By the time Batman landed the Bat, the battle no longer relied on bullets but punches instead. He moved around the slugging participants and through the tear gas. Bane waded into the fray and shed his leather coat before he grappled with police officers.
A member of Bane's Army with a red scarf tied around his neck threw a punch. Batman stepped into it, wrapped his armored arm around the camouflaged one, and rolled the mercenary over his shoulder.
Bane tested the boundaries of the circle both cops and mercenaries left for them. "So you stayed to die with your city," he said as he focused.
"No," Batman answered. "I stayed to stop you." His arms blocked Bane's fists as the muscular man surged forward. He hit Bane's chest before Bane's right cross hit his jaw. He stumbled back, taking Bane's blows on his armor. He circled around until his back was to City Hall and he retreated from Bane's relentless, methodical pounding.
The police and mercenaries scattered as Bane kicked Batman onto the snowy stairs leading up to City Hall. Batman caught himself and climbed up them as he spun to face Bane. Bane reached the landing and blocked the punch Batman threw. The two opponents closed the space between them as well as moved closer to the building as they blocked punches from the other.
Batman grabbed the man with his right arm. Bane's left fingers seized an armor plate on his bicep. Bane's right hand wrapped around Batman's left first. Batman pulled Bane closer as he growled. Everything done to the people of Gotham, Blake, Gordon, Fox, Selina, and himself pushed up into his burning fist. Bane shifted, the hold broke, and Batman's fist hit the mask and chin.
Before Bane raised his arms, Batman slammed his armored knuckles against the tubes of the mask again. He spiked his elbow down on Bane's arm and released that latch. He grabbed Bane's neck for a headlock, but Bane head-butted his chest to push Batman back.
Batman continued backing toward one of the columns decorating the front of City Hall. Bane tossed one of the cops out of the way as he lumbered toward his opponent. Batman knocked aside Bane's punch and followed with a blow to Bane's jaw that jarred the bald head to the side. Bane faced him again and Batman slid the blades of his gauntlet through Bane's mask.
Gas hissed through the broken tubes and Bane groaned. He staggered back to fix it, but Batman jumped to kick him. Bane caught the vigilante and tossed him away.
His armored back landed on one of the second row columns. He pushed off the concrete straight at Bane.
Bane batted Batman away with a wild swing as he tried again to reconnect the tubes. Batman caught his next punch. Bane responded with more frenzied swinging.
The rapid blows to Batman's torso drove him against a column. Batman ducked the blow to his head and slipped behind Bane. Both Bane's fists hit the concrete column and cracked a hole into it. He yelled and spun around to meet Batman.
Batman dodged the wild swings by leaning out of the way. His blow to Bane's mask careened the massive mercenary in front of the glass doors. He ducked Bane's windmill fists before hitting the mask again. Bane stumbled back. Batman's rage poured out of his throat as his boot landed on Bane's flak vest.
Bane fell back through the doors. Glass shattered out of its panes and crunched under Batman's boots. He kicked Bane's kneeling body across the marble floor.
Miranda stood to the right side of the rotunda away from the windows. Her guard rushed at Batman with a short-barreled shotgun in one hand. Maybe he intended to blow Batman's head off at point-blank range, but he never pulled the trigger. Batman grabbed his gun, hit the mercenary's chest, and then slammed the weapon's butt down on the mercenary's head. He crumpled to the floor.
Batman broke the gun apart and tossed the pieces toward the windows. "You stay there!" He shouted at Miranda. He'd hear her shoes against the marble-tiled floor if she moved. The time to figure out her culpability in this was after he secured the trigger. He focused on Bane, kicking him until he rolled against the stone guards' desk. "Where's the trigger?" he yelled. "Where is it?"
He hauled Bane up over the desk and frisked him. No detonator. "You'd never give it to an ordinary citizen!" He rolled Bane over and shook him. "Where is it? Where's your trigger?" He punched the mask again. The escaping gas hissed louder. "Where is it? Where is it!"
Bane swatted at the hands shaking him, but his strength ebbed away. Batman released him and he slid off the desk and onto the floor with another groan. Batman sat Bane up and pressed his back against the stone desk. He knelt next to him. "Tell me where the trigger is. Then you have my permission to die."
Bane inhaled through the mask as his pained-filled eyes focused on Batman's. "I broke you. How have you come back?"
"You escaped out of a pit, so did I. Where's the trigger?"
"But I never escaped."
That didn't make sense, not with the story Barsad had told, not with Bane fulfilling Ra's plans for destroying Gotham City. "But the child. The child of Ra's al Ghul made the climb."
"But he's not the child of Ra's al Ghul," Miranda said behind Batman. He never heard her move and turned toward her. She stabbed a knife through the gaps in the armor plates. He grunted in pain as it slid into his side and grabbed her shoulder. "I am." She twisted the knife.
He froze with one hand on her, the other braced on the floor, and one wrong move would slice his vital organs.
"And though I'm not ordinary," she lifted her left hand and shoved the guard off the red button, "I am a citizen."
Batman reached for it, but she pulled the detonator out of reach. "Miranda? Why?"
Pity covered her face, but her eyes were as cold as mountain stone. "Talia. My mother named me Talia before she was killed; the way I would have been killed, if not for my protector, Bane." Her eyes softened when they turned to the mercenary. "Barsad did not tell you the whole story? He must have enjoyed raping your whore and forgot the rest of my orders."
"You ordered?" Batman dug his fingers into her shoulder. Selina's pain, his helplessness, the ruin of Gotham, all stemmed from this woman.
"I will tell you the history and loyalty you betrayed for what? A few acres of wretched concrete filled with human suffering? And here you are alone and helpless." The knife moved again. "Even your criminal whore did not stand by you."
He sucked in air through his gritted teeth. He shoved Selina away to save her. But they didn't need to know how important that was to him. "You were born in a prison?"
"I climbed out of that hell on earth. I found my father and brought him back to exact terrible vengeance. But by that time, the prisoners and doctor had damaged my friend, my protector." She reattached the tubes in Bane's mask.
What had they done to the man that he needed general anesthetic just to move? Batman didn't voice the question. The longer Miranda, Talia talked, the more time Nightwing and Gordon had.
"The League took us in, trained us. But my father could not accept Bane. He only saw a reminder of the hell he'd left his wife to die in. He excommunicated Bane from the League of Shadows." A tear slipped out of Bane's eye. Talia's fingers brushed over the mask. "His only crime was that he loved me. I could not forgive my father." She looked back at Batman. "Until you murdered him."
Bane slowly rolled to his feet, but Batman couldn't stop him. He focused on Talia. "He was trying to kill millions of innocent people."
Talia closed her eyes and nodded like he said exactly what she expected him to. Behind her, Bane picked up the discarded shotgun pieces and some rope. "Innocent is a strong word to throw around Gotham, Bruce," she said. "After all this and you still believe this city is worth saving."
Bane pulled Batman's arm off Talia, coiled the rope around it and his other arm, and tied them behind his back. "The people of Gotham are worth saving," Batman said.
"I honor my father by finishing his work." Her thumb caressed the detonator. "Vengeance against the man who killed him is simply a reward for my patience."
Bane lifted Batman up and Talia leaned in closer as loops tightened around his neck. "You see, it's the slow knife, the knife that takes its time." She caressed the button's edge. "The knife that waits years without forgetting then slips quietly between the bones." She twisted the blade again. Batman grunted with pain. "That's the knife that cuts deepest." She brought the detonator up his face.
One last chance to appeal to any humanity she may still possess. "Please--"
Talia pressed the red button and the detonator clicked, but nothing else happened. Her gaze moved to the windows and she pressed her lips together.
Give them time to get the core to Fox. "Maybe," Batman breathed past the pain, "your knife was too slow."
Her stony grey eyes flickered back to his face. "You found a way to block my signal. No matter." She yanked the knife out. Batman grunted with pain and doubled over, but Bane's grip on the rope kept him from hitting the floor. "So it's my destiny to follow my father, and Gotham will be my funeral pyre." She stood and looked at Bane. "I will detonate the core. Don't kill him. I want him to feel the heat."
Batman looked up at her face. Now he saw the similarity between her and Ra's.
"Feel the fire of twelve million souls you failed." She stepped closer and brushed her fingers over Bane's mask. "Good-bye, my friend," she said softly before marching out of City Hall.
Bane's whisper was barely louder than his breathing, "Goodbye." He let go of the rope around Batman and raised his voice. "We both know that I have to kill you now." He kicked Batman's injured side. Batman fell and rolled onto his arms and back. "You'll just have to imagine the fire." Bane pressed the reassembled short-barreled shotgun against Batman's jaw.
Somehow Bruce always knew it would be a gun--thirty-one years late--and he stared at the black hole. But the blast hit Bane in the chest and shoved him across the marble floor and into a hallway. Batman turned to the glass doors.
Smoke wafted from the Batpod's cannons as Catwoman sat up. She panted before speaking. "About the whole no-guns thing." She shook her head and lifted her goggles. "I'm not sure I feel as strongly about it as you do." She swung her leg over the controls as she dismounted.
Batman rolled to his feet, but fell against the stone desk and braced himself against it. Her fingers curled between the rope and his armor and pulled him upright. "The tunnel?"
"Is open, people are fleeing, and you're Drunken Master now." She reached around him and loosened the rope around his arms and chest. Her gaze focused on the blood smear on the stone desk. "You're bleeding!"
"QuikClot is in the compartment behind the grapple gun." He pulled the rope off his neck. Catwoman took out the packaged gauze and helped him part the waist seam of the suit. She hissed at the wound, ripped open the package with her teeth, and pressed the QuikClot gauze against his body. He laid his hand on top of hers and added pressure as the burning seared his flesh to make a clot. He groaned through his gritted teeth.
"We need to get you to a doctor." She hugged him with her free arm and pulled the spool of medical tape from the compartment.
"No time, Talia al Ghul has the core." He lifted his hand and she flattened tape around the gauze. "She's determined to blow up Gotham today."
"Of course, why wait?"
Footsteps crunched over the glass again. "Batman? Catwoman?" Montoya slipped past the Batpod. Batman pulled his armor back in place. The officer gestured at the windows. "A bomb convoy just peeled out of the parking garage. The Deputy Commissioner tried to stop them." She clutched her automatic rifle tighter. "It's speeding down Badger Boulevard."
Batman turned to Catwoman. "We have to force that convoy east to the entrance to the reactor. I need you on the ground; I'll be in the air. Go."
She touched the bat symbol on his chest as she nodded. "I'll get the bitch before you." Montoya flattened herself against the wall as Catwoman drove the Batpod into the rotunda, turned, and sped through the front door. Batman ran out after her and headed straight to the Bat.
The bomb truck bounced over the debris littering the street. Bane had organized work crews and had the worst of their explosions debris pushed aside so this route of retreat was passable. In the next life, she must tell him how she appreciated his logistic skills. Talia's most loyal soldiers surrounded her, driving this semi and the Hummers protecting their cargo. Bruce couldn't stop her now. Her father had called him the best student he had ever trained in the last letter he sent to her. Had asked her to return to Bhutan and meet him. Ra's had been wrong about Bane and wrong about Bruce's loyalty. Talia would not repeat his mistakes. Bruce had allies in Gotham.
She pulled out her cell phone augmented to pick up the weaker signals available in Gotham now. The connection held and she tapped in the code of the reactor's emergency flood. The computer accepted her instruction.
Her lips curled up into her first real smile in years. No one would stop this purging fire, no one.