The first month back at Arkham was...an adjustment. To his credit, John didn't betray the tumult in his mind to anyone; not in the rec room; not at lunch; not even in sessions with Dr. Leland, though she told him that was a concern. He was doing fine. He was fine. Everything was fine.
But then, just as he was starting to accept his new/old routine, to open up to Leland again and embark on the journey to process the grief and rage and wistfulness he felt, Bruce Wayne decided to visit.
They sat in the visitor's lounge. Fluorescent lights buzzed overhead. Bruce's attempts at pleasantries had stalled and he shifted his weight forward in the cracked plastic chair.
"I've got some news," he said. John wanted to pretend that he didn't care, that he wasn't completely engrossed with everything Bruce said or did. He silently picked at his fingernails for what seemed like ten minutes at least.
"Oh?" he finally said, trying to sound casual. John sneaked a glance at the wall clock. He'd lasted fifteen seconds. Dammit. At least Bruce looked unnerved, off-center.
"I…" Bruce scratched at his neck. John was fascinated. Bruce was many things, but awkward? Shy? Never. "I'm checking myself into Arkham. Dr. Leland has approved it. I move back in tomorrow."
"What? Why!?" It was the last thing John had expected, and he didn't know how to feel. There were many emotions all at once, like a fistful of balloons escaping into the sky with John grasping at the strings and failing to secure any of them. Excitement - Bruce would be here, with him, and they would have so much fun! - and anger; how dare Bruce cage himself? What would happen to Batman? How could he remove John's one tie to the outside world? And...fear.
"Hey," Bruce said, reaching out for John's hands, "it's okay. I'm scared, too." That last emotion must have been telegraphed more clearly across John's face. Poker never was his game. John pulled back, shrugged.
"I'm not afraid," he lied.
"O-okay," Bruce sighed. "It's...a couple of things. I'm not as young as I used to be. Being Batman, it takes a toll. Being blown up twice didn't help," he said, attempting a small grin. John just stared back, shoving the guilt that wanted to surface deep, deep down. Bruce looked chagrined. "Anyway. I've been using...pain pills...and...I don't know if I can stop without help. It's hard to admit that. I hate feeling this weak."
"So?" John demanded. "This isn't an addiction treatment facility. This is for people like me," he growled, "the crazies you lock away." Bruce looked wounded. Part of John regretted his vitriol, but he wouldn't take it back. Bruce didn't belong here. "I don't know what you want from me. You put me here, you left me here, again. And I was doing fine until you came back. These four walls are my home now, the only place that I can breathe out, that I can feel whatever I want to feel, and you invaded them, and for what? What are you really doing here? What do you want?"
"You-you're right," Bruce stuttered. "That's not everything. You've met Alfred. He's been...unwell, and after everything that happened between - that happened, it was just too much for him." Bruce made a face. "That makes it sound like he's at fault. He's not. I'm not explaining myself well."
"We can agree there, bud-Bruce," John amended. "Though if you're trying to blend in, you're doing a bang-up job of it so far. Nonsense is Arkham's strong suit."
Bruce laughed shortly. "Great. It's important to me that I fit in." He rubbed his face with both hands, pushed them up to his hairline. "Alfred wanted to leave. He said that Batman...that I had driven him to it. I couldn't lose him. He's been the only constant in my life, the only person...who loves me." John thought it sounded like Bruce might be a little congested, but he couldn't see his eyes. They were shielded by his hands. Bruce Wayne, crying? It made John even more nervous.
"I told him I would get help. I told him...I wouldn't be Batman anymore. And I came here thinking if I had to give that up...if I were to fix myself...at least I could be by the side of the one I loved while I did it." Bruce looked up then. His eyes were red. John braced his hands on the table, arms stiff as he leaned away from Bruce, deeply alarmed. One time, early in his tenure at Arkham, two other inmates had cornered him. They said he talked too much. One of them had held him down while the other shoved a sock into his mouth and halfway down his throat. He had almost suffocated before an orderly intervened. This felt much the same.
I'm trying hard to make you love me, but I don't wanna try too hard
I'm trying hard to take it lightly, but we're here now
But...this was Bruce. Even after all they had been through, even though John desperately wanted to play it cool, he couldn't look at (the man he loved) him with tears in his eyes and do nothing.
I wanna make you feel how I feel when I'm listening to love songs
I wanna take you to the peak of everything that you are
John stood up and moved around the table. He knelt in front of Bruce, who looked down at him mournfully.
"I'm sorry, John," Bruce whispered. "Everything you said is true. I promise I'll stay away from you while I'm here, or-or I can just go. I don't want to interfere with your treatment. I just thought…" His eyes were cavernous, his clothing rumpled. When was the last time he had showered? Bruce looked like shit, and he was still the most beautiful thing John had ever seen.
"Hmm," John responded. "No, I don't think that's going to work. Dr. Leland would be very disappointed if you abandoned her again. And I...I was thinking you got what you came for originally. Everything tied up so neatly: Riddler dead; the Pact disbanded; Catwoman and Tiffany and Waller free to do whatever they want…" John slid a hand up Bruce's thigh and touched his hand. "But you're here now."
Falling at the hand of a perfect man...
"So I guess we were both wrong," John concluded. Bruce wrinkled his forehead in confusion.
"...what was I wrong about?" John shot him a look and Bruce held his hands up. "Uh, I mean, can you be more specific?"
"Alfred isn't the only one who loves you," John said, and he pulled Bruce down from his chair onto the tile floor and into his lap. Bruce was heavy and he immediately dampened the shoulder of John's Arkham-issue scrubs, but John found he didn't mind when Bruce whispered, "You're my light inside of Arkham," and seemed to mean it.
Those three words now are the only thing that came to save me
Those three words now are home