Pairs and pairs of latex hands roam me and the lights are too bright. They’re all talking about me but nobody talks to me.
People scream in Arkham and people scream in my head so i never quite know which is which.
The doctors make me piss in a jug, and catheterize me so they don’t have to deal with helping me to the bathroom anymore.
They medicate me but all it does is make the screams less frequent.
Your old man’s hands are as warm and patient as yours, and yet he has no stake in me. He holds my head as you ease me down to the the bed. He hits a vein on the first try. He tells me what drugs he’s giving me, and why.
i like what i see in you. i like that i can read you but i can’t read you, that after all this time parts of you are still a mystery to me.
When i’m clean and stitched and drugged and put to bed you don’t lie down with me. Instead you pull up a chair next to the head of the bed and oh shit, i realize, i must be in pretty bad shape if you’re monitoring me.
i’ve never met anybody as brave as you, you say as you take my hand. Not half as stupid, either.
i laugh. It makes me cough. i’m too high to see anything besides your face i’m too high to hear anything besides your voice. The hallucinations are quiet. The chattering, quiet. You know just how to fine-tune the balance of drugs so that i can simply be, without being everywhere at once. Trial by fire and error.
Are you not going to eat, the nurse asks me. i don’t say anything.
Ten minutes later they’re holding me down and numbing up my throat and i’m gagging as they stick the nasogastric tube down. My wrists are buckled so i don’t rip the tube out.
i spend three days on gatorade before you talk me into eating, even though my stomach feels like i’ve been drinking nothing but Gotham riverwater.
You pump me full of promethazine and we start with crackers but you let me go at my own pace. When i finish one and keep it down your face lights up and you tell me how well i’ve done, you kiss my cheeks.
i should feel patronized but i don’t because i’ll do this for you, i will do this for you.
And besides that you know what i need. You know just how to help my body recover.
The thing is that when my strength comes back my fight comes back right along with it, and you recognize this. You know that when you take part in my recovery you in turn take part in my warfare, and yet you show up at my door again and again with your bandages and your patient hands and your warm words ready to patch my body back together. Half the time it’s Batman that breaks me down again.
It’s just another mystery that you’ve cloaked yourself in, that i have yet to maze my way through.
Brown and red and brown swirl down towards the drain as your hands soap me over. Little click clicks echo all around us as bits of gravel hit the acrylic. i must’ve made a sound of discomfort because you say
i’ll make it fast. Just so you’re not sleeping in a layer of mud. The idea takes me somewhere and repeats itself and repeats itself and repeats until i’m buried under layers and layers of warm wet earth with worms and burrowers majoring under all my skin slowly taking my body under until there’s nothing left
Joker? Your voice snaps me back onto the bathtub bench, in your house, between your hands. Where did you go just now.
A good place, i say. You raise an eyebrow. i was dead, i tell you. None of this mattered. Your hands still. Your eyes widen. Then both of your arms are around me gently drawing me in.
i… your voice is choked. i wish i could make you not think like that.
You can’t, i whisper into the muscles of your shoulder. You pull away, and nod, and start to rinse me off.
Things could be different for you, Joker.
Things already are different, Bruce.
You know what i mean, you sigh, and look away from me.
By the time you wrap me in a towel put me to bed and wire me up i’m so far away that the only thing anchoring me at all is the warmth of your form, as i fall asleep in your embrace.
When i wake again i try to sit up in bed. A machine shrieks and you look worried which probably means that my stats aren’t good. Somewhere between you calling Alfred can you come here please and an eighteen gauge needle slipping neatly into the crook of my arm there are two pairs of hands on me changing my shirt. i must be in bad shape, for you to have called your old man this late at night.
Shadows behind you warp out and expand across the wall sending my sense of gravity spinning.
Outside anyone screams loud with a knife at their throat. Part of me needs to get out there, be involved in that. Part of me needs to stay here in your warm house with you as my shadow. Your old man lays a fold of cold wet against my forehead as we lie on a mattress so big that we’re miles apart. Usually you prefer to stay close but apparently i’m too fragile to touch.
Then the drugs begin to work and the vertigo settles. i don’t like them because i don’t work well this way but when i’m on downers it gives my body time to heal and it gives me time with you. The downers let me sleep.
You wake me every few hours, walk me to the bathroom and back. At some point the sky turns from black to grey and you’re taking out the cannula so that i can rest without having to get up to piss.
Close your eyes, you murmur as you slip an ativan into my mouth. i’ll be here.
They don’t stop hitting me even when i’m face down on the floor. They call me faggot and murderer and rapist and terrorist and i laugh at them as i spit blood because everything they’re saying is true and it's hilarious and i’m gasping sticks and stones with my last breaths as one of them hauls me up by the collar, i’m using all my remaining strength to slug him square in the jaw before my laughter dissolves and i’m
choking, coughing up blood opening my eyes to a black ceiling, still coughing with my stomach in my throat. i bolt
upright nauseous and gagging and spitting up copper with flashes of boots kicking at my face warping in and out between my hands as i catch red flecks with my fingers
Joker. Your voice comes from a long way off.
and the kicking sequence repeats itself once more, expanding out across my entire plane of vision before it all snaps back and it’s you kneeling in front of me holding out a wad of tissue, saying
Joker. Pinch your nose. i do as you say, and when you slide a towel across my lap i spit a clump of red mucus into it. Then the nausea peaks my stomach heaves and a trickle of blood spills from my mouth onto the white fabric.
Ugh, i manage before my stomach clenches and more blood comes up.
i know, you say. Your hand is on my shoulder your voice is sad. It’s just because you were sleeping on your back when your nose started bleeding. Get it up; you’ll feel better.
My hair’s pulled away from my face and i heave again and your hand’s rubbing up and down my back, and for a minute or two that’s all there is: the copper taste on my tongue and my stomach wrenching itself sore and the rhythm of your hand on my spine. When i can breathe again i look at you and see that it’s you that i’ve slugged, that there’s blood on your lip. i reach up to cup your chin my fingers are shaking shaking shaking
It’s not your fault, you tell me, taking my hand. Don’t worry about it.
i don’t mind getting hit, i tell you. i don’t mind that part at all. It’s when i can’t hit back that sucks. Your brow creases.
What do you mean? You ask. i don’t say anything.
Time to go back to bed, you say as you sit back against the headboard and reach for a bottle of water. Come here for minute. Sit with me and relax.
i come here. i sit with you. i let you hold the bottle up to my face, i rinse and spit. We lie down and you wrap tight around me and your arms grow roots into the bed, straight into the floor and through to the dirt where they latch on and spread.
Right now you’re mine, you whisper. And until i say otherwise, nobody is going to take you away from me. And i smile, because
that’s true to some extent. Sometimes i am yours. Sometimes
i’m a mad dog, just looking for a throat to tear into.
Sometimes i am a detonator, at the end of a thousand miles of line, waiting for someone to push the button.
And sometimes i’m just a worn out old ghost of myself broken and sick and shaking, crawling into the shell of your open arms.
"I can't tell you how many ways that I've sat
And viewed my life today, but I can tell you
I don't think that I can find an easier way
So if I see you walking hand in hand in hand
With a three armed man, you know I'll understand
But you should've been in my shoes yesterday