5: Father Figure
Max’s gut tightened and her instinct was to look for a weapon. She opened her nightstand and eyed her lamp. Other than an arsenal of high heel shoes, she had nothing to arm herself with. And to her horror, Kyle got off the bed and walked towards him.
“Who are you?” He looked at Max and pointed towards Bane. “Mommy, who’s that?”
“Baby, stand right there. Don’t move.” She didn’t want to alarm him, but it was hard keeping her tone even. She should have known Bane wasn’t going to do as she asked. Max got up and walked towards her doorway. He stood there with the mask off—thank goodness!—but he had it behind his back. Rage flashed in her eyes. His expression was not as easily discernible.
Kyle rubbed her leg. “Who is it, Mommy?”
Max stared at Bane and gave a minute shake of her head. “This is a…friend of Mommy’s. He helped me when I hit my head.”
“Did he push you down?”
“No. I fell on my own. He brought me home.”
“Okay.” Then as little kids were wont to do, Kyle came from around his mother and walked towards Bane. He held out his hand just as he’d been taught. “Hi. My name is Kyle and I’m four years old.”
Bane looked at Max. Her eyes were at once angry and scared. He couldn’t detect anything in her expression other than outright murder. He knelt and looked at Kyle, taking his soft little hand. “My name is Bane.”
“What’s wrong with your face?”
“I got hurt a long time ago.”
“What’s that behind your back?”
“I have trouble breathing so I have to wear a mask to help me.”
“Do you have asthma? Sophia at school has asthma really bad and she has to use a mask sometimes.”
“Something like that.”
“Can I see it?”
Max’s hands were in fists. She didn’t want to scare her friendly, curious son. But she didn’t want him around his father for any length of time. Bane looked up at her.
“Kyle, come on. Stop asking so many questions. Mommy’s friend was getting ready to leave, right? Right? Didn’t you say you had somewhere to be?” The look in her eyes was clear.
Bane, still kneeling in front of Kyle, stared evenly at her. There was a time when he did the opposite of whatever Max said and it worked out very well for both of them. There was no point in not doing the same thing, especially when her greatest fear was being realized right in front of her. “I don’t have to leave just yet. Are you sure you want to see my mask, Kyle? It might scare you.”
“I’m not scared of anything. Mommy says I’m her brave little boy.”
Bane brought the mask from behind his back and handed it to Kyle. Kyle looked at it and touched the faceplate. “They look like teeth.”
He nodded. “Your mommy made it.”
Kyle looked at his mother, his blue eyes shining. “Did you Mommy? Did you make Bang’s mask? Did you? Did you really?”
“Yes,” Max said through clenched teeth. “I did it before you were born.”
“So you and Bang are like, best friends?”
Max bit the inside of her lip, thinking about the night Kyle was conceived. “We’re just friends, honey. Not even good ones. Aren’t you hungry?”
“No.” Then he turned his eyes to his father. “Can you wear it?”
“Do you want me to put it on? I might scare you.”
Kyle shook his head so hard his curls flopped. “Nope. I’m not scared of anything. Mommy says I’m her brave—”
“You’re Mommy’s brave little boy.”
“That’s right. Iggy at school is afraid of lizards, but not me.”
Bane raised an eyebrow and looked at Max. He was positive that he was seeing cold-blooded murder in her expression. But he couldn’t help but be charmed by Kyle and amused by Max’s emotions. She was so hot when her blood was up. He thought again of her promise to smother him.
Kyle followed his gaze. “Mommy’s not scared either, Bang.”
“You’re right about that, Kyle.” He stood up and took a few moments to put on his mask and secure it.
Kyle stared up at him. “You’re really big, Bang. Mommy says I’m going to be big too. Do you think I might be as big as you?”
“Dear Lord, I hope not,” Max said in a low voice.
Bane dialed down his anesthetic to a minimal amount and then knelt back in front of his son. To his credit, Kyle’s eyes widened, but he didn’t move. But he turned to his mother. Max had a fake smile frozen in place.
“Mommy! He looks like Darth Vader! From Star Wars! Coool!” Then he turned back to Bane. “Do you have a lightsaber too, Bang? I want one for Christmas, but Mommy says she’s not sure.”
The kid was a delight. Bane’s eyes crinkled. “No, I don’t have a lightsaber.”
Kyle turned to look back at the TV. “The Backyardigans is on. Do you want to watch TV?”
“No Kyle,” Max said, taking his hand. “Mommy wants to talk to Bane. You go watch TV and we’ll have breakfast in a little while. What do you want to do today?”
“I can go to art class, right? Miss Marzio said we can start on a mural today!”
“Sweetie, Mommy’s head hurts and she really shouldn’t be driving.”
“Bang can take me, then.”
“No,” Max said. Her voice was sharp. Kyle looked up at her.
“Mommy, are you okay?”
“No, baby. My head hurts. Look, let me talk to Bane and then I’ll lie down. Maybe if Mommy can rest a while, then she can take you to art class.”
Kyle’s eyes were luminous. “I promise to be good, Mommy.”
Max knelt in front of her son and kissed his forehead. “You are good. You are my special little boy. Go on now. Mommy’s going to step outside and talk to her friend, okay.”
“Okay.” Kyle made a beeline for the bed and jumped on it. Then he looked at Bane. “Bye, Bang! See you later!”
“Goodbye, Kyle,” he said.
Max closed the door and walked past him. She was so upset that her head started to hurt. Bane followed her, staring at her bare legs. Clearly she was furious because she hadn’t bothered to put on any clothes. But then, neither of them expected for Kyle to do what he did. Bane was entranced by the little boy and he couldn’t help but be pleased. Max was a fantastic mother. The child was loved. He never knew his own mother, but it was satisfying on a primal level to know that his son wouldn’t have that experience.
She went downstairs. Bane knew for a fact that she was gearing up for a fight. He went on guard immediately; he wasn’t about to get hit with utensils, shoes or anything else she was likely to throw. But she went through the kitchen and opened another door. Max walked down another flight of stairs. Bane looked around. They were in her lab. Her villa had three floors and her laboratory was quietly and neatly tucked underground. It wasn’t as big as her last one, but large enough to do what she did best. The room was cold, but she appeared unfazed by it.
Max turned suddenly and pushed him. Bane didn’t budge. She was too angry to care.
He stared at her. She tried to shove him again, but he didn’t move. “What do you want, Bane? What the fuck do you want? Why did you come here, really? I’m going to have to uproot my child! I’m going to have to take him away from everything he knows because you couldn’t leave us alone! What the hell is wrong with you? Did the punch in the face you got from Batman fuck up your thinking? Did that gunshot blast knock a screw loose? Did you get stomped in the balls or something? Did you get smashed in the head by a brick? Did you sniff something other than your painkillers? Because you don't make a lick of damn sense! What's wrong with you? WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHY COULDN’T YOU STAY AWAY?”
She slapped him. Her hand connected with his temple and the sound of it was like a firecracker in the quiet, soundproofed room. Then for good measure, she slapped the other side of his face.
“Don’t do that again,” he warned.
“What are you going to do about it?” she hissed. “What are you going to do? Hit me? Beat me? Jack me up? Bend me over your knee? I don’t give a damn what you do to me, but you leave my child alone! You leave him alone! You stay away from him!”
“I can’t. I won’t.” Not after today.
Max’s fists clenched and unclenched. Then, looking Bane defiantly in the eye, she removed her T-shirt. He stared at her as she threw it over his head. Then she stepped out of her panties and threw them behind her. She put her hands over her hips. He stared, all kinds of thoughts in mind. He was aroused as hell. But Max's eyes were flashing and she was incensed. She was clearly not feeling the same way he was.
Bane pulled his gaze from Max’s naked body to her face. “What are you doing?”
“I told you last night that I would drown you in pussy if you stayed away from my child. I meant it. If this—” she waved her hands over her body, “is what you want, then come and get it, you son-of-a-bitch. I won’t deny you and I won’t fight you.”
“That takes the fun out it, don’t you think? I’d rather you fight, Max. I like it when you’re aggressive. Fight me for it. It will make my victory that much sweeter when I know that you’ve lost all rights to it.” He glanced at her crotch. “Not to say I don’t want you smothering me in sex. I find the prospect mouthwatering.”
“That’s it! I’m going to kill you!” She turned and stormed away from him. Max stomped into her lab and started rummaging through drawers. Bane grabbed the collar of his vest and stood, interested and curious at what she’d do. He held his ground, but was wary. He wasn’t going to hurt her, but be damned if he was going to stand there and have her go ballistic. Max was mad enough to do anything, but he knew she was thinking about Kyle. He was thinking about her head injury. She shouldn’t be out of bed, but Bane was going to let this thing play itself out to its logical conclusion. Max would end up over his shoulder, he would carry her to bed, and she was going to sleep. They’d figure the rest out later.
Soon, she came out, shiny utensils in her hands and started hurling them. Quicker than quick, Bane was slapping flying scalpels out of his face, batting them away as if they were gnats. Max had about a dozen in both hands and she was throwing them with a practiced hand as if she’d done it before. Considering what he knew of her past, it wasn’t a surprise. Bane crossed the distance in seconds. Max turned and ran back to her cabinets and he gave chase. She started throwing anything she could get her hands on, including jars, bottles, pans, books, anything. She was literally beyond giving a damn. Bane saw her vein popping out again and thought she would pass out from the stress.
Broken glass was all over the floor, as were scalpels and other sharp instruments. Max didn’t care as she ran around her lab, dodging him while trying to find something to murder him with. She didn’t care that she was naked and barefoot; all she wanted was Bane dead. She’d clean up her lab later. There was a metal broomstick in the corner and he was coming fast. She wondered if he was angry; she’d never seen such an expression on his face. He looked a combination of amused, horny and flabbergasted. Max grabbed the broom and swung it at his head. Bane caught it midair, yanked it out of her hands and broke it in half like it was a toothpick. Then he grabbed her. Max screamed in rage and frustration as he tossed her over his shoulder. She pummeled his back and kicked his chest and he couldn’t make out the words she was saying. It didn’t matter; he understood the nature of her emotions.
He put a hand on her ass and squeezed one cheek.
“DON’T YOU TOUCH ME, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE BASTARD—”
Then she went limp. Bane knew that she’d passed out again.
Max couldn’t afford to get mad anymore. She lay in bed, crying. Her pillow was soaked with tears and her head hurt so bad she thought she probably blew a couple of blood vessels. And where had it gotten her? Nowhere. Her wish to keep her son away from his father crumbled like burnt paper into ash. She should have known better. Bane never did anything she wanted him to do. He was downstairs with Kyle. Rosa, her housekeeper, had arrived and all she could do was hope that Kyle was safe and fed. Four years of a secure, peaceful existence and it was destroyed within one week by that enormous dick of a terrorist bastard asshole she allowed to impregnate her. Tammaro would have made a far better father than that impossible mask-wearing fiend. Hell, even Damiano would have been better by comparison.
But she wouldn’t have Kyle were it not for Bane. Kyle was her heart. And he was downstairs with his father as if it were the most natural thing in the world. He wasn’t afraid of him, with or without the mask. Max bit her lip, thinking about the time when she let Bane hold Kyle when he was a baby. He didn’t cry then and actually had tried to touch it. She wondered ruefully if fucking Bane in his mask was the reason his son wasn’t scared of him. Irony was a complete bastard.
Her mother was right. She had horrible taste in men. First Mike’s crazy ass, and now this insane bastard. And to think, she’d gotten pregnant by BOTH of them. How in the hell did she make it through medical school with that kind of poor judgment?
It hurt to roll over on her other side, but she had to get away from her wet pillowcase. With care, Max turned over and took a deep breath. As soon as she could get it together, she was going to take Kyle and disappear. She had plenty of money stashed away and she’d gotten Kyle a passport before they left Macau, so that was taken care of. They could hop on a train and be in another country within a day’s time. They didn’t even have to pack; she could buy whatever they needed and she could adjust to living an even simpler life than the one she had. She could find work doing something that kept her off the grid. What that would be; she didn’t know, but she would do whatever she had to do. Kyle was resilient and she knew he would adjust.
Max hated the idea of uprooting him, but she couldn’t bear the thought of Bane’s enemies coming after her son. For her son was his weakness now; she knew that two seconds after seeing his eyes light up when Kyle introduced himself. They would use Kyle to get to him; of this she was absolutely sure. She didn’t put anything past anybody, not in this day and age. To an enemy of a known terrorist, a four-year-old child was nothing more than collateral damage. Max would die protecting her son if it was necessary. But Bane was a resourceful genius and he had unbelievable connections and a network of soldiers who would do anything he asked. Max thought that there wasn’t any place on Earth she could flee where Bane wouldn’t find her and Kyle. But damn it, she was going to try.
“How are you feeling?”
It was him. Max sighed, swallowing the last of her tears. She wasn’t going to let him see her cry. “I’m exhausted.”
“Do you remember what happened?”
“I tried to kill you. I’ll find a way to do it. For your sake, you’d better not break that damn mask again.”
“I’m quite aware of that, Max.”
She felt his weight on the bed. “Go away, Bane. Leave Kyle and me alone.”
“Surely you don’t think I can just walk away now? My son is…” He spent the morning listening contentedly to Kyle’s nonstop chatter and answering questions with modified responses. He knew Max wouldn’t appreciate him being brutally honest with their son. Bane watched Kyle eat, and then had to explain how he nourished himself when the boy asked him about it. He was endlessly patient and it didn’t take long for the boy to work his way in deep. “…perfect.”
“I told you he was. And you’re going to bring hell down on his head.”
“What makes you so certain that’s going to happen?”
“I don’t know, but I can’t sit up here and think sweet and happy thoughts knowing who you are and what you’ve done. I ain't Alice and this ain't Wonderland. There are always consequences. People will be looking for you when they realize that you’re not dead.”
“Assuming I’ll resurface anytime soon.” He had no plans to do so.
“Mask? Mask?? It’s rather distinctive, don’t you think? I should know. I made the motherfucker. I should have just let you bleed to death on my floor.”
“No one’s seen me, Max. I know how to stay out of sight until I want to be seen.”
“And once they know where you’re vulnerable, they’ll exploit it. You know this. You’re not an idiot.”
He put his hand on her hip. “No one knows about you and Kyle, Max. Why would they? Do I look like the kind of man that would have a child?”
“Please. You have a dick, so therefore you’ve fucked, and anything’s possible. Sperm is resilient, and you’re a healthy, virile bastard. I should know. Besides, my baby looks exactly like your big, dumb ass. I can’t afford to assume that no one will wonder about the women you’ve left crying in your wake.”
She was jabbing. Blindly, but he admired her spirit. “You’re the only one.”
“Shit!!! Get out of here and leave me in peace!”
“Calm down or I’ll give you a sedative. I mean it. You will not pass out again. Think about what will happen to Kyle if you have to go back to the hospital.”
That quieted her down. Bane’s hand moved back and forth over her hip. Then he said in a very low voice, “No one will dare lay a hand on you or my son.”
“How can you be so sure?”
He thought of his sentinels. They were his most loyal, stalwart, and steadfast men in this region, and they were posted up all around Positano, hiding in plain sight. They were ordered to kill anyone who even looked like they might harm Max or Kyle.
“I’m sure. You have my word, Max.”
“I’m not even sure what the point of this is. You’ll be leaving soon enough. Because we both know you can’t—and won’t—stay and that you aren’t a proper father figure for Kyle. What will you teach him? How to escape from prison? How to plan a revolution and get up to some next-level fuckery? How to blow up a city and kill hundreds of people? How to cause mayhem? What it means to be a terrorist? You can’t stay here!”
“I’m well aware of that, Max. I never said I was staying.”
“Then why bother even showing yourself to Kyle? You will not be dropping in and out of his life whenever you feel like it.”
“I never told him who I was, Max. I’ll have to be content with what I’m able to get out of this. He’s an amazing child.”
“No thanks to you, you big stupid.”
“You’re a good mother.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“You need to eat. Mrs. Bartolo prepared what she said is your usual Saturday morning breakfast.”
“I can’t eat.”
“You have no choice.”
“Bane, please. Please.”
“When was the last time you had a meal?”
“Before you ruined my dinner plans.”
He got up and put the tray on her nightstand. “I don’t think you heard me say last night that I don’t want you with that guy. Or the other. I’m jealous. I’m possessive. I prefer you to stay…unattached.”
With an effort, Max turned over so she could look at Bane. “Why? Please explain.”
He shrugged. “You told me many times that I was little more than a caveman. Let’s just say that as the alpha male, it makes sense that I wouldn’t want the mother of my child with a beta.”
Max rolled her eyes. “You are so full of shit. So basically, you’re telling me that I can’t be with anyone else.” She reached for a piece of fruit.
“You asked for an explanation. There it is. Whether you find it acceptable doesn’t matter to me.”
“Good thing that I’m an adult and can do what I want with who I want. There’s no way you’ll enforce that bullshit, especially when you’re gone.”
He looked at her. “It won’t be with Mr. Alfieri or Mr. Tomasu. I can assure you of that.” The threats were legitimate. If more needed to be made, they would be and he didn’t even need to be physically present to make them.
“Yeah, whatever. Italy is full of men, and when I want to get broken off, all I have to do is wiggle my pinky finger and they will come running. You don’t have a patent on this pussy. Fuck what you heard and what you think you see.”
He looked at her. Max sat up slowly so that she could eat her fruit. For a few minutes, there was nothing but the quiet sounds of her consumption. He stared at her face, her lips, her hands, and her eyes and was overcome with a longing so powerful that he didn’t think he could push it aside. They swirled around the singularity of their mutual passion like an event horizon and why Max didn’t want to accept that she was going to eventually get sucked in was beyond him. He was already gone. And she might think to flee, but there was nowhere in this world where Max could go and Bane wouldn’t find her.
Max sucked fruit juice off her fingers. Then she stared at Bane, at the intense look in his eyes. She realized that the quiet in the room changed from a calm vibe to a potent tension, and it had done so in a matter of moments.
“I need you to smother me,” he said.
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“Deep” Nine Inch Nails
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