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Like Magnesium, We Burn

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Several hours ago, Bruce had been observing the illicit meeting that was taking place from the roof of the nearest warehouse. That was, of course, before things went wrong. Which they later did in spectacular fashion.

Batman had been there because rumors on the street (and in the GCPD) said that several up-and-coming East End dealers were trying to make a move on Penguin’s territory. Bruce was sure that that wouldn’t go over well with Cobblepot; the Penguin was many things, but patient and forgiving weren’t among them. He’d been apprised of the situation because Gordon was keeping an eye on it, and Bruce was always alert to what the GCPD (with all its multitudinous and complex interests) was intrigued by.

He’d also been watching the East End because, well, it always bore watching. But recently the neighborhood had been blanketed by an unsettling stillness, and stillness in the East End could only mean a brewing gang or turf war. So Bruce had quietly started an investigation— interrogating every street-level dealer he could find, and some of their clientele too. This had turned up a couple of names which had lead to more names, and so on, until he’d determined the probable cause of his (hopefully soon-averted) troubles. If it hadn’t been so serious a situation, Bruce might’ve taken a moment to marvel at the stupidity of it.

Batman began the stakeout expecting to gather intel and then to start planning how he’d stop the problem before it could develop further. That meant he had to know what the dealers’ plan was, and what their resources were, before he could act. So he’d watched as the meeting progressed— starting with the mutual sizing-up of the different groups. Bruce had had one of his listening devices recording everything, along with the cowl’s lens camera, and felt his eyebrow slowly climbing throughout the evening.

The plan wasn’t something that would ever work against Penguin, but it was still… audacious enough to cause serious problems for Batman, and for the city. He barely kept from muttering under his breath about all of it. Bruce made a mental note to complain to Clark later.

Two hours passed, and it looked like the meeting would wrap up without further drama (or migraine-fuel, in Batman’s case) but then one idiot got trigger happy. Bruce tensed, ready to interfere however indirectly he could; he wasn’t idiotic enough to dive into a room of dealers and gangsters who were all fully-armed and pissed off. And then shit hit the proverbial fan and the proverbial fan blew up. Literally.

The ground shook as if Clark had smacked into it, and Bruce’s ears popped with the not-sound-pressure of the medium-sized explosion. Then his warehouse started groaning as the spreading flames took hold of the dry, decrepit walls with gusto. He had just enough experience with exploding buildings, and just enough experience with things collapsing, to know to shoot off a grapple line to the roof of the other warehouse (the corner of it that wasn’t on fire) before the section of roof he’d been on moments ago collapsed with a great crash.

Unfortunately, Bruce hadn’t had quite enough time to account for his momentum, or to look more carefully at where he was grappling to. So when about halfway through his awkward descent Batman heard a brittle snap of shattering wood, he knew what had happened. Then he felt the adrenaline-fueling jolt of freefall, and desperately spread his cape to slow himself.

Thankfully, there were two things that were working in his favor: one was that Bruce wasn’t even a full story up anymore, so his armor (and cape) would protect him from dying, and two: most of the criminals had run off or been otherwise distracted after the explosion. A third thing, if he could count it as lucky, was that this part of the warehouse still hadn’t caught on fire. Batman hit the ground feet-first, and then the rest of his body impacted it with a meaty thud. The last thing he felt as he lay there, stunned, was a blinding agony in his ankle, shoulder, and ribs.

- - -

Bruce woke slowly to the scent of smoke, and he coughed instinctively, then nearly passed out again at the sharp protest his ribs, shoulder, back, and ankle let out. The pain battered him with the gravity of the sun, and the fury of a hurricane. He took a shallow breath, and twisted slightly to look up. Yes, as he’d thought, the roof above him was on fire.

“Goddamnit,” Bruce hissed shakily. If he didn’t want to risk being crushed under burning debris— which Batman did not— he’d have to move. Somehow. With a groan, Bruce pushed himself up with his good arm and awkwardly swung his legs around.

“F-fuck.” His ankle felt like the business end of a live wire. The pain was the physical equivalent to burning magnesium in its sheer brilliance. The bone was definitely broken, and if that alone hadn’t fried his nerve endings, Bruce was sure that the sudden constriction of his boot against the swollen appendage would’ve. He took another shaky breath, coughed, ground his teeth, and scooted awkwardly away from the building, just enough so that he (hopefully) wouldn’t be crushed by falling, burning debris.

He observed his surroundings, hoping that there’d be a long plank, or something else he could use as a crutch, because his only other option was essentially hopping out of here. Bruce could’ve done it if his shoulder wasn’t out, and his ribs (what felt like two or three) weren’t cracked or worse. He could possibly still do it if he bent his leg and wrapped it up in his cape, but that would leave him moving at a snail’s pace, and vulnerable to attack.

Bruce would’ve liked to call Alfred, but the car was too far away, and it couldn’t fit through the rubble. For a pick-up to be feasible, Bruce also had to be alive for it to help him. If he stayed out here too long, someone would come back and find him. With the luck he was having, that was looking more and more likely. “Shit.”

After one last visual sweep, Batman was forced to conclude that there was no makeshift crutch available. Bruce closed his eyes a moment, and focused on slowing his heartbeat— not an easy feat, given the severity of his injuries— and took one calming breath. He awkwardly twisted so that he was on his knees, and had to put a hand to the ground to steady himself as his vision swayed. “Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.” And then Bruce stood up.

Thankfully, the cowl’s enhanced vision still worked, or Batman might not have made it out of the furious smoke that surrounded the burning warehouses. But he did. Bruce emerged from the haze stiff-shouldered and snarling. His vision tunneled in on a nearby brick building, where he was going to have to stop, or he’d pass out again.

Bruce managed to move forward slowly by hopping on his good leg and then sort-of pushing against the ground with the heel of his other foot. The jolting motion stirred his stomach and made his ears ring, and his shoulder throbbed in time to his heartbeat. But at least he could breathe again. When he was almost to the relative safety of the brick wall, Bruce tripped, and put his full weight on his broken ankle.

The brick felt bruising as he stumbled into the wall. Bruce managed to prevent himself from fully falling by grabbing a handhold in the worn bricks. He did, however, have to turn aside as the stomach-churning pain became too much. He retched for a few seconds and then coughed. Bruce spit out the buzzing, chemical taste of vomit, and went to wipe his mouth.

“Batsy, you look awful! Like- like a bat out of hell. Ha!”

Batman stilled for half a second, his gauntlet frozen before his mouth. Absently, he finished the motion. Either he’d inhaled way more smoke than he thought he had, or Bruce’s brain had vacated his head, because the next thing he heard was his own voice saying, “What the fuck are you doing here, Joker?”

The Clown Prince of Crime stilled for a moment, and Bruce thought: he’s going to kill me, before Joker straightened up, and blinked at him. Then a manic, Cheshire grin split his mouth and he threw back his head and laughed. When he’d calmed some, Joker wiped the mirthful tears from his eyes and sighed contentedly. “Oh, Batman, where has that attitude been all these years? I feel robbed, I tell you. Robbed!”

Bruce growled, and began slowly reaching for his belt. “I thought you were in Arkham?” he questioned reluctantly. If he could keep the clown talking, he would be able to pull out something from the belt that would incapacitate his enemy.

Joker offered a shrug. “Eh. It never holds me for long, and I was bored anyway. So I escaped! Then I heard a rumor that there were some chumps trying to take out good old Pengy! So I came to investigate, and lucky I did ho ho,” he exclaimed gleefully.

Bruce grit his teeth and cursed his luck. But his hand was touching the belt, so he just had to keep the clown talking for a bit longer. “Really,” he said flatly. The belt compartment that held sleeping gas capsules was now open beneath his fingers.

“Really,” Joker agreed. He lost the manic grin, and his mood changed palpably. A sheen of malice glittered in his eyes. Then Joker pulled out a handgun from his coat’s pocket, and clicked the safety off. Bruce cursed mentally. “No sudden movements, Batman,” the clown commanded. Bruce stilled.

Both enemies fell silent. Even the not-so-distant flames seemed to quiet. Bruce’s pulse raced. “I do hope that you didn’t really think that I hadn’t noticed you going for the belt, Bats,” Joker chastised. Bruce grit his teeth, but remained motionless. “You should know me better than that.”

“Are you going to shoot me?” Bruce asked. His calm words would hopefully mask the panic he felt inside. Batman’s palms, through the gauntlets, felt slick with sweat. If the clown chose to shoot, he was too injured to get out of the way quickly enough.

Joker glared, looking offended. His violent gaze sent chills down Bruce’s spine in ways it normally did not; he wasn’t usually injured enough as to be rendered defenseless in front of his archnemesis. “Of course not! Where’s the sport in that? I mean, just look at yourself, Batsy— well, pretend you can, anyway— you’re covered in soot and obviously hurt. It wouldn’t be right!”

Bruce scowled, and tried to subtly adjust his stance. Joker apparently didn’t like that, because he strode forward until the barrel of the gun was gently pressed into Bruce’s chin. “Where,” Joker asked quietly, “do you think you’re going?”

Batman closed his eyes behind the cowl and didn’t answer. After another beat, the cool metal was withdrawn, and he shuddered. Bruce felt bile churning in his mostly-empty stomach, but clenched his mouth shut— that was the last thing that he needed happening right now. He cracked open his eyes only to see that the clown’s toxic green gaze was far too close to him.

Bruce jolted, and had to scramble for purchase against the wall again as the pain nearly took his legs out from beneath him. The clown stepped back, and tilted his head thoughtfully as he watched Bruce scramble. For a moment, Bruce’s harsh breathing was the loudest sound around them. Then the clown took a small step forward and Bruce tensed again. “Huh,” Joker muttered. “You’re afraid of me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Bruce snapped. “I— I’m not afraid of you. I’m disgusted by—” Joker’s eyes flashed, so Bruce fell silent. The clown shook his head, as if disappointed. Bruce sucked in a breath.

“No, you are,” Joker murmured, his tone eerily affectionate. Bruce felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. “But that’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you, Bats.” He offered a smile, and Bruce barely repressed his desire to shudder. This was wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

“Bullshit,” Bruce snarled, thinking of all the other times the clown had hurt him.

Joker’s answering smile was cool and sharp. “Well, I can renege on my word if that’s what you really want,” he said icily. “Or you can come with me.” The clown’s pale hand tapped his pocket— where he’d stored the gun while Batman wasn’t looking. Bruce swallowed, heart racing. At his prolonged silence, Joker’s hand crept threateningly toward his pocket.

“I— I can’t,” Bruce muttered. The ghostly hand, with carefully manicured nails, stilled. Then it began tapping idly against the pocket again: tic tic tic. Bruce sucked in a breath. “My ankle… I can’t…” walk. I can’t walk, let alone run, or fight you. The hand slid away from the pocket and despite himself, Batman exhaled a long, shaky breath.

“Hm,” the clown said, with that disconcerting gentleness, “I’ll help you.” He slowly approached Bruce, who held still. The clown eased Bruce’s uninjured arm around his shoulder, and asked softly, “How do you want to do this?”

Bruce sighed unthinkingly. “Slowly.”

Beside him, Joker hummed. “I can do slowly,” he said, a hint of humor coloring his voice. Bruce ignored the deliberate double entendre, and projected an aura of annoyance. The clown chuckled, as if he saw through him anyway. Batman felt decidedly disturbed. But he could reflect on (and fret about) it later. After he’d somehow dealt with… this.

In the end, Bruce did have to put weight on his injured ankle. Joker, in spite of his many almost-inhuman qualities, was at least 20 pounds lighter than Batman— and never the most well-nourished even at the best of times. Thankfully though, Joker seemed to sense that he wouldn’t be getting much conversation out of his captive, so Bruce was able to focus all his mental energy on not falling over.

After a bit, Bruce risked a glance backward, and felt utterly downtrodden at how little distance they’d covered. He exhaled loudly. Not a good time to be thinking, Bruce, he chastised himself. Joker adjusted his hold— the clown had one hand wrapped around his waist, the other twined through Bruce’s right hand— and Bruce shuddered. Christ, he’d almost managed to forget about his shoulder, and the ribs… Not anymore.

“Everything alright over there?” the clown asked mildly.

Bruce nearly snapped at him. But he didn’t. Because he didn’t want to get shot. “I’m fine,” he grumbled. They took about twenty more steps before the world suddenly tilted sideways, and Bruce felt his legs giving out. His vision tunneled, and the clown’s worried face swam before it— then Bruce’s consciousness slipped away.

- - -

He awoke as somebody was awkwardly shoving him into the passenger seat of a silver sedan. Then Bruce saw the Joker’s face looming over him and began frantically— if weakly— protesting. His ears rang with a hollow not-sound, and his breath came in quick huffs. After a moment, Bruce’s brain snapped back online, and he stilled.

Joker, who had stepped back slightly, clicked his seatbelt in place. He shut the door and jogged around to the driver’s side. Bruce thunked his head against the headrest. “Goddamnit… fuck.” The door opened, and the clown hummed as he buckled himself in and started the vehicle. “Do you even have a license?” Bruce muttered, unable to help himself.

Joker, for some reason still in the grips of his good mood, laughed briefly. “No!” he exclaimed. “What’re you gonna do, Batman, arrest me?” Bruce scowled.

- - -

He tried his best to pay attention to their surroundings, he really did. But Joker’s erratic driving was too anxiety-inducing (not that they came across much other traffic), and Bruce too relieved to not be standing on his broken ankle. Despite his extreme mental discomfort, Bruce soon found himself falling asleep— his body apparently having decided that this was a safe location nod off in. If he weren’t so injured, and if it hadn’t been pointless, Bruce would’ve argued with himself.

Either way, Bruce found himself abruptly awakened when his head smacked against the glovebox. He winced, and felt supremely embarrassed by the clown’s snickering. When he glanced over, Bruce was alarmed by the pseudo-warmth he saw in his enemy’s eyes. “You alright, Batsy?” the clown asked gleefully.

“Fine,” Bruce growled. He resolutely did not rub his forehead. Instead, he turned his gaze outward in an attempt to determine where they were. After a few sharper-than-necessary turns, the clown pulled to a gentle stop in front of a run-down building. It looked like an abandoned construction site, as the whole front facade was covered by scaffolding. Bruce eyed it dubiously.

As if answering his thoughts, Joker said, cheerfully, “It’s a lot more finished on the inside than it looks. Harley and the gang fixed it up the last time we were out.” Batman didn’t acknowledge the clown’s comments. He went to unbuckle himself, but the clown grabbed his hand. Bruce looked up, and there was something dangerous in Joker’s eyes. “Don’t,” he said. So Bruce didn’t.

- - -

They made it inside the building eventually, though it took a lot more effort than Bruce would’ve liked. Joker’s earlier irascibility had vanished again, like water under a hot noonday sun. Bruce was inclined to be cautious anyway. Still, the clown didn’t seem to mind Batman’s additional weight against his shoulder, or their glacial pace, or Bruce’s silence.

Several times throughout their journey he wondered what the point of having him here was. Bruce considered escaping too, but each time he thought about it, he was confronted by the undeniable fact that even if he managed to escape Joker— without getting shot— he wouldn’t make it far. Best to wait it out some, until the clown was less alert, and act then.

They approached a door with surprisingly shiny fixtures, and what looked like a somewhat fresh (if haphazardly applied) coat of paint. It offered a stark contrast to the dusty dullness of the halls, and the chipped, peeling paint of the other doors. “Don’t go anywhere, Bats,” Joker said cheerfully. But his hand edged nervously towards his gun-laden pocket. It twitched there in a way that made Bruce’s nerves shiver. He held still as the clown unlocked the door, which creaked slightly.

Joker returned for him, and they hobbled into the apartment. For some reason, Bruce was glad for the lack of quips about brides and thresholds.

- - -

Many things about the clown unnerved Batman. But as they walked into the space, and he got his first glimpse of the apartment, Bruce added another thing to the list: how well the clown coped with less-than-ideal conditions. The space was large— obviously one of the more-finished apartments too— and had a modern, open layout with sightlines to the scaffolding-covered windows.

Other than a rickety-looking wood table, several mismatched chairs, a dark leather couch, and coffee table, it was mostly empty. There were also two tall lamps, and one questionable-looking lightbulb, but the space was dim. No color decorated the walls and the only ornamentation appeared to be a giant playing card, taped to the wall opposite the couch. Bruce frowned. Though he’d never really considered what the Joker’s hideouts looked like, this wasn’t it.

A sharp tug on his arm made Bruce flinch. The clown offered no apology at Bruce’s scowl, merely gestured to the couch. Bruce pressed his lips together, finding his patience for all this to be wearing dangerously thin. He will shoot you, Bruce reminded himself. And he’ll feel nothing after doing it.

“Like what you see?” Joker asked softly.

Bruce’s hackles stood on end. “There’s not much to look at.”

Joker tutted. “Not with that attitude.”

They reached the couch and Bruce more-or-less fell across it. He tried not to sink into the cushions, but for something with no real structural support, it was surprisingly comfortable. Joker withdrew the gun, and Bruce tensed for a moment. But the other man merely tucked it into his pants pocket, after clicking the safety on. He flung his jacket carelessly onto the nearest lamp and muttered, “Stay here.”

The clown stalked off, leaving Bruce to stare at his off-white surroundings.

- - -

Joker returned a moment later with a glass of water, which looked clean, and a bottle of pills whose label Bruce couldn’t read. But it didn’t matter, because he had a sinking suspicion about what his archnemesis wanted Batman to do with the bottle’s contents. His hunch proved right as the man set down the bottle of pills and offered the glass of water. “I don’t know if you need it to take meds, but here. It’s clean.”

Hypothetically,” Bruce said, “I don’t.” Though he really was quite thirsty, he didn’t exactly trust the clown, who had proven to be a quite gifted chemist over the years. As well as a mass-murderer. It was too bad Clark was on a deep-space mission; this might’ve been the perfect time for Bruce to have some backup.

Joker sighed. He abruptly withdrew the glass, and waterfalled a sip. “Happy?” he asked. Bruce hesitated for a second, but the clown’s dissatisfied look had him nervous. It’d have to do.

Grimacing slightly, Bruce reached for the glass. The water was cool, and tasteless— as it should be— and Batman felt a kernel of gratitude form within himself at the gesture. Even if it was made by the clown. Still, he delayed taking the last sip of it, knowing what would come next.

The moment he set the empty glass down, Joker picked up the bottle of pills and shook two out into his palm. Bruce tensed. “Here,” the clown said. He leaned forward, hand extended with two small, white pills in it. They barely stood out against the paleness of his palm. After another moment, he sighed, and slowly set them down on the coffee table before Bruce. “It’s just Vicodin. Don’t worry, I know the dosages.”

A beat of silence passed between them.

“I’m not taking those,” Bruce said finally. He waited.

The clown looked between him, and the pills. The metaphorical storm clouds began rolling in behind his eyes. Bruce grit his teeth anyway— he was done being pushed around by the clown today. Slowly, Joker withdrew the gun. Bruce didn’t move. Joker clicked the safety off. Bruce didn’t move. Joker aimed the gun. Bruce’s pulse fluttered, but he didn’t move. Bang.

Surprisingly, Bruce was still alive to flinch. His ears rang slightly (though the cowl protected his hearing somewhat) and he coughed at the explosion of plaster dust that abruptly coated him. His heart felt squeezed into his throat as he automatically looked down, half expecting to see a blooming red spot somewhere on his body. There was none. Nor any pain, apart from that he’d come here with. Bruce twisted around and saw, about six inches from his head, the bullet hole in the wall. Slowly, he turned back around to face the Joker.

He stood loosely, and the gun— still smoking— was held limply in his hand, pointed at the floor. In the aftermath of the gunshot, the silence felt incredibly suffocating. Bruce decided to wait for the clown to speak first. After another tense moment, Joker looked up, a chilling seriousness written in his eyes.

“Batman. Batsy. Bats. Babe. I need you to stop being a paranoid little freak and take the goddamn pills. Or I’m gonna have to shoot you, and I really don’t want to do that. And I will— shoot you, that is. Only, I won’t shoot-to-kill you. I’ll just watch you bleed out; the place could use some color anyway. So take the fuckin’ Vicodin.”

Bruce took the Vicodin.

- - -

About forty minutes later— a extremely unnerving and tense forty minutes— Bruce felt the pills taking effect. On the one hand, not being in constant agony was great. On the other was everything else about the situation. He blinked sluggishly, and realized that the Joker was gone. Well, Bruce thought, perhaps now was a good time to try and get out of here, while he was high off his ass on pain meds.

Wobbling a bit, Bruce stood. His ankle throbbed angrily, but it was a much more subdued pain than earlier. Bruce nodded to himself. With extreme delicacy, he stepped around the coffee table and swerved across the living room. Bruce was suddenly grateful for the hideout’s extreme minimalism. Batman had just reached the table when his lack of coordination caught up to him.

Although he couldn’t exactly feel his broken ankle, it was still broken. Meaning that it dragged a little. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have thrown off Bruce’s stride that much, but with his exhaustion, and the drugs, he wasn’t exactly at his best. So Bruce tripped over his own feet.

Thankfully the table was there, or he’d have hit the floor— and that wouldn’t have felt good, no matter how many drugs were in him. Bruce was able to smack the edge of the table with his open palm and sort of awkwardly fall against one of the chairs (which fell over with a loud thud) before sinking gracelessly to the floor. He lay there for a second, and stared blankly at the ceiling. “Ow.”

Abruptly, there were a pair of purple trouser-clad legs above him. Bruce looked farther up and saw the Joker’s pale and faintly amused-looking face. He blinked again, and frowned. This was officially the worst. If he had gotten to the door, he probably would’ve been able to manage a lockpick. No reprimand came, only: “Why am I not surprised. Can you get up?”

Bruce glared up at his enemy. “Just fucking shoot me.”

Joker sighed. “So that’s a no then. Alright, we’ll do this here.”

Bruce tensed. “Do what here?”

Joker looked down at him with the same unnerving fondness that he usually reserved for Harley on the good days; Batman was well aware of what it meant on the bad ones. He frowned. “Well I didn’t ruin a perfectly good hideout just to murder you, Batman. It’d be a complete waste of your highly sought-after stage presence, for one. No, I want to fix you up all nice and pretty so you’re ready for me later. Heh.” Bruce frowned again.

His good arm was being tugged on, so he sat up; Bruce didn’t actually want the clown to shoot him— the man’s earlier ‘lesson’ was still sharp in his mind. “What… do you mean ‘fix me up?’” Bruce asked slowly, careful to enunciate his words. He looked pointedly at the clown.

The other man waved a dismissive hand. “I mean, my paranoid rat, just that. I’m going to patch you up enough so you can get home to whatever cave it is that you live in and get better! I need you in top form for when I come up with my next big scheme, after all,” he prattled. Bruce frowned again. That couldn’t be good.

A sharp rap against the top of the cowl made him flinch. Bruce opened his mouth to retort, but that familiar knife’s-edge gleam in the clown’s eyes made him slowly shut his mouth. Batman tilted his head in an inquiring manner and the clown, who knew him well enough to be able to read that bit of body language (much to Bruce’s chagrin), took it as it was: an invitation.

“As I was saying, Bats— and I know you’re probably a little out of it, but do try to keep up— I’m gonna patch you up. Starting with your shoulder.”

Bruce swallowed, and tried to tell his nerves to stop sending off ‘warning’ signals. Thankfully his voice still came out steady, if a little slurred, “Do you even know how to fix a dish- dislo-located shoulder?”

Joker crouched down next to him and tutted. “Of course! Do you really think I can go to the doctor after our quarrels, Batsy dearest? I, or Harley, self-medicate— wait, no. That’s not right. We self-doctor!”

Despite himself, Bruce flinched at that image. Either he was less subtle than he’d thought, or Joker was paying more attention than Bruce was comfortable with. Whichever it was, the clown seemed to pick up on Batman’s discomfort. “Don’t worry about it. I don’t mind,” he elaborated. Somehow, Bruce thought, that doesn’t actually make it any better.

Suddenly his dislocated shoulder was being firmly tugged on by the clown, and Bruce barely managed to turn his groan into a sharp hiss. “Pay attention to me, Batman,” Joker said seriously.

“You’re the one that drugged me,” Bruce snarled, losing patience again. “You’re the one that started all this, Joker. So don’t go blaming me when your… your… quixotic ideas don’t pan out.” This retort earned him another sharp tug on his arm, and Bruce awkwardly tried to twist with it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t move very far. He groaned.

Joker abruptly released him, and sighed quietly behind Bruce’s ear. “The things I do for you, Batsy,” the clown muttered. He took in a deep breath, still crouched behind Bruce. “Brace yourself.” Bruce barely had time to move before his shoulder was being shoved back into its socket.

“Fu—” he bit of the curse. But the pain, already dulled by the Vicodin, abruptly dropped. Joker stood smoothly, and took a few steps back. Cautiously, Bruce rolled the shoulder, extended his arm, and wiggled his fingers. There was the ghost of a twinge, but as far as re-set shoulders went, it wasn’t the worst he’d ever had.

“Better?” asked the clown.

Bruce, reluctantly, admitted, “Yes.” Joker walked forward and offered a hand. With a grimace, Bruce accepted, and half-pushed himself to his feet— foot. The world warped before his eyes for a moment, and he blinked. The clown, without Bruce’s notice (and that was concerning), had taken his arm and placed it over his shoulder. He poked Batman in the cheek. Bruce growled.

“You good?” Joker asked. Bruce sighed. The other man apparently took that as a ‘yes,’ because he slowly started moving forward, guiding Batman back to the couch.

- - -

Bruce couldn’t tell how much time had passed (which was a scary concept). His broken ankle was propped up on the coffee table, with the sock rolled down. His boot stood empty on the floor. After the clown had guided him to the couch (which Bruce had not collapsed on whatever Joker said), he’d been ordered to remove the boot. Bruce had considered arguing, but it hadn’t seemed worth it. So far as he could actually trust the Joker, Bruce couldn’t see the clown trying to harm him tonight. Joker usually kept his word— whether that was for good or bad.

The clown was currently inspecting his broken ankle. Bruce watched through a haze of drug-fueled detachment and exhaustion. The flesh there, he noted, almost matched the color of the clown’s suit. And it was not-quite twice its normal size. The relatively cool air felt wonderful against it.

Bruce blinked heavily, and went to rub his eyes, only to have his hand smack into the cowl. Right. Joker glanced at his face, looking half-preoccupied with Batman’s injury still, and asked, “Are you going to pass out on me?”

“No, not gonna… pass out. Don’t… trust you,” Bruce muttered. He let out a long exhale, and flinched when the clown’s pale hand ghosted over his ankle.

“Mm. This needs ice. I’d give you more pain killers, but I think you’re fucked up enough already,” Joker said. He sounded amused. Bruce, even more so than usual, struggled to follow his archnemesis’s mood swings.

In the time that Bruce had been thinking, the other man had disappeared and reappeared with an ice pack, ace bandages, and duct tape. The almost-fiery cold of the ice made Bruce jump. “Hold still,” Joker said firmly. Bruce watched as the clown quickly and expertly wrapped the bandages around his ankle, then duct taped the ice pack on top.

After that, Joker firmly suggested that it might be better for Bruce to keep the ankle elevated on the couch. He helped Bruce twist awkwardly around so that he sprawled fully across the couch, then retreated. The clown returned with several pillows, and gently propped Bruce’s wrapped ankle up on a few of them. Then Joker shoved the other one at Bruce’s chest, and he was forced to take it, or he’d have been smothered.

Annoyed, Bruce placed the pillow behind his head (as the clown intended). For a moment, he lay there stiffly, trying not to sink back into the couch like he really wanted to. It helped to have the clown just standing there, watching. “Are you satisfied?” Bruce grumbled.

Joker nodded. “For now.” He sounded happy. That was usually something that concerned Batman. But not right now. He was too busy trying not to end this shitshow of a night by falling asleep in front of Joker.

Bruce blinked, and stared at the ceiling. If he could just manage to find something to keep himself awake… Without his notice, Joker slipped away. When Bruce finally realized that he was gone, it was with a dull pang of alarm. Twisted as it was, the clown had been the only thing keeping Batman even marginally alert.

- - -

Eventually, Bruce did lose his battle with unconsciousness.

Shortly after that, Joker padded silently across his hideout, a folded afghan blanket in his arms. He approached the deeply unconscious Bat, and spread the blanket over him with a flourish. The sleeping man didn’t stir. Then the clown walked softly around the couch, so he was standing above Batman’s head. He watched the vigilante’s breathing, for a moment, with his head cocked sideways. There was an eerie, possessive gleam in his eyes.

Joker stepped forward again, and lightly ran a hand over the top of the cowl, relishing in the cool, smooth texture of it beneath the tips of his acid-white fingers. He almost shivered with the rush of the forbidden. The clown’s white, skeletal fingers danced from the top of the cowl to fondle the tip of one elongated ear. After a moment, he stepped back. There was a soft, gentle smile on his face, but a dizzying fire danced in his eyes.

 “Oh, Bruce. How you complete me.”