Disclaimer: I own neither Batman nor Buffy. They belong to their respective creators. Full stop.
A/N: I have no explanation for this one. Please move on. Unbetaed.Warnings, READ!
: Insanity. Like serious, not wholesome thought processes of someone with more than slightly homicidal tendencies. Vivid descriptions of not nice things and definitely a tick darker still than my usual fare. Don't come crying to me, please.
Concrit would be greatly appreciated since I still don't know what the heck got into me with that one.
She comes back like she left almost twenty years ago, silently. A slip of a girl, slipping back into his life like she’s never been gone but she has. She left when he was barely ten, leaving the trio of herself, him and Rachel a crippled thing, a tripod with two legs, doomed to fall.
And fall they did.
She comes back for the funeral of the girl she called her best friend once and slips into the empty space next to him (like she belongs there still after all these years and perhaps she does), between him and Alfred, taking a hold of his hand. Her fingers in his are like a bird’s bones, fragile and lithe, so easy to break.
Staring at the coffin through the haze of his tears and the rain, he considers doing just that. One girl he loved is already dead. Why not add another? Why not crush her? (Her who has the audacity to live when Rachel does not, to breathe when Rachel doesn’t even have lungs anymore because she is nothing but a red ruin scraped from the debris of a blown up building.)
He tears his gaze from the sight of a girl being lowered into a hole in the ground ( like she’ll never get up again, like she’ll not jump up any second and yell ‘gotcha’) to look at her by his side and he finds her hair still golden. Bright like the sun in the washed out, hollow world that is Gotham in the rain.
She comes home with him. Home into the glass and steel penthouse that is cold and hard and empty of the ghosts of children playing hide and seek. Empty of Rachel, who is dead. Dead. (He repeats the word often in his head, trying to understand, to comprehend it but it escapes him. Like a true symbol he is a deathless thing and so is the girl dancing through his head, her laughter trailing behind her like a red ribbon in the grey world.)
Alfred leaves to make tea and they sit, like mannequins, facing each other. She speaks. (Her voice has changed, grown up, matured like fine wine. Rachel’s voice was sweeter. Softer. He wants Rachel back.)
But Buffy is blonde and green eyed and not Rachel. He tells her so. She nods (but does not apologize. As if she’s not even sorry, as if she didn’t care) and gives him a broken little smile.
She drinks her tea with too much sugar.
She takes the guestroom he didn’t know he had until Alfred led her there and late at night (five tumblers into a fresh bottle and still not unconscious on the floor) he stands in the door leading to her sleeping form and glares at her back because she is the wrong girl. She is the one who left and came back and slipped her hand into his like nothing changed. (But it did, the brunette girl in his head taunts. She’s dead and nothing will ever be the same. How dare that girl, who became a woman far away and came back unbroken, still breathing, to come back like nothing’s wrong?)
How dare she assume that she still has a place here? That she is somehow enough? He is at her side in an instant and the urge to pick up that pillow, press it against her face, hold it there until she stops struggling (Rachel didn’t struggle, or did she? Did she fight or did she just give up and cry silently? Did she pray when she died?), lifeless, empty. It would be justice, wouldn’t it? Because what right does she have to live when another girl doesn’t?
His hand moves almost without thought, reaching out, reaching toward her (toward her death in Egyptian sheets), when she opens her eyes and looks at him like she’s never looked at anything else in her life before. Like her eyes were made for looking at him. (Rachel has no eyes anymore. Rachel is being eaten by worms while he stands there, dumbly, too weak to save her, to make things right, to break this mocking bird who still sings while she is dead.)
For a long moment their gazes meet and then, unmoving, she tells him to do it. She says, “Go ahead.”
She’d let him kill her. Maybe. (Or maybe she thinks he’s bluffing and inside she’s laughing at him, laughing like the Joker, high pitched and ugly.)
His hand reaches again but this time there is no hesitation, no indecision. He goes for her throat, clamps his fingers shut around it like a vice (like the tape and wire and chains and broken promises that tied Rachel to that chair and kept her there), squeezing. Her bones really are like a bird’s, small and light and he can feel things shift under his palm.
Her eyes never leave his.
Her lips have a tinge of blue to them when he finally kisses her, fingers loosening of their own accord. (He can’t even do this right, can’t even kill the wrong girl. He had no problem killing the right one, did he?)
For the next month, she is simply there. There when he comes home from long meetings, there when he gets drunk, there when he watches people on TV damning their once hero into the fiery pits of hell. There. (As there as Rachel is gone, silently, absolutely. Like this is how it’s going to be forever, Rachel gone and Buffy here and everything wrong.)
She drives out to the construction site and over sees the rebuilding of the manor, helps Alfred and always leaves the door to her room unlocked. Never kicks him out when he comes with alcohol and hate on his breath, comes to kill her but usually ends up doing other things. Things that make the hate (and the rage and the anger and the guilt, be honest with yourself, Batsie, the guilt eats you the most) shut up for just a little while.
These moments are, on occasion, almost tender. But the fact remains that she is the wrong girl and always will be. (She’s the one who left, who went away, who didn’t come back until it was too late. The one who’s carving her initials all over his life like she still has a right to and he wishes, he wishes every waking and sleeping moment that she could have died instead of Rachel. Rachel never left him. Rachel never walked out on him. Only, the voice of the brunette girl whispers, she did and then she died and now she’s gone and the other girl is not.)
Sometimes he thinks he’s going insane.
She traces the spider webs of his scars, the clusters of fresh bruises in the dark like they are trails of light on his skin. Like she can see then but she can’t. (How could she? In a windowless room on a starless night in the darkest city in the world, in bed with a man whose soul is as black as tar and just as thoughtlessly used. A man who’s been a symbol for so long, he forgot how to be a proper human being because, let’s be honest here, homicidal urges starring your childhood friend are not exactly the way to go here.)
He traces the outline of her, only skin and bones, bones so breakable, so mortal, and he finds soft bumps and crisscrossing patterns, finds with his calloused fingers the marks of claws and knives and burns and he thinks that perhaps (maybe, in a way, a little bit, not much but just, just…), perhaps she fought for the breath she draws, for the words she speaks, the things she sees. Maybe she fought for her life and maybe she has a right to be here after all, in this world.
Maybe someone tied her to a chair once (just to play a game, just to have some fun, just to see, to see how far one man can bend before he breaks, snaps like a twig, like bird bones in the dry desert heat, snaps and can never be repaired), with tape and wires and chains and broken promises and maybe she didn’t cry and didn’t pray but escaped, somehow. (Maybe there was someone, a vigilante hero, say, who freed her before the bombs went off and smeared her insides on the walls for all to see.)
Maybe she survived what Rachel didn’t and that makes….
It makes everything more complicated.
He comes home one night (if this place of steel and cold, this hollow empty cave in the sky can be called home, if he still has a home, if home isn’t where the heart is after all), only minutes before dawn, finding her not asleep but sitting in front of his obscenely big plasma TV, watching old news casts about the Joker (about his bright and glorious explosions, about his stunts and tricks and all the bodies he left behind, carved up and broken, like birds with their wings cut off, only he didn’t just cut the wings off Rachel, no, he cut everything off and burned the pieces) waiting for him.
He is surprised enough to stop dead in the doorway, hoping fervently that she hasn’t heard his tired steps in the hall, that she won’t turn around and see (see him as he truly is, a man in black and grey, a shadow, a phantom, tar and dirt) him in his bat suit.
But she does. She presses mute on the remote and turns around and takes him in, from his steel toed boots to his cowl and back. Her eyes settle on the bloody lip some random drug dealer gave him, and the way he holds his left arm awkwardly, like it’s not quite in place.
Instead of screaming, or fainting, or accusing, like he expected her to (but not really because he felt her scars and her brittle bones in the dark and he knows that there is more to her, more than meets the eye and she has masks, too), she sighs, stands and orders him to strip while she fetches the first aid kit.
He obeys, too stunned to do anything else (too relived and tired and needy and not angry at all, not tonight) and sits on the couch, watching the muted pictures of red and orange carnage flicker across the screen. She comes back with swabs of cotton to disinfect his lip with and then she climbs behind him and grabs his injured arm by the elbow like she’s done this before.
For a moment she prods and pulls and then says quietly next to his ear, “He got what he wanted, didn’t he?”
Batman watches the red and white and black face grinning into the camera, almost drooling with maniacal glee and he doesn’t have to ask who she’s talking about. He grunts, refusing to answer (to talk about it at all) and she tells him with a head shake, “He set your world on fire.”
(Some people just want to watch the world burn.)
She wrenches his shoulder back into place before the shock of her words (the echo of it, the cold precision, the damning notion, the absolute helplessness of that truth) registers and then she kisses away his scream (swallows it, takes it into herself, makes it part of herself, a splatter of tar on her own soul, a bit or darkness, a shadow creeping behind her pretty green and not brown eyes.)
He dreams of Rachel sometimes, dreams of her as she was when they were children. (Dreams of the girl with pigtails, running through the manor, trailing laughter and joy behind her like bread crumbs for him to follow. He dreams of Rachel and another girl, a blonde girl, sitting together, whispering, sneaking glances at him, giggling. He dreams of a time before Buffy left and his parents died and Rachel was all that was left. He dreams of better days.)
And then he wakes and all that’s left now is a girl that was long gone, a girl that became a woman with scars all over her body (and he’s angry about that too, because he didn’t protect her either. Didn’t protect anyone, failed them all, always and always and always only one of the two girls is still walking and the other is dead.), a girl that looks at him with gentle sorrow even as he spews his rage at her.
A girl like a bird, fragile and soft, with his taint creeping into her mouth and setting up shop behind her eyes. He breaks everything he touches.
Some symbol he makes.
She asks him one night, three months after Rachel was buried deep, deep down (down in the ground where it’s cold and dark and lonely and really, he thinks, not so different from up here in his penthouse, miles above a single grave and still in the same place), asks with her voice so soft he can barely hear her, “Who do you really hate, Rachel, me, or yourself?”
(And in his head, the muted pictures of the Joker flash past, of blooming explosions and a coffin disappearing from sight, of a hand in his and a blonde head of caught sunlight in the drizzle, of a city that is as close to hell as the living will ever get and he doesn’t know because in his head there’s only white noise and nothing real, nothing solid. There are only two girls, dancing in circles and he knows that this is it.)
He hates how she looks through all his masks, the playboy, the bat, looks right to the core of him and sees the things he wants to forget so badly.
But she won’t let him.
So he goes out in his suit, his armour (his mobile hidey hole for cowards and weaklings, for men who lost the woman they loved and their best friend in one blow and regained something they didn’t know they missed and are slowly – or not so slowly as the case my be – losing the last of their marbles), and he fights every villain he can find until there’s no-one left in the empty streets of an empty city.
He breathes hard, fists clenched at his side wondering, (Who do you really hate, Rachel, me, or yourself?) what the hell he’s doing. Why does he even bother?
And then he slams his fist into the unforgiving brick wall of a dank alley (seeing Buffy’s face and hating her because she’s not Rachel) and feels bones shift.
And he slams his other fist into the same wall (hating Rachel for leaving him, for not leaving him soon enough, for coming back, for forgiving him, for crying and not fighting, for not surviving when Buffy did and leaving him all alone), and tastes blood as he bites his tongue and hits again (hating this time the Joker, for setting the world on fire, for painting it red and yellow and orange and leaving a symbol with nothing to stand for, leaving a hero the villain and not having the damn decency to at least kill him so this can all end).
And again (his parents dying) and again (Rachel laughing) and again (Buffy leaving), again (a coffin sinking), again (a good man gone mad), again (red and white and black, is that the Joker or is that him), again (brittle like a bird, fragile and hollow and God, sweet God, make it stop), again (because Rachel is dead and that word finally registers and he comprehends, yes, understands, that she is dead. Dead, dead, dead and he dies with her inside his head, two girls pointing from a distance, giggling, happy, unknowing, their laughter trailing behind them like red ribbons in the grey of the world, like blood on the streets, rivers of blood that never run dry).
He hits the wall still when his gloves are torn and his knuckles bleed and crack and he hits it some more when the tears come and then he stops.
(He stops breathing, stops moving, stops being, stops, just stops. And into the silence Rachel giggles and says, Bruce, and Buffy waves and orders him impatiently, Come on, Bruce.)
She is where he left her, sitting at the edge of her bed that has long since become theirs, looking at him with big sad eyes and informing him, “You look like you had a run in with a wall.”
He smiles and then he falls, (just falls to his knees, his head so heavy, his shoulders heaving, he falls and then he cries for the first time in so long) and sobs into her bony shoulder, sobs and whispers, “Myself.”
She bandages his hands and strips him of his suit, washes his face and holds him close as he cries and cries and cries (like a baby, a voice cackles but he doesn’t listen, tired of listening to the voices in his head. He tells them all to shut the fuck up.) like a baby.
Twenty years ago the wrong girl left and three months ago the wrong girl died and now the wrong girl is lying here by his side but that’s okay because he’s the wrong boy, he’s Bruce with the pieces all wrong, all fucked up and twisted sideways and the ruins of his life are still smouldering slightly and he remembers coming into her room that first night with the intention of killing her.
He remembers his hand on her throat and he whispers into her ear, “I’m sorry.”
She strokes his hair from his forehead and slips under the sheets next to him, smiling, and says, “You’re forgiven.”
And the voices in his head say -
- (. . . . . . .)
Now with added coda here