A/N: Hey all! So, this is actually an old story of mine, from 2018 (after the final chapter came out, pretty much), that I never bothered to post here. I only ever posted it on AO3, where it did fairly well (220 Kudos with about 2,100 hits). I never thought it would do well here, so I never posted it, but, I figured, you know what? I might as well post it, including my original notes, just for consistency purposes. If you want to read it on AO3, it's under the same title, though my username is DracotheDeathEatingCupcake. Hope y'all like it, though I doubt too many will end up reading it.
Original summary: After all is said and done, Bruce doesn't know who he is anymore. He's lost his way, doesn't know up from down, black from white, right from wrong. But he does know one thing; he must make things right with John, even if it's the last thing he does.
""You can't even answer me. I was a fool to think you'd have the answer. You wanna know the truth, Brucie boy? The truth is, we're all broken, bleeding, lying monsters, hiding from the light. I was an idiot to think you could be any different. To think you could… you could be better than the rest."
John stops, suddenly, and folds in on himself. His eyes, usually so bright, so vibrant, become dull and lifeless. A sigh escapes his lips as he takes a seat on the bed beside Bruce once again, wilting faster than a flower in winter.
"But I suppose I can't blame you. After all, you're only human.""
Batman/Joker, John Doe/Bruce Wayne
Batman, Bruce Wayne, Joker, John Doe, Dr. Leland.
Angst Angst with a Happy Ending, Game Continuation, Vigilante Route, Spoilers for Episode 5 Vigilante Route, This gets kind of heavy but it ends happily I promise, Missing Scene, Ending Fix.
Hey guys! This is my first BatJokes fic, even though I've been loving this ship for almost a year now. I wrote this story as a kind of coping mechanism for the last episode, so it's very self-serving. Gives me the ending I wanted, you know? I know it's kind of generic, but I like it.
This story takes place right after the end of the Vigilante version of the game. I will let y'all know: I based the story off my play-through, and in my play-through I accidentally told Alfred to leave without getting an explanation, so that's the version I wrote for. I don't know what the other endings entailed (I'm too emotionally raw to look them up), so this is all I know. If you catch any mistakes, whether in my grammar/spelling, or in my portrayal of the story, let me know! I wrote this pretty much from 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM today, that's how much the ending of the game messed me up. -.- In a good way, though.
Thanks for taking the time to read this! I hope you enjoy the story!
The sun is shining brilliantly as Bruce exits the car, blinding him temporarily. Part of him finds the bright sunshine ironic. Of all days for the typical Gotham gloom to be absent, it must be the day he feels the most ill at ease, the most troubled. Part of him feels that the world should be as dark and merciless as his thoughts, but he supposes not everything can be poetic.
With a sigh, he looks up at the large building before him, housing the countless people he had helped put there. He feels a pang in his heart as he thinks of the first person he had placed in those hallowed halls, an old friend who had let madness consume him. He wonders briefly on how Harvey is, but quickly pushes the thought from mind, as he always does when unpleasant thoughts come to life. But the unease doesn't leave, causing his heart to beat unpleasantly, sweat lining his brow.
Sighing once more, Bruce enters the building, mind a jumbled mess, his heart even worse. So much has happened these past couple of months, so much has changed. So much has been lost. Friendships, family… even hope. If he was being honest, he isn't sure what is right or wrong anymore. After all that has happened… after all he has seen, all he has done… But he doesn't have the luxury of stopping, of taking a break, of sorting out his jumbled mind. He has people who depend on him. People he needs to save.
And a person he desperately needs to see.
Smiling at the receptionist, Bruce walks past the front desk and over to the security duty, allowing them to search him, to make sure he doesn't pose any problems. Once done, they lead him down a long hallway, into a small office.
"Take a seat, Mr. Wayne. Dr. Leland will be with you shortly."
As the door closes, Bruce takes a deep breath and tries to prepare for what is about to happen. He's been planning this visit for over a week now but being here… being so close to /him… Bruce is starting to have second thoughts.
It has been a month since everything went down. A month since Bruce's life had been so dramatically changed. He has gained allies, Gordon and Avesta, and has gained a protege, Tiffany. He smiles minutely as he thinks of them, at the small amount of good that has occurred. But, he has also lost so much, more than he had expected. More than he was prepared to lose. The smile fades as he thinks of this, closing his eyes and sitting back in the chair, brows furrowing.
Alfred… that loss still hurt. His father figure, a man he loves more than anyone else… gone. Off in places unknown, living his life. Without Bruce.
Perhaps it was better this way, he muses, looking out the small window in the office. After all, he has seen the damage Al has taken, after what happened with Lady Arkham. And the fright and sorrow of what happened to Lucius… coupled with the stress of looking after a semi-suicidal charge, it makes sense that he needed to go. Bruce couldn't stop being Batman any more than he could stop being, well… Bruce. It was part of him, now. It would always be part of him.
It didn't mean it didn't hurt. Knowing the pain he has inflicted on the one person he loves most in this world. Knowing it was him who drove Alfred away. He hadn't even listened to his reason why. Hadn't tried to make him stay. He had just… let him go.
It was like that adage he had always been told as a child. If you love something, let it go. Bruce just wishes he didn't have to let go of so much.
Shaking his head, Bruce sits up straighter and forces the thoughts of Alfred out of his head, like he does every time he thinks of the older man. He can't afford the luxury of thinking of Alfred. He's here to meet another person he has failed, another life he has ruined with his actions.
He can't help the thudding of his heart as his mind touches briefly on the other man who waits in this asylum.
But he can't think on him, either. The pain of losing yet another friend, of failing yet another person… it seems, no matter how much good he does, there was always a drawback. A payment he must make in blood, a bitter consequence to his choices. Could he truly do nothing right? Was there truly no good to come from his choices?
Biting his lip, Bruce looks around the office, trying to keep his mind off the topic, away from person he most desperately wants to think about. It won't help, he tells himself, eyes fluttering from wall to wall, taking in the decor. He can't think of his failures. He can't let himself fall.
The office looks nice, he muses, looking at the cream-colored walls, lined with Dr. Leland's credentials and pictures of what he assumes is her family. The furniture is sparse, with a desk in the middle and a chair on either side, one of which he is sitting in. There is a bookcase behind the desk, and a filing cabinet to the left of it, both neatly organized and contained. There is an old-fashioned computer sitting on top of the desk, and some office supplies, but other than that the office is barren. Not much to focus on, Bruce crosses his arms and forces himself to wait for the doctor to enter, so he can get this over with. He pushes all thoughts out, until there is just silence in his mind. Silence, and that damned unease.
Finally, after five minutes pass, his mind carefully blank, the door opens, and a familiar face peers through the door. With a smile, Bruce stands respectfully and holds out a hand for his former psychiatrist.
"Dr. Leland. It is a pleasure to see you again," Bruce smiles, hoping the falseness in his tone isn't too obvious. After all, it's not her fault he doesn't really want to be here right now. But he can't ignore it any longer. He can't… he can't ignore him any longer. He won't. It's not fair, after all they've been through.
"Mr. Wayne. The pleasure is mine. Please, sit down. I apologize for making you wait, a meeting with a patient went a little longer than expected. Now, how have you been? It's been a while since we last saw one another, you know, and I've been wondering about you."
The way she speaks is soothing, in a way. Her eyes radiate kindness, her brows furrowed with concern. It almost seems like she really does care how he is, how he has been. Almost like she is worried about him. She probably is, he muses, a wry smile on his lips. She would have reason to be.
Resisting the urge to tell her everything, knowing it would just get him committed again if he told, he just smiles and shrugs, ignoring how his scars twinge with the movement.
"Oh, you know. Same old, same old. How have you been?"
It's a mindless pleasantry, one ingrained in him since he was a child. Alfred… he has always been a stickler for pleasantries. Bruce tries not to grimace at the thought of the older man, his fake smile spreading farther.
"I've been alright. It's been a bit busy in here, with all those people Batman has put away. But we're not here to talk about me, are we? We're here to talk about your old friend, John Doe."
Her eyes are piercing as she says those words, freezing Bruce instantly. God, it has been a while since he heard that name. The news and police always call him Joker when referring to him. His heart tugs in his chest and he forces his smile to stay up, nodding his head slightly.
"Yes. John. I… heard what happened, since he was released. I was… surprised, to say the least. I've been meaning to visit for a while now, you know. Only had time today."
That was a lie. He has had time for a while now. He just… was unable to find the will to meet with the man he had failed so miserably.
With a small, understanding smile, Dr. Leland turns to the filing cabinet and takes out a file from the top. On the side is the name "John Doe," and underneath, in smaller print, is his alias name. Joker. Bruce looks carefully away from the name, not wanting the reminder.
A second later, his eyes are drawn back to the doctor, as she retrieves a paper from inside the file, handing it to Bruce with a small frown. Brows furrowing, Bruce reads the paper, eyes widening when he sees the words written.
It is a diagnostic report, detailing the diagnoses that John had received over the years. Looking back up at the doctor, he confirms that he is allowed to read this, wondering about confidentiality. However, as Dr. Leland just nods her head at him, he supposes that confidentiality doesn't count when you've murdered three people and injured many more. He suppresses the wince and instead reads the paper.
Skipping the details of John's life before he was released (before Bruce, his mind whispers to him softly), he looks at the more recent information, surprise filling him when he gets to the most recent report. According to the report, they haven't settled on an official diagnosis yet, just listing bits and pieces of his symptoms. Some potential disorders are listed, such as schizophrenia or schizoid personality disorder, as well as antisocial personality disorder and bipolar disorder, but none could be diagnosed officially yet, not until more time has passed. Bruce feels a pang of unease at the diagnoses. He doesn't think any of those disorders reflect John. John isn't… he isn't crazy. He is just… misguided.
Partially my fault, Bruce thinks, heart clenching.
He is drawn from his thoughts when he hears a soft cough. Dr. Leland looks at him intensely, a small frown on her face.
"You might be wondering why I'm showing you this, Mr. Wayne. Usually I wouldn't, to uphold confidentiality. But I wanted you to see this before you spoke with him." Dr. Leland speaks quietly to him. With a kind smile, she takes back the paper, puts it back in the file, and steeples her hand.
"As you can tell, we're not quite sure what John is suffering from. When he left here, I knew he had anger problems. Personally, I didn't fully agree with his release, but I felt it was time to let him go. It was concerning that he never met for his scheduled appointments after his release, but I had no power to force him to once he was out. After all, he was a model patient."
Taking a deep breath, Dr. Leland sits back in her chair, her arms crossing her chest. A look of sadness passes her face, her smile fading.
"I had hoped that he was ready for the real world. I'm heartbroken to see that he wasn't. The things he did…" Dr. Leland pauses and shakes her head, a grimace on her face. "It's so different to the man I knew in here, and yet so horrifyingly similar. His anger… his rage. It consumes him, leaves him unable to function otherwise."
Another pause. Dr. Leland then looks at him, directly in the eyes, and Bruce feels her intensity. He tries not to feel intimidated, but fails. Something about her stare…
"The reason I am telling you this, Mr. Wayne, is because I want you to know that I do not see John as a criminal. Yes, he did some truly terrible things, but he is suffering from multiple disorders, ones that I am still trying to understand. His actions might have been drastic, and I will not say they weren't his fault. They were. He does know what he is doing, I'm positive of that. But he cannot help the way he acts. The way his brain is… well, wired. What I am trying to do in here is help him handle his illness, do you understand?"
Her intense eyes continue to dig into his flesh, her words clear. Bruce feels his heart clenching once more, as his mind works to figure out how he feels about her words.
[John is insane, Doctor. A criminal. There is no hope for him.]
[While you may be right, John is still a criminal.]
[I understand, Doctor. John is not truly to blame.]
"Doctor, I think I do understand what you mean," Bruce begins slowly, sitting back in his chair. His eyes drift to the file on the desk between them, containing his once friend's personal information.
"John is misguided. He has some things wrong with him, but ultimately, I do not feel he is evil. That is why I am here, Doctor. I want to see him, to see if I can help in some way. After all, he did trust me, once."
And look where that trust got him, he thinks darkly, a grimace forcing its way on to his face unbidden. He pushes that thought away yet again and puts his attention back on Dr. Leland. She is looking at him intently, like she is trying to look inside him and find the pieces of him he is trying desperately to hide. He tries not to squirm at the scrutiny.
Finally, after several seconds pass, Dr. Leland looks away and sighs deeply.
"You know, I'm almost glad to hear that. He speaks of you often, you know. I don't know what happened between you two while he was out, as he refuses to talk about it, but he holds a lot of anger towards you."
The words are cutting. She doesn't mean them to be, Bruce can tell, but it still feels like his heart has been cut in two. Being reminded of what had happened… being reminded of his failure. Of how he had hurt his… his friend. Before his thoughts can spiral downward, Dr. Leland continues, her voice a little louder. Almost like she can see his thoughts, how much guilt he carries.
"However… however, I can tell that, despite the anger, he still cares for you a great deal. Now, as I said, I don't know what happened to you both while he was out there. And I won't pretend I understand your… relationship. But you are one of the only things he will talk to me about. Whether he is ranting, seething, or speaking fondly, he will talk about you at length. I had a meeting where he spoke about you for over two hours, his eyes illuminated and the most alive I've seen them since he has returned here. He cares about you, Bruce, and I am hoping that you might be able to get through to him."
Bruce can't explain the way her words make him feel. On one hand, he feels ecstatic, his heart leaping with the knowledge that John still cares. He had been so afraid that everything had been ruined that night, that their… their friendship had been irreparably damaged. That John's madness and Bruce's inaction had destroyed any spark of good faith between them.
But, on the other hand…
God, he feels terrified. John had cared about him before. So much, he knew. And yet… Bruce had messed it up. Had used John for his own goals. Had broken the trust the man had had in him. He told himself it was for the greater good. That he had been in the right. But… recently, he has been thinking that perhaps John was right. While sitting, alone, in his manor… he wonders. Perhaps he was just like Waller, using the "greater good" as an excuse. Perhaps he wasn't as noble and good as he had thought. As he had hoped.
Can he help John now? Can he finally put aside his own issues and help his once friend? Because he was a friend. Bruce knows that now. No matter what had happened, what John had done… no matter how many people John had killed, Bruce still cares for him. He hadn't been sure, before, but he is positive now. John… John matters to him. So, so much. Maybe more than he…
Heart clenching, Bruce abandons that train of thought, unable to keep going down it, and turns his attention to the doctor.
"Do you… do you think I could help him? Do you truly think I could get through to him?"
He hates how weak he sounds. How afraid. His voice shakes as he speaks, showing a weakness that he never wanted to be revealed. Dr. Leland looks at him, a touch of sad understanding in her eyes, in the way her mouth tilts upwards to the side.
"I can't say for sure, Mr. Wayne. After all, for whatever reason, he is still angry at you. But… I believe that, with time, he might be able to forgive you. And, when he can, then you will be able to help him. But you must understand this, Mr. Wayne. John is not well. He has certain delusions and holds onto things, grudges, far more than a healthy person should. If you don't feel that you can be patient with him, if you do not feel that you can take the time to deal with his anger, however deluded or extreme it might be, then you might as well not bother to try. Because if you can't let him work through his anger in his own way, then you will just make matters worse. Do you think you can do that, Mr. Wayne?"
The words are like bullets, piercing his flesh, straight into the heart of him. He knows they are true. Knows she is right. But would he be able to do that? To put aside his own anger (and he can't pretend he holds no anger of his own against John) and be able to help John through his anger, his madness? What can he choose? What can he possibly do?
[I'm sorry, Doctor, but I don't think I can do that.]
[That sounds like it will take a lot of work]
[I will do anything to help John.]
Of course, the choice is easy. There was only one choice that he could possibly make. Only one thing he could do to possibly make up for his crimes. Steeling himself up, pushing down any unease and uncertainty, he smiles at the doctor and nods curtly.
"Dr. Leland, I do not care what it takes. I will do whatever I can to help John. He is… he is my friend. If I must let him work through his anger, then I will. After all... he deserves it."
The way Dr. Leland smiles at his words makes him feel strange inside. Almost... proud. Like he had finally done something right after doing years of wrong. Bruce almost can't help the way his mind connects Dr. Leland and his former butler. They carry the same demeanor. Bruce tries not to let the thought grip his heart.
"I'm very happy to hear that, Mr. Wayne. It's good to know that John has someone out there who truly cares for him, like you. After all, you are correct. John is not evil. He just needs someone to guide him, to help him through his problems. I'm so glad to know that you are willing to try and help him."
With her smile still on her face, Dr. Leland gets up and makes her way over to the door, gesturing with her head for him to follow. Bruce stands slowly, adjusting his suit nervously as he does. He tries to ignore the anxiety that hits him, tries not to think about what will happen next. He had specifically asked to see John today, and, while she was reluctant to let John have visitors, Dr. Leland had agreed on the condition that they speak first.
Now, however, the talk was over. And he had obviously been seen favorably. And that means he knows what will happen next.
At the door, Dr. Leland pauses, causing Bruce to stop abruptly as to not run into her, and she turns to face Bruce once more. He pushes his racing thoughts down to focus on her words, hoping that his… his fear isn't obvious. By the way she looks at him, like she can see right through him, he knows that it is.
"Mr. Wayne… I know you requested to speak with John alone, but I must implore that you reconsider. I think it would be more beneficial if you both meet while I am with you, in a therapy session, so that we can talk through John's anger together." She pauses here for a second and just looks at Bruce, eyes intense. "However, I will not force you and will instead give you this choice. You can speak with him alone, like you wanted, or you can speak with him with me. If you feel that speaking with him alone will be best for you both, then I will allow it, though I will be watching through the cameras. Or, you could listen to my request and we can all speak together in one of the therapy rooms. The choice is yours, Mr. Wayne."
When she finishes, it almost feels like a key moment in life. Like whatever he chooses now will affect the rest of his life. Bruce pauses, for one second, and looks at the doctor's eyes. She has no judgement in them, no condemnation one way or the other. She has given him a choice, a major one, and he must make it. If he chooses wrong, everything could fall apart before it even begins. Again.
No pressure, though. Right?
[I agree with you, Doctor. We should all meet together.]
[I'm sorry, Doctor, but I think it would be better to meet him alone.]
After the moment's pause, Bruce's mind is made up. After all, he knows what will be best, even if it will be harder in the end.
"I thank you for your opinion, Doctor, but I think that it would be best if John and I meet alone. At least this time. There is a lot for us to work through, and I don't feel either of us would be willing to talk when another person is in the room with us."
The air is still when he finishes his speech, and he can feel Dr. Leland looking at him with scrutiny. Finally, after a pregnant pause, she nods, a resigned smile on her lips.
"Somehow, I knew you would say that. Alright, Bruce. I'll take you to see him."
The walk to John's cell has to be one of the tensest moments of Bruce's life. Worse than walking to face Oz, or meeting with Lady Arkham. Worse than any other moment he has faced as Batman thus far. Because this meeting… this will either make things right or make things worse. He will either be able to right his wrongs or remain condemned.
Sighing, Bruce pushes the darkening thoughts away again, and forces himself to think of what he will say to John. Honestly, it's harder than one might think. After all, what do you say to a person you had hurt so badly, to the point where you weren't even sure how deep the hurt ran? What could he possibly say to someone he had let down so terribly?
Hey, sorry I used you for the "greater good," but I promise I have your best interests in mind now!
Ha. Yeah, right. He'd be lucky if John didn't laugh him out of the cell. Room. Whatever they wanted to call it.
It was true, though. When John had first yelled at him, screaming that he was just as bad as Waller, that he was a hypocrite and that he had used him, Bruce had felt defensive. He wasn't a liar, he hadn't truly used John, he was just doing the right thing. They… they had been friends, it wasn't a lie. It wasn't.
But then, when Waller had spoken to him… telling him almost the same thing… and when Alfred left, his careless words accidentally cutting the man he loves the most… he had started to think that maybe, just maybe… John was right. Is right. Maybe he is a hypocrite. Maybe he is just as bad as Waller, hiding behind the "Greater Good" while doing terrible things. Maybe he is more at fault than he had wanted to believe.
He knows that now, though. And he knows that he has wronged John. Not on purpose, not deliberately, no. But through his carelessness, his inaction, he has hurt a man he had considered a friend. A man he lo-
He cut off his thoughts. It hurts too much to think them. Alfred had told him that he had helped create John. Bruce hadn't wanted to accept that, wanted to believe that he was helping John, but Alfred was right. He was always right.
But he will fix things, now. He promises himself that he will, no matter how long it takes. No matter how much it hurts. He will do right by John. He must. Even if he does nothing else as Batman, he will right the wrong he had committed against his friend.
That doesn't stop the way his heart stops when the guards in front of him arrive at John's cell, room, whatever. It doesn't stop how his heart pounds when he hears the words, "visitor for John Doe."
He barely has time to breathe before the food door opens and John's face appears.
His mind blanks the minute he sees that face out of the corner of his eye. John's face, not the Joker he had made himself into. No makeup, no pretense. Just… John. His friend.
He's really there, really alive. John.
After the initial blank, Bruce's mind begins to race. So many things he wants to say. So many things he wants to do. He wants to apologize, wants to scream at him, wants to hit him. Wants to hug him. Want to ki-
Instead of doing any of those things, he smiles slightly and adjusts his tie, and turns to face the man full on.
God it hurts. It's like seeing everything he's ever wanted all at once, yet not being able to touch. Knowing he has no right to touch. He distantly hears John shouting his name, in what he hopes is happiness, but he can't truly focus on the word. He can only look into those vivid, acidic eyes, so bright even in the dim florescent lights, and try not to break down.
It's stupid, he knows. He should be stronger than this. He's Batman, for God's sake. And yet… everything comes rushing back. The past two months. What he had done to John. Alfred leaving. It hurts, so strongly, in the second he sees John that he doesn't know what to say. He had wanted to say something. I'm sorry, or maybe please don't hate me. Or even I lo-… but he can't say that. Can't feel that.
And so, despite what he wants, he finds himself speechless, stuck staring into those green, green eyes, mind blank.
And then the laughing begins.
It's chilling, maddening; heart stopping for all the wrong reasons. That is the laugh he hears in his sleep. The laugh that haunts his every waking moment. The laugh that won't leave him alone, that judges every little thing he does. God, how he hates that laugh. God, how he's missed that laugh.
It almost seems like that should be it. That the world should fade to black, that everything gets better magically; that he doesn't still have a terrifying uphill battle to fight.
But it doesn't end. This is real, not a dream. Not a silly little game. He's here before John and he has no idea what to say.
Before he must make a choice, the guards tell John to move back. John, with a grin that looks too wide to be real, does as he is told, his face leaving the small opening. The guards unlock the door and a few pf them rush in, putting heavy looking restraints on John's delicate looking wrists and ankles, allowing him to move his arms shoulder length apart, but no more. That, more than anything, showed that while this was a mental health care hospital, it was also a prison. Bruce almost wants to protest but knows he can't. After all, while he knows he could handle John, the guards don't know that. And, honestly? He doesn't want to have to hurt John anymore.
Bruce waits outside with the remaining guards, heart in his stomach. He is… he is afraid, he reluctantly admits to himself. It feels like a defeat, admitting fear even to himself. He shouldn't be afraid, he wasn't weak. But, watching the guards leave the room, the door closing partially to obscure his view of John… God, he couldn't remember being more afraid. Well, he could, but not in a non-combat situation. Such a stupid thing to be afraid of, really, and yet…
He's so deep in his imagined fear that when a soft hand lands on his shoulder, he almost jumps a foot in the air. Turning quicker than he probably should, he faces Dr. Leland. Honestly, he had almost forgotten she was there in his panic.
"You know, we can still have a group meeting, if you want. You don't have to face him alone."
There was a soft, understanding smile on her face. It almost made him want to give in. To agree and not face the brunt of John on his own.
But he couldn't. This was his burden to bear, his challenge to face. It wouldn't be right, for either of them, for him to chicken out at the last moment. He must face John alone.
(Well, as alone as you could be while being watched by an unknown amount of people on a security camera, that is.)
So, with a small, resigned smile, he politely shakes his head.
"I appreciate the offer, Doctor, but this is something I must face alone."
Dr. Leland nods like she had been expecting it and removes her hand.
"Alright, Bruce. But feel free to talk to me after, if you need someone to talk to. While you might not be in my care anymore, you will always be my patient."
Once upon a time, Bruce would have been offended by that. The thought he couldn't care for himself. But after everything… he smiles at her and nods in appreciation.
"Thank you, Doctor. For everything."
And then he could stall no longer. It was time to face John.
With a deep breath, Bruce turns to the open door, where he can still see a sliver of John, standing in the corner. Steeling his nerves, he puts on a smile as fake as his bravery and marches forward to meet his justice.
After the guards leave, a full minute goes by in silence. Not a sound is made, no shuffling, no murmurs. Just the hum of the fluorescent lights above them, and the sound of guards outside.
During that time, both he and John just… stare. John, for once, isn't smiling. His face is completely serious, all the laughter from earlier gone. Bruce is wearing a carefully blank expression, trying to calm his racing heart. His mind is so jumbled that not a single thought can stay long enough for him to evaluate it.
The only thing that he can think clearly is that John looks good. His eyes… they've lost that manic, frantic sheen in them. They're just… plain. Normal.
Bruce feels his breath catch at that thought, at last breaking the silence between them, and it's like a dam is released. Suddenly, the world rushes back, and John has a huge grin on his face. God, it's beautiful. He's so goddamned beautiful.
Because he looks sane. He looks like he did when they first met; a little out there, a little rough around the edges, but not completely insane. He doesn't have that same anger or hatred as he did that night, though Bruce knows it's still there, beneath the surface. He just… he looks like John. His friend. His lo-
Before he can think anything else, he feels himself get pulled forward. Before he can panic, he feels arms around him, familiar even though he's only felt them around his waist a handful of times. Chains hit his back, clunking into place like a bitter reminder.
Bruce freezes, for half a second, arms in the air by his side, unsure what to do. Before he can talk himself out of it, he carefully places his arms around the frail shoulders in front of him for the first time, and he feels something in his heart breaking. God, he missed him. God, he wanted to hold him. God, he lov-
He can't. He can't think that. He knows he can't. He has no right. But still, he can't help pulling the man closer, letting his face press against his neck. He smells clean, Bruce wonders, though there is a sour scent underneath. Like chemicals. He distantly realizes he is shaking, but he can't really tell who is doing the shaking. Him, or John.
Before he can get too comfortable in John's surprisingly warm arms, he hears someone pounding on the door.
"Stop that. You are not permitted to touch."
A voice shouts through the door, shattering the moment. John lets go of him slowly, the grin on his face fading softly, like a sunset, but more heartbreaking. Bruce is surprised with how little he wants to let go, his reluctance showing as his hands stubbornly cling to John's frail forearms, getting caught on the heavy chains attached to his wrists. They don't belong there, he thinks bitterly, though he knows that they do. After everything John had done.
Finally, John removes himself from Bruce completely, the chains getting tangled, caught on Bruce. John's face is void of all emotions, eyes dim and harsh. It looks so unlike John that Bruce feels… wrong. Like he's facing a stranger, not a man he has known for almost a year now. Though maybe that's what they are, after everything. Maybe they are just… strangers.
That thought twists his heart. No, he thinks. No. No matter how broken their relationship might be, they will always be friends. Or, at least, they will always be… something. They could never return to being strangers. Not now. Bruce knows John too well. And John… John knows Bruce better than anyone else has ever been able to, besides Alfred. He knows that's the truth. John can just... see him. See into the heart of him, no matter how hard he tries to hide.
The silence stretches on for a few moments, as they both stare once more. It's... awkward. They are lost, somewhere between. Not friends, not enemies; not strangers. So where did they land? What were they now, to one another?
[You look good, John. Arkham suits you.]
[I'm so sorry, John, please forgive me.]
[I love you, John]
Taking a deep breath, Bruce puts on a smile that is so fake it almost hurts him. With a casualness that he doesn't feel, he walks over to the bed and takes a seat, hoping that he doesn't look too unnatural.
"So. You, uh. You look good. This place is treating you well, I hope?"
He tries not to wince at the words. They sound false, plastic, even to his own ears. Like those damned pleasantries that Alfred had ingrained into him as a child. Meaningless.
It takes John a second to process the words, but when he does, a low chuckle leaks out. It starts slow, like a wave in the ocean, but soon it crescendos into a tidal wave, cresting and crashing down over Bruce, leaving him breathless. That goddamned laugh…
"Oh, hehe, yeah. They're, they're, they're treatin' me real nice, Brucie boy. Like a freaking king! Ahahaha!"
The laughter keeps on going; as soon as it seems to end, another bout is brought on. Bruce feels like an idiot. That was the wrong thing to say. Of course it was.
(He knows what he should have said)
"John… I…" Bruce starts to say, but John abruptly stops laughing, his head whipping down to look at Bruce, eyes like acid.
"Don't." He hisses, hands clenched, eyes aflame. Bruce can't help the shiver of… something he feels at that command. John takes a step towards him, but then abruptly stops. Something in his face flickers, like he is deciding something, before dying, taking the anger with it. Bruce wants to speak, wants to say something, anything, but he is trapped by those shining emeralds, gleaming in the dim light.
Anger leaving him like a deflating balloon, John sighs. Faltering, he takes a small step forward, like he is testing the waters. When Bruce doesn't respond, can't respond, John takes another step. And another. Until he is toe to toe with Bruce, towering above him like a god.
Bruce will never admit it, but part of him wants to worship him like one.
"Hey there, Bruce." John says softly, hands shoved into his thin pockets, restraints clattering loudly in the still air. Bruce wants to speak, wants to say something, but his mind can only think of one thing.
God, I love you.
With the silence, John wilts a little. Wry smile on his face, he takes a careless seat beside Bruce and looks out at the wall.
They're… close. Closer than Bruce was prepared for. So close he can smell John again, that same clean, chemical scent. He wants to touch him, to grab him and never let go, but he keeps his hands to himself. He has no right to touch.
"So. You, uh. You came to visit. I was starting to think you never would, you know. Heh, thought you finally had enough of good ol' John. Joker. Whichever." John shrugs casually, the chains clinking softly with the movement. Bruce bites his lip.
What can he say? He feels lost. Stuffing his feelings down, Bruce takes a deep breath and finally looks at John, only to find those eyes on him. Staring. Judging him, inside and out.
[I shouldn't have come. You deserve to rot in here for what you did]
[I wanted to see you. I've missed you.]
[I didn't know if I could forgive you.]
"I… of course I came, John. I couldn't… I've missed you." Bruce stumbles on his words, causing an unwanted flush to rise on his cheeks. He feels like a child again, face to face with Alfred's softly judging eyes. That just adds another pang to his heart, and he forces the thought out of his mind.
A soft laugh breaks through his thoughts this time, but it's not... it's not like the others. It's more… sane. Bruce almost likes it. Looking at John's face, he sees a gentle smile, making the harsh lines of his face seem more natural. More calm.
"Aw. I missed ya too, buddy. Still… we left things on, ah. Kind of a bad note, ya know? Thought that you… I'd thought that you'd hate me now."
The words are soft, softer than John has ever been with him. Bruce watches as John looks down, eyes downcast and almost ashamed. No laugh comes, and Bruce frowns.
"I could never hate you, John. I just… I wish things could have been different. I really think we could have made a good team."
He doesn't know what makes him say it. He isn't even sure if he truly believes it. John has always been too… wild, too chaotic, to ever be a hero. Bruce had known that from the start. Still… he had hoped, so hard, that this man could have been good. That this man, so chaotic, so misguided, could have turned good... It would have made everything he did worth it, to know that, regardless of how messed up your head was, you could still be good.
But it hadn't worked. And maybe that is why he's here. He wants to know that, even now, he hadn't broken this man completely. That, in his selfish, vain hope for goodness in this world, he hadn't broken this man with the mold he had tried to force him into.
"Do you really think that we could have?" A soft voice asks, like a child seeking answers from an all-knowing parent. Bruce looks down into John's eyes, startled to find them blank and cold. It's jarring, so different to the tone of voice, that Bruce has to think before he speaks.
He wants to say yes. Wants to say, had John just tried harder, had he just… been more, they could have been a great team.
That wasn't who John was. Bruce had always made that mistake. He had never truly seen John. Just the John he had wanted to see. Maybe… maybe he could rectify that now. Looking John in the eyes, sorrow filling his own, he smiles sadly.
"Well. If I had tried a bit harder, maybe."
That's all he can say. There are so many things he wishes he could say but can't. Anger is still there, in his heart, screaming that it wasn't just him. That he had tried, that he had done everything he could. That it was John who had messed up, John who was wrong. He hopes that John doesn't hear that anger, can't see it in his face. Bruce can't show his anger, here. He lost that right when he used John and couldn't bother to help him cope.
A sigh sounds from beside him, John taking his hands out of his pockets and placing them in front of him. He looks so serious that Bruce almost wants to hug him until he's his normal self. Whatever that may be.
But Bruce keeps to himself, like always, and gives John some space.
John sits for a long moment, playing with the chains around his wrist, before looking up at Bruce again, but not meeting his eyes.
"I guess we both messed things up pretty bad, didn't we? I… Bruce. I'm..." John pauses, biting his lip softly. Bruce wishes that he was the one biting- Bruce looks at John, heart in his throat. Finally, John looks up, into Bruce's eyes, a sad, ironic smile toying at his pale lips.
"I want to say I'm sorry, ya know. Funny. I've never really wanted to say sorry before. But… man, Bruce. I don't think I am. Leland wants me to be," John says, before pausing. His face starts to slowly closes off, until his expression is completely devoid of emotion, save for a dark look in his eyes. Bruce's heart begins to pound as he sees it, trying to ignore the murderous look in the other man's eyes.
"She keeps… looking at me, like I disappointed her. Like she expected… better of me," John spits, scowl spreading on his face. His hands are clenched, his voice is tight, his eyes are aflame. Like he was that night. He looks away from Bruce, eyes trained straight ahead of him, anger coursing through him, and Bruce feels afraid.
How can he possibly fix this? This anger, this hatred? How can he… cure John of this vile rage?
"I know what I did was… wrong, but, God, Bruce, it felt so right. Like… like it was what was meant ta be, ya know? Like Waller got what she deserved! Well. Would have. Had you… just…"
John trails off, his hands clenching and unclenching. He looks up at the ceiling, and lets a laugh loose. It's unconfined, uncontrolled, so close to sobbing that Bruce didn't know what to think. What to do.
Finally, he stops, and turns his acid eyes onto Bruce.
"Why did you stop me, Bruce? I was so close, so… so close. I could have made her pay, I could have rid the world of her! Why couldn't you have just let me!" John cries, slamming his hands down on the bed, the chains clattering loudly, eyes turning towards the floor. Bruce, despite himself, starts.
A moment passes, then John takes a breath. His back is arched downward, hands clenching fistfuls of the bed. Another second passes before John looks up, eyes calmer, though the rabid hatred is still simmering below the surface.
"I just… I just don't understand, Bruce. After all she did… how could you… how could you NOT want to kill her?" John asks, eyes almost black, his lips drifting downward to a scowl. His eyes pierce Bruce, cutting him to the core. "She hurt so many... so many people. She tried to kill me! How… Bruce, how can you see that and not wanna hurt her? Not want to… to make her pay for what she did? I just… don't understand."
John's expression makes Bruce hurt inside. So lost. So confused. How can he explain to this man that murder was wrong? How can he explain the convoluted code he had to adhere to? If he was a better man, he would know the answer. If he was truly the hero he pretended to be, he'd know what to say instantly. Maybe they all were right. Maybe he is just as bad as the people he fought. Maybe he is just better able to fool himself.
But he still has expectant eyes on him. No matter what, he was responsible for this man. His… his friend. Thinking quick, Bruce finds an answer that might be enough for this man.
[You're right, John. She deserved to die.]
[You're insane, John.]
[I don't know, John]
"John, I… honestly? I don't know. All I know is that I can't give in to those feelings. That… anger. I swore to protect Gotham and all of its inhabitants. How can I do that while allowing myself to murder people I don't like?"
That sounds right, doesn't it? God, he doesn't know. All this time, and he still doesn't know. Murder is wrong, he would never kill another human being, he knows that he wouldn't… right?
"But… then you agree. They… they deserve to die, yes? Waller… she deserved to die!"
Bruce looks at the man and feels a wave of sorrow hit him. The look in his eyes… so desperate. So confused. He can't understand. He could never understand. But, then again, maybe Bruce doesn't either. But he has to try. Taking another breath, he tries again.
"No, John. No one, no one truly deserves to die. Waller… she made mistakes. She hurt many people, she hurt both of us. But that doesn't mean she deserves to die. Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone messes up sometimes. But… that doesn't mean they deserve to die for it. Everyone deserves a second chance."
Pretty words. Nice, pretty, righteous words. Too bad he isn't sure he truly believes them. Looking at John, the disbelief that fills those beautiful emerald eyes… he almost feels like a liar. A false prophet doomed to fail his followers, doomed to watch the world burn as they followed his false promises.
The laugh makes the hair on his arms stand at attention, his mind brought back to a month ago, when those pretty lips spilled the same harsh sound, covered in blood that was not his own, eyes bright with recent murder. Bruce struggles not to flinch, forces his eyes to stay on the grinning face in front of him.
"Funny, Brucie. So… so, hilarious!" His voice becomes harder than steel, glaring daggers at Bruce. "You're wrong. Some people… some people can't change. Some people are just… born evil, I guess."
The grin sours and turns bitter, acid eyes dimming, anger simmering. Bruce's heart twists as he witnesses it. He knows what John is talking about. Whom John is speaking of.
[Evil is created, not born]
[I agree. Some people are beyond saving]
[Nothing is set in stone. Bad people can become good]
"No one is born evil, John. Evil is created, brought on by circumstances. Everyone can change, if they want to."
"But what if they don't want to, Bruce?! What if they like the way they are?"
John jumps up, startling Bruce back a little. He can hear people shuffling behind the door, ready to rush in if John tries to hurt him. He hopes they won't have to.
John paces back and forth like a panther, caged in a zoo, his instincts telling him to hunt but his constraints holding him back. Bruce doesn't want to admit it, but it's a little beautiful, this caged monstrosity. This beautiful, broken creature, brought low by the hubris of man, thinking he could own such a wild beast.
Arms flailing wildly, hair in a disarray, John turns back to Bruce, a snarl on his lips.
"You, you're such a fool! Thinking the best of people yet knowing no one deserves it! We're all just… monsters, hiding beneath the surface! Some people can just hide it better than others, but you push a man too far, he will break. I know this, Bruce. I just have to wonder… what is your breaking point?"
Bruce's throat goes dry, eyes wide as he watches the man in front of him. John is close, he can see the acid in his gaze. The poison hidden in a beautiful pond, ready to kill at the drop of a hat.
[I don't have a breaking point.]
[I'll never be a murderer, John]
Bruce wants to say he would never break. He wants to get defensive, righteous, glare at John and condemn him for his sins. But…
But he can't.
He looks at John and finds no words come to his mind. What can he say, when he, himself is so confused? He would never murder. He knows that. But… push a man too far…
He has no answer, so he stays silent, heart in his throat, eyes trained on the body before him.
Seconds pass in silence, John clearly waiting for a response. When he doesn't receive one, a low chuckle sounds. Soon, the room is filled once more with that clawing laugh, and Bruce feels a gasp forcing its way out of his lips.
"You can't even answer me. I was a fool to think you'd have the answer. You wanna know the truth, Brucie boy? The truth is, we're all broken, bleeding, lying monsters, hiding from the light. I was an idiot to think you could be any different. To think you could… you could be better than the rest."
John stops, suddenly, and folds in on himself after that, anger deflating fast. His eyes, usually so bright, so vibrant, become dull and lifeless. A sigh escapes his lips as he takes a seat on the bed beside Bruce once again, wilting faster than a flower in winter.
"But I suppose I can't blame you. After all, you're only human."
It's a whisper. A condemnation. John spoke it like it was a vile curse, the worst thing to be.
We're all just… human, aren't we?
Bruce suddenly finds that he can't breathe. His lungs are failing him, his heart has stopped. He tries to gasp, but he can't.
What can he say? After all, John's right. He's nothing. Bruce… Bruce is nothing. He acts so high and mighty, so perfect, so… godlike. He acts so tough, but at the end of the day, he's only human. A broken, bitter, lonely human.
God, everyone he ever loved is gone. His parents… Oz… Harvey… Lucius… Selina… Alfred. At the end of it all, here he stands. Alone. Broken.
That's not all he is.
He is Batman.
Bruce lets out a chuckle at that. The first laugh he's had in… probably years. It doesn't stop. It just keeps going until he's laughing almost as hard as John had, tears filling his eyes but refusing to fall.
He is Batman.
A false hero, who couldn't even save his best friends.
A lying hero. Who couldn't even save his parent's memory.
A nothing hero. Who couldn't even fix a man who was so willing, so eager, so goddamned beautiful. Couldn't help the people who mattered the most. Couldn't even help himself.
He doesn't know when the tears start to fall. Seconds, minutes… hours. He lets himself break down, unable to push the thoughts down anymore. Unable to push the feelings back into their box. He breaks down, becomes weak. He can't help it. So long, he thought himself above petty emotions, thought himself a stone statue, a golem brought to life to save his city. But he's not. He's nothing. Not a hero, not fit for the role he shoved himself into. He clenches his hands and squeezes his eyes shut so hard he can pretend the world isn't there anymore.
His eyes fly open a second later, though, when he feels warm, gentle hands touch his cheeks, startling him out of his misery, his crash landing against the hard pavement. He gasps softly at the touch, at the reminder that he wasn't alone, eyes flying to the man in front of him.
He's never seen this look on John's face before. His eyes are wide, brows are furrowed, his mouth slightly agape. The other man's eyes keep roaming his face, into each nook and cranny, like he was trying to memorize every detail, like he had never seen Bruce before.
It takes Bruce a second to place the expression he sees, as dazed as he is, as raw as he feels, a juxtaposition to the warmth of the hands he feels. However, moments later, as the world freezes and the only two beings alive are the two of them, it hits him.
John is looking at him like he's a masterpiece. Like he's everything he ever wanted, and that he can finally touch him. Like, after months of being told Bruce was off limits, he was told he could have him. All of him.
And he can. God, he can. He's John's, only John's.
All the air in the room has been sucked out. Bruce is sure of it. Otherwise he'd be able to breathe. Why can't he breathe? He's Batman, for God's sake. He can't be this weak. How dare he be so weak.
But maybe he deserves to be weak. For John.
He's only human.
More tears fall from his eyes as he gasps, harsh and bitter. The air stings, but he kind of likes it. He definitely likes the way John's thumbs swipe the tears away, so tender, gentler than a madman in an asylum has any right to be. He shouldn't, he knows he shouldn't (shouldn't be so weak, how dare he be so weak), but he can't help leaning into the touch, like a touch starved child, yearning, burning for contact. Needing to be touched so much, to be told it was all alright.
That he hadn't messed everything up.
That things could still be fixed.
Please, let things be able to be fixed.
He feels disgusted that he wants this from John, a man he helped break, but he can't help it. He needs John, like a drowning man needs air, like a starving man needs bread. Like the sun needs the moon.
He feels a forehead touch his gently, thumbs still gently touching his face. Bruce will never admit it, but he makes a soft, high pitched keen, one that John laughs gently at, a puff of air that hits Bruce's lips.
"Oh," John whispers, scooting closer. At the back of his mind, Bruce remembers that they are being watched, that Dr. Leland is watching them, but he pushes that thought away. This moment is too important. Something is happening, something he can't describe, but it's so important he feels like he's about to die.
Dramatic, maybe, but he feels he's earned it. Everything he's kept in, ever since he saw his childhood friend turn evil, after his best friend in Gotham turned insane, after Vickie Vale turned evil, after John turned bitter and broken… after Alfred left, after his parents left, after he found out what his father truly was, after everything he knew was turned upside down and inside out, until he couldn't tell black from white, good from bad, right from wrong... after everything he has repressed so that he could keep going, so that he could still be Batman, hero, savior… after everything that has happened, he finally can't hold it in anymore. He can't keep pretending everything is alright. He doesn't know who he is anymore. He doesn't know what is right. If he had given up Batman… would Alfred have stayed? If he could give up himself, his body, his soul, could he have saved the ones he loved? Selina… she left. He has no idea where she is, but she's gone. He had thought, once, that perhaps they could have… could have been something. But she left.
And Alfred. He…
Bruce doesn't know what he is, anymore. Human? Batman? Nothing at all? Nothing makes sense. Nothing is real.
"Shh… hush, Brucie, don't worry. I'm here. Don't cry." A soft voice whispers, so close to his ear. He gasps, dragged from his thoughts. From everything he's hidden.
I just have to wonder… what is your breaking point?
"It'll be alright, little bat. Johnny's here, don't worry."
Bruce wants to pull away. Wants to flee. He wants to leave this moment, this rawness, this emptiness. He wants to stuff it back in its little box and never see it again. He wants to kill this moment of weakness until it's nothing more than a blot on his psyche. He wants…
Bruce lifts his arms, and, despite what his common sense is screaming at him, despite the reprimand he knows they will get, he puts his arms around John and just… holds him. It's not perfect. It's weak. It's pathetic. But he can't help it. He needs this man, so much. He's all that's left, the only thing that makes sense. He wants to laugh at that thought. John, making sense. Ridiculous.
John, arms still awkwardly holding Bruce's face, shifts so that he can return the embrace, arms surrounding Bruce's neck, chains pressing against both of their chests, forgotten. He's whispering words; soft, sweet nothings that make Bruce's heart pound, but Bruce can't comprehend any of them. He can't comprehend anything that isn't the warm embrace of the man in front of him. Of the man he…
The man he loves.
A soft chuckle is released at that thought, arms tightening around John. So long, he denied it oh so long. But he knows it's true. He won't do anything about it. Can't. John doesn't need his love, he needs a friend. Someone to help him through his madness.
It won't be easy. He knows that. John is still insane, despite what Bruce might want to believe. He still has so much anger inside him, consuming him. And Bruce… Bruce isn't okay. He needs to admit that, if only to himself. He's not okay. The things he's seen, the things he has done… the people he has lost… they have taken their toll on him, emotionally and physically.
But… perhaps, they could help each other. Bruce could help ground John, while John helps remind Bruce that he's not infallible. That he's only human.
Bruce can help him. He can be what John needs. He can stop being so selfish and help this man.
He can be Batman. He can be the hero. But not until he can save John. Not until he can save himself.
What feels like hours pass before John starts to wiggle, a soft giggle releasing from his lips.
"Brucie. Buddy. Come on. I know you had a fright, but we need to let go now. My arms are pooped! There we go, come on, that's it."
Bruce feels himself flush at those words, but he refuses to lash out. Taking a deep breath, he does as John asks and lets go.
The first thing he notices is the soft look on John's face. He looks so tender, so… pure. His eyes are liquid pools of emerald grass, alighted by a sunny sky. His lips are curved gently upward, softly, sweetly. His hair is mused, hanging in his face, wild and all over.
God. He's beautiful.
Bruce wants to kiss him so bad.
But he won't.
A soft, embarrassed smile finds itself on Bruce's mouth, lifting a hand to muse his hair. He coughs awkwardly.
[So… the weather's been nice]
[It sure is getting late. Perhaps I should head out?]
[I'm sorry, John. For everything.]
Bruce knows what he wants to say. Knows what he has to say. The words are hard to come, though. He licks his lips, just enough to give them some moisture, before taking a deep breath and letting it out.
Here goes nothing.
"John… I'm sorry. I'm… I'm so sorry. What I did… I hurt you. I know that. I should have tried harder, been better. You deserved better. If you let me, I will try. I will try and be better. Be the man Gotham needs. Be… be the man that you need. Just… be patient with me. And I'll be patient with you. This won't be easy, but we both can try. And maybe… maybe, when this is all over with, we can be together. I-I mean, partners. Fighting, partners. Against crime."
Bruce tries to will the blush away, but it is not going anywhere. God, he sounded like an idiot. Why does he ever talk?
However, he hears that laugh. The one he usually hates so much. The one that usually makes his hair stand on end.
But… but now it sounds different. Lighter. Happier, Bruce thinks. He hopes that's a good sign.
"Aha, you're so cute, Brucie." John grins, knocking his shoulder against Bruce's. A second later, though, the smile fades, a contemplative look replacing the mirth.
A few seconds pass like that, the two staring, once again. Always, endlessly staring.
Finally, John nods. Just once, a quick quirk of the head. But it makes Bruce's heart soar to see it. Hope fills his chest.
"Alright. I'll agree to your terms," he lifts a finger and waves it in Bruce's face, a pout on his lips and mild heat in his eyes, "but listen and listen good, Brucie. I am who I am. You can't change me. If you try, you'll only be disappointed. Can you accept that? Can you live with me… being me?"
Bruce stops for a second. He looks John in the eyes, sees the sincerity there. The restrained hope, and hidden fear. He's afraid, Bruce wonders, afraid of Bruce's answer.
This is another crucial moment, Bruce can feel it. He knows that his answer will shape his future, will make or break things. This one moment in time will either fix everything, or ruin it.
Taking a deep breath, he makes a choice.
[I can't, John. I'm sorry]
[Of course I can, John.]
The choice was easy.
With a smile brighter than any he's given in months, Bruce nods quickly, heart soaring at the ecstatic look that fills John's perfect face.
"Of course I can accept that, John. Of course I can accept you. How could I ever not?"
He wants to say more. To layer praise on this man (not all of it deserving; after all, he has killed at least five people, three in cold blood), but he forces himself to stop. This was getting too emotional for his liking.
The look on John's face from the words he did say, though, was enough to make him not regret his words. He was never the best with words, usually preferring more… direct methods, but he's glad his words could work. Could help.
"Ah, man. Geez, Brucie, gonna make a guy blush over here, aha. I, uh. I'm glad. I want…" John pauses, eyes steeling up as he meets Bruce's eyes, "I want to be good. Like you, Bruce. I know… I know you're not perfect. Not like I once thought you were. But… you're a good man. I… I can see that, now. And I want to be one too. A good man."
Bruce realizes belatedly that he is grinning, so wide it almost hurts. To know John still wants to be good… that he believes that Bruce, too, is good… he opens his mouth, about to say something, anything to express his relief, but John holds up a hand to silence him.
"Ah-ah! Let me finish, Brucie baby. Now. As I was saying. I want to be a good man. But, I'll do it my way. As I said before, I am who I am. And who I am… it doesn't fit your mold. I'll never be perfect. I'll never be completely good. Not on your standards, at least. But… but I think that I can be good in my eyes. And that's what matters most, I think."
John nods quick after his words, like he's confirming with himself that he means them. Bruce can't help but let out a small chuckle at that, eyes soft as he watches the man before him. God, this isn't going to be easy. It's going to be the hardest thing he'll ever do. That they'll ever do. He knows that. But it will be worth it. Seeing that lax smile on that pale, soft mouth, seeing those emerald eyes softening into liquid pools… it makes it all worth it.
"Okay, John. I accept."
With the glee of a child, John bounces up and swings his arms over Bruce's head, wrapping his arms around his shoulders. The chains hit Bruce on the back, but he doesn't notice the pain. This is the third time today they've embraced. It feels like it's not enough. He craves more, more touch, more closeness. But he'll wait. Maybe one day, when John is better. Maybe when everything is said and done.
"Oh! Thank you Brucie, I'm so happy! Ah, this will be great! I'm so excited to work with you again, Brucie baby. So that one day we can be, ah… together."
John pulls back a little and winks at him, making Bruce go inexplicably red in the face. God. John was even adorable when teasing him. Go figure.
There is a lot more that they didn't work through. There is still anger there, hiding beneath the surface. John still doesn't think he had done anything wrong, doesn't think killing is wrong. And Bruce still is hiding his emotions, hasn't truly worked through everything he's been through. However, those are things to worry about another day. For now, this is all that matters. John's happiness, Bruce's warmth… that's all that matters.
Before Bruce can say anything else, a knock sounds on the door, before Dr. Leland walks in, a small smile on her face.
"Hello boys. I hate to break things up, but visiting hours are over with. Mr. Wayne, Bruce, if you wouldn't mind following me, please?"
Bruce almost wants to protest but knows that he should leave. He feels exhausted, emotionally, and needs some time to go home and regroup. So, with a soft sigh, Bruce detangles himself from John and gets up slowly, passing it off as his knees aching. Truthfully, while he knows he should, he doesn't really want to leave. Not now that he and John have reached their agreement.
But he has to leave. He knows he does. So he finally stands and turns to go, prepared to say goodbye at the door, from a distance. But before he can get too far, a hand quickly grabs his own, forcing him to turn quickly.
He distantly hears the words "what, leaving without giving me a goodbye kiss?" before his entire world is shattered. Again.
John's lips are not like he'd have thought. They are soft, yes, but there is a roughness there that takes his breath away. Like him, Bruce thinks dazedly. Hands touch his face gently, carefully, like he's the greatest treasure imaginable. The chains hit his chest, but he doesn't care one bit. All he cares about is the man before him, and the feeling of warm lips on his.
Before he can do what he wants, which is to wrap his arms tight around John's waist, pulling him so close that no one would know where he ended and John began, John pulled away with a laugh, high pitched but so beautiful.
Standing dazed for a second, Bruce doesn't move until he feels a soft hand on his shoulder. Turning his head, he sees a partially amused, partially disapproving Dr. Leland looking at him.
"Come on, Bruce. Let's get going. You can see John again tomorrow."
Which that, she turns and leave. Shaking himself out of the daze, but unable to shake the grin, he follows her, hands in his pockets. When he reaches the door he pauses, like he had planned, and turns to face John. John is currently quiet, looking at him with hooded lids, his teeth biting his bottom lip. He looks so good like that that Bruce almost forgets what he wanted to say.
Shaking his head again, he gives John a soft smile, ignoring how the man in front of him makes him feel so warm inside.
"It was nice seeing you, John. I… I'm glad we came to an agreement. I hope, over the next few months, that we can regain our friendship. I'd like that."
John lets out a little giggle at that, moving his arms back and forth in front of him, letting the chains clink.
"Silly Bruce. We've always been friends." Bruce smiles so wide when John says that. He's about to say something in response, when John suddenly winks and smirks widely. "'Course, maybe over the next few months we can become more than friends, if you know what I mean."
With another wink, John turns away and flops down on the bed, humming a tuneless tune.
Grin wide, Bruce leaves the room, ignoring The Look that Dr. Leland gives him, too happy to care.
They walk together after that to the front of the asylum. It's hard to remember that a few short hours ago, Bruce had been entering this building, dreading the day ahead. Now, exiting, he feels his heart could burst. He had made amends with John, but even better, they had their friendship back. And had the option of, possibly, more.
It was good. He knew there would be problems, but there always was. He could handle them. They could handle them. Together, they could do anything. He's sure of that.
"Well, Bruce, I'm happy to see I was right," Dr. Leland says, a smile in her words. With a wry smile, Bruce turns to face her and shrugs.
"As am I."
"Good. I'm happy for you, Bruce. For both of you. I will tell you the rules and limitations next time we meet, but I just wanted you to know I'm proud of you both. I heard everything, and it couldn't have been easy. And know that I'm here, Bruce, if you ever need me. Alright?"
Bruce almost feels like crying, again, but he sucks it up and settles on a handshake, offering her his hand with a smile. When she takes it, he shakes it firmly, hoping it can express his gratitude. Perhaps he'd take her up on that offer, next time. Maybe he could try and work through his problems, trusting this woman to help him, as well as John. Maybe it was time to let people in again.
"I'll keep that in mind, Doctor. Thank you, for everything you've done."
With a final smile, he turns to the parking lot and gets into his car. As he turns the key, he feels a pang in his chest, knowing he is going home to an empty mansion.
But, as he drives away, he knows it will be okay. Alfred is gone, but that's okay. He misses him, will always miss him, but he will survive.
And maybe he could call Alfred. The old man had given him a phone number to call if he really needed help. Perhaps he could try and make amends, like with John. Maybe he could have his… his father back, even if only slightly.
Whatever the world sent his way next, he will figure it out. Nothing will be too big, nothing will break him down anymore. He will make things right with John, he will learn to live with Alfred's decision and maybe make amends with him… he will train Tiffany, work with Jim and Avesta. He will become the man Gotham needs.
He will become the man John needs.
He will become the man he needs.
He won't forget that.