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Laughing At the Sorry State I'm In

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Bruce drives for hours, never taking his eyes off the road and never removing his hand from where it lies between them, Joker’s fingers twined with his own. They say nothing, watching cities melt past the windows of the black Jaguar, moving steadily south. Bruce’s mind feels dull, his body aches but the hand that grips his is warm and steady. He holds onto it like an anchor, knuckles white.

The sun is rising before Bruce pulls into a random motel parking lot. He pays for a room and Joker follows him upstairs. The room is small and ratty, definitely not Bruce Wayne’s usual style, but the bed is wide and comfortable. He undresses mechanically and slides under the covers, Joker joining him wordlessly.

Bruce lies awake and stares at the ceiling, wondering what he’s doing. The guilt is a hard knot in his chest. He cannot close his eyes without seeing Alfred’s slack face, blood pouring from his slit throat. He looks so surprised, his absolute confidence that Bruce would save him shaken only by the fact of his own death. Too late; just as he was too late for Rachel and for Harvey—all the failures of his life come back to mock him.

Joker’s breath is even, the heat of his body warming Bruce’s side. Bruce doesn’t think he’s asleep, but he doesn’t move. They lay together, side by side, as the pink fingers of dawn climb up the walls. The pressure in Bruce’s head builds and finally, Bruce rolls off the bed and stumbles into the dingy bathroom.

That water sluices over his body, lukewarm, the pressure too high. Bruce leans his forehead against the white-tiled wall and forces himself to breath.

I’m sorry, Alfred, he wants to say, but he’s not sure what for. Which betrayal is worse--killing in the name of justice, or allowing Joker to corrupt him even further? He knows he ought to turn himself over to the police for the murder of those men. He ought to turn Joker over, for Rachel and for Harvey, and for all the other innocent lives he shattered. They belong in side-by-side cells; Bruce knows this. But his body still aches from where Joker was inside of him. He feels like he is barely holding together and that Joker is the only true thing, the only real thing he has to hold on to. This truth ought to frighten him, but he only feels a dim discomfort.

He switches off the shower and gets dressed on autopilot. He’s reached some sort of equilibrium, his mind fogged by exhaustion. When he emerges from the bathroom, he finds that Joker has disappeared while Bruce was in the shower, but he returns a few minutes later with two Styrofoam cups of black coffee and a pastry bag of donuts. Bruce eats what he’s given and then they climb back into the car.

Joker turns the radio on and Bruce pulls out of the parking lot, heading south. He does not take Joker’s hand again.

They pass through small towns and then, by afternoon, Memphis. Bruce’s hands tighten on the steering wheel. The sight of the skyscrapers makes him feel sick to his stomach. He avoids cities after that, sticking to smaller highways and back roads. Sometimes he drives and sometimes Joker does. They listen to the radio, switching between news and classic rock. They say little. They drive into the night, stopping only when the sun begins to inch over the horizon. Bruce checks into some roadside motel, leaving Joker in the car. He steels himself for the inevitable, “Oh my god, you’re Bruce Wayne!” that follows. This becomes less and less of an issue as they get further and further from Gotham, and Bruce is glad for that.

He goes back out to the car and Joker follows him to their room. In bed, Joker curls into him, wrapping strong arms around him and Bruce allow this, grey with weariness; until Joker’s quiet breathing lulls him into a few unbroken hours of slumber.

They do this for three days before Joker has had enough.

They have checked into a room that resembles every other room they’ve stayed in—small, dim and dingy. Bruce has already toed off his shoes and collapsed onto the bed, his eyes training on the white popcorn ceiling as Joker strips and gets into bed beside him.

Only instead of curling behind him and switching off the lamp, Joker says, “Right,” as if something has been decided. It is the first thing that he’s said in days, and Bruce is a distantly startled when Joker rolls over and onto Bruce.

For a ludicrous moment, Bruce thinks this is about sex. Joker’s weight pins his down, this legs tangling with Bruce’s, his face so close that Bruce can make out every line and freckle on his skin. Bruce’s skin prickles, warming in every spot that Joker touches. He doesn’t move, waiting to see what Joker will do.

“Do you know why I killed Rachel?”

Joker’s voice is low and unteasing, an honest question. It is still like a punch to the gut. Bruce feels himself go rigid, anger flooding through him because he does not want to talk about that, ever.

“Yeah, I know you’d rather pretend that the man who’s holding you at night isn’t the same one who killed your lady love. I thought you understood. But you never did, did you?”

Bruce doesn’t know how to answer that but Joker just waits, his body a warm heavy weight on Bruce’s. There is something comforting in the crushing weight of him, in the way Bruce can’t quite pull enough air into his lungs, in the way that Joker’s eyes take in every expression that crosses his face. There is no threat looming in Joker’s eyes; a foreign tenderness resides there instead.

Bruce feels lulled into answering. “You wanted to hurt me.”

He knows as soon as he says it that it is the wrong answer. Joker looks disappointed, almost pitying. Joker shakes his head fondly and lowers his mouth to Bruce’s, lips coaxing and warm. He rains kisses onto Bruce’s lips, his cheeks, his chin, until Bruce’s eyes slide closed and he begins to kiss back.

They spend several languorous minutes this way before Joker’s mouth moves away.

“No,” Joker says, drawing out the vowel chidingly against his skin. “It was to teach you a lesson.” His hand comes up and cups Bruce’s face, slowly and carefully, like Bruce is an animal that might spook. The fingertips press in, warm and commanding, and Bruce tilts his head as he’s beckoned, exposing his neck to Joker’s teeth and tongue.

They haven’t done this since leaving Gotham, but the heady rush of fear and pleasure is the same. Joker bites sharply and Bruce moans. Desire is cutting through the fog that has clouded his brain, bringing everything into sharp relief.

“What was the lesson?” Joker whispers into his ear and his warm breath makes Bruce arch underneath him. He hears himself make a whimpering noise as his earlobe is sucked into Joker’s mouth.

“I…” he pants, “I don’t know.”

Joker pulls back and looks Bruce dead in the eye. “You can’t save everyone,” he says. “You aren’t to blame for that.”

The words crumble something in Bruce’s chest, and Bruce reaches out, wrapping his arms around Joker tightly and crushing Joker’s lips with his own. He rolls them over, the brief disconnection worth it for the startled, pleased sound Joker makes, and then they are kissing again, Bruce’s hands clawing against Joker’s shoulders. The white noise in his head is receded, replaced by the need for Joker to be closer. Bruce pulls at him almost frantically, and the other man obliges, arching up, his cloth-covered erection rubbing against Bruce’s boxers. Even that little bit of clothing is too much, and Bruce snakes a hand down, impatiently pushing the offending garment down, palming Joker’s cock roughly.

The sound that escapes Joker’s mouth is glorious—all hot and startled need. Desire swells to bursting in Bruce’s chest. His mind is full of nothing but the sharp need to touch ever inch of Joker’s skin. He’s wanted this for so long, wanted to touch and taste and linger. Months of quick, brutal couplings in dark alleys or abandoned buildings have built the desire to a maelstrom and Bruce cannot help the way his lips trail across Joker’s flesh, teeth scraping against pale, exposed skin. He envelopes Joker’s cock in wet heat, leisurely lapping at the head while Joker squirms beneath him. He’s always wanted to do this, and he’d always denied himself, thinking it too intimate, too demeaning for Batman. But he is not Batman now. He can suck Joker’s cock into his mouth, tease him with lips and tongue and the shadow of teeth while Joker moans and writhes beneath him. He can hum around Joker’s cock and get lost in the taste and feel of him. He can swallow every drop of Joker’s orgasm while the madman shudders and gasps beneath him.

All of this is possible, because he is no longer Batman.

Joker pulls him up and kisses Bruce’s mouth sweetly, and Bruce is already so close that all it takes is Joker’s palm around him. He comes across his own belly, pushing his involuntary sounds into Joker’s pleased mouth and it’s all right. He is not Batman anymore and he can have this.

He wakes in the morning feeling rested, his mind peaceful and focused.

They had been heading east for days now, and Bruce had not realized until this morning what they were heading towards. He smirks as he starts the car, Joker’s figure a familiar, comforting sight beside him. He swings north, by-passing Flagstaff. He slows, weaving through 2-lane traffic full of semi-trucks and minivans. By late evening, most of the traffic has cleared and he turns off the road onto a look out, a chandelier of stars stretching over them. The Grand Canyon yawns a dozen feet in front of them, the rising moon illuminating the edges of sheer cliffs.

He fumbles in the driver’s side pocket for a moment, and then pulls out a CD. There is an identical copy in each vehicle he owns, but he never listens to it. He loads it into the CD player now, and the rise and fall of a familiar guitar riff begins.

Joker hums in approved recognition of the song. Bruce feels the corners of him mouth quirk up. He rolls the windows down, and then gets out, a little stiff from sitting so long. He leans against the hood of the Jag, feeling the cool night breeze against his face as a sweet, sad voice sings, Breathe, breathe in the air.

Bruce’s lungs expand and he closes his eyes, letting the music wash over him.

Joker is silent beside him, waiting, Bruce realizes, for Bruce to explain. He feels the smirk slither over his face again. They could sit like this all night, he thinks, and Joker would sit here with him and listen to the quiet strains of Dark Side of the Moon and wait. The thought is oddly comforting—that this brilliant, hyperactive madman would sit still and wait for him. Such devotion used to disturb him. Now it calms him.

“This was my father’s favorite,” Bruce spoke over the frantic wailing cries of ‘The Great Gig in the Sky.’ “We came here when I was eight, a few months before they died. Drove down the whole way, and dad played this album the whole time. My mom complained about it, but I caught her singing along.” He smiles in recollection.

He talks on, sharing details of the trip, of his childish amazement at the natural wonder in front of them.

What he doesn’t say is that he stood upon this same precipice twenty-three years ago, and felt the same urge to throw himself over. The whispering voice in the back of his head, urging him to let go; the same voice that urges Batman to leap off buildings, the night air snatching the breath from his lungs, his whole body lax in anticipation, waiting until the last possible second to trigger the stiff folds of his cape and let them catch his fall. The same, soul-crushing despair as he lays atop his parents’ graves with his hands tangled in wet grass, choking on jealousy.

He doesn’t say it, but he thinks Joker understands.

He lapses into silence, eyes fixed on the middle distance. He feels calm, and ready. He pushes off from the car and takes a step forward, and then another.

No restraining hand stops him.

The pressure builds in his head. His eyes burn, his breath coming in quick, ragged gasps. Another step and he’s at the guardrail. The coarse wood presses into his knees, catches at the fabric of his jeans as he steps over it. And after all, we’re just ordinary men.

Bruce closed his eyes. The pressure has built to bursting, a hot poker behind his eyes. The wind is harsher here. It stings his cheeks, whispering past his ears. Bruce forces his eyes open and looks down. He feels no fear, no hesitation stirring in the silent corners of his mind. Only a grim sense of purpose.

He looks back over his shoulder at the man behind him. Their gazes lock and Bruce finds he cannot look away. Joker’s face is drawn, set in stark, serious lines by the moonlight. His eyes bore into Bruce’s, understanding and sorrow and affection, and no—this cannot be. Joker cannot be looking at him like this.

But he is.

Something in Bruce’s chest catches.

The lunatic is in my head, Bruce thinks dazedly.

He rips his gaze away from Joker’s. He takes another step towards the edge, but his resolution is faltering, stung by what he has seen in Joker’s face. His vision blurs. His movements slow. Suddenly, the pressure breaks, spills over into emotion, tangled and raw. Bruce’s body turns instinctively towards its only source of comfort and Joker is there, right there with him, strong arms winding around him, pulling him into a thin chest. He gasps into Joker’s neck, holding on for dear life.

It is a long time before the storm abates, before Joker takes him by the hand and leads him to the car like a child. He sleeps as Joker drives, waking only when they stop at the same motel they spent last night in. Joker goes in for the key. Bruce doesn’t know how he procures a room without being recognized. Maybe he kills the night clerk. Bruce’s mind doesn’t even stutter on that thought. He follows Joker into their room and lays down at his urging, allowing the clown to undress him as he rests in stuporous blankness. He feels washed clean. Renewed, but still without purpose. The tangle of emotions is still there and he cannot sort them, but Joker seems to know.

“Sleep,” he says. “It will all look better in the morning, I promise.”

Joker’s arms wind around him and Bruce sinks into his warmth and closes his eyes.

He dreams of falling, of a hand reaching down into darkness.

“Bruce, why do we fall?” A voice asks, but it is not his father’s.

When he wakes it is to Joker’s naked chest against his back, Joker’s slick fingers sliding against his entrance. Bruce is already half-hard and he sighs as one finger worms its way inside.

“We’re going back to Gotham today,” Joker whispers. He slips another finger inside and begins to work Bruce open. Bruce hears him through the ringing in his head.

“No,” Bruce gasps out. “I’m not ready.”

“You are,” Joker says and removes his fingers. He lines himself up and pushes inside, seating himself to the hilt in one smooth thrust. Bruce moans with the feel of the cock throbbing inside of him, with the strong arms pulling him even closer, with the nip of teeth at his neck.

“You can’t stop,” Joker is murmuring. “You’re addicted to the danger.”

Joker’s logic is so twisted that Bruce cannot follow it, but the reasoning is sinking into his head anyway. With every movement, Joker is igniting a fire in him that burns away what little of his reason remains, and leaving nothing but heat in its wake.

“It’s not—“ He groans as Joker twists his hips, pushing even deeper inside and stilling there. His breath comes in pants as he continues. “It’s not about danger. Batman is about justice.”

“Mmmm, that’s why you shared your armor, and your tech and your methods with the GCPD, right?”

Joker starts moving slowly, pulling back inch by inch, and Bruce feels bereft at the loss. He pulls nearly completely out and stops again. Every other part of his body is pressed close to Bruce, his arms tightening like he’s like to climb inside, and Bruce pushes his hips back, tries to complete the connection, but Joker doesn’t allow it.

“No,” he says, and Bruce isn’t sure if it’s a rebuke for his impatience, of if Joker is simply continuing the conversation. “I know you believe that Batman is about cleaning up Gotham, and maybe he is, a little. But he is also about you, and what you need.”

“What do you know about what I need?” Bruce snaps back, frustrated. Joker surges forward, impaling Bruce again. Bruce moans wantonly, his hands scrambling at the twisted sheets, as Joker fucks him. He doesn’t stop this time. His pace is fast and rough, but Bruce can take it. Wants to take it. Wants more, with every passing second, to lose himself in the inferno building up in him.

But Joker still won’t allow it. He takes a fist full of Bruce’s hair and turns his head, forcing Bruce to look at him.

His pace doesn’t falter, but his voice is breathless as he says, “You need danger.” This times Bruce doesn’t gainsay him. He can feel the truth of it whisper within him, the ever-present voice that sets him apart from normal people.

“What could be more dangerous than me?”

Bruce’s blood surges as he realizes what Joker is offering, and what it means. An ending, but also a beginning.

Bruce isn’t wired to take things by halves. If he allows this, it will be irrevocable—he will be Joker’s, to be completed by him, or to be destroyed by him. He feels that certainty twist in his gut, bloom out under his ribcage.

And then he remembers the look on Joker’s face as he stands too near the edge of the cliff, the look he had refused to name but knew, deep down. He wonders when he had made a decision, because it isn’t a choice now.

He shudders, orgasm whipping through him—darkness and wind and the maelstrom, all the screaming chaos that are his feelings for this man.

Afterward, he puts his arms around Joker, cradling him close, pressing sloppy, tired kisses into his skin. He says nothing, but they both understand.

The next morning, he turns the car back north towards Gotham.