Gotham was still recovering by the time Christmas came around again. There'd been plenty of rebuilding and life had mostly returned to normal, but the scars Bane and Talia had left behind lingered in the psyche of every survivor. John knew that right down to his bones because he'd survived more than most during the occupation.

Like most of Gotham, John had returned to work shortly after Bane's army had been routed. Unlike most of Gotham, John got to take his pain and fury out on the remaining criminals of the city. The ones who'd survived the final battle for the streets and crawled into their dark holes to hide, coming out only to prey on the innocent.

It had taken months to get the armor to fit him as well as it had Bruce, and to learn how to fight in it, but he'd figured it out. He'd trained after every day of work and every morning before going in. He ran the streets weighted down with a backpack of broken bricks picked up from destroyed buildings. He worked out at the GCPD gym and sparred with as many takers as he could get. It didn't take nearly as long as he'd thought to build up muscles and strength to take on criminals in a far more physical manner than he'd ever done before.

When snow fell again, enveloping the city in a hush of nature, John roamed the streets looking for trouble. He found it, four nights out of five, and left the battered remnants of the criminals zip-tied in front of GCPD in the early hours of the morning. Rumors of a new Batman surfaced not long after he started his nightly patrols and the first one he heard had made him grin fiercely.

Most of the criminals remained unorganized. Maybe they hadn't liked being under Bane's rule or maybe they thought, correctly, that Gotham cops wouldn't tolerate another gang and would respond with deadly force. Chances were better than not that his brothers in blue would come down like a shit ton of bricks on the first sign of organization and the dark side of Gotham sensed that.

John walked slowly from his car to his apartment. It was a rare night off for him and he needed it. His body could only take so much abuse before protesting violently. The fight he'd had with three thieves the night before had given him a black eye and minor concussion before he'd taken them all down. His coworkers had teased him about just how clumsy he was; if he was in a relationship, John was pretty sure they'd think he was being abused. He was off from work the whole weekend and not even on call, so John planned to take advantage of it. The fact that the date coincided with Christmas mattered not at all to him, although he would bring the toys he'd gathered down to St. Swithin's on Christmas Day.

The elevator was out and John sighed at the sight of its 'Out of Order' sign. Fourth time in two weeks and if it happened again, he planned to talk to the landlord about it. The building had been 'fixed' for months now; skipping out on actual maintenance was just being cheap. John climbed the stairs, stifling a groan as the throbbing in his head increased. By the time he reached his apartment door, John was ready to drop. He unlocked the door and walked in without bothering to turn on the lights. He just locked the door behind him, shuffled over to the sofa, and dropped down on it fully clothed. Blissful sleep claimed him in seconds.

He woke suddenly, completely disoriented, in the middle of the night to a sharp sense of danger. Something wasn't right. Strong hands pinned him to the sofa, dragging his arms behind his back and binding them together, and then his ankles, while another set of hands duct taped his mouth shut and swiftly pulled a bag over his head. John struggled for all he was worth, but there was no getting away from the two men as they carried him from his apartment. They stowed him in the trunk of a car that was just small enough that he couldn't do more than squirm around. It was completely bare, from what he could tell, with nothing he could use to free himself.

John did his best not to panic. He breathed as calmly as he could through his nose so that he didn't hyperventilate and lose consciousness; he was already vulnerable enough, no need to be completely at their mercy. He grimaced and thought, Who am I kidding? I'm as helpless as a kitten.

The car drove for about a half-hour before stopping for good. They were still within Gotham, although the location could be in any part of the city. They'd made so many turns in so many directions that he knew they'd been deliberately trying to confuse him. For all he knew, they were back in his neighborhood.

He was lifted from the trunk and carted away from the car. John struggled again, but his long-term exhaustion and the adrenaline crash from his kidnapping made sure that he was pretty weak. Their footfalls echoed off hard pavement or cement even after a door opened and closed for them, which told him they were in a warehouse of some kind. That made it more likely that they were in Old Town or the Warehouse District than other areas; not that the guesses did him any good.

They dropped him on the floor at last and left him, another door clanging shut with the sound of heavy, old metal. John lay there for a few minute to try and regain some sense of if he was truly alone, but couldn't. He inch-wormed around the room, rooting out the dimensions as best he could in the dark and still bound. John finally gave up when he'd done an excruciating lap around the smallish room and found nothing to help. There was no furniture, no boxes, no leftover metal, nothing.

He dozed, something John wouldn't have expected, only to wake when those hands, or maybe new ones, returned. They pinned him to the floor and cut his bindings and then left him alone again. John immediately pulled off the hood and tore off the tape, cursing a blue streak at the loss of skin from his lips and around his mouth. There was no light and no window, so he was just as effectively blind, but felt better with it gone.

John did another lap of the room, this time on his feet and with his hands searching the walls. He pulled as hard as he could on the door, fingers digging into the groove where it met the frame, but it was locked from the other side. He wasn't going anywhere.

Sighing, John sat down, back to the wall. It took a long time, but he eventually faded into another doze. A clanging noise woke him some time later and he jolted awake, flailing in the dark. He must have missed the door opening and woken when it had shut again, damn it. “Hello? Is someone there? Why did you kidnap me? What do you want?”

John shivered as he thought about how like Bane's voice that sounded. He probably wasn't the only one who had nightmares about computer voices now. He stood and asked, “Who are you? Why did you take me?”

John stood and asked, “Who are you? Why did you take me?”

No one answered this time, so he walked over to pick up the water. He drank it down greedily, parched and then some. Not until after he'd finished it did he think to wonder if it might be drugged and by then it was much too late. Thankfully, he didn't feel drugged and sat back down.

More time passed, although he had no way of knowing how much. He did end up pissing down the drain and grimaced at being unable to wash his hands. John slept more, having nothing else to do to pass the time and knowing he needed to regain strength where he could. The door opened twice more over long stretches of time with more water, but the voice did not return. He was never awake when the door opened, only when it closed. That led him to believe they were shutting it loudly, just to wake him.

It was psychological warfare and he knew it. The uneven offerings of water, lack of light, no way to tell the time; all were ways to break someone. John was a little surprised they were letting him sleep, even though it wasn't in long patches.

“You are not the Batman.”

The unexpected words pulled John from his light doze. “Never said I was.”

“You masquerade as him.”

“No, I don't.”

“We have seen you, taking down criminals night after night. We have seen you fight and save the innocent, just as he did. You take no credit for doing his work, letting his legend rise yet again.”

John had nothing to say to that. It wasn't really a question anyhow. It pissed him off that someone had been watching him for however long and he had completely missed it.

“Tell me... why do you pretend to be the Batman?”

“I don't pretend to be anyone,” John retorted, anger snapping through him. “I'm just me. I'm tryin' to help people. Now tell me why you took me. Better yet, let me the fuck go!”

There was an odd, wheezing laugh and the kidnapper said, “Oh, you and I are just starting to get acquainted, Detective Blake.”

The door opened and the light form outside the room made John squint, hand going up to block some of the glare. When he focused, John's stomach twisted into pure revulsion and he whispered, “You're dead.”

Bane looked down at him, head cocking to the side. He was just a huge, just as horrifically masked, and just as implacable as he'd been during the occupation. John didn't understand. People had sworn they'd seen Batman kill him, that the monster had gone down at last, put down for good by the city's hero.

“Clearly, I am not. Though not for Batman's lack of trying. Get some rest, Detective. I have been known to be... quite hard on my toys and you are... intriguing. Merry Christmas.”

Bane tossed a water bottle at him and then the door clanged shut, plunging him once more into darkness.

John shuddered violently and hugged himself tight, not caring if he looked as terrified as he felt.

Bane was alive.

Worst. Christmas. Ever.