And when you give me your clothes
and when we're lovers at last
fresh air perfuming your nose
there will be teeth in the grass
there will be teeth in the grass
there will be teeth in the grass
—“Teeth in the Grass”, Iron & Wine
There’s a man running towards him. Overweight, balding. Shirt plastered to his body with the rain, dripping pink with watery blood. He’s probably never run as fast in his life as he is running right now. Batman sights down on the man’s chest.
“I need an hour,” he says into his radio, waiting for the man to get closer. His voice is muffled from the respirator over his mouth, but he’s not willing to take it off at the moment.
“I can’t promise anything.” Gordon sounds tight, stressed. Batman can’t blame him.
“We can’t just leave them in there. I can’t.” The man is only fifteen feet away now, feet splashing on the wet pavement, but Batman waits and tries to ignore the fact that his hands are not steady. The point of the gun is swaying. If he’s very, very lucky, he’ll hit the man dead in the chest and sever the spinal column. If he’s not, he’ll waste a bullet in the man’s chest and have little time to shoot again before the man is on him. He’d aim for the head but the head is an awfully small target for an inexperienced shooter, and that’s the thing. Batman has never been a big fan of guns.
“I know. I’ll try. Go as fast as you can. Good luck.” Gordon signs off without waiting for Batman’s reply.
Batman squeezes the trigger and the man stumbles. It’s not a spinal column hit because he doesn’t drop, but it must have impacted with enough force to slow his stride. Batman squeezes the trigger again and this time the man goes down, crashing to the ground and sliding. Batman scrambles backward, avoiding the man’s flailing arms, and sends the last bullet into the man’s skull. The man goes still.
Three bullets to drop one zombie. This isn’t good.
He’s inside the gate at Arkham Asylum, at the end of the long driveway. Water is running down the driveway towards him and flooding into the streets. The top of the building is wreathed in fog. The gates are closed and locked. The guards are all gone, evacuating with the rest of the city. The streets are crammed with people heading out of the city in any way they can. Many of them have abandoned their cars in the streets and are running, dragging children and luggage. There are gunshots out there. There is screaming.
And there is rain. Oh, how there is rain.
Batman peels his soaked cape from the backs of his thighs and starts up the hill. The Tumbler is parked on the other side of the gate. He had had to leave it there or else force his way through the gates, and he would rather not breach the gates just yet. There will be more of the infected in the asylum, if that guard is any clue, but he would rather not have an open gate at his back.
He’s halfway up the hill when his radio crackles again. “I’ve got you one hour,” Gordon says. “Then they’re blowing the bridges. It doesn’t matter who’s in Gotham by then. I can’t convince them otherwise.”
“I’ll be out there,” Batman says firmly.
“Do what you have to do.”
Batman reaches the front doors.
The first sign of the infection happens among the homeless, and the authorities are never really sure where it comes from. They probably won’t ever know. It spreads so quickly that the city is lost in two days.
All it takes is exposure to infected fluids like blood or saliva. Any contact with open wounds or with sensitive tissues like the eyes or mouth and you’re gone. Conversion happens within minutes, and then you’re out to infect as many people as you possibly can. Biting, scratching, spitting, vomiting. You feel no pain. You have no conscious thought. Zombie’s a misnomer, really, since you’re not dead, but everyone’s seen the movies and everyone knows what this is.
Bruce isn’t out as Batman that first night, which is a mixed blessing. He hates the idea that he wasn’t there to help—he entertains the notion that he could have done something to change the way it started—but on the other hand he probably would have been infected before he knew what was going on. He goes out the second night, after making Alfred evacuate on the family jet. Alfred doesn’t want to leave without him and Bruce finally has to resort to sedatives to get the man on the plane, but he feels a lot better when the plane gets off the runway and into the air.
So the second night he’s prepared. He manages to get his hands on some guns and ammunition, although he hates it more than anything else. He’s practiced at the shooting range before because it’s a skill he knows he should have, but firing a gun at real live people is something that he has never in his life wanted to do, except for that one time with Joe Chill that he doesn’t like to think about anymore. It makes something break inside him the first time he pulls the trigger at something other than a paper target.
It gets easier after that.
The front doors of the asylum are hanging wide open. The frame is splintered, as if someone battered their way out. Batman pauses in the doorway, dripping with the rain. It’s dark inside.
He was expecting darkness, and he came prepared. The night vision goggles give everything a greenish glow. They serve the added bonus of protecting his eyes from splattered fluids, just as the respirator is protecting his mouth. The entrance is empty of people. Wire mesh gates cover all exits from the room, although one of them is hanging open. It seems that the electricity is out.
There has been no time for a proper evacuation of Gotham. As of last night, it has been every man for himself, and that means that the inmates of Arkham Asylum aren’t going to be escorted out of here. The main argument Batman had heard in favor of this idea was that the inmates will be safer locked in cages, and once the authorities are able to regroup and take back Gotham, they can return for the inmates as well. It is a weak excuse, but one that panicking officials were willing to accept if it meant they’d be able to get out of Gotham early.
If Batman hadn’t seen the infected claw through a police barrier as if it were made of paper, he might have gone with this plan, but he knows that no amount of bars and wire mesh is going to keep these inmates safe, and he can’t leave them here to die. They’re people, and they’re mentally ill. If anyone needs help on this island, it’s them.
The inmates are held in two wings, male and female. Each wing has two wards, for moderate and maximum security. He heads for the female ward first, turning right at the end of the main hall.
The gate to the female wing is locked, which is a good sign. It might mean that no infected have gotten in this side yet. He cuts through the lock with wire cutters and pushes the door open. It screeches on its hinges.
The sound echoes like a scream down the corridor and he freezes where he is, listening. Somewhere down the hall ahead of him, there’s a clatter, then silence. He glances behind himself and steps through the door, then eases it shut behind himself. It lets out a groan.
At least he’ll know if he’s being followed.
He checks the ammunition in his gun and waits a moment longer, knowing he doesn’t really have a lot of time to waste. The minutes are ticking away. He’s already wasted four minutes just coming this far. Fifty-six minutes before the bridges blow.
Taking a deep breath, he starts forward down the hall again, his steps silent. He keeps his head moving, scanning the hall back and forth for any sign of movement. The respirator makes his breathing loud, but he’d rather be wearing it than not if he comes face to face with a projectile-vomiting infected.
Twenty feet down the hall, it forks again. Both forks are blocked with mesh gates, and the gates are shut. To the left is maximum security. To the right is moderate.
Batman sets his wire cutters to the lock on the right-hand door. The second the cutters snap through the lock, a door slams open at the end of the hall. Batman drops the wire cutters and grabs for his gun, nearly fumbling it.
A woman in Arkham red comes sprinting down the hallway towards him. Her eyes are as wide as they can go and there is blood dribbling down her chin. She lets out some sort of screeching noise and, down the left fork, something else answers her.
Batman aims the gun but he can’t pull the trigger. The wire mesh is too small for a bullet to pass through, and the ricochet could send it anywhere.
The woman hits the door without stopping, her head cracking into the door painfully. She vomits at him, blood splattering the door, before stumbling backwards. The door bounces open.
Most of the blood doesn’t make it through the mesh, although a fine mist clings to Batman’s skin and he spares a second to send a prayer of thanks to the goggles and respirator. Then he takes two giant steps back and aims through the door as the infected woman regains her balance. The bullet hits her in the collarbone. The second hits her in the face. She’s down.
There is already another woman at the other gate, spitting and screaming. Batman jolts backwards in surprise. He had been so focused on shooting the one woman that he hadn’t even noticed the other. He swings around to aim at her but then lets his gun arm drop. He’s not opening that door, and she probably won’t be able to get through it on her own. He’ll be back for her.
He steps over the corpse on the floor and draws a mental map of the asylum in his head. Arkham is not a giant place, and there are only twenty inmates in each ward, for a total of eighty in the entire asylum. They’re stored two to a room in the moderate security ward, so the cells only take up one hallway.
Three of the doors are open and the cells are empty. Batman moves slowly down the hall, peering into each cell. When he reaches the next, someone slams into the door, fingers pushing through the mesh. She’s infected, and her cellmate is dead on the ground. There is blood all over the outside of the door, as if an infected person stood at the door and vomited blood into the cell.
Batman looks back down the hall the way he came, then up towards the part he has yet to explore. He checks his ammunition again and takes a breath through the respirator.
“Hello?” he calls.
The response is immediate. Infected start screeching in four of the other cells. He moves down the hall and glances into one of the remaining two cells. A woman hangs by her neck from a homemade noose. Batman can’t blame her.
In the last cell, a woman is huddled on her cot, hugging her knees. A corpse lies on the floor in front of her, a sheet wrapped around its head, and the woman has blood on her hands.
“Hello?” Batman says again.
She raises her head. Tears are staining her cheeks.
“Are you real?” she says.
“I’m going to get you out of here,” Batman says. “Was your cellmate infected?”
The woman nods jerkily.
“When did that happen?”
The woman takes in a shaky breath. “They got her through the mesh two hours ago. I had to—I had to strangle—” She starts to cry.
Batman glances at the two names on the door. “Are you Janet or Sherry?” he asks.
He thinks back to the list of inmate names that he had memorized. The name is familiar. Sherry drowned three of her children in the bathtub in a fit of postpartum depression. She’s not a threat to him, he doesn’t think. And she’s had more than enough time to turn if she’s going to. It looks like she managed to escape infection.
He unlocks the door and opens it. “We’re getting out of here. You can come with me, or you can try to get out on your own. I warn you, I’m going to be searching the whole rest of the asylum.”
Sherry looks around and gets up. “I’ll come with you,” she says in a tiny voice.
They make it through the rest of the moderate security wing and into the maximum security. It seems to have suffered the same casualty rate. They find one other survivor, a woman named Rebecca who is a paranoid schizophrenic. She is muttering to herself and doesn’t seem to notice their presence, but they manage to convince her to come with them.
Batman has to kill six more infected as they travel. His hand doesn’t shake as much when he holds the gun now, but he still misses more often than he hits. He’s gone through half of his ammunition already.
They head back out to the original fork in the hallway, where the women’s wing meets the men’s wing.
“You can wait here if you want,” Batman says. There is a guard station here that is empty, the door hanging open. “I’ll come back out this way. Lock the door and don’t make any noise. If I’m not back in…” He glances at his watch and blanches. “…Ten minutes, get out of here on your own and head for the bridges. They’re blowing the bridges in twenty minutes.”
Sherry nods mutely. She and Rebecca edge into the guard station and shut the door. Batman hears it lock behind them. He leaves them.
He reloads his gun as he strides towards the men’s wing. His cape is not dripping with water anymore. The view out the windows is unrelenting gray. He holds the gun in a two-handed grip and approaches the fork where the moderate and maximum security men’s wards separate.
He goes straight for the door to the moderate wing, popping the lock and shoving the door open without waiting. Someone comes running for him and he keeps walking forward. He empties two bullets into the oncoming infected inmate, hesitating only long enough to ascertain that the inmate is dead before continuing.
“Hello?” he shouts, aiming down the hall. Screams answer him. A cell door crashes open and someone comes shrieking out. He puts two bullets in him and starts forward.
“Batman!” someone shouts. Batman whirls around. A face is peering from a doorway. He recognizes Jonathan Crane clutching at the door of his cell.
Batman approaches cautiously. Crane’s eyes are wide and he’s shaking, but whether it’s because of the infected or because of Batman is unclear. “Thank God,” he says.
Batman peers past him into the cell. Crane’s cellmate, a man named Fred, is sitting on his cot.
“Are either of you infected?” Batman asks.
Crane shakes his head desperately. “No,” he says with a terrified laugh. “Not yet.”
Footsteps clatter at the end of the hall. Batman turns and aims. A guard is racing towards him, his mouth bloody. Batman fires into the man’s chest three times, then is forced to scramble backwards when the man keeps coming. He fires twice more and finally the man crashes to the ground.
Batman returns to the cell and unlocks it. “Go out the exit or come with me. I just need to search the maximum security wing.”
“You’re insane,” Crane says, stepping out of his cell. “Can I have a gun?”
“How do you expect me to defend myself?”
Batman gives him a look. “Stay with me and I’ll defend you. I’m not giving you a gun.”
Crane glances over his shoulder at Fred. Fred, if Batman remembers correctly, is a pedophile. Batman has no sympathy for the sort, but he’s not saving these people because he likes them or because he approves of what they did.
“I’ll stick with the Bat,” Crane mutters with a giggle.
They clear the moderate security ward and head for the maximum security. Batman is moving faster now. He cuts through the lock and kicks the gate open. “Get out here!” he shouts.
It’s a mistake.
A guard must have hit the switch to open the doors to all the cells at some point, because all the doors in the ward are open. Infected pour into the hallway from open cells. Fred lets out a little shriek and runs back the way they came.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here!” Crane gasps.
Batman opens fire. The infected make a wall of flesh in the hallway, coming towards him. He empties his gun into the crowd, then backs up, reloading. He shoots again. Two infected go down hard enough to trip up the ones behind them. The still living infected claw their way over the fallen, fixated on Batman.
Batman fires again and again, still retreating. Crane has cut and run already. Three more infected go down, and there are two behind them. Batman pulls the trigger as fast as he can. The gun clicks on empty. He ejects the clip and slams another home.
The last infected falls at his feet. Crane and Fred are gone down the hallway. Batman waits, his chest heaving.
Maybe the whole ward is dead. Maybe he should just turn and go. He resists the urge to glance at his watch. There can’t be more than ten minutes before the bridges blow. Sherry and Rebecca should already be running for the bridge. If he goes now, he might make it.
Batman takes a deep breath and it wheezes in the respirator. He closes his eyes for just a second, just long enough to steady himself. Then he opens them again. He steps on one of the bodies.
He clambers over the bodies. Infected are too bloodthirsty to play dead, and he trusts his armor to withstand a bite. He reaches the other side of the pile and stands straight in the hallway.
He has two clips of ammunition left. Twenty bullets. Once that’s out, he is going to get out of here whether or not he’s searched the rest of the asylum.
All of the cells are empty. He glances in each one and keeps going. When he reaches the end of the hall, he takes a breath. The only thing left is solitary confinement.
He pushes open the door at the end of the hall and steps quietly through. This hallway is dimly lit. Something moves at the end of the hall. Batman pauses, watching the infected man wander down the hall, his head turning slowly from side to side. The three doors to the solitary cells are hanging open.
Something screams. The scream is choked off abruptly. The infected at the end of the hall jerks up his head and stares down an adjacent hallway, then starts to run in that direction. Batman breaks into a sprint.
At the end of the hall, the doors of the dining hall hang open. The infected disappears inside. Batman reaches the doors and scans the room. There are two infected at the far end of the room, attacking someone. The third infected is running toward them. Batman fires twice and the running infected falls. He steps into the room.
Something crashes into him and rides him to the ground. Batman catches a glimpse of a bloody face before teeth clamp on his mask. He fires three times into the body mass, frantic. The infected on top of him lurches and goes limp. He kicks the body away and rolls to his feet, adjusting his mask.
There is only one person standing in the other end of the room, covered in blood. Batman raises his gun and starts to squeeze the trigger, then stops. Light flashes off the knife the inmate is holding in his hand. Batman raises his eyes to the inmate’s face.
The Joker stares back at him. In the night vision goggles, his eyes are flat white and the blood on his face is black. His Arkham reds are soaked with the stuff. He is crouched over the bodies of the infected, waiting.
Batman waits as well. In the back of his head, a mental clock is ticking down, but still he waits.
He wants to pull the trigger.
He wants it so badly.
“I’m not infected,” says the Joker after a moment, his lips curving up. “And neither are you.”
Batman says nothing. His finger is cramping on the trigger. He slowly eases it off and lowers the gun.
“We need to get out of here now,” he says, his voice hoarse. He waves the gun towards the door. “They’re blowing the bridges.”
“They’ll be so pleased to see us run across the bridge,” the Joker says, but he comes forward. Batman watches the Joker squeeze out the door into the hall, and then follows him.
As soon as they clear the dining hall, Batman glances at his watch. He has four minutes left to get out of here. He swears.
“Let’s go,” he says, and breaks into a run. The Joker jogs after him. They reach the hallway with the pile of bodies and scramble over it, then keep going.
Crane is waiting in the entrance hall, pacing. When he sees Batman he looks relieved. “I didn’t think you’d—” he starts, then sees the Joker. His face falls.
“Run for the bridge as fast as you can!” Batman orders him. The door to the guard station is still shut. Batman bangs on the door to the guard station. “We’re leaving,” he shouts.
Sherry’s face appears in the window and she nods. She pulls the door open. Rebecca is huddled next to her, looking terrified.
“Thank god,” Sherry says. “I didn’t think we’d make it without you.”
“Out, out, everybody out,” Batman says, urging them to the door. Fred doesn’t need any more encouragement. He and Crane lead the way and the two women follow. Batman and the Joker take up the rear. Batman pulls off his night-vision goggles.
Outside the doors, it seems as if the air had turned to water. The rain is slashing down on the pavement, turning the air gray. Batman triggers the controls on his utility belt and the Tumbler fires a volley at the fence. The gate blows with a loud, vibrating bang, bursting open.
There is a constant screaming on the wind, and Batman can’t tell where it’s coming from. Shapes are moving in the street but he can’t see them clearly. Anyone who was capable of it must be already off the island.
Fred is first out of the gate, and the infected swarm him, pulling him down. Batman draws his gun to fire into the crowd, but then doesn’t. Fred is already bleeding and there are more infected than he could ever take down with the ammunition he has left.
There are too many of them to fit in the Tumbler, and the Tumbler won’t make it through the streets in time anyway, not with all of the abandoned cars. Batman leaves it there. Crane gets past Fred and the other infected, running blindly. The rest of them follow as the infected take Fred down like a gazelle.
It is only a quarter mile to the nearest bridge. Arkham is on a small triangle of land wedged in between the Narrows and the rest of Gotham. It is lashed to both by bridges, and connects the mainland by the New Trigate Bridge. Further south is the Vincefinkle Bridge, and at the northeast corner of the Narrows is the Robert Kane Memorial Bridge. Those are all rigged to explode, along with the various railroad and subway tunnels that go under the water.
Batman can see flashing police lights on the other side of the water, gathered around the nearest bridge. The distance is much farther than the Tumbler could ever leap across. The channel foams and froths under the bridge, churned into a fury by the rain and the wind.
Footsteps slap the ground behind them. The infected are gaining. Batman spares a glance back. Six of the infected are closing in. One of them vomits, projecting blood across Batman’s back. He fires at them but none of them go down. He ejects the empty clip and slots in his very last one.
The Joker reaches out to Sherry and grabs her arm. She shrieks and tries to bat him away. His knife flashes and suddenly she’s hitting the ground, her gut open, intestines bulging out. She screams and then the infected are on her. Batman turns back to her but the Joker shouts “It’s too late,” and he’s right. The infected gather around Sherry and momentarily abandon the chase.
“Try that again and I’m taking you out!” Batman shouts. The Joker just laughs, high and frantic.
The bridge is just a hundred feet away. Crane has pulled ahead of them and has reached the bridge. Rebecca is ten feet behind him. Batman hits his radio.
“We’re here!” he shouts into the radio. “We’re crossing the bridge now! There are four of us!”
“Hurry!” Gordon’s voice crackles back. “You don’t have any time! They’re going to—”
The bridge blows. The first explosion rips through the center of the bridge. Batman sees Crane silhouetted against the ball of fire and then the next row of explosives detonates, and then the next. Rebecca, just hitting the start of the bridge, screams and stumbles backwards, but she’s too close. The explosives reach the end of the bridge and she is punched into the air. She hits the ground and slides and then comes to a stop on the ground, dead. Crane has disappeared.
“Not yet! Not yet!” Batman shouts, as if that’s going to make any difference. He can hear echoes of the other bridges around the island blowing. Explosions light the undersides of the clouds.
“I’m sorry,” Gordon says into the radio, despair in his voice. “I tried, I’m so sorry.”
They have run out of time. The infected are upon them. The Joker’s knife flashes as he guts one, but another one latches itself onto his back. Batman shoots at it, not quite caring that he might shoot the Joker instead. The Joker and the infected fall. Batman spins around and fires at the other infected closing in.
There are buildings around them, clustered on the edge of the water. Batman looks up at a fire escape hanging down. If he can get to the roof, he might be able to glide across the water to the other side. It will be choppy and difficult to swim, but he’s a good swimmer.
The Joker gets back to his feet, staggering a little.
“Come on!” Batman shouts, running for the fire escape. He leaps into the air and grabs the bottom rung of the fire escape. He drags himself up.
The Joker follows him. Batman gets fully up onto the escape and then leans down. The Joker’s eyes are still clear and Batman can’t see any sign of a wound. He holds out his hand. The Joker grabs it and Batman pulls him up.
They climb the fire escape, the rain pounding down on them. Infected are gathering under the escape. When they reach the third floor, a window bursts in the second and two infected tumble onto the fire escape. Batman forces himself to move faster, even though his cape is waterlogged and is weighing him down.
In six more flights, they reach the top of the building. Batman drags himself onto the roof and staggers to the edge. The Joker joins him. Batman triggers his wings and the cape snaps outward, slinging water across the roof.
“Get on my back,” he says, staring across the water. The river is too wide, he knows. If he takes the Joker with him, they won’t make it all the way across. Even if he goes alone, he might not make it. He’ll splash into the middle of the river and have to swim. The current might take him out to sea before he reaches the other side.
The Joker doesn’t move. Batman glances back at him. The Joker is staring across the water. Batman follows his gaze.
There is panic on the other side. He can see people fleeing, and people falling. Gunshots echo against building faces. The police are retreating.
“Gordon?” Batman calls into the radio, but there is no answer. “Gordon!”
The first of the infected reach the roof. Batman raises his gun and fires. Five, four, three, two, one, and then the gun clicks empty. He is out of bullets.
“Come on,” he says, and runs to the other side of the roof. He looks out over the city. There is another rooftop nearby that they may be able to make. They won’t get very far without weapons or shelter.
The Joker flings his arms around Batman’s neck and hangs on tight. Batman steps to the edge of the roof and feels the wind blast him in the face. Feet slap in the gravel of the roof behind him. It occurs to him that he should have saved two bullets, one for the Joker and one for himself.
He lets himself drop.
The Tumbler sits in front of Arkham Asylum, a hulking black shape in the dark street. The rain that pounds the glass turns the view outside into a smeared mess and keeps up a constant white noise that prevents Batman from hearing anything that might be nearby.
It’s steamy inside the Tumbler, as their clothes drip onto the seats. They’re probably ruining the upholstery but Batman can’t quite bring himself to care at this point.
The Joker is dabbing carefully at his face with some absorbent gauze from the first aid kit. He isn’t injured, but there is blood coating his clothing and skin that he needs to remove before it gets in his eyes or mouth.
“We can go to the docks and try to find a boat,” Batman says, peeling the respirator away from his mouth and cleaning it with more gauze. “They may be infected over there but at least we won’t be trapped.”
“This thing doesn’t go underwater?” the Joker asks, the corner of his mouth curling up as he wipes blood out of his ear.
“It’s not waterproof,” Batman says seriously. The Joker snorts and scrubs under his chin. Batman finds himself watching the man. He’d seen the Joker without his makeup on after the arrest last year—everyone had. It had been all over the news. Those big dark eyes and nasty scars had been on the cover of every newspaper. Still, it’s different to be face to face with him again when the Joker is not in costume.
“The military might have managed to set up some sort of shelter over there. If we’re lucky, we can track them down.”
The Joker finishes rubbing his chin and throws the gauze into the foot well. “We?”
“Are you really going to bring me right back into custody like a good little vigilante? Assuming the authorities even still exist at this point?”
Batman sits back in his seat and wipes off his face. “What would be the alternative?”
The Joker tilts his head to the side and studies Batman as if he is a particularly interesting puzzle he has yet to figure out. “Society has collapsed, Bats.”
“We don’t know that yet.”
“You could kill me and no one would know it was you. You could leave me out there to fend for myself and no one would know I was missing.”
Batman begins to clean his night vision goggles. “You haven’t served your sentence.”
“There is no more law.”
“We don’t know that,” Batman snaps. “And it doesn’t matter if society has collapsed. It wasn’t the law that was keeping me from murder.”
“You’re going to risk your life saving mine so I can go back to serving my sentence?”
The Joker laughs. It is a familiar and unpleasant sound. Batman turns his face away.
Something smashes into the windshield, making them both jump. A face mashes against the glass, wild eyes peering inside. Teeth scrape the glass.
“She can’t get in,” Batman says unnecessarily. The Joker has his knife in his hand and his eyes are fixed on the glass, lips parted in anticipation.
“It’s getting darker,” the Joker says, watching the woman. “Are we spending the night here?”
Batman squints through the glass. The Tumbler can take a lot of abuse, but he isn’t confident it can hold up to a whole mob of infected.
“Once we start driving, they’ll know we’re in here,” he says. “I have eight missiles left to blow away obstacles, but there are a lot of abandoned cars on the streets. And I’ve been using the Tumbler all night. It goes through fuel very fast. We might have another hour’s worth of fuel, but probably less.”
“I never pegged you for an optimist, Bats.”
“The yacht club is to the east. There may be some boats left.”
The Joker squints at him, smiling slowly. “You can drive a yacht?”
Batman meets his gaze steadily. “I can drive anything.”
The infected slides off the windshield, working her way to the door. Her fingers dig into the frame of the door and delve into the exhaust vents. With the pouring rain, Batman can’t see anything more than two feet from the windshield, but if he turns on the Tumbler to turn on the windshield wipers, it will call the horde.
“So what you’re saying is, the second we start to move, there’s no turning back.”
The Joker shifts in his seat. “I like that. No second chances.”
The rain redoubles, pounding the Tumbler. The infected woman disappears, moving around the car. Batman wants to turn on the Tumbler to get a glimpse of the rear cameras, but doesn’t.
It had taken them most of the afternoon to get to the Tumbler. Without ammunition, it was extremely slow going to keep from alerting any infected to their presence.
“Are you ready, then?” the Joker asks. The light outside the windshield is fading. If they don’t move soon, they will be piloting a boat in the dark, or will have to wait until morning. Batman has no intention of staying in the Tumbler with the Joker overnight. At least now he has his extra ammunition again. If he runs out of this, he’s going to have to scavenge.
“I’m ready,” Batman says. He turns the key in the ignition.
The Tumbler roars to life. The various panels flicker on, giving him the views from the cameras all around the Tumbler. Faces are turning their way, more than Batman had hoped for. The GPS comes to life.
“Destination,” Batman says to the computer, already hitting the button to bring him down into the firing configuration. “Yacht club.”
“Acquiring route,” replies the computer calmly. Batman’s seat retracts. The Joker scrambles up in startled curiosity, watching Batman settled into a horizontal position with the firing controls in his hands.
There are thuds as the first of the infected start piling onto the Tumbler, tearing at anything they can reach. Batman floors the gas and they leap forward. They’re still on the sidewalk in front of Arkham.
The expressway leading to the New Trigate Bridge is solid with abandoned cars. Batman swings the Tumbler around in a U-turn and aims them down the narrow side street that follows the wall of Arkham Asylum, heading in the opposite direction from the bridge. The street is crowded here, too, but he bumps the Tumbler up onto the sidewalk.
There are so many infected. They’re in the streets, in the cars, and on the sidewalk. He swerves to avoid the first few but they keep coming and he can’t help but hitting them. Nausea starts to grow in the back of his throat but he tries to ignore it. One of them hits the Tumbler and goes vaulting over the windshield.
“Don’t avoid them,” the Joker says, sounding amused.
Batman says nothing, his hands on the missile controls. He squeezes the Tumbler in between the wall of Arkham and a light post and takes a sharp right turn around the back wall of Arkham.
“In one quarter mile, turn right,” says the GPS pleasantly.
The streets are all choked with cars. There is a six car pileup in the street around the corner. Batman catches a glimpse of a bloody woman inside one car, banging on a window. For a second he almost slows the Tumbler, but then he catches the expression on her face. There is no fear there, only bloodlust. He keeps going.
At the very tip of the island where Arkham is located, a bridge stretches from Gotham to the Narrows and touches down briefly in Arkham on its way. The entrance to the bridge here is clogged with cars. Batman adjusts his grip on the controls and fires the first volley.
Two missiles shoot from the Tumbler and hit the first of the cars. They explode, bouncing up into the air. The Tumbler smashes through the roadblock as the cars start to come down. One of the cars hits the Tumbler enough to slam them sideways and the Joker nearly tumbles onto Batman.
The Tumbler shoulders its way between the cars, shoving them out of the way. It slows them down considerably and two infected pile onto the car, clawing at the roof.
Metal is screeching as they tear their way through the cars. The Tumbler shakes, rocked from side to side by the collisions. It’s only a short bridge, but it seems as if they’ll never make it across. Batman swears and fingers the trigger, then lets go of it.
“Hang on,” he says to the Joker, and he retracts his seat again, sitting back up in the driving position. As soon as it reaches the correct configuration, he hits the big red button on the dashboard.
The Tumbler launches forward, using the hood of the next car like a ramp. The burst of acceleration throws them both back in their seats and then they’re airborne, skimming over the tops of a dozen more cars before crashing back down to the ground at the edge of the bridge. They land sideways, halfway on top of another car, but they manage to regain their equilibrium without flipping over.
“Turn left,” says the GPS.
The road follows the curve along the river here. The water is a gray snake running to the left of the road. Four more bridges connect Gotham with the Narrows here, but the roads are slightly clearer. They’re heading towards the eastern edge of the island, which is farthest from the mainland. There are no ways of escaping the island here, except by boat.
Batman accelerates even more. The sun is just going down behind them, and straight ahead the sky is nearly black. Rain washes over the Tumbler. There are no streetlights lit here.
“Look out—” the Joker says suddenly, sitting up.
They hit the water going fifty miles an hour. The river has overflowed its banks here, washing over the road to lap against the buildings. Hitting the water is like somewhere between hitting an airbag and hitting a brick wall. The Tumbler decelerates rapidly. The Joker hits the windshield. Batman slams into the seat belt.
The Tumbler churns into the water, wheels spinning. Batman belatedly hits the brakes but they have already passed the point of no return. The wheels slide on the ground as if it’s made of ice. Then the wheels leave the ground entirely and they start to drift to the side.
The Joker sits back in his seat, holding his face and swearing. A bruise is already forming on his forehead and around one eye.
“Wear your seat belt next time,” Batman says, putting the Tumbler in reverse. It doesn’t matter. He no longer has control over it.
“Are we going to get out and push?” the Joker mumbles into his hands.
The Tumbler turns gently and now Batman can see the danger. They bump into the guard rail with a clang of metal. Beyond the rail, the river thunders past.
“There’s no time,” Batman says. “I hope you can swim.” He hits the unlock button and the cockpit door retracts over their heads.
The rain pounds down eagerly into the newly uncovered cockpit. Batman grabs his guns and unlatches his seat belt, standing up on the seat.
It’s thirty feet to dry road from where they are. The Joker clambers unsteadily over the edge of the Tumbler and hesitates on the side.
There are infected splashing into the water from the road, coming towards them. They are overeager, scrambling to get through the water, falling over their own feet and getting up again. One of them is washed over the guardrail and into the river and quickly swept out of sight.
“Give me a gun,” says the Joker.
Batman aims at the running infected. “I’m low on ammunition,” he says.
“And I’m a better shot than you are.”
Batman lets out three shots. One of the infected falls. Cursing under his breath, Batman hands the Joker the second gun. There are no other civilians around to fall prey to the Joker right now, and it can’t hurt to have them both armed.
The guard rail cracks and the Tumbler lurches. The Joker jumps off the edge into the water, which is thigh deep. Batman climbs onto the hood of the Tumbler and slides off next to the Joker.
The guard rail gives way completely and the Tumbler breaks through, washing into the water. It floats for only thirty seconds, spinning as it washes out into the middle of the river, then sinks down out of sight.
Joker lets out five shots in a row and three of the infected fall. Batman wades through the water, heading for dry land, although “dry” is relative at this point. The water is pulling at him, trying to drag him into the river. He pulls his cape up over his shoulder to keep it from soaking up the water. If he has time to stop, he’ll bundle it up into the pack he usually keeps it in for riding his motorcycle, but right now there are more pressing concerns.
The rain thunders down. The last light of the day leaves them behind. Batman pulls his night vision goggles over his eyes again and tugs up the respirator. The night turns greenish and he picks out four more infected in the shadows ahead of them, running down the road.
“How far to the yacht club?” the Joker shouts to him, letting off two more shots and pushing his way through the water. The Arkham reds are plastered to his skin again and his hair is dark with rain. He wipes his hair back out of his eyes.
“A mile,” Batman shouts back. The Joker doesn’t reply and Batman can’t tell if he’s discouraged by the news.
This part of the city is laid out in neatly organized squares. The streets run in parallel lines down the length of the island. They can take any one of the streets that intersect with the road that they’re on, and it will take them to the harbor. On the other hand, if they stay to the road that runs around the edge of the island, they’ll be able to keep the river to their side at all times, so they won’t be surrounded by the infected.
Batman fires into the infected approaching them and takes out two of them. The Joker takes out the other three, and then they struggle free of the water and make it out onto the drier road.
More infected are sprinting towards them. Batman breaks into a run, the Joker close behind.
The gunshots are calling more infected out of the other streets and alerting them to their position. It seems that for every one they kill, two more show up. Batman ejects an empty clip and inserts another one.
“The rooftops,” Batman shouts. “We need to find a tall building. We might be able to glide for a bit.”
His penthouse is only six blocks away from here. If we can get them the the building, he can get them to the roof. He’s been off the top of that building so many times that he knows exactly how far his range is while gliding, although he’s never done it with an extra passenger and while carrying guns and ammunition, which will certainly change the dynamics a bit.
He sprints for the next intersection and turns right down the street. The streets here are filled with cars, even up on the sidewalks. It puts them in an obstacle course.
Somewhere up ahead, more gunshots crack the air. The Joker looks alert. Batman squints down the street. There is some sort of commotion five hundred feet down the road.
The Joker vaults the hood of a car and then shoots at something on the other side. Batman follows. Up ahead, he can see two people standing on top of the roof of a truck, firing into the street. A third is trying to move an abandoned car out of the way to clear the sidewalk.
“Give me back the gun!” Batman shouts to the Joker.
The Joker just laughs and vaults another hood.
Up ahead, the car engine starts up and the man moves the car out of the way of the truck. The others jump down into the truck bed.
Batman shoots at two infected who are running for the truck and one of the people up ahead glances his way. Her eyes go wide.
“Holy shit,” she says out loud. The others turn to look. “Holy shit.”
It’s probably too late to try to disguise the Joker, but the people seem to be mostly focused on Batman. One of them jumps into the cab of the pickup to start the engine and the truck bumps up on the sidewalk, pulling past the abandoned car.
“Wait, Rick,” says the woman. “Let them get in.”
“It’s fucking Batman,” says another guy.
The brake lights flash and the truck comes to a stop. The woman waves them on and then her eyes slide to the Joker. Her face goes pale.
“Never mind, never mind, drive!”
An infected man slams into the side of the truck and starts to scramble up. The woman shoots at it, but there’s another behind it. The truck lurches forward and starts to drive again and the woman stumbles.
One of the infected vaults up the side of the truck and grabs at the woman, yanking her out of the truck bed. The two of them crash to the ground. Batman shoots at the infected but the shot goes wild. The Joker lets out a shot and this time the infected falls. The woman scrambles away from it.
“Sandy fell out,” the man in the back of the truck shouts to the driver, and the truck stops again.
Batman and the Joker reach the truck and the man in the back trains his gun on them. The woman, Sandy, gets to her feet, checking herself for wounds.
“Did you get bit?” the man asks.
“I think I’m okay,” she says. She looks at Batman and the Joker. “Thanks.”
“Get in,” the man says to Sandy, and then raises his gun to aim at something further off down the street. “Get in.”
The Joker scrambles into the back of the truck and Batman follows, after Sandy. They’re barely in when the driver, Rick, starts the truck again and they lurch down the sidewalk.
Batman ejects another clip and replaces it with a fresh one, then aims down the street. There are infected running at them from all directions.
“Where are you going?” he asks Sandy.
“We’re hoping to get to the harbor,” Sandy says. “Ben has a boat there.”
Batman nods and fires down the street. The Joker is crouched in the truck bed next to him, reloading.
“Have you seen anyone else?” Batman asks.
“Anyone not trying to kill us, you mean?” Sandy laughs. “Nope.”
The truck bumps down off the sidewalk again to go around another parked car, then slows. Batman cranes his neck around to see another obstacle in the road. The road is completely blocked.
“I’m heading back to that cross street,” Rick shouts out the window of the truck, and puts the truck in reverse. They roll backwards the way they came.
The truck thumps into an infected. Batman fires into the approaching crowd, then clutches at the side of the truck when it stops and lurches into drive again.
They trundle down a side street and then take a right onto the next street. It is marginally more clear and within only a few minutes they are arriving at the harbor.
The harbor is a bite taken out of Gotham. Boats bob in the water. A few have torn free of their moorings. The water has breached the edge of the harbor, pouring onto the streets. There is a yacht beached in a gas station.
“I see it,” says Ben, pointing. “It’s still out there.
They come to a stop at the end of the street. They are far from the yacht club entrance but by this point everything is under water.
“Why are we stopping?” Sandy shouts.
“Can’t go any further by truck,” Ben says. “I see a rowboat we can use, though.”
Batman looks out across the water. There are things floating in the water, chairs and trash bins and other things that have been washed out by the rain. It is an obstacle course, but he can see the rowboat that Ben is pointing towards. It will be a little crowded with all of them, but it should take them out to the yacht.
Batman doesn’t know whether putting the Joker on a yacht with these people is the best idea, but there really is no other choice.
Ben and Sandy and Rick get out of the truck. The Joker jumps out after them and Batman comes behind him.
“We need them to get out of the city,” Batman says. “If you kill any of them, I will kill you.”
The Joker shoots him a look and sidles up next to him almost flirtatiously. “Is that a promise, Bats?”
Batman glares and turns back towards the approaching zombies.
Sandy descends a staircase to the water. The harbor has spilled into a plaza filled with tables and chairs. The rowboat in question is bumping up against the underside of a table. The water is shallow enough that Sandy can wade through shin deep and nothing can hide in it to attack her, but it’s a murky brown color. If they get this water in their mouth or eyes, they might be in trouble.
They all wade frantically through the water. Ben tries running through the water, but has to slow again when a chair bashes against his knee. Batman shoves a floating awning out of his way and fires into the infected, who at least have as much trouble going through the water as they do.
Sandy reaches the rowboat and pulls it free. It’s barely enough for all of them to fit. She jumps in but the bottom scrapes the ground.
“Push it out to the open water,” Rick shouts to her. The two of them start pushing the boat towards the railing and the water beyond. Ben helps. An infected woman splashes through the water towards them and vomits in their direction. The Joker dispatches her with a shot.
“Five bullets left,” the Joker says.
Batman says nothing. He has one clip left, which gives him ten bullets. This is all the ammunition they have.
Ben and Rick and Sandy get the rowboat over the railing and into the deep water. Rick holds onto the boat while Sandy and Ben get inside. Batman fires two shots at an approaching infected man.
“Get in the boat,” he says to the Joker.
Everyone looks uneasily at the Joker. He hops the fence and then steps down into the boat. It bobs merrily, riding low in the water. It might not take all of their weight.
“Come on,” Rick calls.
Batman lets off a last shot and then gets into the boat as well. Rick pushes them off from the railing, climbing in, and the boat starts to slide away from the railing. The top of the boat is barely over the surface of the water.
The first of the infected reach the railing. One of them tries to leap into the boat but instead just splashes into the water, sending a wave over the bow of the boat. She thrashes in the water. The Joker shoots her in the head and she sinks. Sandy takes off her shoe and starts bailing water.
“It’s the yacht with the green covering,” Ben says, pointing towards a yacht maybe a hundred feet away.
“It’s raining faster than I can empty this out,” Sandy says. Ben cups his hands and starts tossing water out of the boat. Rick heaves on the oars and they lumber clumsily through the water.
Something bumps underneath the boat and Sandy lets out a little shriek. The Joker fires twice into the water and blood spreads.
“They can’t swim very fast,” Sandy says, watching another infected leap the railing into the water.
“Well I can’t row very fast,” Rick grumbles. His face is pink with effort. The rain thunders down on them all, plastering their hair flat to their skulls.
The Joker fires twice more at an approaching infected, and the third time he pulls the trigger, his gun clicks empty. The infected disappears into the water.
“I’m out,” he says.
Batman nods, sweeping the water with his eyes. He can’t afford to miss with these last bullets. He’ll have to wait until the infected get very close.
There is one very tenacious infected twenty feet away from them, paddling through the water. Her eyes are red with burst blood vessels and her mouth is wide open and panting. Water passes in and out of her mouth but she doesn’t seem to notice it.
“Jesus,” Sandy says, staring at her. “Shoot her.”
“When she gets closer,” Batman says.
“Give me the gun,” says the Joker.
Batman ignores him. He aims at the woman and waits for a moment, then slowly squeezes the trigger.
The whole boat lurches violently. Ben lets out a shout and splashes into the water. Batman’s bullet goes harmlessly into the water. He glances over his shoulder at Ben, who is treading water and cursing. The prow of a mostly-sunken yacht scrapes against the underside of the rowboat.
Batman turns his attention back to the infected, who is picking up speed as she senses Ben within her grasp. He fires at her twice and catches her in the jaw and neck. She sinks under the water.
“Grab my hand,” Sandy says, reaching over the edge to Ben.
“Are you bleeding?” Batman asks him.
“No,” Ben says. “And my head didn’t even go under water.”
“He scraped his knee when we were running for the rowboat,” the Joker says. “He’s bleeding.”
Batman looks at the Joker, then back at Ben. “Did you?”
“No,” Ben says. “What the fuck is he talking about?”
Sandy cautiously withdraws her hand. Ben snarls in frustration and grabs the side of the boat, trying to drag himself in. The whole boat tips.
“Stop it,” Rick says. “Stop trying to get in, Ben. Let us balance the weight first.”
“Get me out of the fucking water!” Ben says.
Batman looks at the Joker. “Did he have a wound on his knee?”
The Joker meets his eyes. “Yes.”
Sandy moves to the other side of the boat. Ben tries to pull himself up again, but that side of the boat goes under water and Ben lets go again.
“I’ll show you my knee when I get in the boat,” Ben says. “Jesus Christ, they’re coming.”
“If it’s scraped, you’ve been infected from the water,” Batman says.
“I might not be!” Ben shouts back.
There are more infected splashing into the water. None of them are in reach yet, but they’ll be here soon.
“Get on this side of the boat,” Sandy says to Rick.
“We’ll sink,” Batman says.
“I don’t care!” Sandy shouts.
Ben grabs the side of the boat again and the boat tips again, water rushing in. This time he doesn’t let go. He starts to drag himself into the boat.
Batman puts the gun against Ben’s head.
“Let go of the boat,” he says.
“Fuck you,” Ben says, his eyes wild. He doesn’t let go. The boat is filling with water.
Batman fires. Sandy screams as blood explodes into the water. Ben’s body goes limp. Batman pushes him back into the water and he sinks out of sight.
“What the hell did you do?” Rick shouts, his eyes wide.
“He would have sunk us all,” Batman says.
“There was no cut on his knee!” Sandy screams. “He wasn’t infected!”
“We all would have been if we went into the water,” Batman replies, although his hand is shaking.
“Get us to the yacht,” Batman tells Rick.
Rick looks like he’s about to refuse, but then his attention turns to the infected still swimming towards them. He sets his jaw and starts rowing again.
“You murdered him,” Sandy says. “You’re not the real Batman at all, are you? You’re another one of those impostors.”
Batman looks at the Joker. He can’t tell whether the Joker was lying or not. If Ben had scraped his knee, he would have turned and killed them all. If he’d kept trying to get into the boat, even without being turned, he would have killed them all.
“I had to,” Batman says.
Sandy is choking on sobs. Rick’s eyes are wet. Batman turns away from them and aims at the approaching infected.
They come within reach of the yacht. Rick stops his rowing and Sandy reaches up, pulling down the ladder. She climbs out of the rowboat as if she can’t get away from them fast enough. Rick ships the oars and grabs the ladder too.
As soon as he gets to the top, Sandy reappears at the top of the ladder and aims a gun down at them.
“Stay in the boat,” she says. “You’re not coming with us.”
“He would have killed us all, Sandy,” Batman says.
“You shot him in the head. If you don’t get away from this yacht, I’ll do the same to you.”
Batman looks up at her and says nothing. Rick reaches down and pulls up the ladder again.
“Good luck,” Batman says.
“Give me the gun,” the Joker says.
“No.” Batman holsters the gun behind his back and grabs the oars. “We’ll take this boat.”
“You’ll need me to shoot the swimmers,” the Joker says.
“As soon as we get out of range of the yacht,” Batman returns. He pulls on the oars and the rowboat moves away from the yacht.
With only two of them in the rowboat, it moves faster. They are forty feet away when the yacht engine starts and Sandy unties it from the moorings. The yacht motors away, its wake sending the rowboat bouncing.
The infected in the water bob in the waves, their eyes fixed on the rowboat. The rain comes down.
They fall into a rhythm, rowing down the river. The current carries them along. Batman sits with his back towards the bow of the boat, pulling steadily on the oars. The Joker sits at the stern, watching over Batman’s shoulder. Batman has kept the gun because there are only three bullets left and this time he is not going to make a mistake. He will keep the gun with him for the worst case scenario.
The water levels have risen so far that the bank of the river is completely unfamiliar. Water laps against the feet of skyscrapers. Cars sit submerged up to their windows. There is distant screaming somewhere in the city, and a car alarm going off. Batman hopes that there are no survivors trapped somewhere. It is better to think of the whole city as lost.
“There’s another bridge behind you,” the Joker says, his eyes fixed over Batman’s shoulder. Batman glances over his shoulder and sees the next of the small bridges that link the lower half of Gotham to the upper half. They’ve passed under three so far, and after this one there should be one more. Water streams over the edge of this bridge, pouring into the river. The river has risen so much that there is only five feet of clearance. It’s well past sunset now and the world is very dark. Most of the city is in blackness except where emergency generators are keeping lights going. There is a faint orange glow against the clouds in the distance, which could be civilization still functioning to the west of them. Or it could be a fire.
“Keep your eyes closed and cover your face,” Batman says. It’s probably just rain water pouring down from the bridge but he doesn’t want to risk anything. He pulled his respirator up over his mouth again.
They move closer, pulled inexorably by the current. The water pours down from the bridge, making the river swirl and eddy. There are footsteps slapping on the bridge overhead, somewhere out of sight. The Joker covers his face with his hands and Batman takes a breath. He rolls his shoulders, then pulls hard on the oars.
They shoot under the waterfall and for a second Batman is blinded by the pouring water. It forces his head down and gushes into the boat. Then they’re popping free of the stream of water and are underneath the bridge.
It is pitch black under the bridge. The night vision goggles help Batman make out the Joker’s face, although he knows that the Joker can’t see him at all. The Joker wipes water from his face with a noise of distaste.
The rowboat is half-full of water. Batman ships the oars and reaches up with one hand to catch a handhold under the bridge.
“We need to clear this out before we go under the water again,” he says, his voice echoing off the underside of the bridge and the surface of the water. He grips the underside of the bridge and the boat comes to a stop. “Or else we’ll sink.”
The Joker cups his hands and starts bailing. Batman helps him with his free hand. The water rushes past them. The two of them work in silence for a moment, scooping out water. It feels momentarily safe underneath the bridge, although Batman knows better. Infected bodies could sweep through with the current at any time.
“Did he have a cut on his knee?” Batman asks into the silence.
The Joker snorts. “Doesn’t matter, does it?”
“It matters to me.”
“It matters to me.”
“You want me to say that he really had a scrape,” the Joker says, grinning. “Then you’ll be able to tell yourself that he was already dead by the time you shot him.”
“Did he have the cut?”
“If I tell you he did, you still won’t believe me,” the Joker says. “The only way that you’ll believe me is if I tell you I was lying. You just want to beat yourself up about it. It doesn’t matter what I tell you.”
“We would have all died if we’d gone into the water,” Batman says.
The Joker leans forward. “We would have both died if I hadn’t gutted that inmate and thrown her to the wolves.”
Batman blanches. “You can’t compare the two.”
“No? Okay.” The Joker keeps bailing.
“We could have still survived if you hadn’t killed that inmate.”
The Joker says nothing.
“You gutted her.”
Again, no response. The boat is riding level again. There is only an inch of water in the bottom of the boat. Batman doesn’t grab the oars yet.
“I had no choice,” Batman says finally.
“You always have a choice.”
They stare at each other. The Joker tilts his head to the side, waiting for Batman’s response.
Batman lets go of the underside of the bridge and grabs the oars. “Cover your face,” he says as the current takes them again.
He pulls on the oars and they shove out underneath the waterfall. Batman keeps rowing as hard as he can and they drag free of the water, the bottom of their boat flooded again.
Someone screams overhead and then something big splashes into the water next to the boat, sending them bobbing sideways. Batman shakes his head and looks up to see two more infected fling themselves over the edge of the bridge.
One of them lands in the center of the boat with a crash. The other hits the water, swamping their already half-submerged boat. Batman raises the oar and slams it into the head of the infected in the boat.
“The gun,” the Joker says frantically, kicking at the next infected who is trying to climb into the boat. The boat tips sideways. Batman draws his gun and shoots at the one trying to get into the boat. It lets go of the boat.
The next infected falls from the bridge into the boat, and the boat cracks in half.
Batman is flung into the water.
As soon as he hits the water, he squeezes his eyes shut and holds his breath despite the goggles and respirator. Arms wrap around him and teeth bite down hard on the armor plating on his shoulder. He pushes the barrel of the gun into the bulk of the infected and fires, then kicks free of the body. One bullet left. Maybe he should save it for himself.
He bursts up through the surface of the water again and opens his eyes. There is thrashing in the water where the boat sank. He can’t see the Joker or the infected, just a froth of foam kicked up from the water pouring off the bridge. The current is dragging them all quickly downstream.
An infected surfaces next to him, its eyes wild. Batman fires his last bullet into the infected, then lets the gun drop out of his hand. He kicks away from the spreading pool of blood. Up ahead, he can see the next bridge approaching. Water pours down.
Someone else surfaces a few feet to the right and Batman catches a glimpse of green hair before the Joker starts choking on water. Batman kicks towards him, fighting against the current to try to reach him.
“Were you bitten?” he shouts, but in the next second they are dragged under the final bridge. The water pouring from the bridge forces Batman under water again.
He only surfaces in time to be forced under water again by the other side of the bridge, and then he loses track of the surface entirely. The current is moving incredibly fast here where the river narrows before pouring into the channel between the city of Gotham and the mainland. The days of rain have given the river a new fury.
The water is black all around him and he can’t figure out which way is up. Something hits him hard in the side and when he spins away from it he realizes that it is the remains of a bridge piling. He is in the channel, then.
He lets out a stream of bubbles and watches through the goggles to see which way they go, then claws his way up to the surface after them. He bursts free of the water, although it’s raining so hard that it’s hard to tell where the river ends and the sky begins.
A body surfaces next to him and he kicks away, then realizes it’s the Joker, who barely gets a breath of air before going under again. Batman swims forward and wraps his arms around the Joker, yanking him back up. The Joker struggles hysterically before catching sight of his face.
They spin with the current and then Batman sees the shore. They aren’t that far away, only forty or fifty feet. Rows of warehouses and docks look out at them. The water is nearly up to the top of the docks in some places.
Batman struggles towards shore, towing the Joker with him. In a few minutes, they pass close enough to a ladder that Batman is able to grab hold of it.
The Joker grabs the ladder too and Batman urges him up ahead of him. It is only a quick climb to the dock. The Joker reaches the top and falls to his knees, coughing.
Batman comes up after him and tears the Joker’s Arkham uniform open at the collar, yanking it down the Joker’s arms. There are no bite marks on the Joker’s upper torso. He yanks the uniform down to the Joker’s waist and abandons it.
The Joker shudders with coughs, spitting onto the pavement. Batman pulls off his own respirator and throws it aside, then yanks off his gauntlet.
“Spit up the water,” he says. He forces his fingers into the Joker’s mouth.
The Joker gags and then throws up river water. Batman withdraws his fingers and unfastens his own Batsuit, pulling it off to expose his shoulders and chest. He feels for the spot where the infected bit him but the skin is unbroken.
He reaches up and pulls off the Batman mask and goggles entirely, exposing his face. He tips his face up to the sky, letting the rain beat down on his skin and wash away the river water. It flattens his hair to his head.
The Joker stops coughing and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Still hunched over, he raises his head and looks at Bruce. His eyes dance over Bruce’s face.
“Bruce Wayne,” he says, the corners of his mouth curling up.
Bruce has no weapons. If the Joker turns, there’s nothing he can do about it except run, and at this very moment, he’s too tired to run. The Joker, too, looks exhausted, his bare chest heaving.
How long will it take them to turn? He’s only seen people turn from a bite, not from exposure to bloody water. It might take a while. Maybe there was no blood in the water the Joker drank. Maybe they both made it through unscathed. Is that even possible?
The Joker turns away from him and lays down on the pavement, rolling onto his back. He lays spread-eagle, his eyes shut, letting the rain pound down on him. He opens his mouth and lets it fill with rain water before swallowing it down.
It is dark out now. The sun has finally set, if it ever had risen. Bruce shucks off the rest of his Batsuit and checks his legs for injuries, then rubs the suit clean with his hands in the rain. He leaves the suit lying on the pavement and crawls over to the Joker. The Joker opens his eyes and watches him but doesn’t move.
Bruce takes hold of the prison jumpsuit where it is bunched around the Joker’s waist and tugs it down further, pulling it down the Joker’s thighs. The Joker doesn’t resist or help and Bruce yanks the prison uniform off his legs entirely and tosses it away.
The Joker is a skinny man with hard, knotted muscles and bony joints. Bruce takes hold of his ankle and checks his leg for bites or other wounds, and as he works his way up the Joker’s body the Joker watches him from under rain-starred lashes. When Bruce reaches the Joker’s chest, the Joker sits up and curls his hand around Bruce’s collarbone and bites Bruce’s lower lip.
Maybe it’s the craziness of the past two days, but Bruce doesn’t care. He shoves the Joker onto his back on the pavement, making the Joker bounce at the force of it, and chases the Joker’s mouth down. They are naked and the rain is pouring down on them and the only space that’s warm is the space in between them. The Joker bites Bruce’s mouth until he bleeds and Bruce just bites him back.
Bruce pushes his knee up between the Joker’s thighs and the Joker clamps down on him for a second. Then he splays his thighs as if daring Bruce to hurt him. Bruce fits his thigh firmly against the Joker’s hardening cock. His own is hard too but for the moment all he cares about is the heat between them. The Joker is the only other real person left for miles, as far as he knows.
The Joker makes a noise against Bruce’s mouth and his hand skids up Bruce’s flank. Bruce catches his wrist, thumb pressing into the knotted tendons there, and cants his hips, sliding his erection against the Joker’s.
They rut against each other desperately. If Bruce wanted to retreat at some point, he can’t now, with the Joker clinging to him like a lamprey. The Joker’s hand finds Bruce’s cock and grips it tight, jacking him roughly. Bruce lets out a sound and pushes against him, pressing their mouths together and tasting the rain on his lips.
The Joker spills across Bruce’s stomach, gasping against Bruce’s mouth. Bruce grinds down on him and feels himself reach the edge. The Joker drags him over into orgasm. Bruce curses and shudders, slumping down with all of his weight onto the Joker. He rests his forehead on the Joker’s ear and closes his eyes, feeling reality and reason start to return. The Joker’s pulse flutters against Bruce’s cheek.
Afterwards they stumble into the warehouse and find an office on the second floor that has a coat hanging on a coat rack. Batman hangs his Batsuit on the coat rack to let it drip on the floor.
They sit side by side against the wall and listen to the rain pour down on the roof far overhead. It is a thunderous noise, an end of the world noise. Bruce can feel the heat from the Joker’s body next to him but they don’t touch again, not even by accident. He thinks that he might want to sleep a few hours, but he never closes his eyes.
“The streets are clear enough,” the Joker murmurs, squinting out the broken window.
“The engine will draw attention to us,” Batman replies, following his gaze. There’s a car abandoned in the middle of the street, door hanging open. There are blood stains on the front seat, but not as much blood as there could be.
“If we get out of the city there won’t be enough people around for it to matter.”
Batman says nothing. The two of them are crouched on the front porch of a house in the suburbs of Gotham. It’s been three days since the river and the escape and the incident that they haven’t talked about since.
Batman doesn’t think that he’ll ever be dry again. He’s in his suit again, but the rain has gotten into every panel and soaked through the lining. His skin underneath is sore and chapped. He would take it off if it didn’t give him such an advantage against the infected. The Joker managed to pick up a sweatshirt and a pair of pants from a house a day or two ago, although it is soaked all the way through as well. He looks like a drowned rat.
“I’m going for it. Come if you want.” The Joker slips past him and jumps down the steps.
Batman straightens and looks up and down the street. He can hear infected shrieking from a block away, but it’s out of sight and so far doesn’t seem to be related to them at all. He goes down the stairs after the Joker.
The Joker reaches the driver’s side door and peers into the car, then climbs in. He pulls the door shut after himself. Batman opens the driver’s side door again.
“Out,” he says.
“Fuck you. I’m driving.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Find your own car.”
“You’re still in my custody.”
The Joker bursts out laughing. He pounds his hand on the seat. “You’re kidding me.”
“Get out of the car.”
The Joker leans on the horn. Batman recoils and looks around. Something crashes in a nearby house. Two infected burst out of a house down the street. The Joker turns the key in the ignition.
“Get in or get fucked,” the Joker says, putting the car in drive.
Batman runs around the car and pulls open the other door, jumping in. The Joker floors the accelerator and they leap forward. The momentum swings the doors shut and they squeal down the street, leaving a trail of rubber behind them.
The Joker is laughing in exhilaration. Batman holds onto the door and looks over his shoulder. There are infected coming out of the houses.
“Where should we go?” the Joker asks. The speedometer creeps up. Within a block they’re going forty, then fifty miles an hour.
Batman’s mind races. The highways will be crowded with people fleeing. It will be better to get away from high population areas, but getting into rural areas without using the highways is going to be difficult. Batman knows the roads in the area around Gotham very well, but his knowledge only extends so far.
“Take a left here,” he says. “We’ll get on route one and head north.”
The Joker hits the brakes and spins the wheel. They take the corner on two wheels. There are people in the road ahead of them, a man and two children. The Joker aims for them and they scatter. The car roars past them.
Batman twists in his seat and looks back. One of the children is on her knees on the ground. The man runs to her.
“They got out of the way,” he says.
“Tough luck,” says the Joker.
“Stop the car. They weren’t infected. Stop the car!”
The Joker hesitates and then hits the brakes. They hydroplane down the street and come to a final stop. The Joker puts the car in reverse and hits the gas again.
They fishtail and then head backwards. The man and the two children retreat out of the road, staring at them warily.
The Joker hits the brakes again when they’re twenty feet away. They come to a stop.
The man is holding a handgun and wearing a long brown coat. He waves for his kids to stay back and then comes forward. Batman squints at him and then opens his car door, pulling his respirator down and his goggles up.
“Gordon,” he says.
Commissioner Gordon gapes at him. “Jesus,” he says. The barrel of his gun sways and then he lowers it. “How did you survive?”
Batman looks down the street. “Get in the car. We don’t have time.”
Gordon waves to his children, who approach. Batman has only seen Barbie and Jimmy Gordon from a handful of times in his life. Right now they look like they’re dolls, obeying their father because they have nothing else in the world.
They get into the back seat and Gordon gets in with them. As soon as he shuts the door, the Joker leans over the seat and grins at him.
Gordon recoils and the gun comes up. The Joker laughs.
“Don’t, Gordon,” Batman says. “It’s okay.”
“Him? He’s the one you rescued from Arkham?”
“He’s the only one that survived,” Batman replies. “Put the gun away. Joker, drive.”
The Joker hits the gas and the car leaps forward again. Gordon falls back against the seat but doesn’t lower the gun.
“He’s not infected, and right now that’s all that matters,” Batman says.
“That’s not all that matters,” Gordon says. “He’s a psychopath.”
“And he’s dri-ving,” says the Joker in a sing-song.
“I have other priorities,” Batman says. “Right now, so should you.”
Gordon slowly lowers the gun and meets Batman’s gaze, then sighs. He turns to his children and starts helping them buckle into the seat.
“How did you get out of Gotham?” he asks.
“We took a boat,” Batman says.
“Most of the way, anyway,” the Joker says.
“Where’s your wife?” Batman asks.
Gordon grimaces and wipes his wet hair back from his forehead. “She didn’t make it.”
“I’m sorry,” Batman says quietly.
Gordon says nothing, smoothing down his daughter’s hair. His eyes are wet, but so is the rest of him. Batman turns back around.
“Where are you headed, anyway?” Gordon asks, his voice rough.
“North,” Batman says. “Away from people.”
“It won’t work,” Gordon says. “I caught some news before the stations went down. The virus was halfway across the country by the second day. It has to be everywhere by now. I don’t think there’s any way to escape it.”
“Then where can we go?”
“Back to the shore. There are islands out there that may not have been touched.”
“I’ve had enough of boats,” the Joker says.
“Well it’s the only idea I have,” Gordon snaps.
“We’re going to have to start thinking long term,” Batman says to the Joker. “We can’t keep fighting for our lives out here.”
“I’m not thinking long term with him around,” Gordon says. The Joker laughs.
“It’s not going to be long term,” the Joker says. “These people are alive, but they won’t stay alive for much longer. A virus like this will burn them out.”
“Is that your professional opinion?” Gordon asks him sarcastically.
“He’s right,” Batman says slowly. “They don’t show any signs of self preservation. They’ll die of exposure to the cold in a few months, if starvation or thirst doesn’t get them first.”
“A few months, then,” Gordon says. “I don’t know if we can survive another few days out here unless we do something drastic.”
“Then we’ll find a boat,” Batman says. He shoots a look at the Joker. “A big boat, this time.”
The Joker laughs as he brings the car around the next corner without slowing. Batman holds onto the door and then pulls on his own seat belt when they get around the corner.
“I didn’t survive Gotham to die in a car accident,” Batman says tightly as the Joker swerves around another abandoned car.
“I’ve seen you drive,” the Joker says.
“At least this car can’t jump,” Batman says. The Joker grins.
The first harbor that they come to outside of Gotham has suffered a fire, with burnt husks of boats floating at their moorings, so they keep driving. They stop on the edge of the road near a traffic accident and siphon gas from two of the cars and then keep going.
They cross an overpass and Gordon says “Look…” The Joker slows the car and then brings it to a stop as they all stare out over the interstate.
The highway is packed with cars for as far as they can see, heading away from the city. Car doors hang open. There are accidents here and there, but all the cars are stopped.
“There are people moving down there,” Jimmy says.
There are a few people milling around the cars, wandering in between them. Batman watches their directionless wandering. They have to be infected, roaming around looking for victims. But could there be uninfected people down there? People hiding in their own cars, unable to flee without calling the infected down on them? It’s a suffocating thought. He can’t go down there and save them if they are. He can’t save any of them.
The Joker accelerates and they cross the bridge, following the curve of the road down again towards the east. They are all silent for a few moments, lost in thought. Finally the Joker reaches out and turns on the radio.
There is nothing but static on all of the radio stations. It doesn’t mean the whole country is dead, but everything local is gone. It shouldn’t be such a surprise since the virus originated here, as far as Batman knows, but for some reason it is paralyzing.
“Turn it off,” says Gordon. The Joker silently turns off the radio.
“The infected might be gone in a few months, but there won’t be anything left by then,” the Joker says.
“If we survived, others will,” Batman says.
“Not everyone’s traveling with Batman,” Gordon points out.
“Not everyone had to fight their way out of the center of Gotham. People will survive.”
“It doesn’t matter if others survive,” the Joker says. “Most people won’t, and the ones that do won’t come together. Society is gone.”
“You said that before. It doesn’t make it true,” Batman says. “The government will have evacuated, and if we’re lucky this won’t spread off the continent. There are other societies in the world.”
“We’ll be on our own,” the Joker argues.
“You’re trying to convince me to give up my morals.”
“You barely have any left anyway. Too late for the one rule, huh?”
“He was already dead,” Batman snapped. “He was going to kill us all.”
The Joker grins and doesn’t respond.
“We all had to do things to survive,” Gordon says quietly from the back seat. “We had to.”
“See, the Commish understands. It’s every man for himself out here now,” the Joker says.
“I wasn’t agreeing with you,” Gordon says. “This isn’t the end of the world, and it’s no excuse to abandon the law frivolously.”
“Frivolously,” the Joker laughs.
“Yes, frivolously. We are in a state of emergency, and the laws are different now. We have to provide for our own security right now, and defend against the people who would harm us.”
“Like I said. Every man for himself.”
“Look out,” Batman says. The Joker returns his attention to the road. There is a glut of infected children up ahead, gathered around a school bus. All of their heads have turned in the direction of the car. The Joker accelerates.
“Don’t hit them,” Gordon says.
“They look infected to me.”
“They also look like children,” Batman says.
The Joker keeps accelerating.
“Cover your eyes and ears,” Gordon says to his children uneasily. “Joker, slow down.”
“We won’t get through them if I slow down,” the Joker replies, pulling on his seat belt.
The school bus is at an angle in the road up ahead, its flashers still on. There is enough room to get past it on the left, but that’s where the children are, their faces turned towards the car like a hunting wolf pack that just caught the scent of prey.
“They may be infected but they’re still alive,” Gordon says.
“I never liked kids,” the Joker says. “Everyone’s window closed?”
“Jesus,” Gordon hisses.
Batman reaches to the console between himself and the Joker and grabs ahold of the parking brake. The Joker curses and grabs at his hand but Batman yanks back on it hard. The car slows abruptly, although the parking brake is not powerful enough to bring it to a complete stop. The children do not get out of the way.
On the other side of the children is a parked car.
The Joker does hit the brakes, but it’s a second too late. They T-bone the car and the windshield explodes inward. The airbags inflate, punching Batman in the face. He slams against the seat belt.
Gordon’s kids are screaming in the back seat, and there is more screaming outside of the car. The Joker dazedly hits the gas again but the engine has shut itself off and won’t come back on. A bloody child starts climbing through the broken windshield.
“Gordon, your gun,” Batman shouts, batting the air bag away from his face. There is an answering blast in his ear as Gordon fires over his shoulder to hit the child.
“Is everyone okay?” Gordon asks. Another two children are on the hood of the car. One of them vomits blood onto Batman. He squeezes his eyes shut and hears Gordon shoot again as blood splatters across his face. He grabs for his goggles, which are on top of his head, but his face is too covered in blood. He needs to clean himself off before he puts it on.
“I don’t have enough bullets for all of them,” Gordon says, his voice strained. He fires again. Batman tries uselessly to wipe blood off his face. Something is battering against the window next to his head, which mercifully survived the crash.
There is a shift beside him and then a hand grabs the back of his head. Batman flinches. A wet cloth rubs over the eye sockets of his mask.
“You have to take it off,” the Joker says.
Batman hesitates just a second as Gordon fires again, then relents. He unlatches his mask and pulls it and the cowl off his head. The Joker wipes the cloth across Bruce’s face, cleaning the blood off.
“Bruce Wayne?” Gordon says in quiet shock. “You’re Batman?”
“You’re clean,” the Joker says, pulling the goggles off Bruce’s head.
Bruce cautiously opens his eyes. The Joker is cleaning Bruce’s goggles on a clean corner of his sweatshirt. His chest is bare, and Bruce averts his eyes from the fading bruise of a bite mark on his collarbone. He’s not sure whether the bite mark is from an unlucky infected or from himself.
The car is surrounded by the children, clawing at the doors and banging on the windows. There had been maybe twenty five in the road before they hit, and it looks like sixteen or seventeen are still standing, although they haven’t all figured out that the windshield is open yet.
“Look out,” Gordon says, firing out through the windshield again as another child climbs onto the hood. The Joker hands the goggles back to Bruce and Bruce puts them on.
Barbie shrieks when one of the back windows cracks. Gordon turns around in his seat.
“We need to get out of here,” he says desperately.
“The car won’t start,” the Joker says. “And probably wouldn’t drive if it did.”
Batman picks up his mask and cowl and wipes the blood off it, then pulls it back on over his face, adjusting the goggles and respirator over it. He looks out the windshield.
“I’m going to run for it and draw them away,” he says. “When they’re away from the car, get out and head for the school bus. See if you can get it moving.”
“The school bus?” Gordon says. “I don’t know how to drive a school bus.”
“You’ll have about two minutes to figure it out.” Batman unbuckles his seat belt. “I’ll hold them off as long as I can.”
“We won’t drive off without you,” Gordon says.
“You will if you have to,” Batman says.
Gordon holds the gun out to him. “Take this.”
“I won’t be able to kill them all with it, so there’s no point. You take it.” Batman pulls his legs out from under the crumbled dashboard, flexing them cautiously. They seem to be uninjured.
A little girl is scrambling across the hood of the car. Gordon shoots at her and she falls back, sliding off the hood. Batman climbs up onto the dashboard and then out of the car.
He slides off the hood in a wave of broken glass and rain, then hits the ground and starts running. There are screams behind him and someone vomits blood over his back but he just keeps running.
He doesn’t dare look back, but he can hear many sets of footsteps behind himself and hopes that all of the children are coming. The road is bare in front of him, giving him plenty of room to maneuver.
After fifty feet, he spins around and faces the oncoming group. It looks like most of them did follow him, and he can see the door of the school bus closing. He spins around in a kick, knocking two of the infected to the ground.
He has fought for years in hand to hand combat against unskilled opponents, but never ones that were quite so small. He can’t think of them as children, only as infected, but even so he can’t bring himself to kill them. He knocks them to the ground and they keep getting back up, like rabid animals with a single-minded focus.
The school bus engine roars and then slowly begins to trundle past the two damaged cars. Batman turns and runs again.
The school bus pulls up next to him and the doors open. Batman grabs the handle and pulls himself inside. The doors close after him. Gordon is in the driver’s seat. The two kids are in the seat right behind him. The Joker is sprawled on his back a few seats back. One of his legs is soaked in blood.
“What happened?” Batman says uneasily at the sight of the blood.
“He was injured in the car accident,” Gordon says. “Not infected.” He sounds slightly disappointed.
“It’s like he wants me to eat his kids,” the Joker says, staring up at the school bus roof.
Batman walks down the aisle to the back of the bus, checking all the seats. There is a lot of blood, but no other children hiding on board. He can see the children racing after the bus, but they’re falling behind.
“We can follow the route north until we get to the Palisades,” he says. “I have a boat docked there.”
“No wonder you can drive a yacht,” the Joker says.
“Bruce Wayne,” Gordon says. “I never would have guessed that one.” He looks up in the rear view mirror to meet Batman’s gaze. “I honestly never knew.”
Batman sits down in the seat across from the Joker and doesn’t answer. The Joker is watching him.
“What’s wrong with your leg?” Batman asks him.
The Joker props himself up on one elbow and peels his pant leg up his calf. There is a gash in his shin where something cut him, and a livid purple bruise forming around it.
There’s a first aid kit mounted over Gordon’s head. Batman gets up and fetches it, then sits on the seat and pulls the Joker’s ankle into his lap. He washes out the wound with rubbing alcohol and then bandages it in gauze, wrapping it with tape.
“No more swimming,” he says to the Joker.
“Yeah, I’ve seen how that turns out,” the Joker says, sticking out his tongue and biting the end of it. Batman looks away.
They drive for several hours. The Palisades are a good forty minutes outside of Gotham without traffic, but normally they don’t have to dodge stalled cars and find alternate routes around closed roads. It doesn’t help that it’s still raining, and those streets that are clear of cars are still flooding at the edges. They have to turn around and try another route so many times that night starts to fall and they’re still twenty miles out.
They pass the road for Wayne Manor and keep going. Batman looks longingly up the road but doesn’t say anything. It’s still under construction and there is nothing there for him. Anything that he could salvage is back in the city at the penthouse. The only reason he still has a boat moored in the Palisades is because the Gotham berths had a waitlist full of people with as much money as him.
“We’ll need to stop for supplies,” Gordon says. The headlights are illuminating the road ahead of them. There is nothing but woods here and the roads are empty of infected.
“There’s a strip mall with a grocery store by the harbor,” Batman replies. “We can stop there.”
“I’m out of ammunition,” Gordon says.
“Then we’ll have to be careful.”
They pull into the lot of the grocery store fifteen minutes later and come to a stop out in front of the doors. The lot is half full of cars, which is a bad sign. It means that the super market was hit before people started to evacuate the area, or maybe while they were getting supplies to evacuate. It means that there are going to be infected inside.
“I don’t think we should go in there,” Gordon says.
“Long term, right? We’re going to need food,” Batman says. “We can’t just get on a boat and float out to sea. We’ll starve to death. At the least we’ll need water.”
“Then the kids will have to stay here.” Gordon looks at them, then past them to the Joker. He hesitates. “But I’m not leaving them with him, and he’s not well enough to come with us. This is like that old riddle with the fox, the goose and the corn.”
“I’ll go in on my own,” Batman says. “You stay here. My armor will protect me.”
“You’re not going in there alone!” Gordon says. “That’s more insane than you luring the infected from our car.”
“What’s going to happen to the kids if you turn?” Batman asks him. “Or if you come with me and we both do?”
Gordon rubs his face and says nothing. “Maybe we could find another grocery store.”
“There’s another one half an hour west of here,” Batman says.
“Shit,” Gordon groans.
“I’ll go with you,” the Joker says.
“I can still walk.”
“If you get blood on your—”
“It’s bandaged. It’s fine.”
Batman looks at him. “Okay,” he says.
Gordon watches them both in the rear view mirror.
“If we’re not back in twenty minutes, get out of here,” Batman says.
“I’m not going to leave you behind again,” Gordon says.
“Promise me, Gordon. Your kids are more important. Get them out of here if we don’t make it.”
Gordon nods. “You’d better make it, because I can’t drive a yacht.”
Batman smiles at him. “I will.”
He gets up and holds out a hand to the Joker. The Joker takes it and sits up. Gordon is watching them.
“Good luck,” he says.
Batman comes down the aisle. “Twenty minutes,” he replies.
The grocery store has no power, so it is pitch black inside and smells of rotting meat. The automatic doors don’t open for them, but Batman manages to slide them open manually. His night vision goggles show him the inside of the supermarket.
The Joker follows close behind him, his breathing even. Batman knows that the Joker must not be able to see much of anything at all, but the Joker follows him unerringly as they step into the fruits and vegetable section of the supermarket.
There are shapes moving at the far end of the market. They are wandering aimlessly, like the infected around the cars on the highway. They haven’t noticed Batman and the Joker yet.
It looks as though the supermarket was in the middle of preparing for the emergency. Crates of bottled water are on display by the door, as well as a stand of reduced price bread.
Batman moves slowly to the display of water, trying not to make any sudden movements. He crouches down next to the display.
“You start to bring this out to the bus,” he breathes to the Joker. “I’ll keep an eye on them and make sure they don’t get at you.”
“You don’t have a weapon,” the Joker replies.
“I have my hands,” Batman says. The Joker snorts and then covers his mouth at the sound. They both freeze, but the infected don’t seem to notice.
“Go,” Batman hisses. The Joker picks up the crate of water and then retreats to the door. He eases the automatic door open again and slips out.
Batman stays where he is and watches the infected. They are like rabid animals without a target at the moment. They move drunkenly as if they don’t quite know where they are.
He creeps forward a little, looking around. The bread and water will keep them from starving for a little while, but they’re going to need more than that. Without refrigeration, all the meat and fish and dairy products are going to be a loss, but the fruit is still intact. If he can get to the canned foods aisle, they might be able to survive for quite some time.
The Joker slips back in next to him and picks up the next crate of water. He leans over to Batman. “If we distract them, we could draw them out of here.”
“They’ll see the bus,” Batman replies.
“If the engine’s off, they might not know that anyone is inside.”
“We won’t be able to escape as fast from a cold start.”
The Joker shrugs and then disappears out the door again with the water. Batman creeps forward to the rack of bread and starts sliding loaves off the rack. The nearest racks beyond that are a display of sodas and cereals and, further on, the produce aisle.
There is a footstep to his right. Batman turns his head and sees an infected wander out from the florist shop. Batman stays frozen where he is, trusting to the darkness to cover him. The infected stumbles into the salad bar and catches itself, then starts shuffling towards the produce again.
Then it pauses, and Batman sees its head lift. Although it has its back to him, he can hear the intake of breath as it sniffs the air. It slowly turns.
The Joker curses quietly behind Batman and goes for the door. Batman takes a step back, his eyes fixed on the infected. It takes a lurching step forward and he turns and runs as well.
The Joker is already leaping up into the school bus. Batman climbs up after him and Gordon slams the bus doors shut. Infected pour out of the market, clawing their way past the non-functioning automatic doors.
The school bus grinds forward, its bulk making it slow. Infected grab onto the bus wherever they can, pulling at the door and windows. Gordon’s children are screaming. Blood splatters the windshield. Out the windows, more screams answer them. Gordon puts on the windshield wipers.
“Can’t this thing go faster?” the Joker says, collapsing in one of the seats. Batman hovers next to Gordon’s elbow, clutching the one loaf of bread he managed to salvage from the supermarket. He can’t quite remember picking it up, but at least they won’t starve for the next day or two.
“I’m trying,” Gordon snaps. The school bus lumbers forward, groaning as it starts to gain speed. A few of the infected fall off the sides. Another manages to get the door open and shoves a hand inside. Batman kicks it away and wrenches the door shut again.
They pull out of the parking lot, getting up to speed. The last of the infected falls away and Batman breaths a sigh of relief.
“We got two crates of water and a loaf of bread,” he says, holding up the loaf. Gordon stares at him for a second and then the corners of his mouth start to turn up.
Gordon laughs and shakes his head, looking exhausted. “Now tell me where we’re going. I don’t know the way.”
A mile outside of the marina, the road is closed. There are two abandoned police cars across the road, one of which has been rammed by a third car. No one is in sight. Gordon brings the school bus to an idling stop.
“We can’t get past that,” he says.
He and Batman stare out the windshield, past the three cars. The road is long and narrow. There are no sidewalks, and both sides of the road are lined with the forest that fills most of the Palisades.
On the plus side, it’s only two thirty in the afternoon, which means they have several more hours of daylight, such as it is. But the rain is still coming down, and even the full daylight is a dull gray.
“We’ll walk from here,” Batman says. “If we’re lucky, we’ll find a working car and can drive the rest of the way. It’s a mile, there shouldn’t be too many people around. The Joker and I will carry the water. You keep close to Jimmy and Barbie.”
Gordon nods. “It’s a plan,” he says, sounding slightly doubtful.
He turns off the bus and for a moment all of them sit there and listen hard. There are no sounds except for the rain pounding on the roof of the bus. Batman walks slowly down the aisle of the bus and looks out all the windows. No one is out there on the road behind them or ahead of them.
“Let’s go,” Batman says finally.
They get out of the bus. The crate of water bottles isn’t heavy, but it’s cumbersome. Batman keeps his goggles down and his respirator up. He hates having his hands full, but Gordon needs to be free to make sure his kids don’t fall behind. If someone comes at them, Batman will just drop the water.
They start walking. Batman wants to move quickly, but the children are tired and the Joker is limping. Blood has soaked through the bandage over his wound and he’s looking pale, his eyes sunken. They slosh and splash through the water and all of them are listening hard.
An hour later, they reach the entrance to the marina. Many of the boats are gone. People must have been able to escape. Maybe that was what the road block was for—to allow people time to get out. Bruce Wayne’s yacht is still docked, however. He last used it two weeks ago for an early October party. If they’re extremely lucky, some of the nonperishable food will still be on board, although he usually hires a crew to take care of the kitchen for his parties.
They stop at the entrance. There is a car abandoned across the pavement, its doors still hanging open. Batman can’t see any infected at the moment, although that doesn’t mean that they’re not there.
“My boat is at dock G,” Batman says in a low voice, pointing. “It’s the forty foot yacht named the Sea Spirit.”
“Only forty feet?” Gordon says dryly.
“The other one is in dry dock for repairs.”
They move slowly across the pavement, circling the abandoned car. Batman keeps scanning the area warily.
“Do you hear that?” Gordon whispers.
There is a moaning from one of the boats at dock A. The boat seems to be half detached from the dock, as if someone was interrupted in the middle of getting out of there. There is a cooler on the ground, tipped on its side, contents strewn over the dock.
“Keep going,” Batman murmurs.
In the boat house, something clatters. They all freeze.
“They’re behind us,” the Joker hisses.
Batman turns. There is the noise of large animals crashing through the woods across from the marina entrance. Through the trees, he catches a glimpse of people moving quickly: two, three, four of them.
“They can smell the blood,” the Joker says.
Batman casts a look down at the Joker’s leg, where the blood is soaking through his pant leg. He remembers in the supermarket, where the infected smelled the air before turning on them.
“Run,” he says.
Four infected burst free of the woods and one of them screams. Gordon holds both of his children’s hands in his own, running for the dock. Batman and the Joker run after them, holding the crates of water, which jounce with each step.
Two more infected come out of the boat house, and then another comes off the boat on the A dock. Gordon’s children are dragging at his hands, not quite able to keep up with him.
“When you get to the boat, start throwing off the lines,” Batman shouts to Gordon. They reach the dock, which is gated at the end. Gordon shoves the gate open and they fly through. Batman shuts the gate behind himself, which will give them a few seconds. They sprint down the ramp to the level of the water.
Gordon reaches the boat first. He helps Jimmy and Barbie climb over the railing into the boat, then sets to work at the first rope.
The Joker tosses the crate of water into the boat and goes for the second rope. Batman vaults into the boat.
“I’m going to start the engines. Get in as soon as it’s free,” he calls to them, grabbing the ladder that will take him up to the cockpit.
Gordon passes the rope up to Jimmy, who climbs up onto the railing to take it. He tosses it to the floor of the boat. Gordon climbs up over the railing and into the boat.
Batman finds the boat keys where he usually keeps them and the engine turns over. The yacht shifts and bumps the dock, which shudders.
Jimmy lets out a little cry, his arms flailing. Batman and Gordon and the Joker all turn. Jimmy tips backward over the railing and falls with a splash into the water.
“Jimmy!” Gordon shouts, racing for the railing. The Joker, who is still standing on the dock, drops down to his knees and shoves his hand down to the water. He gets Jimmy by the back of his shirt and hauls him up. Jimmy clutches at the Joker, coughing and crying.
The infected break through the gate at the top of the ramp. It bangs open and the first of them start to sprint down the ramp. The Joker turns and looks at them and Batman knows, for one second, that the Joker is thinking of doing the same thing he did to Sherry: gut the kid and leave him as a distraction. Batman can see the thought running through the Joker’s head as clear as if he spoke it out loud.
Then the Joker takes Jimmy around the waist and lifts him up to Gordon, who is reaching over the railing. The gap between the boat and the dock is widening as the boat churns water.
“Get in!” Batman screams down to him. The first of the infected is mere feet from the Joker, running at full tilt.
The Joker turns and runs down the dock, dodging out of the grip of the infected. More of the infected are coming. One of them leaps out at the yacht and catches the railing, then drops off into the water. Batman pushes up on the throttle and they power away from the dock.
The Joker is sprinting for the end of the dock. He is outpacing the infected behind him, but he’s also running out of dock. Batman divides his attention between getting them through the gauntlet of parked yachts and watching the Joker run.
“There’s a lifeboat,” Gordon says, coming up into the cockpit.
“There isn’t enough time,” Batman says tightly. “Do you think you can drive?”
“Drive? What?” Gordon looks flustered. “You’re going after him?”
“It’s no harder than driving a school bus,” Batman says, bringing the yacht in a wide swing towards the end of the dock.
The Joker reaches the end of the dock as the yacht pulls around. They’re too far away still. They won’t make it in time to rescue him. The Joker looks over at the yacht, then turns to face the infected. Batman sees him pull his knife from his pocket.
Batman slows the yacht down to an idle and grabs the overhang of the roof over the cockpit. He pulls himself up and looks down at the docks. He spreads his wings.
There are more infected pouring down the ramp, drawn by the sound of the yacht engine. Some of them are splashing into the water, floundering to get to the boat. The wind catches the underside of Batman’s wings and carries him the distance.
He uses his momentum to plow three of the infected off the other side of the dock when he lands, and is barely able to keep himself from following them into the water. He catches himself and spares a glance for the Joker, whose eyes are wide in surprise, then turns to face the oncoming horde.
They come in a wave of teeth and hands. Batman kicks them away and they fall into the water and then claw their way back onto the dock. He punches them and bones break and blood sprays across his goggles. Their screams are ringing in his ears.
He can’t turn to see if the Joker is still fighting behind him or if he is dead or turned. He is surrounded, and his goggles are filmed in blood. He can smell the stench of infection.
Someone is shouting.
Someone lunges for his throat and he barely knocks them back in time. Bodies slam into him, forcing him back. He bumps into someone and wonders if it’s the Joker, but then teeth scrape the neck of his cowl and he hopes it’s not. He elbows the infected away from him, spinning to knock them away. He swipes at his goggles with the back of his wrist and clears enough to see the blur of bodies around him.
Someone is still shouting, and after a second his brain recognizes the words. It’s Gordon.
“Get in the goddamn boat!” he is shouting, his voice hoarse. “Get off that dock and get in the goddamn boat!”
He knocks an infected away and has the space to suck in a rattling breath through his respirator before the next infected comes. When he goes for it, someone else gets there first. The Joker. The Joker is alive, and his knife flashes as he cuts the throat out of the infected. When it falls, the Joker grabs Batman’s arm and yanks him back, toward the end of the dock.
The lifeboat is bobbing in the water five feet from the end of the dock, trailing a rope. The yacht is thirty feet away and Gordon is leaning over the railing, holding the other end of the rope. The two kids are leaning over as well.
The Joker makes a flying leap for the boat and makes it in. The lifeboat lurches and bobs. Batman jumps after him, nearly spilling them both out, and then Gordon is yanking on the rope, the children helping to tow them in. The infected on the dock scream and jump into the water after them.
The Joker collapses into the seat next to him, chest heaving with exertion. Batman hangs onto the sides of the lifeboat and looks over his shoulder at the dock diminishing behind them. The infected flounder in the water, trying to swim towards them. The yacht gets closer.
Batman looks at Joker, who wipes a smear of blood of his cheek. They catch eyes and Batman can’t help it. He starts to smile. The Joker’s lips curl up, and then they start to laugh.