Six months later……
Batman overlooked the city like a Dark Guardian. It was the stuff that mythology was made up of. The hollow wind whistled in the evening sky. The surroundings reflected a calm winter night but within his soul, it was as if Armageddon was taking place.
"You okay?" A familiar voice piped up. Batman turned back.
It was Catwoman, limber as ever. She leapt down from another ledge.
"How is your arm?" The Dark Knight asked her.
"It's not one hundred percent there but I can get the hang of it. I have been doing some arm exercises to keep the pain away." Catwoman replied. Truth be told, this was only small talk and it was annoying her.
"How are you feeling'?" Catwoman walked up behind him.
The Dark Knight just nodded. He did not feel. He just saw.
"You can't keep that stuff bottled up, Bruce. I saw some of it. If you want to get the healing process started, that won't help." Selina started. She grabbed a rock and tossed it over.
"Bruce", she said. She wanted the human connection, not the work one. She wanted to get to that delicate layer that he stubbornly inhibited for the sake of his ego. Now was not the time for that.
The Batman turned to her. There was no use in hiding things from her. She saw it all, she knew about the living arrangement. To her credit, she did not overreact like Dick did and she did keep her distance. It was always one of those things that he admired in her.
"Why did you lie to me?" Selina started. She wanted to get to the point. There was no use in pussyfooting around.
"I didn't lie." Bruce said in a stony manner.
"Then how long were you going to keep this secret?" Selina pressed on. She crossed her arms, looking like a stern mother. Bruce ignored her from the side.
"Until I got to the bottom of this," the Batman stated simply.
"You were not going to get to the bottom of it," Selina Kyle hissed.
"Excuse me?" Bruce replied sourly. How dare she challenge him? Who was she to question his motives?
"You were going to hide it until you could sweep it under the rug. Bruce, this is not on the same level as being thirteen years old and hiding girlie magazines." Selina shouted. She pressed her hands into her head.
"Bruce, you had a psychopath in your hands and did you think you could whisk it away?" To Selina, it was like being a Muslim teaching a Hindu about Allah in Jaipur.
"Selina, it was complicated…" Bruce stated simply.
"That's what they all say…" Selina said sourly. She caught herself being a little too rough. This was not going to be a fight. She came here because she wanted to make peace with what happened. Well, that and give Bruce a piece of her mind. She had helped him and inadvertently, she got caught up in this spider web she had no intention of joining in the first place. This was not the time to kick Bruce but she would have been lying if she said that she did not feel like clawing his eyes out.
"Where is the Joker?" Selina asked.
"He is buried beneath a funhouse." Bruce stated simply.
"The one close to Fourth and Bronson?" Selina asked.
"That is his secret. I wouldn't want you sneaking into his crypt and stealing something."
It was a cheap joke. How very cute. Truth be told, she wanted to find out about the offshore stocks that the clown had. In the wake of his death, it had been revealed that he had many a connection and that he was not a dirty, ratty psychopath but a man who thought, breathed and lived like anyone else. Rumor was that he had exquisite fashion taste and he flushed down more money down the toilet than Hugh Hefner went through girls. Except that he had a fetish for killing.
He could have been buried one of the many old parks and funhouses across the city.
"Arkham is being rebuilt and he hated that place." Bruce said finally. "He saw it as nothing more than a public urinal, not a hotel as the press liked to tell that story." Selina nodded.
She recalled the nasty encounter they had at the Batcave. Clownie had skills, she thought but that did not mean that she admired him. Bottom line was that he was still a monster.
"What about his girlfriend? What is going to happen to her?" Selina asked.
"Harley Quinn volunteered to help and in return I will be making sure that she is provided for at Arkham Asylum. My ultimate goal is to make sure she has a steady life after she has completed rehab."
"I failed, Selina." Bruce said suddenly.
"What?" Selina leaned closer to him. She could see that he was in a deep depression.
"Selina I failed and because of that, a life was lost." Bruce declared. "WHAT WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO?!?! I MISSED IT BY SECONDS!!!!!!" Bruce bellowed.
Selina nodded and stood aback. It was the most emotional that she had seen in him.
At this point, Bruce landed a punch onto the stone ledge. He created a crack. Selina kept her ground. Bruce knelt down onto his knees. If she did not know better, she would have thought that those deep breaths were poorly disguised sobs.
"I COULD HAVE SAVED HIM! I WAS SO CLOSE BUT I CHOSE TO DEAL WITH ONE OF RAS' GUARDS WHEN SOMETHING THAT HAD MORE IMPORTANCE SLIPPED AWAY!" Bruce covered his face with his hands. Deep breaths were making a haunting sound. It was repressed violence, or what Bruce really wanted to do. It sounded like a dragon breathing fire. The passion, the vulnerability, the emotion, she was witnessing a rare spectacle that only she had the privilege of seeing. She knelt down beside him.
"Bruce, wait. Just breathe…" she said solemnly.
"I could have stopped it." Bruce said bleakly.
"No, it was inevitable." Selina pressed on.
"I could have stayed…"
"No, not that. What I meant to say was that his death, any death was inevitable. We have the most sophisticated technology and the Towers were still knocked down. Bruce, you can't prevent anything like that." Selina said assuredly.
Bruce looked at her. Her answer was decidedly prophetic and at the same time, it was common sense. He just could not divorce his emotions from the whole spectacle. He wanted to repress those memories and bury them, like Joker's corpse. He could smell the filth of those thoughts. Why did she have to get involved? It would have been more painful had she not been here. But still, she was making the effort now. While everyone else was ignoring him, she was still there.
Selina was his anchor, she was his guiding light now.
"Bruce, he was never going to change. Even the most well trained animals will attack their trainers. It's been proven and documented." Selina said in a calm manner.
"You weren't there. How did you know?" Bruce shot back. She was not there when he and the Joker exchanged and intimate encounter. She was not there when they bonded. Was she speaking out of jealousy? Were she and Talia on the same plane for once? What right did she have to criticize?
"Because…it is only human nature that he would go back to who he was. He was not a kitten, Bruce. Even his colleagues hated him," Catwoman replied. Her sea green eyes bespoke tender emotion. She did not want to be blunt but she had to hammer the nail into the coffin, so to speak. He was a waste of emotions and he did not know how to express them. Bruce was never the most loquacious person so it was only natural that she had to drag out the words out of him. It did help a lot that he admitted that bit.
"Bruce, wanting to believe the clown was going to change is like wanting to believe your parents will come back every night you put on the cowl. Maybe they won't but you do make a difference. It's not the same with him." Selina said somberly. Truth be told, she wanted to tell him he was delusional but that would be like kicking someone to the ground.
"I just wish I knew that I made a difference in someone's life," Bruce started. Selina smiled in response.
"You already did." She held his hand and gripped it firmly.
He looked into her face. Her fine bone structure and genteel beauty was a contrast to her tough exterior. He ran his hand across her face. Selina may have been stubborn to a fault, but she was consistent. She was talking to him while everyone else ignored him as if he had leprosy.
"Whatever you two had, that is your business." Selina stated. That was all that she could do. That was all that she could say. She knew privacy was a sacred commandment for Bruce and she did not want to push the subject, especially now.
That was all that there needed to be. Selina knew when to back off and at the same time, she knew the right moments when to get involved. She was his guardian angel now. If she was not, Bruce would have pushed her away. From what she could understand, even Talia was keeping her distance and that was saying something.
"So you are not bothered? Selina, I kept things from you, I ignored you, and I did not take you seriously enough because of….things." Bruce said before he caught himself sounding like a school boy.
"I'd be lying if I said that this whole arrangement did not bother me, but even then, it's not that." Selina said firmly. "It's that you had to hide something like this from me and you bit off more than you could chew." Dick and Tim were not on speaking terms with him at the moment and Oracle wanted to stay away while she collected herself. Whether or not she had as much intimate knowledge of the whole mess like Selina and Dick did, Bruce did not want to know.
Bruce reflected on the extra help. He did not ask for it and yet, they showered him with it. While he was focusing on one person almost selfishly, they were helping him track down Ras and hindering his plans. They were throwing stones and monkey wrenches into his plans.
In short, they were helping him and he ignored it. It was another kick in the stomach. He was being ungrateful when they tried to help and all he could see was them meddling. Stupid, ungrateful fool. This was not the first time Bruce's own plans had backfired on him. Once, he kept tabs on the JLA and they all found out about it. This was when Ras al Ghul had sent the language scrambler in the city. While Diana, John, Wally, Kyle and Clark were trying to stop Ras al Ghul, he was spying on them as if they were the real enemy and he was the one that pushed them away. Not even Robin and Oracle were immune from his actions. Was it worth hurting his friends like this? Himself, even?
"Why?" Bruce asked. His throat was parched. Everything had been set up like a house of cards and they all came down. Had he brought it upon himself when he took on this task? Happy endings only existed in fairy tales. In a trial such as the one he had seen, there were going to be sacrifices. Still, he repeated the tape in his head, trying to find fault and displace where he had failed but he could not.
"Because we admire and love you, silly." Selina said before she kissed Bruce. "That was me making up for cutting it short the last time." He reached out to her in again and she did not resist. He needed the warmth and light and she provided it. Her beautiful green eyes were bittersweet as it reminded of what had just passed but it also reminded him of what could be.
"I did notice that he never ousted you. I don't know what to think. It says quite a bit. It says that he was willing to preserve whatever it was that you two had. That caught me by surprise, I must admit." Catwoman said mildly. Joker may have been insane but if he was by definition, he would not have been functional.
It was like a breath of fresh air when she said that.
"Then again, Ras al Ghul did something similar. There was a code of honor. Just because he did that does not undo the atrocities he committed." Selina added.
Bruce chose to ignore the last part. He knew Selina did that because she rubbed off on him. The eternal pessimism that he once personified was having an affect on other people. It was the price he paid for projecting the grim reality he held close to heart like a devout Catholic did to a rosary. But then, that kiss, those moments, those were real too. He could not describe that to Selina. It was like tasting a meal that she had never or ever will try. All this time, he had repressed those painful memories and hidden them away, like a buried secret. This was the first time he had openly talked about things since that day. He blocked out those memories. The experience of losing his parents gave him the worst case of post traumatic stress disorder that still affected him to this day. The loss of the Joker was a double edged sword. While some people drink themselves into a stupor and go into a deep psychosis to escape their pains, others turn the other way and become more neurotic.
Bruce had shut down. Talking about it now was basically revisiting old wounds. Why did Selina want him to revisit that?
He stood a better chance making peace between the Israelites and Palestine than making her see things his way.
In the process of crossing a bridge, he lost contact with the only family he knew and she was still his lifeline not out of necessity, but because she chose to. The desire had overridden the need. That was commendable. In the same vein, while making a contact with enemy, he lost a lover and that was only because she was doing the right thing: trying to survive. Wouldn't anyone who was in Talia's place done the same thing? Selina would have. Would she have stuck a knife in Joker's liver and kidney. That was not out of the question, Bruce thought. He did not want to repeat the "K" word in his mind, not even remotely. It had the mental effect of passing by a hot cauldron without any protection.
This whole thing had the complexity of a Rubik's cube. The Joker was the ultimate Riddle of the Sphinx.
"It was only natural that he return to his natural state. He was not going to be that way around you." Selina said in a maternal fashion. "He obviously held you in high regard, in his own perverse way. I could never touch that." Selina said while maintaining her own pride. The very thought of being in the same plane as the clown made her skin crawl but she could not disqualify the history the two of them had, add to the fact that they had a living arrangement she did not agree with, it was like describing music to a deaf person. At the same time, she did not want to know. It was dangerous territory because it involved Bruce's private space. She herself had been privy to many an intimate moment and she would be lying if this blow did not affect her. Ultimately, she was proven right: the leopard did not change its stripes and even if a disease or she didn't end his lifeline, someone else did.
Even if none of this had happened, Bruce would have still been affected by the clown's demise whether or not Talia killed him.
"I heard there is a bust near Mason and Westwood, you wanna join me?" Selina replied. "Of course, if you want to-" He shushed her. If anything, it was work that got his mind of out any wreck and the last thing he wanted to do was to sulk and home also, she was offering solace and peace like God to Adam in the fresco by Michelangelo. Batman pulled out his grapple and shot it into the night sky. Catwoman followed him.
Clickety clack replied the rain.
The rain did little to deter the restlessness in his heart. The trickles that usually brought forth a pang of sleep and invited one to the covers only made him even more restless tonight. They were as loud as drums. On the outside, it was the noisy rain that which prevented him from sleeping but it was really his psychosomatic reactions that kept him awake.
He rewound the images in his head over and over again.
It was like a repetition of his parents dying. At best it was displacement and at worst, it was a small case of denial. Bruce had not taken the time to fully envelop his mind around the events. He distracted himself by stopping crime wherever it cropped. Like weeds, they would appear and what was once something he considered a bit of a nuisance, it was a mental exercise that kept him from drowning his sorrows into something far worst. Some people used alcohol to get rid of the pain that plagued their mental processes. Others turned to drugs or a warm body for the night.
For Bruce, it was crime fighting. It had become a substitute for what raged in his heart. To him, feelings were powerful but disposable. This was not the first time he encountered heartbreak. When he lost his parents as a child, it only prepared him for the mountains and valleys that are part of life. This recent turn of events reminded him of that mess. Yes, he was invested emotionally, and yes, he wanted some good and change out of this. Yes, he wanted to think that he had it under control but once again, this whole thing reminded him as to why he stayed away from committed relationships and why he chose not to obsess over it after it was all said and done. He figured that Ras was involved. Why else would Talia be there? Why couldn't the two things be separate? Why did one have to cross over into the other? Not until tonight, did the question breach Bruce's mind. It was like putting fire under someone's seat and it reminded him why he chose to ignore emotions and sentiments and go with cold logic. At least it was always linear. Feelings, not so much. Feelings were unpredictable, they were fluid. They could not take shape. You could not control them. It was not uncommon for survivors of Holocaust camps to shut down after seeing the atrocities they witnessed. This was no different.
The thing with the Joker began as an unsteady alliance. It involved into something more…personal. It turned into a friendly rivalry, a brotherhood and finally, something intimate that no one else could understand except for the two people involved.
Sure, people could understand what love was. It was when you connected to someone else. It was when you showed concern for their goals and ideals.
Love was when you were not selfish and that you cared for another. But that was a long time ago, seconds turned into minutes which became hours that dissolved into days, weeks and finally, months. It was something that faded, like a feather in the wind. It was like tasting a crepe' in Paris in the springtime. It was beautiful but not forgotten.
Bruce was not selfish. He tried to convince himself that he was only concerned with the Joker's welfare but that stopped when the Joker presented him with the ultimate human act of personal connection, a kiss.
He could still feel the clown's skin pressed against his own. He could still feel that passion radiate through his lips and that soft velvety touch of his hand. He remembers that moment being suspended between work and more work. It made him forget about his complex life. It made him untangle the web in his mind and for once, he could feel like he could breathe again. For a little while it felt as if all the problems were solved by Joker's hand. It was wishful thinking, sure but it was no different than having your face touch by a breeze of wind in a hot, humid climate.
Then again, this was the Joker, not a house pet. Change was a constant. It did not stop. Was it naïve to think that he would change? He demonstrated that when he attacked Selina and almost killed Talia. He was not above hurting Dick either.
Was the connection with the Joker staged? He never made a promise to not kill and yet, he made damn sure to hurt people that were close to him. It was as if none of what happened between them had ever occurred. It was as if the clown had never changed.
Was thinking that the Joker could reform being delusional in it of himself? The Joker was no innocent kitten but that did not mean he deserved the treatment he got especially over something he was not guilty of. He remembered the time when he was accused of circulating the poisoned stamps from "The Great Comedians" series. He was the usual suspect and deserved everything he had coming to him but that was not justice, that was retribution. That was exploitation and that was selfish even if it meant one less worry to think about. That was not done out of love but for concern. His first love was Lady Justice and she was an ungrateful bitch.
It had become so complicated and all he wanted to do was to save the Joker and figure out the whole mess. Fact collided with feeling and emotion overtook caution. Joker helped him undo that and at the same time, he was as dangerous as a rattlesnake.
He also felt like he could breathe again.
He suddenly yearned for the Joker's voice in his ear. He remembered the soft purr. He recalled the throaty approval cooing in his ear and begging him to unwind. He remembered letting his muscles contract and relax under the Joker's spell.
On one hand, the Joker's change in attitude was like the long awaited break that he needed and craved. It was a sign that it was going to get better and that he had a small victory.
It was moments like that which reminded him why he continued to do what he did, to sacrifice what he did night after night. It was moments like that that reminded him why it was all worth it, why he did what he did in spite of the odds. It may not have been the cure to cancer nor did it stop world hunger but one bit, one chance at a positive and making a small difference, which was like manna to him.
Bruce washed his face, hoping that the cold water would snap his mindset from the annoying thought processes. It was a tape he could not help but to rewind time and time again. This is why he hated sleep and preferred to distract himself with midnight patrols. At least then he could have something to focus on. When he was by himself, and in his most sacred and private quarters, that was when the monsters would come up and wrestle with his psyche. Like harpies, the screeched for acknowledgement. They were like a computer virus that would encrypt themselves no matter how many times he applied a panacea for them. That was why romance had no place in his heart but being human can do that. He let himself slip up.
On one hand, perhaps his lack of enthusiasm for the Joker, well, compared to him, was a successful mechanism because deep down inside, he knew that the Joker could not change. Just because a snake is relaxing on a branch does not undo the fact that it was a predator. You can train an animal to do all these tricks but that doesn't change the fact that they were still wild beasts. If that was indeed true, that ultimately, Joker had not changed, why did it affect him still? He hurt Selina, he was about to kill Talia and of course, he made it so that Harley Quinn was clinically dead at Arkham's doorstep. A clown is still a clown even if he takes off his clothes. To the Joker, they were disposable. Only he mattered. They were mere stepping stones to what he considered his most personal prize. They were mere objects to him. Only he and the Batman counted. He did not hurt Bruce directly but harming those he cared about were a sin unto their own. At worst, Joker's stay over only delayed his natural urges. Was it naïve to think he would stop if he stayed in Batcave? He made no qualms about Dick, Tim or Barbara. His only investment was in him and him alone.
Did the Joker change or did he want Bruce to think that he changed?
Joker may have been guilty of harming people he cared about but that did not undo that fact that he helped Bruce learn some things about himself. Even if he was a psychopath who by clinical definition was immune to remorse and feeling, he helped make an emotional connection with Bruce and he died trying to prove that to Talia.
Bruce shut his eyes. The harlequin in his mind was laying his sins bare. He was calling him a failure and this hurt more than receiving a deep gash from one of his razor cards.
He failed. Those words stung. It said that he was useless and no good. This was not failing a paper on biology. A life was lost and while Gotham was celebrating, Bruce could not bring himself. If they only knew what Hell that was.
"I'm sorry, Joker…"
"Get up," That was what the clown would say. "I can't stand seeing you like this. That's not the Dark Knight I know…" Bruce could still hear the clown's voice in his head.
Everyone was locked up and the responsible parties were under investigation. Talia Head was in some minor federal trouble but like a snake, she could squirm her way out of it and even then, it was not that which caused trouble in his spirits. There was an air of unresolved issues and Joker's presence in his heart was a promising end to that.
"I failed you, Joker," Bruce stated simply. It felt like a half confession. His mind was convoluted.
"Bats, it's only YOU that had any significance. They all don't count. They are nothing but mere hour d'ourves, them and all of Gotham. I have stated it time and time again, only you and I count."
Joker was true to his word. Bruce did not want to admit it because it meant questioning his own code and that meant defeat.
"You can take the clown out of Arkham but you cannot take the Arkham out of the clown." Joker stated simply.
Truer words were never spoken but Bruce could still not wrap his mind around it.
"How could such a beautiful creature like yourself do such awful things?" Bruce thought.
Joker going back to his old ways was like a lion reacting to a natural act. Joker was Joker, not a housecat to be trained. Perhaps what shook Bruce was that ultimately, Joker was no different than Selina or Talia, the latter was just as guilty as her father in regards to megalomania and yet, there was still a nugget that cared for her. That did not undo the atrocities that she was guilty of but his feelings for her were as real as the droplets running down the window sill. Selina also had her own moral code but that did not mean that their liaisons were nonexistent. On the contrary, he thought very highly of Catwoman.
A tiger was a beautiful animal, even if it was a hunter. They also made wonderful parents and nurtured their cubs. Joker nurtured that emotional bond. What he had done before had taken a backseat. That was not important when they exchanged intimacy.
Bruce eyes shifted to a vase. It was full of flowers in a healthy bloom. There was a rose in the middle. The petals were connected but shifted in slight positions. Batman's relationship with the Joker was complex like the rose. Each petal represented a metamorphosis and stage in their bond.
Love was something that only two people could share. This was not something that Selina, Dick, Tim or Talia could breach or understand. To him, Bruce was his and his alone. It was only between them that could understand the complexities and subtleties of their symbiosis.
A petal fell off. It had begun to wilt and although it will shrivel up and die, its beauty will not have been forgotten.
ETA: I wrote this after some consideration. I have been told by people that they did not like the ending for various reasons, one of them being that because I did not focus on Bruce angsting. After rereading the last part, I decided to make some changes. I personally thought I wrote adequate emotion in January when I wrote the last piece. The last thing I wanted to do was write Bruce was an emotional wreck cutting himself. That doesn't work that way as I will explain further down. Additionally, I wrote a 'what if' scenario called Elseworld: One Last Chance. I chose this ending because it seemed the most natural, fitting and logical one. I chose it in 2007 and I would have gotten to it sooner but I had real life issues to deal with that slowed me down. I would also like to take the opportunity to explain and call out some readers at a livejournal comm that complained that I didnt end the story to their liking. There is a reason for that. It's called characterization and character development. If someone attacks Talia, you are not gonna get away alive. I chose this ending because it made the most sense.
I want to take the time to point out that I wrote a 'What if' scenario. It's not a sequel but think of it as an extra Easter egg in a DVD. What if Joker had lived? I originally was going to leave OMC alone after last year but I decided to write Elseworld as a challenge. I prefer to think of OMC as having an ambiguous ending. If this one wasn't to your liking, I would hope that I made the effort in Elseworlds: One Last Chance.
I decided to cut the last two chapters in half for two reasons, number one being that they expressed two themes and so I had to cut it down and secondly, I wanted to reach the magic number 50. I added some extra sauce.
End note: I had a reader tell me that they thought I did not capture Bruce's inner turmoil after the events in the last chapter, One Last Chance. They thought I did not go deep into it. There is a reason for that. Bruce never came across as someone who would wallow in their misery and emo out. At best, he subjugates that pain while he does something else to distract him. He has demonstrated this lot of times such as "Avatar" in Batman the animated series, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, Batman Returns, Hush and a whole host of other appearances in various media. I'm sorry, but I could not write twenty pages of angst because I felt I said enough. To me, it would be out of character if he did cry and hide and stop being the Dark Knight. This is not the first time he has experienced tragedy and backstabbing. I needed Selina to give him some motivation, at least some because she at least demonstrates that one kindle of hope to him which is why I did not focus on the emotional turmoil that I guess some people wanted to see. I have given enough of that in the whole of the fic. I did not want to saturate it with that in the end. I hope this answered some of your questions or at least satisfies that hunger. Peace and adieu, WR. Thank you for reading. This is the OFFICIAL end to OMC. I was originally going to make it a semi sequel but then I changed my mind. Thank you for reading. This journey started on November 11, 2006 and ended on March 1, 2010. Thank you all for hanging in there. I hope this helps.