A/N: Oh, my goodness, it's been ages. I'm so sorry-but the good news is, I finally finished this story! Yes! THIS IS THE LAST CHAPTER! Which I'm kind of sad about, but... well, you know. Sooo... if anyone's still out there, here it is, and I hope it's okay. I really appreciate everyone who's read and waited and alerted and reviewed, and I thank you all so much.
The Gotham sky had just begun to take on the pinkish-orange hues of dawn, and Bruce Wayne woke up alone. He lay there, listening; there were no sounds coming from the bathroom. He sat up and looked around. Jack wasn't standing naked at the window the way he sometimes liked to do, nor was he dozing in the easy chair in the corner. A sense of foreboding went through Bruce, and he hastily slid out of bed and pulled on his clothes.
"Jack?" he called as he headed out of the bedroom, but he got no answer.
He went downstairs to the kitchen and found Alfred putting on coffee. The butler turned and greeted him cheerfully.
"Good morning, Master Wayne. You're up early. Coffee will be ready in a few-"
"Have you seen Jack?"
Alfred paused, then shook his head; he could hear the thread of worry in Bruce's voice. "No, sir."
Bruce spun on his heel and went to do a quick run-through of the penthouse, calling Jack's name all the while. His heart was pounding by the time he gave in and admitted to himself the obvious fact-Jack was gone.
He headed to the elevator and took it down to the bat cave. To his immense relief, he found Jack there, going through Bruce's tool chest. For a moment, Bruce just stood quietly, catching his breath. Then he asked, "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
Jack didn't look up. "Got to find something to take this damn jewelry off my leg."
Bruce walked up to him and made a show of looking in the tool chest with him. "I don't think you'll find anything satisfactory in there."
"Oh, yeah?" Now, Jack looked up. "Well, I bet Batsy has some fancy gadget in his utility belt that would do it. Some laser thingie? How about it, sport? Save me a little time, huh?" Jack's eyes were twinkling mischievously, and Bruce shook his head.
"Jack, if you remove the monitor, the police will swoop in here and they'll cart you off to Arkham so fast your head will spin."
"No, no, no. You see, I have an exit strategy." Jack gestured behind him at the Tumbler. "I'm going to take your tricked-out roadster and blast off. By the time they figure it all out, I'll be long gone." He smiled wickedly.
Bruce felt his heart sink. Was this the Joker talking? Or Jack? "You got your memory back," he said softly.
The grin faded to a small smile, and Jack nodded. "Yeah. Last night. It all... came flooding back, as they say." The smile disappeared entirely and he held Bruce's gaze with a burning stare. "I remember everything. All of it. Wendy, my kid. The scars." He moved closer to Bruce. "The... Joker."
"You're not him." Bruce spoke firmly, the look in his eye matching Jack's.
"You're not, not anymore." Bruce broke their gaze and put a hand on his shoulder. "You're Jack Ramsey, and you're going to be all right. You just have to trust me, trust the doctors-"
Jack moved his head to look at Bruce's hand as if it were an interesting sort of insect, then turned his eyes back to Bruce. "It's not that simple, big guy."
"Yes, it is." Bruce felt a surge of panic well up in his throat, but he forced himself to speak calmly. "This is a turning point. What happens next is up to you." Bruce's spoke evenly, but the gritty rasp began to seep through. "All you have to remember is this-you're Jack Ramsey, and you're suffering the effects of head trauma, mental illness, and PTSD. You're Jack Ramsey, and you've got a second chance to live. You're Jack Ramsey, and I love you." Bruce let his hand drop, and he gave up hiding the pain in his voice. "Please, Jack. Don't go. Stay with me." They both knew he was referring to more than just Jack's physical being.
Jack held his gaze, and Bruce saw a flash of something-he'd seen it before, when the Joker laughed-but it was gone as quickly as it had come and the muscles of Jack's face relaxed and softened into a real smile, and Bruce had seen that too, long ago, waking up next to his seventeen-year-old lover in his bed at Wayne Manor.
"Then, come with me," Jack said softly. "Let's hit the road, start over. Go someplace where they'll never find us."
"No. You're running because knowing what you did as the Joker is tearing you up inside, and-"
"No. I'm running because it doesn't." The fiery glare was back, and a grim sneer crossed his face. "I don't give a damn about what I did. This town deserved it, in spades. But, yeah-there's you. And, I don't want to hurt you anymore." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "And, I will. I will if I stay here." He opened his eyes, and now he looked like Jack again. "So, I'm leaving. You can come if you want, I'd like that. Or, you can try to keep me here, if you think you can. But, I'll get out eventually. I always do..." He went back to digging in the tool chest, and Bruce stood watching, feeling the echoes of his heartbreak bouncing through his chest.
"Stop." He turned and went to the wall, and punched in a code. A panel slid aside, and Batman's crime-fighting instruments were revealed. Bruce took out something that looked like a laser pointer and went back to Jack. He looked him in the eye. "Where will you go?"
Jack shook his head. "I don't know. Someplace sunny. I'm tired of the cold." He cocked his head to the side and grinned. "Maybe California. Maybe I'll get an ice cream truck and sell popsicles to the kiddies on the beach in Malibu. Maybe someday you'll join me and we can go surfing together, huh? I hear the waves are, uh, gnarly..." He licked his lips and gave Bruce a teasing wink. Bruce shook his head.
"Just stay here. Please. I can't lose you again. I can't-"
Jack took Bruce's face in his hands. "You'll be all right. And, you're not losing me. I'll keep in touch. You know me, I turn up like a bad penny."
"They'll catch you. They'll catch you, and lock you up-"
"No, no. That's not going to happen." Jack leaned forward and kissed Bruce, long and slow. "We'll be together again. Who knows when or where, but what difference does it make? You and me-we're two parts of a whole. We'll always be together. In here." Jack tapped his temple and smiled. "So-you gonna let me go, or do I have to fight you?"
Bruce shook his head. "No, no fighting. But, wait." He went to another part of the cave and pushed another set of buttons. He returned with bundles of cash and a set of car keys. "Here's twenty-thousand dollars, that should get you to wherever you intend to go. And, these are keys to the Lexus-slightly less conspicuous than the Tumbler." He sighed as he offered them.
Jack took the money and the keys. "What'll you tell the cops?"
"I'll come up with something. Come on, let's go to the garage."
Jack picked up a bag he'd packed and put the money in it, then followed Bruce to the car. He unlocked it, and just before he got in, Bruce knelt and used his laser tool to cut through the ankle bracelet on Jack's leg. It fell off, and Bruce wiped the tool clean of prints, then tossed it on the floor beside the monitor.
Jack nodded his thanks, then threw his arms around Bruce's neck and hugged him. "Well, so long, old buddy. Thanks for looking after me. I'll pay back the dough."
"That's not necessary."
"Oh, I will. And, as for the other stuff-killing, blowing things up and so forth-I won't screw you over, you know that, right?"
Bruce grinned. "I suppose I do. You've always been a man of your word, after all."
"Yeah." They stared at each other for a long moment, then Jack said, "I'll see you again, Bruce. And..." He swallowed. "I love you. Know that, too, okay?"
"I know." And, he did know. He knew it was Jack's love for him that was making Jack do this, making him go somewhere where he could get away from his memories, from Gotham, from the Joker. Bruce didn't know how he would stand it, but there was no choice. He couldn't leave his city, and he couldn't make Jack stay, no matter how many locks he might put between him and the outside world.
He'd just end up locking Jack away from himself.
Bruce hugged his lover one last time, then stood by as he got behind the wheel and revved up the engine. Bruce punched a button which opened the garage door, and Jack backed out the vehicle. Bruce watched him stop at the street, turn and wave, one eyebrow raised in a sardonic smirk. Bruce raised his hand and waved back.
He stood there until Jack Ramsey rounded a corner and drove out of his life.
He then closed the garage door and went upstairs to prepare for a visit from the police.
Three years later...
"Mail, sir." Alfred handed a stack of envelopes to Bruce and he took it with a yawn. He'd had a rough night dealing with a certain female in a cat suit, and he was yet again considering giving up his Batman persona once and for all, but a familiar scrawl distracted him. He smiled.
Alfred smiled, as well. "Another letter?"
Bruce nodded. The missives didn't come often, but when they did, they were fat packets, full of news, drawings, and photographs from Jack's life. Bruce tore open the envelope and pulled out the contents. "Yes, and a picture, as well." He stared at it for a while, taking in all the details.
It was Jack, on a desert somewhere in Tunisia. Wind was blowing his long wavy blond hair around his face, but it didn't obscure his smart-ass grin, so familiar to Bruce, or the triumphant glint in his brown eyes. He was wearing a white shirt, tan pants tucked into tall boots, with one foot up on a stack of long boxes. He had a high-powered rifle in one hand, and the other was on his hip, and several dark-haired men, all heavily armed, were gathered around him, smiling and laughing, and behind them was a battered military vehicle. Bruce turned the photo over to read the caption:
"Keeping the resistance well-supplied. My version of an ice-cream truck."
Bruce chuckled and settled down to read the letter.
"I'm doing all right, Brucey-boy. Had a couple of close calls in Algeria, but I'm happy to report my leg's just about healed, and things are looking up! In other news..."
Jack went on to relate a number of skirmishes he'd been peripherally involved in during the course of his gun-running operation, and he ended with a poignant story in which he and his men managed to get a wounded child to safety and medical attention without getting arrested.
"Just trying to get the babies fed, now; I'm expecting a big shipment of dried milk and formula this afternoon, that ought to do it.
"I miss you, big guy. Give Jeeves a kiss for me, will you? Then give one to yourself. If I was there, I'd give you a hand-job like you wouldn't believe.
Bruce put the letter down and shook his head in amazement.
"And, how is Master Jack these days, sir?" Alfred asked.
"He's fine. He appears to be using his powers for good, for a change." Bruce gave Alfred a rundown on Jack's letter. He didn't add that he'd heard from a business contact about the elusive "ghost" troubling the Tunisian government, thought to be responsible for the deaths of certain high-level security officials; inexplicably, and in spite of armed guards at their doors, they'd been found with their throats slashed following their calls for military action against civilian demonstrators.
Leave it to Jack to go for a low-tech approach.
Alfred watched Bruce's face. "Do you think you'll ever see him again, sir?"
Bruce thought back to the events of the last three years; the story he'd created to explain Jack's disappearance (I don't remember anything, Jim-he must have drugged me); the first letter from Jack, saying he'd made it out of the country into Mexico; the cryptic phone calls he'd received every so often over the next few months, letting him know Jack was safe and on the move; then, more letters, each from a different city in Europe, then Africa.
The last two letters had been routed through some dubious business address in the Carolinas.
Bruce grinned. Whatever Jack was doing, he seemed to be enjoying himself. Bruce checked the envelope one more time, and sure enough, he'd overlooked one more slip of paper-a check, signed "Joseph Kerr," one of Jack's many aliases. It was the final installment on the money he'd given Jack to facilitate his escape from Gotham, and Bruce put it with the others. He'd never cashed any of them, and he didn't intend to. He liked the idea that Jack had something from him to fall back on, in case he ever needed it.
Bruce would reply later, after he'd had a chance at a decent night's sleep. This vigilante business was getting old. Just like me, he thought. He wondered how long he could go on, then stood up and went upstairs to bed.
Two more years pass...
Bruce woke up with Jack nestled warm and snug against his chest. For a moment, he felt as if he were moving through a dream-the room was different from his familiar bedroom's surroundings; even the streaming in of sun rays had an alien feel to it. The only thing that felt normal was Jack's scarred cheek against his own, and that-that wasn't possible. Bruce arched, stretching his stiff muscles, and he forced himself to come to full consciousness, then he looked down at the tangle of blond hair and smiled.
Oh, yeah. He was in Jack's bed.
"Why the hell did you pick this place?" Bruce had yelled over the roar of jet engines as he and Jack ran for the airplane out of Algiers.
"It's the only half-ways civilized place I could find that didn't have an extradition treaty with the U.S.!" Jack had responded cheerfully.
Now, here they were, waking up in the partially-remodeled mountainside castle that Jack had picked up for a song only a few months ago.
He'd contacted Bruce and told him he was planning to settle down.
He'd invited Bruce to join him.
For Bruce, the invitation had come at just the right time. Certain things had happened; Batman was a wanted man in Gotham City. He could no longer move through the city with impunity. And, if he were to be honest with himself, he no longer had the passion for it. There were others, now, and he was older. His timing was off, sometimes; he risked making mistakes.
Wayne Enterprises was thriving more than ever. It didn't need much from him, other than an occasional signature, phone calls, and a teleconferences now and then.
Rachel and Harvey had married and moved out of the city to raise a family; it was nice to visit them once in a while, but Bruce never felt as if he belonged in their lives anymore.
The few almost-romances Bruce had dabbled in had all turned out to be boring at best, near-disastrous at worst, and he'd always ended up wishing he could lie down next to Jack again.
Then, the letter came, and for the first time, Bruce had asked himself-why not? What, really, is keeping you here?
Alfred was getting on. He had visited England a few times and had mentioned his sister was in ill-health and that he would like to spend some extended time with her while he still could, but Bruce knew he wouldn't leave him on his own for very long. So, when Jack wheedled Bruce into a visit with him in Algiers, he'd told Alfred he would be closing up the house and leaving the country for an extended vacation. He'd noticed the relief in Alfred's eyes when he'd answered, "Very good, sir. Well, if you won't be needing me, then, I'll just make a trip home to see my sister for the duration."
Bruce had smiled. "That's a good idea, Alfred. I'll let you know when I'm ready to come back."
That had been weeks ago.
Jack roused himself and looked into Bruce's eyes. "Morning, champ. That was one hell of a good fuck we had ourselves last night, huh?"
"Yes, it was." Bruce grinned. "The first of many, as far as I'm concerned."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "Sooo... now, that you've seen the place-does that mean you've decided to stay with me a while?"
Bruce nodded. "I was thinking... Forever, Jack. If you're okay with that."
Jack chuckled. "I think I am, Bruce. I think I am."
Thank you for reading! Reviews are greatly appreciated!
P.S. from the author: FYI, I have another account with a few Batman/Joker stories which has been around a while. If you're interested, search under authors for "Seditionary." Yeah, I don't remember why I started another account, but it made sense at the time, lol.