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Half Way Across

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“You will visit me,” Joker says.

The words splash into the silence like pebbles into a puddle, rippling air which up until now has been oppressively still. Bruce manages not to react but the muscles in his body tense all the same; he suspects they always will at the sound of the Joker’s voice.

Especially after tonight.

“What?” he says, keeping his eyes on the road.

“In Arkham. I want you to visit me regularly, at least once a week. If we’re gonna do this I want you to keep your end of the deal.”

Bruce’s thoughts grind to a screeching halt; suddenly his skin bleeds hot sweat under the kevlar. His heart slams in his neck. He tries to fit this new development into what happened not an hour ago at the funfair and the concept is suddenly too big, too impossible to settle in his head, a bit like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that he’s trying to forcefully jam into the wrong part of the picture.

He almost doesn’t dare ask, in case it’s just another joke. But he can’t afford to hope either.

“So you’re saying —”

“Yes,” Joker says. Quietly, like he hates himself for it, like he thinks he’s making a big mistake but is unable to stop himself all the same, like he’s already regretting even this much. “Yes, I’ll do it. Okay? I’ll — I’ll try. With you. But you have to promise you’ll visit.”

Bruce is silent. The puzzle piece still doesn’t want to fit, not after everything that’s happened, and he thinks he may have been a fool to ever think it would.

Only now, despite everything he’s said back there at the fair, Joker’s promising to try and make it fit. The implications of that are just too momentous for Bruce to consider.

“All right,” he makes himself say, and thinks, Oh, God.

And then he thinks, Jim. Barbara.

I’m sorry.

But it’s worth it. Just taking that step, even knowing it may well amount to nothing… it’s worth it, and if Joker wants to try, even now, maybe one day Bruce will find the words to explain why it matters so much, and maybe, one day, the Gordons will learn not to hate him.

Joker is quiet in the passenger seat, cuffed and bound, gazing out the window at the splashes of red and blue of the police car lights trailing after them. Rain rattles against the panes and smudges the lights into a mess of bright color. Joker’s hair drips water onto the seat, onto the muddied suit, down the hollows of his white face and the corners of his downturned mouth. He looks broken, his vivid colors washed away into pale shadows against the flashes of red and blue. Bruce looks away and back to the road.

“Don’t turn the flashlight off on me, Bats,” Joker says quietly, much, much later, when the black spires of Arkham sharpen against the sky.

Bruce feels the muscles in his jaw tense. His fingers tighten on the wheel.

“I won’t.”

 

***

 

Bruce keeps his word and visits the Joker once a week.

Nothing about it is easy. The first time he comes, Joker refuses to speak to him, and they spend fifteen minutes staring at one another as Bruce tries and fails to get him to confess why he’s agreed to this in the first place.

The second time he comes, Joker is singing. It’s a love song. He stares right at Bruce as he sings it, and his lips are fixed into a grin that feels just an inch too stretched, even for him. He refuses to stop. Bruce leaves after three minutes.

The third time he comes, he brings cards. It seems to work; Joker sits down to a game willingly enough. They play in silence until about ten minutes in, when Joker asks, “And how is the lovely miss Gordon doing these days? I imagine the surgery must have cost an arm and a leg. Or two legs, as the case may be.”

Bruce shoves his chair back, hard, snatches the cards away and slams the door. Joker laughs him out. He sounds as angry as Bruce feels.

It’s the anger that keeps Bruce coming back, even more than the promise. When he catches glimpses of anger under Joker’s theatrics, hope beats against his chest, however tiny, that maybe this could work after all, because what the anger is is Joker lashing out. Joker resents Batman for making him agree to give up what makes him him. He’s hurting, and he wants to hurt Bruce right back for it, but he’s hurting because,at least for now, he’s keeping his word.

And Bruce can take the anger. He’s prepared for it. This was never going to be easy.

It could still be nothing more than another game, and Bruce takes that into account every time he strides through the cold corridors of Arkham. He knows the risks. Knows who he’s dealing with. He’s careful and doesn’t give Joker any more openings than he absolutely has to, and wonders, every time, if - providing it really isn’t a game - today is going to be the day Joker gives up for good and throws the deal back in Bruce’s face.

Sometimes, in the small hours when the night begins to drain away from the sky, Bruce wonders if he’s not subconsciously hoping for it.

In a way, it would be easier.

Even so, he keeps coming back, and he brings the cards with him, and sometimes they even manage to finish a game without Bruce storming out in the middle.

“You expect me to crack,” Joker says one evening, about two months into this new shaky arrangement. He’s looking into his cards and not at Bruce, pointedly so; his voice tries to be light but there’s steel underneath it.

Bruce sees no point in lying. He says, “Yes.”

Joker’s mouth curls into a smirk. He lays his cards down on the table. It’s a winning hand.

“Good thing I excel at doing the unexpected,” he says.

Bruce gathers up the cards and leaves.

He doesn’t wait a whole week before visiting again. Joker isn’t the only one here with something to prove.

 

***

 

The doctors at Arkham don’t like it. They say it’s hopeless; they say there’s no evidence of Joker’s genuine desire to reform other than no one getting hurt since the last escape; they try to talk him out of it. So does Alfred. Barbara doesn’t answer his calls and Jim hasn’t turned on the Bat signal in over three months, even though he’s refused to take time off to recover properly and look after his daughter.

Bruce doesn’t blame any of them, and he doesn’t try to talk to Jim on his own. The words of explanation aren’t quite here yet. They both need time.

And meanwhile, he keeps visiting, twice a week now if he can spare the time, never twice on the same day. He brings cards with him, and has started to bring candy too, after a visit happens to go particularly well.

“Trying to condition me, Batsy?” Joker asks, sly and delighted, popping an expensive chocolate truffle into his mouth.

Bruce watches him. “Maybe.”

“Excellent. I want lemon ganache next time. Hate cherry. Belgian milk will do, too.”

Bruce lets him swallow the truffle and reach for another. He asks, “I can convince Arkham to resume your therapy. Do you want me to?”

Joker pauses. The truffle is arrested halfway to his mouth, staining white fingers brown. He searches Bruce’s face.

“Will you keep visiting?”

“Yes.”

“Then I couldn’t care less what they do. Go ahead and parade a whole host of lab coats through here if you think it’ll work, as long as I get to see your lovely face.”

Bruce ignores the baiting, like he always does, but as soon as he leaves he heads straight for Arkham’s office.

Predictably, the doctor isn’t happy.

“We’ve tried all forms of therapy before,” he murmurs, pressing hands to his forehead as though to ward off a headache. “What makes you so sure it’ll work this time?”

“I’ll be personally involved.”

Arkham snorts. “Sure, be my guest. We’ve already broken every rule in the book letting you have free roam of the place, might as well make you an honorary doctor and be done with it. Do you want a pair of glasses to make it official? A clipboard? A white coat?”

Bruce keeps his face still. “I don’t do white.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think so.” He eyes Bruce resentfully, vein in his forehead throbbing. “You’re taking too many chances and putting this whole city at risk in the process. Even you can’t guarantee results.”

“I can’t,” Bruce agrees quietly. “All I have is a gut feeling.”

“And what’s your gut feeling telling you?”

Bruce’s fingers curl into fists. “It’ll work.”

He can’t explain it to Arkham any more than he can explain it to anyone else. And he still could be wrong. But he doesn’t think he is, not this time, not with the signs he’s been reading in Joker’s body if not in his words.

It’ll work.

 

***

 

Joker escapes five months into his renewed therapy. Bruce finds him just outside the Asylum gates, sitting on the grass, his jumpsuit caked with mud. Joker giggles when he sees Bruce melt out of the shadows, but the sound is quiet, and he doesn’t move to stand up.

“Hello, darling,” he says.

“I’m taking you back in.”

“Okay.”

Bruce takes a step closer. Joker watches him, and if anything, he looks tired.

“Just keeping you on your toes, Bats,” he says when Bruce eventually offers a hand to help him up. “Can’t have you growing too complacent, now can we?” He giggles at that, too, and this time it sounds bitter. “’Sides, they amped up security. They can’t give me a new challenge and then expect me not to take it.”

“How many have you hurt?” Bruce asks.

Joker shrugs and lets Bruce push him out of the tree cover and onto the road. “Maybe three. None of them will die and with any luck there won’t even be any scarring. Consider it a gift, from me to you.”

Bruce’s fingers curl over one bony shoulder, hard enough to bruise. “If you’re not going to take this seriously —”

Joker looks at him. The smile is still there, but his eyes are hollow, cold. “You think I don’t?” he whispers. “You think I’d be sitting out here in the cold waiting for you to pick me up if I didn’t? I could have better things to do than rot here drugged half to death and bored out of my mind the rest of the way. I could be organizing parties. Visiting friends. Dancing…” The smile stretches. Bruce pushes him on and thinks of Barbara, weeping in the hospital bed.

“We’re not dancing,” he tells Joker.

Joker sighs. “Not anymore.”

Bruce chooses not to answer. He moves his grip from Joker’s shoulder to his arm. “Come on.”

“There’s more than one kind of dance, you know, Batsy,” Joker whispers when Bruce waits with him at the gates. His voice is laced with hope. He needs something to replace what he’d agreed to lose, and Bruce can’t quite stop himself saying, “Yes.”

There are other kinds of dances. And he can’t help but feel that he’s just agreed to take Joker’s hand, all over again.

Only this time Joker doesn’t know the steps. He’s asking Bruce to lead. And Bruce isn’t all that sure he knows the steps either, but they both know he’s gonna do his damnest to figure it out, and maybe that’s good enough for now.

 

***

 

Bruce invests more money into Arkham, anonymously at first and then as an overblown publicity stunt. They’re developing new drugs for Joker, and he makes a point of getting personally involved in the research process as Batman. Trial and error, trial and error, brainstorming even as he perches on rooftops, sitting up with Arkham’s finest doctors in the fumed-up labs until the sky outside turns pink. Finally they manage to come up with a starting dosage of anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, tranquilizers, suppressants and mood stabilizers, and Bruce stands by to watch as Joker takes them for the first time.

The new meds mean the visits become even more erratic. Uglier. Jokes is still able to focus on him but doesn’t seem to be there half the time, and when he is, he’s either silent or pretending to rave, trying just hard enough for Bruce to see through the act, probably to coax guilt out onto Bruce’s face.

Bruce doesn’t play into his hand. He watches, and supervises, and though they only play perhaps half the time these days he still brings the cards, and the sweets sometimes, too. He takes the time to thoroughly screen every single doctor coming into contact with Joker. And when he thinks Joker’s lucid enough, he asks questions he knows won’t be answered.

In the meantime, he tries to put a stop to the electroshocks. They fight him on it. It’s integral to the treatment, they claim, and he has no legal authority to refute that. He’s already meddling too much, interfering, overstepping, and Dr. Arkham threatens to cut the visits entirely if he doesn’t relent. “We’re risking a lot just letting you in,” he says. “If word gets out you’re involved with the meds, they’d shut this place down faster than you can say ‘bat’. I won’t have you telling me and my staff how to do our jobs.”

“The meds are working,” Bruce reminds him.

“We don’t know that yet. It’s still too early to tell.”

Only Bruce knows they are. He can see it. The Joker laughs less, and he’s calmer, his eyes less manic, the muscles of his face more relaxed. His fingers aren’t twitching as much. His smiles no longer stretch unnaturally wide, most of the time, and his edges seem softer, his voice quieter. Those changes are small, and Bruce can only look for them when the medication doesn’t make Joker zone out or lose it altogether, which it still does, with the doses being constantly readjusted. But they’re there. For the first time, the treatment is having an effect, and hope struggles to shine through the cracks around the door of Bruce’s self-control no matter how hard he tries to shut it out.

Then the Joker escapes again, and this time he fights, nails slashing and teeth biting and “No no no please no” and “I want to go back to how we were” and “I don’t like this dance” and “Just let me go.” They find a week’s worth of undigested pills hidden in the cracks in the floor under his bed. He screams when Bruce manhandles him back into the cell, wordless cries that ring in Bruce’s ears long after he leaves, and they have to sedate him to inject the meds into him by force.

There are no more incidents after that.

Still, it’s what finally drives Bruce to act on a thought that has been building and building ever since Joker’s first escape, and when he returns to the cave that night, he shares the plan with Alfred.

“This is very stupid,” Alfred says after a long, long spell of silence, “and very brave. Which should be the title of your biography, Sir, should you ever feel the need to authorize one.”

He’s shaken, Bruce can tell. His heart aches. But he’s determined now, and his mind is made up.

“We can make this work,” he says. “I’ll make sure of that. I won’t let him hurt you.”

“And what about Master Jason?”

Bruce grits his teeth. “For now, he’s with Dick and the Titans. I will inform him of the plan… in due course.”

“You mean you intend to hide this from him until all is settled.” Alfred’s voice gains a sharp edge of disapproval.

Bruce looks away. “He wouldn’t understand. It’s for the best, Alfred. He’d fight me on it —”

“Perhaps with good reason.”

“— and I just know it’ll help. Think about all the lives we’ll save if this works.”

“That is still a pretty big if, Sir,” Alfred points out. “Don’t you think Master Jason should have a say in what goes on in his own house?”

He’s right, of course. He always is. “It’s my call. I’m making it,” Bruce says anyway, because while his heart hurts for Jason, he knows his duty, and his gut is telling him that this is it.

Alfred sighs. He isn’t quite meeting Bruce’s eyes. “There’s no talking you out of it, is there?”

“No.”

“I see.” Alfred’s shoulders don’t slump, exactly, but they do drop an inch or so, and Bruce has to swallow over the spike of remorse that, once upon a time, might have made him reconsider.

“He won’t hurt you,” he repeats.

Alfred looks at him. “It’s not myself I’m worried about.”

Bruce pretends he doesn’t know what he means.

 

***

 

Jim Gordon is standing by the lit Bat signal, smoking. Bruce waits until he finishes his cigarette before jumping onto the roof, right where Jim can see. This is important.

“Jim,” he says quietly.

Jim regards him quietly, foot driving the remains of the cigarette stub into the roof.

“I had an interesting conversation with Wayne the other day,” he says.

Bruce nods. “Yes.”

“He said it was your idea.”

“It was.”

“I don’t have to tell you I hate it.”

“No.”

Jim looks into the slits of the mask and Bruce looks right back. It lasts maybe a minute. Then Jim sighs and turns his back on him.

“I hear you’ve been visiting him,” he says quietly, looking out over Gotham’s skyline, and though he’s trying to hide it, Bruce can still detect the bitter edge to his voice. “Some new sort of therapy, they say. And he’s playing along. So, what, you think this plan of yours, that it’s the next step?”

“I do,” Bruce says, sincerely.

“And what if you’re wrong and he ends up killing Wayne and escaping?”

“I’ll make sure it won’t happen. I’m working on adequate precautions.”

“He’s done the impossible before.”

“Yes,” Bruce admits, “but that was before. Like you said, he’s cooperating now.”

“And how long do you think that’ll last?”

Bruce says nothing. There’s no promises to be made here, and they both know it. He waits.

“I don’t have men to spare,” Jim says eventually. “We’re stretched thin as it is. Wayne is going to have to shell out on his own security guards to make up for the shortage.”

“That can be arranged.”

“I want access to security tapes — I’m assuming you’re gonna install surveillance?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I want to be consulted on security measures, too. This is still going to be a prison.”

Bruce nods. “Of course.”

“Okay, I gotta ask,” Jim says, turning back to him, “how does Wayne expect to keep it under wraps? It’s gonna leak. No way it won’t. And then he’s going to have the whole city on his doorstep, with pitchforks and flaming torches.”

Bruce has considered that. He says, “I have ways of ensuring it won’t leak, at least for a while.”

Jim turns to look at him. He doesn’t seem convinced. “You gonna try and personally intimidate every single Arkham employee and journalist in this town?”

“If I have to.”

“I can’t believe we’re even considering this,” Jim mumbles, and his fingers twitch like he’s yearning for another smoke. “This is sick. He’s sick. And I’m sick just thinking about this.”

Bruce’s throat feels cold, dry. “I know how difficult this must be for you —”

“Do you?” Jim looks straight at him, and his eyes are the coldest Bruce has ever seen them.

He waits a beat, and then continues: “But I’m trying to make a difference. So what happened to you… and Barbara… won’t happen to anyone else.”

Jim tenses. His hand hides in the pocket of his coat, and Bruce knows he’s fingering his gun.

He stands still and watches, Gotham carrying on below.

“It’s on you,” Jim says eventually. “Whatever he does? It’s on you.”

Bruce nods. He’s accepted that from the start.

 

***

 

Two months later, the gates of the Wayne Estate open at four in the morning to admit a single black van, unmarked and with an ordinary license plate. Bruce as Batman waits for the van to park by the East Wing.

“Where’s Wayne?” Arkham asks, getting out of the van.

“He preferred to spend the night elsewhere. He’d rather not be here to see the patient.”

“So the man does have some sense,” Arkham mutters. Bruce’s jaw clenches.

“It was my idea,” he says, “I talked it over with Wayne. I should be the one to introduce the Joker to his new home.”

Arkham shrugs, and so do the police officers he’s brought with him. The doctors frown. One of them, a slight blond woman who looks no older than twenty, confesses she’s been hoping to talk to Mr. Wayne about visiting hours and possibilities for continuing therapy. Bruce promises her she’ll be able to schedule an appointment. She looks appeased, but still apprehensive, and clutches her clipboard tight to her chest as they finally decide to wheel out the patient.

Joker is sedated and looks to be asleep, or maybe unconscious. They still felt the need to put him in a straight-jacket and chain his feet. Bruce doesn’t comment and silently leads them all into the manor by the side staff entrance, taking over to push Joker’s wheelchair himself.

On the third floor, he quietly explains the extensive security measures installed in the furthest closed-off section. To all intents and purposes the third floor of the East Wing is now a fortress. It doesn’t look like one, though, wires and lasers and surveillance cameras camouflaged behind bright colors and comfortable furniture. Joker gets three rooms to himself: a bedroom with a bathroom attached, a parlor and a gym. The windows in all three are bulletproof glass, big and wide to admit plenty of sunlight, and look out into the gardens with Gotham’s sharp skyline still looming in the distance because Bruce knows Joker needs the comfort of that sight as much as he does. The rooms are spacious and bright, fully furnished, with a small library complete with a writing desk and a wardrobe filled with new clothes custom-made to fit according to Bruce’s instructions. A dumbwaiter has been installed so Alfred won’t have to come anywhere near here, with the lift and the chute both much too small for Joker to fit into them (and even so, there are alarms in place to prevent any such attempts).

“This is all very… generous,” Dr. Arkham admits grudgingly as he surveys the rooms. “I wish Wayne were here so I could discuss the details with him personally.”

“He said he will come to your office tomorrow,” Bruce promises.

“Hmmmm.” Arkham runs a hand across the lacquered wood of the writing desk, then drums his fingers against it, frowning. “This is so much more than the bastard deserves.”

In the chair, Joker sits quiet and still, head bent like it’s been since they brought him out of the van. Bruce says nothing.

“It’s still a prison,” the young blond doctor observes. She is frowning too, her eyes flitting to the Joker and Bruce like she’s fighting the urge to insert herself between them.

Bruce thinks he might have to keep an eye on that one.

“It is,” he agrees. “I helped design the security systems. Wayne is aware of the risks.”

“And yet he still invited the scumbag into his home,” Arkham murmurs.

Bruce says nothing.

“Let me take over from here,” Alfred says from the doorway, soft-footed as ever. “I will show you the control room and we will discuss the details of the guard rota while our… guest settles in. This way.”

“I don’t think we should leave the two of them alone,” the young doctor protests.

Arkham rolls his eyes and grabs her by the hand. “Come on, Batman’s a big boy. I’m sure he can handle a drugged man in a straight-jacket.”

She pulls her hand away. “That’s not what I —”

“Dr. Quinzel,” Arkham barks. “We’re leaving.”

She grits her teeth. Her eyes, when she looks at Bruce, are hard with warning, and he is almost touched that someone should feel so protective of Joker.

Almost. She is so young, and Joker has a way of getting to people. He’ll have to have a talk with Arkham about that.

Alfred escorts the group of doctors and police officers out, giving Bruce a long look as he does. The doors click shut. The reinforced metal wall slides into place with a hollow bang of finality. Soon all the systems will go online and…

And it’ll be done. There will be no going back.

Not that Bruce was ever going to.

“They’re all gone,” he says quietly after a moment. “The cameras won’t go online for another fifteen minutes. You can stop pretending now.”

“Nice place you got here, Bats,” Joker whispers. His voice scratches out of his throat with effort, and he only lifts his head a few inches. His eyes, when he pries them open, look muddy, unfocused. The pupils still zero in on Bruce as he moves to stand in front of the wheelchair, and the corner of Joker’s unpainted lips tugs up.

Bruce keeps his face blank. “It’s not my —”

“Oh all right, your day mask’s then. Come on, Batsy, I think we can drop the act at this point. You’ve invited me to move in with you. It’s a new dance, remember?”

Bruce searches his face, considering. He’s had his suspicions, but…

“If it’s a new dance,” he says eventually, “and you think you know my name, why not give me yours?”

“You know my name.”

“The real one.”

“My name is the real one, Bats. Just like yours is. You know how it works.”

Bruce doesn’t want to argue. He isn’t sure he can. Instead he points out, “Even so, I still have a different name to retreat to when the night is over.”

“Hey, whatever floats your bat-boat. Personally I never saw the appeal.”

“You will eventually, if we’re still doing this. The goal is to get you back out there. You’re going to need a name.”

Joker lets out a sound that’s not a sigh and yet not quite a giggle either. “Let’s cross that bridge if we get there, shall we?”

Bruce takes note of the if, and he knows Joker knows that he does. He keeps his face still.

“All right. What do you want me to call you in the meantime?”

“Just keep using my name. It shouldn’t be a problem for you.”

They hold each other’s eyes for a minute exactly. Then Joker blinks, like keeping his eyes open is a challenge, chin dropping onto his chest. Either he’s about to pass out or he’s faking it. Bruce decides it’s probably time to face the inevitable.

“I’m going to carry you to the bed,” he says loudly to focus Joker’s attention back on himself. “Then I’ll release you from the straight-jacket. You’ll have free roam of the rooms here and the balcony, provided you don’t try to break out into the other parts of the house. Can you —” Bruce walks up to the wheelchair. “Joker. Can you hear me?”

“Yes, yes, sweetie darling,” Joker mutters, a smile in his voice pushing through the drug haze. “Go ahead an’ suh, sweep me off my feet.”

The less alert part of Bruce wants to roll his eyes. He suppresses it because even now, the man in front of him is dangerous, and he’s about to get way too close. To distract himself, or maybe both of them, Bruce starts talking as he bends to slide his arms around Joker. “There will be security guards in the control room watching you. The cameras have no blind spots. The walls and widows are reinforced. You are not allowed to handle chemicals or sharp objects, and nothing that can be made into a weapon.”

“You smell nice,” Joker observes sleepily.

Bruce locks his muscles into place and pulls Joker up into his arms. “You don’t,” he murmurs.

Joker giggles and lets his head roll onto Bruce’s shoulder.

“You’ll be given three meals a day. You can address the cameras and ask for more if you’re hungry. Someone will let the staff know. In time, if you behave, we can work out a way for you to go out into the gardens, but for now you’ll be confined to the balcony. It has a force field around it so you can’t jump out. There are alarms in place to prevent your leaving your quarters in any way. I have precautions to knock you out if you decide to make trouble. There are books in the parlor. The TV will only be used for video therapy sessions, but if we decide you’re responding to the treatment we might reconsider.”

Joker’s curling hair tickles the exposed skin around Bruce’s mouth. It’s soft, softer than anything permanently altered by chemicals has any right to be, and it smells of sterile hospital soap, like it’s been freshly washed. The straight-jacket reeks of old sweat and mothballs, and Joker’s body feels light, frail, wiry under Bruce’s fingers. The chains seem to be responsible for most of the weight. He’s mostly limp as Bruce carries him over to the bedroom, but he does try to press closer to Bruce’s chest, and Bruce doesn’t quite manage to ignore it.

“Your treatment will continue,” he says. “Like I said, your sessions will be conducted through video. There is a timer installed that will remind you to take your medication at regulated times.”

“And if I don’t?” Joker asks as Bruce lowers him onto the bed.

“If you don’t, we will know,” Bruce says sternly, “and the medication will be administered intravenously.”

“How exciting. Will you be the one manhandling me?” Joker’s smile is almost eager.

“Maybe. But you’ll be unconscious for it anyway so it’ll be better for all involved if you don’t try to find out.”

“Killjoy.”

“You’ve agreed to this,” Bruce reminds him. “That’s the only reason you’re here. I know you can probably bypass most of my security measures given enough time and I’m ready for it. But you’re here by choice, and I’m not going to go back on our deal as long as you don’t. But I want you to know this.” Bruce leans closer, making sure Joker’s eyes stay on him. “The moment you try anything… the moment I decide you’re back to your old tricks… the moment you make anyone under my roof fear for their safety… You’re back to Arkham. The deal is off. No more visits, no more coddling, no more… dancing. Do you understand?”

Joker keeps his eyes on him. His smile, although tired, settles into something mocking, something cruel. Still, he nods, then turns onto his side to look out the window where dawn is spilling vivid pinks and oranges all over the sky.

“It’s about trust,” Bruce says, watching the play of sunlight on Joker’s gaunt face. “You’re here to get better and to prove to me you actually want to. This new arrangement is supposed to make it easier for you. If you’re serious about making an effort, you won’t throw this chance away.”

“Here comes the sunnnnnn, doo doo doo doo… here comes the sun,” Joker sings softly. “And I say, it’s all right… it’s all right.”

Bruce waits a beat. He turns to look at the sunrise, then back to Joker.

“I’m going to release you of the straight-jacket now,” he says.

“Little Batsy, it’s been a cold lonely winter,” Joker hums. “Little Batsy, it feels like years since it’s been here.”

Bruce bends over him to carefully undo the restraints. Joker keeps humming, voice going softer and softer, even after Bruce is done and his arms and feet are free.

“Trust,” Bruce repeats. “Remember that.”

“Little Batsy, I feel that ice is slowly melting. Little Batsy, it seems like years since it’s been clear…”

“I’ll be back tonight.”

“Here comes the sun, doo doo doo doo.”

Bruce watches him for a moment longer, until Joker’s voice drains away entirely and his eyes fall shut. His breath, now unrestrained, evens out.

That’s when Bruce clasps the tracker bracelet over Joker’s wrist and locks it. Only then does he turn to leave.

Trust only goes so far.