great deal of pain.” Once Batman dislodged the tubes, he could feel every punch he received and every one he threw. Bane didn’t deal in regret, but he wished he’d been able to hang that asthmatic prick from one of the construction cranes, as he had done the Special Forces agents. What he hadn’t anticipated was being shot in the chest by Selina Kyle. Not murdering her was another grievous error he committed. Never again.
“Every single one of these will have to be replaced. Damn you, Bane! It’s going to take me a couple of days and I have other things I need to do! I’m supposed to reading to my son, but instead I’m here with your big dumb ass.”
“I can wait as long as you need me to.”
“I bet you can, but I’m not trying to have you here any longer than necessary.” The man was dangerous, absolutely dangerous.
Max shoved the broken mask into her bag and extricated the other one. She fiddled with it and Bane stared at her, a different look in his eyes.
“Tell me about my son.”
She looked at him. “I don’t think I should, Bane.”
“You won’t let me see him. The least you can do is tell me about him.”
Max sighed. That was fair. “Kyle is four years old. He’s thirty-nine inches tall and weighs forty pounds.” She looked at Bane. “He has your eyes, your nose, your mouth, and your cheeks. He has your lips. His hair is curly, and he has a beautiful complexion. He has your hands and your feet; damn it, I’m going to spend a fortune buying his clothes because he grows out of them so fast. He’s going to be big just like you. Kyle is loving, friendly and peaceful. He loves school and he’s gifted. He’s two standard deviations above the rest of his class. Kyle can read, he likes to draw, and he loves music. I’m hoping that he’ll take to science soon enough and I plan to buy him a piano for his birthday. My baby is so smart. He’s my darling; the love of my life. If you didn’t give me anything else, Bane, you gave me a perfect child.”
Bane took it all in. That his son was gifted was absolutely no surprise to him. That Max thought he was perfect was a bit less certain. “You are not upset that he looks like me?”
“Why would I be? I don’t hate you. But I can’t have you and your pandemonium around my baby. You failed to destroy Gotham; what’s to say that you won’t try again or set your sights on another corrupt city? Cause there are plenty. You have these men, these soldiers who will fight for you and die for you…why, I don’t know, but whatever. I can’t control what you do, but I can control what happens around my son.”
“I would never hurt him.” He would never let anyone else do so either, but Max didn’t need to know that. “How could I allow any harm to come to my son?”
“I’m not trying to find out,” Max said. She retrieved a pair of needle-nose pliers and began diddling with the inside of the microfiber cap.
“He’s a part of me that I’m unfamiliar with. He’s unaffected by the darkness and the pain that governed my life when I was his age. I was practically born in prison; molded by the dark…it makes me who I am. You say that he is perfect. He is what I might have been.”
“I understand that, Bane. I do. But I truly don’t give a shit.”
“I want to see him, Max.”
“Out of the question.” She cleaned the inside of the mask with cotton balls and a large jar of clear fluid. “Stop asking me. Here.” She handed him the mask.
“You would deny me?”
“You’re damn right I would. I thought I was clear on that.” Max started gathering her things. It was time to leave.
“I think about him often.” Thoughts of the baby occupied his mind at random intervals.
“I’m sure you do. But the whole world saw what happened in Gotham. Everybody saw what you did. You’re a terrorist. You tried to blow up a city and kill twelve million people. If you don’t think that they aren’t looking for you, then you’re not as smart as I thought you were. And if they find you here, if they connect you to me, to Kyle…they’ll use him. They’ll ruin him because of you. I won’t have that. I meant it, Bane. You can think about Kyle as often as you like, but you won’t go near him. I swear on all that is holy, I will kill you.”
Bane stared at her. She was still a feisty beauty. He remembered the night Max wore that dress; a dress so tight that it robbed him of reason. “Let me at least see him from a distance, Max.”
“If I was even inclined to do so, you would scare the hell out of him in that mask! Not happening. Not even considering it. Go to hell.”
He put his hand on his chest. “Can you look at my chest wound?”
She eyed him. “Are you trying to trap me?”
“How would I do that?” he asked. “If I wanted you, Max, I would have you where you stood.”
“Or toss me over your shoulder like a sack of potatoes.”
“Or that. But all I want is for you to examine where I got shot.”
She sighed. “Lift your shirt.”
Bane rolled up his T-shirt. His chest was wrapped with bandages, but she could see the circular indentation where he received the shotgun blast. Max ran her fingers over it. He ripped off the bandages so that she could see. His chest was red and tender; the muscles depressed.
“Who shot you?”
“A thief by the name of Miss Kyle.”
Max frowned and sucked her teeth. “Now, see, you should have beat her ass.”
“She got the drop on me.”
“It feels like your ribs are broken.” Max pressed in several places. “Are you having trouble breathing? Do you feel like a lung has been punctured?”
“No,” he said.
“You just need to keep your chest wrapped tight. Very little I can do about that. If you can find another one of those armored vests, you should get one just to protect your chest. And try not to get up to any fuckery, okay? You’re not indestructible, Bane. Your drugs keep you impervious to pain, but they don’t make you immortal. While you’re here, lay your big ass down and get some rest. The Amalfi Coast is a peaceful place. Unless you decide to act a damn fool, there’s no reason why you can’t.”
She stood up and looked at Bane. His skin was both tanned and reddened, and she thought again that the contrasting colors made his head look like an enormous peppermint. Max put her hands on his head once more and began to knead his scalp slowly. It was an instinctive response; it was as if she’d forgotten she’d already massaged his head. Bane closed his eyes and a sigh escaped from his lips as he touched his forehead to her chest. Max’s hands felt so good. There was power in her fingers. She was a healer, a shaman. He was right to go to her.
Then, absently, she made her way over his cheeks and then his nose and mouth. Max caressed his scars and without thinking, leaned over and pressed a tender kiss against his lips. She liked kissing him; it was always very, very satisfying.
He opened his eyes. Max stood up and stepped away from him quickly. “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. I like it when you do that.” Bane knew within that second that Max could be…persuaded.
She put on her jacket and grabbed her bag. “I don’t need to do it again. It was an instinctive response. I don’t need those kinds of issues; I’ve got a man in my life.”
“Is that right?”
She looked at him as she shouldered her bag. “What? Didn’t think I would ever be manned up again?”
“It doesn’t suit you,” he said. Suddenly, Bane decided he didn’t like the idea of it.
“You’re crazy. After Kyle finally got off the breast, I turned into a horny little thing. Once I settled in here, I found a friend within a couple of weeks.”
Max walked towards the door. Bane followed her. She looked at him. “Give me a couple of days. I have to input all the data again into my computer so that Marchine can synthesize you a new mask. It’s better to do that instead.”
“Like I said.”
“All right, then.”
“And then you go. You leave. Forever.”
Bane stared at her. Max put up a finger and touched his nose. “You.will.leave.”