"I'm just going to rest here a little while with my friend."
Calling Joker of all people friend would have seemed like an impossibility not even that long ago. Now, as Bruce laid there broken and bleeding out next to the man who had caused so much heartache the words slipped easily from his lips. Julia wouldn't have been able to understand why Bruce wouldn't save himself despite what he said of compromising the structure. It was true but there was so much more to it than that. Like many things in his life up to this point it came back around to the man lying next to him. Joker, he just couldn't leave Joker alone in a cave to bleed out all by himself.
"Bat," Joker gasped out much too quietly. "You could have saved yourself." He stated the obvious.
"I know." was all Bruce could respond with.
There were many times where Bruce could have avoided this very ending to his life. From not having his family take the short cut in the alley thus avoiding the tragedy that formed the first breath that Batman would take residence in his mind. If he never made that promise to his parents at their graves then the years he spent training to be something more than just an orphaned boy could have never happened. From the moment he made the decision to take down the Red Hood gang’s leader that ended with an unknown man falling into a vat of chemicals to only reemerge as the monster he had become. Battles that if Batman simply ended the psychopaths life would have avoided countless tragedies to follow. Chances for something better that were all denied all because on one decision after another.
"As the court jester to the Bat King it's my job to inform you that you have made a bad mistake," Joker coughed out his bad joke of the matter. "You could have left me. I would have left you." Joker was right in his assertion and even Bruce knew it.
"Even if you would have now, there was a time where you wouldn't have even dreamed to do so." Bruce reminded the man lying next to him.
That's what all of these events that led to this came down to. In the past, Joker probably wouldn't have left Batman to die. No, Bruce was positive that under different circumstances that what Joker wanted most of all was for Batman to live and thrive in all the demented ways that the clown wanted for him. Joker celebrated every dark impulse that wanted to come to the surface within Batman. Doing every deranged thing that came to his mind just to push Bruce closer to falling off the ledge into insanity. It's what compelled the clown to set up the disturbing dinner table. Made him attack the people Batman was closest too in an effort to bring back the Batman the clown wanted and believed was not there anymore. Joker had lived and breathed everything there was to the Dark Knight. Giving the clowns life purpose by putting meaning into the violence they shared towards each other.
"Reminiscing on the past now Batsy, I have to say you have bad timing," the venom in Joker's voice was almost palpable. "You should have thought of that sooner." Joker wheezed out the last sentence as he coughed up blood onto the floor.
"We both could have stopped this from happening." he countered.
"Is that what you think, Brucey? After I told you how it felt when you recoiled? Do you honestly think that all of this would have ended differently?" There was the same bitterness in Joker's voice as when he was ready to end Batman's life once and for all. Joker was hurting inside that things didn't go the way he had wanted and Bruce could see that clearly now.
Bruce was silent for a moment and waited a beat before responding. "Isn't this how you wanted it to end for years now? Us killing each other?" Bruce spoke with just as much bitterness in his voice. "It seems in the end you got your wish." His voice softened as he was just too exhausted to continue fighting him anymore.
Joker didn't seem to have a response to that and all Bruce could hear was his intake of breath. The smell of metallic all around them. Their blood pooling beneath them as a symbol of the violent relationship they had shared. Everything about their past was drenched in conflict. Always fighting each other and anyone who got involved in their dance getting hurt. From the crowbar that took his second partner’s life, to the bullet that for years had paralyzed Barbara. They were always fighting. Sometimes it was easy for Bruce to fool himself to thinking that it would never end. That no matter what happened between them Joker would always come back and Batman would be waiting.
"After everything that has happened it's fitting it's going to end this way. You and me bleeding out together, isn't it romantic, Bat?" Joker commented after the growing silence.
"Tragic would be the word I would use." Bruce breathed out slowly. Yes, everything about their lives has been a tragedy waiting to happen.
"This is our happy ending, the only ending you and I could ever have, and this is how it was always supposed to end." Joker stated as if it was fact and perhaps it was.
Every passing moment, Bruce knew he was closer to death. His body felt cold as his life supply seeped out of him. Staying conscious was becoming a tiring task. He couldn't help but wonder which one of them was going to die first. The cave was unstable and was starting to collapse all around them. At the same time it felt like Gotham was giving them their final moments together uninterrupted. As if nothing in the world existed except for Batman and the Joker.
"You know the sad truth about all of this, darling? How hilarious it really is if you stop and think about it. I wanted this to end but not like this," Joker muttered as he turned his head to face Bruce. "I wanted to walk away this time. Away from all the things that made me connected to you and yet here we are as we've always meant to be and it was the last thing I wanted now after so many years building up to this moment."
"If you wanted to walk away you could have." What Bruce didn't say but knew Joker would hear is that if that was the case of what he had wanted, Joker didn't need to attack his city. That if Joker wanted that he simply could have left Gotham for good, perhaps started over if that was even possible for a man like him. Joker could have prevented this just as much as Batman could have but he didn't. It wasn't in him to just walk away. Joker had to say his goodbyes his way and for that now they were dying.
"You hurt me." Joker responded coldly.
"I know I did."
"I needed you to see that, to feel what it was like when you recoiled from all that I had to offer you."
"I had to stop you. You know that." Bruce asserted a known fact that has plagued their conflicts for years now.
"I know, it’s what you always do but I had to give us one last dance, Batsy, just for old time’s sake. It was fun wasn't it?" Joker's voice sounded lost as if he wasn't even sure of himself in that moment.
"Did it make you happy?" Bruce asked even if he didn't fully understand why he did so.
Bruce felt Joker's hand grip his, holding onto him as if he was a life line. He didn't know if that was a sign to Joker's answer or not. Bruce's fingers intertwined with his and for the moment he was content. Willing to rest here with his friend.
"No, it didn't," Joker answered true-fully. Bruce could understand the sentiment in that statement, feeling the very same thing about their predicament as he allowed Joker to continue. "I thought I wanted to see you die. I planned it all, but now, now, Bat, I wish you weren't so stubborn and saved yourself."
"I didn't want to leave you alone." His voice was fading.
"Don't die on me just yet, Bruce," Joker used what strength he had to pull himself closer to the Bat as he rested his head on his chest. "I'm supposed to kick the bucket first. You know that." The clown paused, as if thinking on something. "Did you really mean what you said?"
"What?" It was getting harder for Bruce to even hear the Joker's voice as the blood-loss was forcing his body into unconsciousness.
"Did you mean it when you said I was your friend?" There was a hint of something in that raspy voice, that Bruce couldn't place. Sounding like disbelief but also fondness. It was the last thing he focused on as the darkness swept him away from his friend.
When, Bruce didn't answer, the clown squeezed his hand, yet the man who terrorized the criminal underworld didn't move. Didn't speak. A fear crept in on the dying madman.
No! Bat can't be dead! Not yet! Not now! Not ever!
"You didn't answer me," Joker wheezed out as green eyes took in the damage he had caused to the only person he loved. Had ever truly loved. Batman was his life for so long and now- "Bruce, you can't go yet! Don't leave me alone!" For the first time since Joker had been reborn in the acid that made him who he was, Batman wasn't there. Tears dripped down his cheeks as it mixed with the crimson of his blood that caked his face.
This was all his fault and he knew that. His broken heart had caused this and foolishly he thought he could live his life without Batman. Like he had a right to exist in the world without the other. Gotham wouldn't allow that and he always spoke those words of how they needed each other for years and the moment he turned his back on that fact everything fell apart.
"I didn't mean to do this." his voice broke as he nuzzled his head in the Bats chest. "Forgive me and come back, Batsy. We can play again like old times. Wouldn't you like that?" His breath hitched as denial was setting in. His mind unable to grasp that his best friend could forever be lost to him. It wasn't right. "I was wrong, our dance is supposed to go on forever. We can get past this. We have to. Just come back to me. I'll kill some people and you'll come out of your cave to stop me. Just come back."
Nothing he said made Batman stir. His heart ached worse than when his playmate recoiled from him. Joker should have let their games continue on like always. Stopped himself from destroying all they had but now it was too late. No! He couldn't let himself think for a second the almighty Bat King was gone. He'd rest here with his friend, just like Bruce had said. They'd always be friends and they would always play together. Now they were just tired. That's all this was. A rest from so much pain and the world that could never understand them. It was easier to believe that than the alternative. Joker grasped on to that train of thought as he snuggled closer to his Bat. Acidic green eyes closed tiredly. He knew when he woke he'd be back in Arkham and their fun would continue as it always had.
"It's alright, Batsy, you can rest now. Hehe, you’ll answer me when you wake up. I know you will," He whispered into the air as he felt his mind start to succumb to unconsciousness. "You'll never leave me. I'll never leave you."