Chapter 1: On The Same Page
On The Same Page
With the curtains apart, Bruce laid his weary body down against the soft duvet of his bed and let out a distressed exhale into the intimate space that was his room. His body ached in all sorts of places; from the swollen bite mark in his neck to the blooming bruises on his shins. Today, every day. Bruce gently rolled his head to the side until he got a satisfying pop out of it. And secretly, he hoped that, someday, it would be the ironic sound of his neck cracking a tad too far.
But out of all those energy seeping days, this one had been exceptionally rough. They were still doing try-outs; the most lengthy and challenging task he had ever agreed on doing because the Joker's mind was always running. The man couldn't get ahold of it without his medication, which brought Bruce back to that scene as he tried to recollect some pieces of the day. Bruce could only remember that he (after an hour of witnessing the man throwing a tantrum) knew that he had to apply another tactic.
Joker never liked to be touched in those moments, but talks hadn't worked. So, skin on skin, Joker had pleaded and flailed - those eyes flashing dangerously as he had opened his jaw wide to sink his teeth into whatever part of Bruce that held him. The night fell like a curtain after that; screams changed into soft shushes when Bruce hugged him tightly from behind, holding him there.
"Breathe, breathe." With the Joker pulled close against him; Bruce let his chest expand slowly against the man's scrawny backside as they joined together in the unexpected, abrupt silence of the house.
He rolled his body onto his right side, where there were no bruises on his neck, and gazed out at the moon that shone through his open drapes. The night was still young despite the late hour, but it was turning spring soon; the rise of Apollo. Back and forth, this circle of life was a genuinely tedious thing. Where the roses of blood bloomed in Bruce's backyard - the ones that Joker had planted a bit over a year ago - Bruce had less of the night to himself to play the Batman in. Spring was not only for the roses in his backyard to grow, it seemed, but also a time for criminal organisations to do the same. And he hated this city, whatever it had become, whatever it always had been. Yet Bruce cherished this city - his city - with all the fight still left in him.
Outside, hanging high in the sky, the moon was still there. And Bruce stared at her; eyes fixated while they gleamed like a sea of blades underneath her light. He didn't want to sleep yet while there were so many things to do out there. Somewhere, someone screaming, someone in need . A sudden blur flew over with a little twig in its beak: It was a robin, and it snapped him out of his thoughts. The bird looked around itself with small cocks to its head before it placed the branch in the corner of one of Bruce's windows approvingly, then proceeded to fly off.
While he was gazing out of his window, there, in that somewhere, Bruce watched how a green-haired man stumbled out into the cold and fell against the concrete with a roll. Except that it wasn't somewhere, but his parent's garden... Wait. He propped himself up on one elbow while his brows knitted themselves into a deep frown, and tried to see up at the wall where his bedroom clock hung.
He launched the warm and cosy covers off his body with one, fluid throw, and quickly slid out of his bed. There was a sad reality to this scene; his reality. Somedays, Bruce didn't understand why he kept doing this to himself; the rational side of his brain would have walked away by now.
It was 2:42 in the middle of the night as Bruce darted down the grand stairwell, shrugging on a coat. He hadn't felt this weary in a long time. Wasn't this supposed to be home, a place where he didn't have to be anything ?
But as much as he didn't want this, he carefully made his way over. The sliding door to the garden was wide open. It ignited a spark, one that settled deep in Bruce's gut and twisted at his insides. Because there was something so strangely surreal about this image; translucent drapes flowing softly around the entrance to the garden as he spotted Joker on the ground there, balled up in himself. A pitiful display, Bruce thought, as he compared it to what the man once was, but quickly reminded himself that he didn't have to. He moved closer to him, his feet crunching on the fallen yellowed and auburn leaves, and wondered to himself how little warmth the Joker had gotten in his life to have to cling onto himself like that. There was only so much he could do for him.
He couldn't stand the sight of him. And Bruce, he believed himself.
"Joker," Bruce tried, voice faraway and worn. Unsurprisingly, there was no response.
Warm hands reached out against cold but clammy skin, to which Joker spasmed against. However, unrelenting, Bruce hauled the man up and kept Joker close to him like Alfred had done when he had been upset. At the sudden contact, Joker pushed his face into Bruce's pyjamas, a bony hand catching up in his coat, and Bruce thought of dropping the man on the couch so that all the holding from the afternoon didn't have to recapitulate.
"Leave, me," demanded the Joker as he shoved his cold nose against the injury on Bruce's neck - to which Bruce flinched - while Joker's fingers twisted themselves deeper into the softness of his coat. It felt more like a claw than a hand to him. Even if it was so, he didn't care that much for it to tell Joker off.
"Joker, we're going inside now-" -man, maniac, you joker -. It sat on the tip of Bruce's tongue, but he couldn't finish it; that wasn't 'helping', it wasn't 'rehabilitation'. Although this may not have been how it worked either, apparently. Because Joker had heard him quite alright, and out of the blue, two bony hands pushed against his chest with a strength that the scrawny man should not have possessed; the Joker broke free from his stunned and slackened grip and scrambled to the ground. Back to where they had started. Bruce looked down and blinked his battle-worn eyes at the man who gulped for air like a fish on land and hoped that the Joker could perish on that spot, right there.
Not alone, of course.
It had been two years since that day. Two years of thorns and knives in their backs to get to the point that they were at now, and they were unquestionably, and undoubtedly: nowhere. This thing that they had, it breathed only by being fed by the dark, never dancing in the sun. In a place far from here, a shady apartment where the blinds were closed, that was where a piece of the Joker was. Rundown, old and broken, a place where he belonged, a deep ocean where he could swim in. Joker couldn't breathe here; the air was too heavy for him on this side of the system. Perhaps the Joker had been the sane one of them after all.
The moon hung high, looming over the both of them. Their shadows touched and collided - they, however, didn't. Very slowly, Bruce tilted his head back to continue what he was doing before he came down here. While the Joker laid at his feet, Bruce watched the moon and birds for a bit, and a longing glint filled up his eyes.
He hadn't forgotten - Alfred had told him, of which he had even seen the tapes himself. Birdhouses, then even more birdhouses, it was marble madness. The Joker, when away from crime, was quite the artsy soul. Who'd have known, that the Joker was a professional birdhouse builder? In all the bird shelters that the Joker had built while Bruce went to play billionaire at WayneCorp or took a night shift, were tiny birds huddled together to pass the cold of winter. Much slower now, Bruce turned his body halfway, and there too; on his windowsill perched two small Robins, building a tiny nest of twigs as they pecked at each other, fighting it out.
"Brucie," his name. In the background, the birds faded to two tiny specks of orange and grey. Bruce looked back down and met the Joker's tired, bloodshot gaze as the man laid with his head on one of his arms. With little fascination, he watched how the other hand moved up to fiddle with his cashmere coat and knew not what to answer him. "Come."
Here, on the ground? With you? Laughable. But be as it may, he had nothing to lose anymore. Bruce exhaled a long breath through his nostrils before bringing his body down against the dirt-covered leaves to lay himself to rest next to the Joker. They stayed there for a long time, everything alright, and didn't speak or look at each other. This. This was what they were.
Just the moon.
The moon. It was out there, rotating. Looking at her, Bruce felt light; he felt lost. He wondered if Joker saw her too.
Oh, Alfred on the third floor, looking unamused. He wondered what Joker felt when he gazed up at all that- vastness.
Alfred on the third floor.
Bruce let out a laugh, and Joker, at having seldom heard him laugh, squeezed out one too.
Chapter 2: Powder Blue
What was it that Joker — skinny Joker with his eyes too green and his skin too white — knew of being a person?
Bruce, upon hearing his door creak open in the dead of night, deliberately twisted his head as slowly as he could towards the abhorrent noise. Living in this house, it was an understatement to say that he hadn't expected emptiness to greet him. "Joker," He called out and got no reply back. All he was rewarded was a chilly breeze that pushed his door even further ajar and passed by him through the flowing curtains.
Getting out of bed during this particular mid-December night, Bruce rubbed the frown off his forehead with two rough but warm hands. Skin tingling and toes curling as they made contact with dark, blue marble, he stared out at the thick layer of snow which was at least several feet high. Bruce stopped moving and hardened his face to remain as calm as he possibly could. It wasn't so much what he was seeing; there was nothing out there except for trees in the wind and the heaven, blown full of stars. It didn't help him breathe easier.
"Who are you?" Bruce asked and felt the icy hand around his left ankle reach around it entirely, covering his skin on every side. No answer. At least that was familiar for him by now.
A minute ticked by like this; Bruce, getting more and more confused while the anger dissipated of his shoulders as if it had never been there in the first place — while that hand, grew warmer and warmer as it used him as a heater, never letting go.
It was a dead giveaway. "Joker," Bruce greeted, again, tired.
A small croon came out from underneath the bed, and Bruce couldn't understand why he breathed a little easier from hearing that. Two heavy shoulders sagged a notch, paired with a blink that set the world to start again. Taking his chances, Bruce tried to free his foot from that bear trap of a claw, but to no avail, the Joker hung on tight.
Everything was always so involved with him; forever consuming his time, his energy. He could employ force; kick against that hand or drag the man out from under that bed by walking away; Bruce was considerably sturdier than him, and it had always been Joker's downfall. Knowing this — this truth — Bruce once again buried his face into his now numb hands with a deep inhale, then leaned down slowly, fingers trailing down his side before it reached out and grasped Joker's bony one. He desired him to be alright as much as he didn't want anything to do with him.
He didn't want him hurt. That counted for something right? That counted The Joker as worthy.
"...Hey," he said, and the hand carefully freed his ankle and grasped fervently onto his instead, seeking out the contact. Their first time, grabbing and holding onto each other without wanting to punch each other's faces to a pulp. It felt pleasant, but only fleetingly so, as that hand quickly left his while he hauled the man out from that dark place and placed him down, gently, into the first bed that he could find; his own.
Worthy for... What? Bruce?
"Hm?" The night was not his no more; the Batman wasn't who he once was, and it showed. Out on the streets, he was softer than ever before. And to him, as Joker took his hand in his again and held another in front of Bruce's eyes. He let his eyes fall shut on auto-pilot and let an unending frown take over his sturdy brows.